By FLORENCE FABRICANT AUG. 28, 2014
For 26 years, the chef and restaurateur Charlie Palmer has kept his flagship Aureole a success, even after he moved it from the Upper East Side to Midtown in 2009. During that time, he also planted his flag across the land, on properties from the California wine country and the gambling meccas of Nevada to Dallas and Washington, D.C.
Now he is enlarging his New York portfolio. And at a time when many chefs are moving downtown, his new efforts are in Midtown.
Mr. Palmer is creating a cluster of new restaurants, including Crimson & Rye in the Lipstick Building; Charlie Palmer Steak, which will go into the old Rothmann’s location on 54th Street near Madison Avenue; and several dining rooms in the Knickerbocker Hotel on 42nd Street. He is also renovating Astra on Third Avenue and 59th Street, enlarging the cafe and catering space and renaming the whole thing Upper Story.
“Going forward, I’m focusing on New York,” he said. “It’s put me in a unique situation that’s pretty successful.”
That focus is partly a matter of convenience, he said; it also adds opportunities for his ambitious New York employees.
Mr. Palmer is a New Yorker, after all, from upstate Smyrna, who found fame in New York City. In 1983, at 23, he became the executive chef of the River Cafe, which was redefining American cuisine, and was soon hailed as a rising star. He feasted on the celebrity. Today, at 55, he is much less interested in the fanfare that drives young chefs. “I don’t really care to do TV,” he said. “Social media is great, but I don’t lose much sleep over it.”
Meanwhile, he has lost 35 pounds from his 6-foot-3 frame. He runs every day and takes what he calls “epic hikes.” “At this age, finding enough energy is the hard part,” he said.
Concentrating on Midtown was not the result of some long-range master plan; it’s just the way things have worked out. Mr. Palmer said he had been fortunate in his deals with Midtown landlords. “They see our restaurants as an amenity, even though they could get three times the rent for a Duane Reade,” he
While the action and hype may be on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he said he has a big customer base in Midtown. Even the impending move downtown of Aureole’s Times Square neighbor, Condé Nast, with its expense accounts, has not caused him much anxiety, he said. “They didn’t have much budget to spend,” he said. “We do better with some of the law firms.” He said he came close to buying a hotel in the Flatiron district. And his dream is to have a restaurant or bar in Greenwich Village because he lives there. But for now, he can enjoy his own bar and cafe, Crimson & Rye, on Third Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets, which opened in August.
“I wanted a bar so I don’t have to go to the Lower East Side for a drink,” he said. He has also tweaked the bar at Aureole and renamed it the Liberty Room to better distinguish it from the main dining room. Now, his priority is his new steakhouse. Having enjoyed the success of Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, steps from the Capitol, he has long wanted a version in New York. “It will be a modern steakhouse,” he said, describing it as more BLT Steak than Morton’s. “Best quality meats, more creativity, more seasonality, great wines and craft cocktails.” Also demanding his attention are the three dining areas he will run in the Knickerbocker Hotel across 42nd Street from Aureole. “I don’t see them in competition,” he said. “At Aureole, we have a lot of regulars, business regulars. Lunch is robust, and dinner is bigger.” The Knickerbocker will have an indoor-outdoor rooftop bar, St. Cloud, which he thinks will attract Aureole customers wanting an after-dinner drink. He contends that Midtown is ready for hipsters who have outgrown Gowanus. “My dream is that young professionals are going to want to have the best wines, fine service, good food,” he said. “We’ll benefit from that.”
A version of this article appears in print on September 3, 2014, on page D3 of the New York edition with theheadline: Charlie Palmer Rethinks His Empire.
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