Italian restaurant Forlini closes – Reuters
As news spread of the closure of Forlini’s, a former Italian restaurant in Chinatown that had become a haunt of fashionistas, artists and writers reveling in its old-fashioned red sauce glory, a motorcade of worshipers visited Baxter Street in the hope to savor a last portion of veal Marsala. But they were too late.
“The Forlini has been sold,” read its wooden doors. “Thanks for the memories!!”
One pilgrim was Harrison Johnson, a lanky 30-year-old tech entrepreneur, who looked out of his windows last week as kitchen staff dragged crates of vegetables, canned sauces and dusty bottles of wine to a waiting van at the end of the block.
“I was going to have my wedding reception here in a few weeks,” he said. “I will always remember the time I tried to order the tortellini and they were like, ‘We can’t do the tortellini. I said, ‘Why? You still have the tortellini. And the waiter said, ‘Lady Tortellini is dead. So, no more tortellini.
“When it started happening, I noticed it on Instagram,” he said. “I started seeing the old paintings on their walls and their booth seats appearing in people’s photos, and I was like, ‘Are people starting to go to Forlini? “”
Since the 1950s, the family restaurant – just down the street from the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building – has been a reserve for the courthouse crowd, serving lobster fra diavolo and chicken cacciatore to generations of judges, lawyers , secretaries and sureties. He underwent an involuntary makeover in 2018, after Vogue magazine hosted a star-studded pre-Met gala event there, attracting a new breed of regulars that included magazine editors, designers, stylists and skateboarders. The downtown artistic crowd and literary ensemble have also adopted Forlini’s as their canteen.
Like Eater reported last week, Forlini family recently sold the building that housed their establishment for an undisclosed sum to an unknown buyer. The family had purchased 91-93 Baxter Street in the late 1960s, and it had been listed for $15 million in 2019.
Behind the restaurant’s locked doors, things have been busy since the owners rushed to vacate the premises.
Lawyers and detectives who had been drinking martinis at Forlini’s house long before his young clients were born dropped by to say goodbye to staff members. Regulars distinguished enough to have been honored with booth plaques bearing their name picked them up as souvenirs. An associate of Robert M. Morgenthau, the former Manhattan district attorney who died in 2019 at 99 and used to eat at Forlini’s twice a week, also arrived to secure his plate, the owners said.
Among those paying their respects was Justice Ruth Pickholz, 73, who stopped to collect her plaque last Friday. “They’re making me one last chicken parmesan to go,” she said. “My last meal at Forlini.”
That same day, the staff gathered around a long table. Chefs and servers drank Chianti and cheered as Joe and Derek Forlini, the third-generation cousins who ran the business, handed out bonus checks. The festive mood contrasted with the shock and alarm of the restaurant’s young fans on social media, who probably didn’t think much of the safety of selling a building in Manhattan can offer someone who is retiring.
Sitting next to one of their pink bench seats, the Forlini cousins said they struggled with the decision, adding they would not miss their respective early morning journeys from Dobbs Ferry and West Nyack.
“In our hearts we both wanted to stay, but then you think about reality,” Derek Forlini said. “He’s 69 and I’m 65. It’s hard, but we’re leaving when we’re still on top. That the judges knew us by name was just honor.
“We have other family members involved in the building, so it’s not that simple,” Joe Forlini said, explaining that they owned the property along with eleven extended family members who were unaffiliated. in restaurants, most of them in their sixties. “They all wanted out, so we decided to go with them. It was time.”
“We looked at what it might be like to stay here with new landlords,” he added, “but they would probably quadruple the rent.”
What did they think of the stylish newcomers who flocked to the place in its later years?
“All the kids and the art galleries have been great with us,” Derek Forlini said. “They filled our bar, and we don’t have a bad word to say about them. Many of them have become our friends.
The cousins returned to their bittersweet task.
Derek planted kisses on the cheeks of his former clients. Joe began researching who could assess the paintings on the walls, some of which depict the countryside of Groppallo, the northern Italian village from which family patriarch Joseph Forlini emigrated in 1938. On Tuesday, they began removing the restaurant’s red signage.
Due to the abrupt closure, most Forlini devotees could not tell Goodbye. Among them was Mike Pepi36-year-old writer and art critic who feasted at a restaurant with friends last month, unaware he was enjoying his latest plate of diced chicken from Forlini, a dish served with potatoes, onions and cherry peppers.
“What’s really going away in New York with old places like Forlini are places where you can hold court,” Mr. Pepi said. “Places where you can have a forum. You cannot hold court in a Sweetgreen.
“The big question,” he added, “is where do we all go now?”