Photo: Zac Howard
Last February, I sat at the second floor bar in Five Mile Stone, a block away from my Yorkville apartment, and shared a beer with my old college roommate. As we discussed my desire to get a better serving job, I asked the bartender what restaurants I should target in the neighborhood.
“If I were you, I’d go to Parlor,” she responded. “It’s the steak and fish place off 90th and I think Third Avenue. That place is really nice.” She went on to describe the great experience she had there in the past and didn’t mention any other restaurants. It was a good suggestion and I ended up taking her advice. As it turns out though, I’m back on the job hunt again this February.
Having lived in New York City for more than two years, I was aware of the frustration and growing concern over local businesses closing due to rent increases. However, I had yet to experience the consequences firsthand, until recently.
Just before a Saturday evening shift last November, Parlor owner Michael Glick gathered the staff downstairs to inform us that he had reached a stalemate with the landlord regarding a new lease. After ten years of establishing the restaurant as a staple in the neighborhood, and months of rigorous negotiations, he could not meet the increased rent demands, which he said included a $10,000 per month spike to the previous arrangement.
When Glick and his wife Suzy opened Parlor in 2008, I was a sophomore in high school working at a Chick-fil-A in Tallahassee, Florida. I had no idea I would end up waiting tables for the better part of the next decade and had given no thought to moving to New York City.
Certainly the Glicks didn’t know that a sixteen-year-old Chick-fil-A employee would be the last server they’d ever hire at Parlor. They were running a bar on 90th Street and Second Avenue at the time, called BB&R (short for Blonde, Brunette and a Redhead), when they first identified the space Parlor would call home.
The Glicks matched the “ridiculous” asking price of roughly $38,000 per month, according to Glick. “We demolished the entire restaurant, except for the bones, and rebuilt the entire thing from the ground up,” he told me recently. “It was basically my wife and I taking every dollar we had and putting it in. And people thought I was nuts. People thought it would fail.”
“The vision was to bring a downtown or a midtown feel to the Upper East Side, which didn’t exist,” Glick said. “The ambience, the music, all those things together.” The original plan was to serve American cuisine, but ultimately the restaurant became Parlor Steakhouse and later rebranded as Parlor Steak and Fish in 2015. “While we were building, it kind of took on its own personality,” he said. “And it was busy from day one.”
The burgeoning restaurant stayed afloat despite the stock market crash of 2008, just months after opening. “There was nothing like it on the Upper East Side,” Glick said. “People said to me things like, ‘You saved our neighborhood by opening this restaurant.’”
In 2012, the Glicks opened The Writing Room, in the space that was previously home to Elaine’s, off 88th Street and Second Avenue. It will employ some of the Parlor staff members, though many won’t be making the transfer.
I worked “the last supper” at Parlor. There was mirth in the air, spirits in the drinks and tears in eyes of longtime patrons and employees alike. Much of Parlor’s legacy and beloved service will continue at The Writing Room, but the corner of 90th and Third won’t be the same. According to what longtime New Yorkers have told me, it will likely stay vacant.
“I think people are aware that this is a problem in New York City,” Glick said. “They’re starting to realize that unless they support these places, this is going to keep happening.”
I have now waited tables at six restaurants since graduating high school; Parlor is the only one that wasn’t corporately owned and operated. Despite my brief tenure, I have never experienced such an intimate atmosphere, both among staff and clientele. It was a refreshing shift from the monotonous drumbeat I was used to at corporate chains, which produces robotic servers, apathetic managers and unsatisfied customers. Parlor proved to me what I always suspected: loose and professional can coexist. Almost every night was fun.
If I had known the restaurant would close just months after I started, would I go back and apply somewhere else? I can’t say for certain, but I will treasure the memories (and money) I made and I’m grateful for what I learned from the experience, including the inauspicious realities of working in New York City.