Thanks to Second Avenue subway construction, Upper East Side gets an injection of cool

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Amidst all the grumbling over the never-ending Second Avenue subway construction, there is one unexpected consequence: Hip restaurant and bar owners, along with younger tenants, are flocking to a suddenly affordable stretch of the Upper East Side.

Long a haven of strollers and overpriced eateries, construction has pushed out many longtime tenants on Second Avenue from the 90s down to the 70s, brokers in the area say. Commercial rents are being heavily discounted, as well. Nearly a third of all commercial spaces on the uptown stretches of Second Avenue are vacant, according to Massey Knakal’s Upper East Side Director of Retail Leasing Jill Lovatt.

And moving into those empty storefronts are some business owners eager to take advantage of a bargain.

“We got a very good deal with our rent,” said Ruairi Curtin, co-owner of the Penrose, a cocktail-bar-meets-Irish-gastropub that is the first uptown expansion for the owners of popular downtown staples Wilfie & Nell and The Wren.

Construction blocks the Penrose from street view, but, according to Curtin, the less-than-ideal exterior and general construction din helped lower the rent.

Lovatt says she usually receives inquiries from nail salons and Laundromats to lease spaces on Second Avenue, like the ground-floor space she’s marketing next door to the Penrose. But this summer, she’s getting calls from people looking to open speakeasies, tapas bars, and wine bars. The nightlife upgrade is “the silver lining of it all,” she said.

Alan Chin, the owner of Bistro Nora, which opened on Second Avenue late last summer, said they also found discounted rent on the avenue in part thanks to construction.

“We thought the neighborhood needed a simple, home-cooked restaurant,” says owner Alan Chin.
 
Lower rents are also drawing increasingly young tenants, building an increased demand for nightlife.

Brokers say they’re renting more shares and studios to young people than ever before.

“It’s the only place south of 100th street where you can find a two-bedroom under $2,400 and studios under $1,500,” said Citi-Habitats broker Dan Marrello.

It’s cheaper up north

An Upper East Side studio is more affordable than comparable listings downtown and even in parts of Brooklyn.

Upper East Side studio $2,103
Greenwich Village studio $2,600
Williamsburg studio $2,980
Greenpoint studio $2,289

(Source: Mean prices for July 2012, according to MNS. Manhattan averages are for buildings without doormen.)

New bars and eateries in the area

- Go Burger, Bocca East, and Bistro Nora have sprung up on Second Avenue
- Nearby, Pony Bar and BareBurger opened on First Ave, followed by cocktail bar Jbird on East 75th Street
- Farther uptown, Earl’s Beer & Cheese, Kaia Wine Bar, and ABV made a splash this spring

Nightlife spotlight: Jbird

Downtown mixologists Jason Littrell (of Death & Co.) and Marshall Altier (of 1534) have designed a fierce cocktail menu at Jbird on East 75th Street between Second and First avenues.

The extensive list of well-balanced, smart drinks has made the bar an industry favorite, while appealing to a wide audience.

“It’s fancy without the fussy,” Littrell tells Metro. “Our mission is to create very good drinks, very quickly, and give people something really good to eat.”

The menu combines Littrell and Atelier’s own concoctions with notable drinks from bartenders around the country.

“We really took our egos out of it, we wanted there to be something on the menu for everyone.”

Not sure what to try? The Honey-Nut Old Fashioned is the bar’s best-seller, while Metro is partial to the Maddow. Pair with the Savory Popcorn to wow your taste buds. Cheers!


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