NYC’s late-night dining and drinking scene is back

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On a weeknight in October, Christina Eng, Harry Pellicoro and four of their colleagues were still lingering over a dinner of pastas, halibut and duck at Portale in Chelsea.  When the clock passed 11 p.m., the gang — who all work in hospitality technology — was still savoring Chianti. Nobody was racing home.

“I no longer dread business dinners because they have become more fun and social since we don’t see each other at work,’’ said Pellicoro, 28, who lives in Kips Bay. “A meal that ended before at 10:30 now goes on to 11:30 or 12.” Working from home allows him to let loose, he said: “If I have a meeting at 11 a.m., I don’t need to be [in front of my computer] at 8.’’

Eng, 28, who lives in the Flatiron District, used to get up at 7:30 a.m. to dress and apply make-up. “Now I can sleep in and wake up for my first call, which may be at 11, and sometimes I squeeze in a workout,’’ she said. “It feels more relaxed, and there is spontaneity. If I run into someone who wants a nightcap, I no longer feel pressure to get home.”

All over the city, restaurants that just last spring had curfews forcing them to close early are experiencing a boom in late-night dining and drinking.  Employees working from home or at the office only part-time have a pent-up hunger for socialization, and the flexibility to stay out without fear of showing up in the morning bleary-eyed. The vaccine mandate has put many folks more at ease with dining out, and because many haven’t vacationed and are buying comfy chic joggers and sneakers rather than shelling out for Prada and Manolo Blahniks, they have extra cash.  

Just a casual Monday night dinner at Kyma in NYC.
Just a casual Monday night dinner at Kyma in NYC.
Stephen Yang for the New York Po

“There were some people I used to see only on weekends, but when they started working from home, they would also come in Tuesdays or Wednesdays,’’ said Joe Ragonese, general manager of Kyma Flatiron, and its new location across from Hudson Yards. “Now, every night is like Friday night! I’ve had to hire double the amount of servers weekdays than I had pre-pandemic.’’

The vibrant late-night scene is not just restricted to downtown or new places; Midtown East, known for an earlier crowd, is also hopping later.

“Just a few months ago, I was sitting alone with the stuffed bears out front,’’ said Thomas Makkos, owner of Nello, referring to the giant stuffed animals seated at outdoor tables to drum up buzz. These days, diners are spilling onto Madison Avenue. “Now I often have to stay open until 1 a.m.’’

Christina Eng enjoys a weeknight drink at Isabelle's Osteria.
Christina Eng enjoys a weeknight drink at Isabelle’s Osteria.
Stefano Giovannini for the New Y

On a Tuesday at Avra Madison Estiatorio, tables were full at 11 p.m., and the bar was packed with women in Golden Goose sneakers or cowboy boots and cropped sweaters, and men in snug button-downs or stylish jackets. “Our rush hour was 6 right after the pandemic; now it’s 7:30,” reported Stelios Tsappas, the restaurant’s managing partner. “We used to close during the week at 11, but now we still take reservations at midnight.”  

Diners have been staying so long, drinking at their tables when a meal is over, that it caused an issue with turnover at Fresco by Scotto. The owners decided to utilize their lunchtime take-out space as an evening wine bar called Sunset Lounge, in an effort to transition the drinking patrons. “People stuck at home need to blow off steam, so they are drinking more than ever,’’ said co-owner Elaina Scotto. “We need those tables.’’

Bartenders Luna Maria Fece, left, and Uriel Rodriguez at Kyma on 18th street on Monday night.
Bartenders Luna Maria Fece and Uriel Rodriguez at Kyma on 18th street on Monday night.
Stephen Yang for the New York Po

It’s a big payday for restaurants. “People are definitely spending more on wine,’’ said Vladimir Kolotyan, an owner at Isabelle’s and Barbounia in the Flatiron District. “Our check averages have gone up nearly 20 percent.’’ 

Over at Sweetbriar on East 27th Street, Darla Price, president of the advertising firm DDB, is winding down a meal and cocktails with two former colleagues when they decide to order one more bottle of rosé. 

“There is no longer an expectation that you are going to sit in an office from 9 to 6,’’ said the Fort Greene resident.

“Even if we are up early, I tell my team that we don’t have to turn on our cameras; that’s the beauty of it! We have all proven that we can do our jobs from home and are better people when we have the time to go out and enjoy a meal and some great wine.’’ 

A gaggle of gals out at Kyma.
A gaggle of gals out at Kyma.
Stephen Yang for the New York Po

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