When the New Yorker first opened in 1978, it oozed "cool,” thanks to its speak-easy location, elegant food and exclusive private club status.
“It’s where you would go and have martinis with lunch," said Tamara Gibo, “and get the kind of food you would read about in magazines.”
On Monday, though, the 40-year-old New Yorker closed for good, dealing Utah’s restaurant community a surprising blow.
“It’s heartbreaking," said Gibo, who co-owns Takashi and Post Office Place just up the street. “It’s where the innovators of Salt Lake City would eat."
The last day of service at 60 W. Market St., in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, was Saturday, said Catherine Burns, human resource director for the restaurant’s owner, Gastronomy Inc. The 30-member staff got the news Monday, and the news spread quickly among diners.
The company is offering jobs to anyone who wants one at its Market Street Grill locations in downtown, Cottonwood Heights and South Jordan.
“It’s a sad day for all of us," said Burns, who worked as a server, host and cocktail waitress at the New Yorker shortly after it opened. “The New Yorker set the stage for fine dining in Salt Lake City."
Burns said there was no single factor that forced the closure only “that times and dining tastes change.”
The final blow, however, may have come in September, when the Salt Lake County Health Department announced that as many as 650 customers who consumed food or beverages at the New Yorker Restaurant between July 25 and Aug. 15 may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus.
During that time period, an employee worked while infected and potentially handled certain food or beverage items, the department said in a news release. The agency believes this case is linked to the ongoing hepatitis A outbreak Salt Lake County has been experiencing since mid-2017.
Tom Sieg and business partner John Williams opened the New Yorker in the basement of the New York Hotel. They brought Tom Guinney into the fold in 1980. Eventually, the three formed Gastronomy Inc. Guinney is the last survivor of the founding trio. Sieg died in 2008, and Williams was killed in a house fire in 2016.
The Williams estate owns the New Yorker space, Burns said, so any future plans for the building were unclear.
As its name suggests, the New Yorker reflected a classic 1940s art deco elegance, with a stained-glass ceiling and luxurious banquettes, elements that originated from the historic Hotel Utah.
While there were three partners, the New Yorker was Sieg’s baby. He had his own chair at the bar. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.
Will Pliler was the restaurant’s culinary stalwart, joining the staff during its first year and serving as executive chef since 1984. Through the years, he won numerous awards for his food, always working on new dishes and keeping the menu current, said Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association.
In fact, Pliler was the restaurant association’s 2018 Chef of the Year.
“It was Utah’s most unique fine-dining establishment,” Sine said. “It will be a sad loss for fine dining in Utah.”
In its heyday as a private club, Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini was a regular as were those who attended the Utah Symphony, the Utah Opera and plays at the Capitol Theatre. Even the legendary Luciano Pavarotti ate there after a performance.
“It was so packed,” Burns recalled. “It was the place to go for a lunch. It was the place to go after work for cocktails."
For many of those power brokers, however, the New Yorker lost some of luster when Utah did away with private club membership.
Through the years, Pliler tried to recapture the midday crowd with specially priced lunches, but ultimately the restaurant opened only for dinner.
“For many years, when it was a private club, the clientele was exclusive. You had to be a member — or know one — to get in,” said Utah chef Dave Prows, who worked for Gastronomy early in his career.
"I hate to see a place with a great tradition close,” he added. “The New Yorker had that.”