Farewell to Ristorante Morini

A neighborhood favorite is the first of five businesses to shut down on Madison Avenue near 86th Street

| 21 Aug 2019 | 11:08

Ristorante Morini was the first of five businesses along Madison Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets to close on Friday, August 16, allegedly at the behest of the real estate investment trust that owns the property located at 1167 Madison Avenue. The four other stores — H.L. Purdy Opticians, shoe seller Chuckies, Premier Cru Wine Merchants, and Prestige Cleaners — will follow suit in the near future, representatives at the stores said.

In December 2015, Vornado Realty Trust purchased 1167 Madison Avenue and the adjoining property at 50 East 86th Street, The Real Deal reported. The real estate investment trust boasts a vast portfolio of commercial, retail, and residential property, including the 950-foot tall condominium tower under construction at 220 Central Park South. Sometime in July, Vornado gave the five businesses on Madison notice that they must evacuate their storefronts, according to owners and employees at the stores.

French bistro Demarchelier, at 50 East 86th Street, has not received notice that it must close, the restaurant’s manager said. The four residential floors atop the restaurant are all vacant, the building’s superintendent said.

Vornado Realty Trust did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On August 16, Ristorante Morini, which opened in 2013, served patrons for the last time. The restaurant is owned by Michelin-star winning chef Michael White’s Altamarea Group, which operates five other restaurants in New York City. Altamarea Group spokesperson Jonna Gerlich reflected fondly on the close relationships Ristorante Morini forged with Upper East Siders who were regulars at the restaurant.

“It was a cool thing to be a part of — such a neighborhood feel in such a big city," Gerlich said. "It was such a pleasure.” She added that the restaurant group is interested in reopening Ristorante Morini on the Upper East Side if a desirable space becomes available.

Looking for space to relocate

Two of the other stores that must close — H.L. Purdy and Chuckies — have additional locations on the Upper East Side. Prestige Cleaners owner Woochul Lee said that he is moving his business, which he opened at 1167 Madison Avenue 20 years ago, to a location on 82nd Street, where, he noted, rent is high and the space is small. “In New York City, we [small business owners] don’t have any power. Nothing we can do,” he lamented.

Premier Cru Wine Merchants owner Michael Eigen said that he is still looking for a space to relocate his boutique, which sources wine and spirits from small producers. Searching for a new location is not new to him; eight years ago, he was forced out of a space on 87th Street and Madison Avenue, where he had operated his store for 17 years. “Mom and pop retail is kind of dead,” he said.

Longtime Upper East Side resident Heidi Volk, who was walking a dog along Madison Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets the afternoon before Ristorante Morini's closure, reacted to the news that five stores on the block would be closing. “It breaks my heart ... The neighborhood — it’s empty,” she said.

A couple of blocks north of where Volk stood, at 1228 Madison Avenue, a 17-story condominium building with retail space is under construction to replace a series of brownstones that once housed residents, a diner, deli, hair salon and nail salon.

Michael Bacal, who said he has lived on 80th Street and Second Avenue for over 20 years, bemoaned a trend of development on the Upper East Side. “It’s causing the neighborhood to be more generic; [we’re] losing some of the local character,” he said.

“It breaks my heart ... The neighborhood — it’s empty.”
UES resident Heidi Volk