Barbecue Chain’s Original Link, in Unlikely Spot, Is No More
It was an exercise in contrast, a tableau of multimillion-dollar apartments, sticky barbecue sauce and lemon-scented towelettes.
On West 72nd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, an elegant boulevard that tumbles out of the park, the buildings have names like the Majestic and the Hermitage. On the corner, the late Lauren Bacall’s three-bedroom apartment at the Dakota, one of the most storied apartment houses in Manhattan, is for sale for $26 million. Every day, a burbling stream of tourists meanders along the sidewalk, snapping pictures of the splendor.
And when they got thirsty, those out-of-towners, and more than a few in-towners, would stop at the Dallas BBQ restaurant in the middle of the block, perhaps to buy a boozy, frozen drink called the Pineapple Crush for $6.99. (An extra shot, plopped in the glass in what looked like a test tube, cost $2.) A drink called the Bulldog, with a miniature Corona in the slush, was also available.
For more than 30 years, the Dallas BBQ on 72nd Street served up cheap ribs and liquor on what was, increasingly, a rarefied block. The location was the first of what became a small family empire of about a dozen restaurants across New York City. At 9 p.m. Wednesday, that incongruous era ended: The original Dallas BBQ slung its last frozen daiquiri and closed its doors forever.
The main reason for the closing was familiar: a rent increase. And while many people look at that block of 72nd Street and see glamour and grandeur, Stuart Wetanson, 25, whose family owns the Dallas BBQ chain, also sees what it lacks.
“We look to be close to a major subway hub, close to major business areas, commercial districts, movie theaters, hospitals, schools,” he said. “All the things West 72nd Street is missing.”
There were other limitations. Outside the chain’s restaurant in Times Square, a rotating red and blue “BBQ” sign, about the size of a full-grown person, announces its presence. On West 72nd Street, small navy awnings mark the spot. The block lies within a historic district, where signage must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. When asked if the commission would be likely to approve a person-size rotating BBQ sign on West 72nd Street, a spokeswoman for the panel laughed.
Mr. Wetanson’s grandfather Herb Wetanson opened a restaurant at 27 West 72nd Street in 1978 that the family describes as a franchise of Swiss Chalet, a Canadian rotisserie chicken chain. (Certain details of the current décor, like patches of faux exposed brick, leave the impression that you are munching on dinner in the dungeon of a castle.) Within about two years, the elder Mr. Wetanson started to add ribs and other barbecue fare.
On a recent Monday night, the 300-seat space was more than half full by 6:45. A young woman seated at the bar, who said she worked at a nearby Banana Republic, declared herself heartbroken that the restaurant was closing because it was the only decent place in the area to get a cheap drink. To go with that drink, she recommended the Hennessy Burger, which was served with bacon, Cheddar cheese and a gooey, reddish sauce.
Dallas BBQ mostly had a peaceful relationship with its neighbors, though there were occasional kerfuffles. In the mid-1990s, an anonymous flier posted around the neighborhood urged people to complain to local politicians about the crowds that gathered outside the restaurant and the noise they created. Scott M. Stringer, now the city comptroller but a state assemblyman at the time, got involved, and a weekend doorman was hired.
Some neighbors continued to complain about the buses filled with student or sightseeing groups that idled outside, and the crowds that could make it difficult to pass on the sidewalk. In the past dozen years, the city’s 311 line for questions and complaints would get calls about excessive noise from time to time.
June Rousso, who has lived next door for 30 years, said that every so often, someone at a co-op board meeting would say, “Oh, I hope that lease is coming up soon.”
Mr. Wetanson said workers at 72nd Street would all get jobs at other locations. He also said he hoped to find a new West Side site on a more heavily traveled block, maybe near Columbus Circle or 125th Street — and not one where signs need landmark commission approval.