The First Night Back At: Theater-District Icon Joe Allen

Stellene Volandes
·2 mins read
Photo credit: Mark Kennedy/AP/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Mark Kennedy/AP/Shutterstock

From Town & Country

You won’t believe me but I really did not know my first night back would be the day the Tony nominations were announced. Joe Allen, the theater district's favorite pre or post theater burger (or meatloaf or chicken sandwich) and martini place opened October 15 after being closed due to the pandemic since March 17. Someone had scrawled “Welcome Back Joe Allen. We missed you” in chalk on West 46th Street.

Some things were exactly the same. The manager, Mary Hattman, who usually stands guard upstairs at Bar Centrale was there to greet us. There was the full beloved menu (including the fries—remember when there was an electrical problem last year and they didn’t have fries?) There were still sightings—John Benjamin Hickey fresh off his Tony nomination for The Inheritance, legend Joel Grey, possibly Matthew Broderick on a bicycle, and NY 1 theater czar Frank DiLella. There was guacamole to start the meal. And banana cream pie for dessert.

Photo credit: Gene Reed
Photo credit: Gene Reed

But things were different. Generally our question would be “at a table” or “at the bar.” “Bar!” my most regular Joe Allen companion insists. “Easier to rush out at 7:55 before a show.” Except of course right now, there are no shows. And so it became a question of “inside” or “outside.” We chose the latter which meant we couldn’t look up and notice we were seated underneath the poster of Battlestar Galactica: The Musical or staring straight into the eyes of a favorite leading lady at the next table over. (If you are inside, the reopening was spearheaded by David Rockwell and The Rockwell Group.)

And I warn you: there is the moment when you realize that you are at Joe Allen but you are not rushing out to catch a show, or you are not sitting at the bar discussing it after, hoping maybe a cast member you know shows up so you can buy them a drink. There is that flash when you are walking down a closed-to-traffic Restaurant Row and you look farther down 46th street and remind yourself that though the lights are on, the theaters are dark. It hits you. Prepare yourself. And then vow to come back to Joe Allen every week until Broadway is back. I'll be there waiting.

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