Manhattan’s East Village is back after being hit hard by Covid lockdowns

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The East Village is back: Just look at the hundreds of 20-somethings spilling out of the area’s bars and restaurants on any weekend night.

It’s a far cry from the ghost town the neighborhood had become during the height of the coronavirus: East Village dining and drinking spots were harder-hit by the pandemic than any other ‘hood in the city, according to one count of closures.

But it’s mounting a resurgence.

One example: Coyote Ugly, the dancing-on-the-table, body shots bar made famous in the 2000 film of the same name. It shut down in March 2020 as the virus raged — after a 27-year run. But it’s reopened now — in the same East Village neighborhood — around the corner at 233 E. 14th St. 

And a new rock-and-roll bar is set to open in Coyote’s old space at 153 First Ave., Side Dish can report.

The openings are a big change from 2020, which one neighborhood bartender called “scary” — not just because of Covid shutdowns and the constant sound of helicopters overhead, but also because of the George Floyd-related protests and riots.

Exterior of Coyote Ugly Saloon
Coronavirus casualty Coyote Ugly is open for business again.
Tamara Beckwith

“It was crazy. Like a war zone,” said Erin Shaiko, 40, who’s been bartending at Pink’s, at 242 E. 10th St., for the past three-and-a-half years. “The trash cans were on fire. We had to board up all the windows.”

Still, by May of last year, Pink’s started serving customers to-go cups out of the bar’s window. “I just sat in the window with a frozen margarita machine,” Shaiko said. “People came up and were so happy to see us — they’d give me five bucks without even wanting a drink.”

Those days seem far away now. “It’s back to normal — sort of,” she said. Or at least as close to normal as things can be with vaccination cards still in the mix.

Restauranter Stratis Morfogen is ready to take advantage of the move back to normal. His new rock club, which will be called E.VIL Rock Club, trades on the neighborhood’s “great energy and history,” he said.

Stratis Morfogen appears at food festival
Stratis Morfogen, seen here at a food festival last week, will be debuting the E.VIL Rock Club.
Getty Images for NYCWFF

“As the crowds are coming back, so will small businesses,” he said. Indeed, in May he opened another spot, too: an outpost of his Brooklyn Dumpling Shop — East Village branch, at 131 First Ave.

Ariel Palitz, who heads the city’s nightlife office and also lives in the neighborhood said it’s “back — and is great to see.”

In fact, there are more restaurateurs looking for East Village space than there are spaces to fill them, said East Village commercial broker Greg Goldberg, a director at Meridian Capital Group.

“I don’t have enough spaces for all the people who want to come back,” Goldberg said. 

“The East Village got hit the hardest during the pandemic, but it is coming back the fastest,” he said. He estimated about 30 to 40 percent of the area’s bars and restaurants had shut down at height of lockdown and haven’t reopened. 

It’s the history of the East Village that can’t be replicated, though — and it’s part of what’s drawing restaurateurs and bar owners back to the area, with venues like the former CBGB having had such a profound effect on the city’s cultural history.

David Rabin outside his East Village restaurant
David Rabin says the East Village restaurant scene is ‘starting to feel normal again.’
Robert Mecea

It’s part of what brought Temple Bar back to the neighborhood, even though it left in 2017 after 28 years in the area.

Last week, under new ownership, it reopened to packed crowds. 

The bar, marked since 1989 by the skeleton of a lizard on the outside of an otherwise unmarked space at 338 Lafayette, is on the border between Noho and the East Village. 

Four veteran restaurateurs, David Rabin and Maneesh K. Goyal — who recently opened Sona during the pandemic, with Priyanka Chopra Jones — and Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, of Attaboy, are running the space, which they are leasing, along with rights to use the name, from executors of the estate of the bar’s late founder, George Schwartz, a doctor who also owned the beloved and now shuttered NoHo Star.

The area’s bar scene “is starting to feel normal again,” said Rabin, who announced Temple Bar’s reopening on Instagram. 

The 1,500 square foot space, with emerald green velvet drapes, green leather banquettes, a zigzag bar and a disco ball, holds up to 74 people, and stays open until 3 am on weekends. The policy is to show proof of vaccination to get in, but no need to mask up once inside. So far, Rabin says, it is almost as if COVID never happened.

“No one is asking for outdoor seating. They understand this is an indoor bar, and that hasn’t been a problem,” Rabin said. 

The only slight post-pandemic difference is that there is no longer shared foods at the bar. But people are ordering appetizers like the famed popcorn and steak cubes along with oysters, sliders and lobster rolls. They are served alongside $21 cocktails, like a Blue Negroni; a martini menu with $18 “caviar bumps;” or $4 champagne toppers on other cocktails as well as a $200 caviar tasting. 

“Everyone has been so excited to be back,” he said.

Restaurateur Lamia Funti, of Lamia’s Fish Market, is also opening a new bar and restaurant next door to where she is right now at 47 Avenue B. 

Her current 8,000 square foot space seats 160 people inside and 50 people outside. While it was dead during lockdown, Funti says she believes in the neighborhood and snapped up a 3,000 square foot space next door, where she is launching a new, Spanish cuisine-themed bar and restaurant. 

“The East Village was completely deserted during lockdown. Basically there was nothing. Everything was shut down  — restaurants and bars were really hit hard,” she said. “But people are back and happy to go out. it’s pretty lively again.”

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