The lights are out across the street. For the past three years I have lived across the street from wd~50. For the past three years, before stepping into my doorway, I glanced over to see how things were going––busy, quiet, room at the bar? For the past three years I've felt connected to the restaurant, in some part like it was mine.
I dined at wd~50 three times––once for the full-blown, sit-down meal, and twice at the bar where I had a few plates. I also drank at the bar, just to drink, because in my neighborhood there's was the best wine list I could find, but it was spendy, so it only called to me occasionally.
When I first heard the news I was upset for a multitude of reasons. What topped my list was that the restaurant, and the three or so locations next to it, was being kicked out to make way for a seven-story high rise that would do more than block my light. A seven-story building will create dust, noise and traffic over the course of its construction, and it will change everything I hold dear about my block.
Change isn’t a bad thing. The Lower East Side is built on change. When wd~50 moved to this block eleven years ago, it wasn’t the safest of areas. Dufresne was entering what, in the 80s, had been the heroin scene. Before that the blocks were where you went for wedding dresses, first a predominantly Jewish area and then Spanish. Along with gastronomy, wd~50 brought with it the wave of restaurants that would eventually plunk down and call this street home.
I’m nobody, barely even a New Yorker, but still my opinion is shaped. I love my neighborhood because it’s diverse, falling apart, littered with trash and, on a weekday, full of people I recognize. The crumbly mix of boutiques, hip hop clothing stores, tailors, restaurants, and historic locations like Streit’s Matzoh, The Pickle Guys, Kossar’s Bialy’s, and the Tenemant Museum, are what make it real.
A few weeks before their final day, I went into the restaurant. I asked for Dufresne but he wasn’t in. I went back a few nights later and sat at the bar. Illuminated in the kitchen I could see Dufresne’s shoulder-length bob, a hairstyle I don’t recall ever leaving his head. I ordered a glass of white wine and made small talk with the bartender. The bar and the restaurant were busy. I asked if I could chat with the chef, a silly question for the time (9 p.m.) on the week before his penultimate week. I didn’t get to talk to him but I chatted with everyone around me: The couple who were there for a birthday meal; the woman to my right drinking a flight of Amaro’s who seemed to be in the business; the host who kindly turned me away, but told me she was planning to take a vacation after wd~50 closed, and then after? I asked. “Who knows,” she shrugged.
Dejected, I left. I followed up with a few emails to Dufresne’s assistant, who never replied, passing me quickly along to the publicist––who also turned me down. He’s too busy, she wrote. He’s talking to every news organization, she wrote. Everyone but me I thought.
I explained my story, hoping to tug at her emotions: I live across the street and the very same developer that is kicking Dufresne out is kicking me out. Her emotions remained cooled. Perhaps he can talk to you later, after the restaurant is closed, maybe about what his plans are for the future. I acquiesced. Then I sent her a few questions via email. Can Wylie answer these? I wrote. She said she would see what she could do.
I did not hear back.
That Dufresne and myself were both targets of Big Bad Developer Icon Realty Management came as a surprise, one I didn’t put together until it was too late. Clearly my neighborhood is earmarked for bigger things. The Essex Shopping Center, a quaint one-story market full of bodegas, cafés and specialty markets, many who have been there since its inception, will be torn down––and moved––in 2015 to make way for a “better” development. Icon obviously wants to be here for a reason, but strangely after booting out the retailers and wd~50, and making their blah blah seven-story building plans, they decided to pass it along to someone else. Huh?
My eight-unit apartment building was purchased in August. Two units on the top floor are currently being renovated and I can't wait to see what they rent for. My lease has not been renewed and a very young sounding girl from Icon inquired, over the phone, “How long do you need to move out?” I asked for a year. It’s been 7 weeks since I last heard from them, but I don't know what that means. I’m sure that where real estate is concerned they are much smarter than me.
There is still some movement across the street: Boxes are being packed; dishes placed in bubble wrap; kitchen tools being moved. All going, I assume, to offsite storage until Dufresne decides what to do next. I think the change in location will do wonders for the chef. Forced reinvention is what chefs, actually anyone, should encounter at least once in their life.
For me, I’d like to stay here until I don’t. I love my apartment and I love the light that streams in through my windows. I part my living room curtains, look down at the space where once there was a wd~50 neon sign and hope my neighbor is somewhere warm, perhaps taking a much-needed vacation.