Moran’s, a Chelsea restaurant on Tenth Avenue where auction house specialists, Upper East Side gallery directors, and Lower East Side art dealers have all joined together at some point to eat french fries at the bar and snort cocaine in the not-at-all-inconspicuous-enough bathroom, has closed. The restaurant confirmed this on the phone Monday afternoon, saying its building was sold. The restaurant shut down last Thursday. “The soul of Chelsea has officially died,” as one art world patron put it to me in an e-mail, I think earnestly.
Moran’s opened in 1957, meaning the restaurant was around back when the High Line was still a functioning railroad. At its corner at West 19th Street and Tenth Avenue, Moran’s had a prime view of what Chelsea would eventually become–the beating heart of a global art business that generates billions of dollars every year. The mass influx of galleries to the neighborhood starting in the late 1990s created a need, for the first time, for other decent restaurants in far West Chelsea–which had formerly been host to a variety of sex clubs, garages, and at least one women’s prison (which, at the very least, is still hanging in there). The irony is that there are simply too many galleries in the neighborhood now to really accommodate any other kind of business. So Moran’s, which as far as culinary experience goes was not exactly Jean-Georges, was still exceptional for the area. In the small hierarchy of restaurants that exist in New York’s main gallery district, it was simply the easiest place to go.
And it remained one of the few spots in the art world that gave off something resembling a folksy vibe. A month ago, at what was then the coldest night of the year so far, I was having drinks with a Chelsea dealer at the bar when Tim Griffin, the director of The Kitchen, sat down next to us wordlessly and consumed a plate of fries. A few minutes later, I realized that an editor at an art magazine was sitting at the other end of the bar, reading a book. Let’s not undervalue the casual encounter at a time when Volkwagen has funded an “augmented audio guide” for the Museum of Modern Art’s Björk retrospective. And I somehow don’t see art professionals being brought together by a $28 plate of cauliflower at Larry Gagosian’s Kappo Masa restaurant.
So, goodbye Moran’s! That’s one less passable bar in New York, and one less room of friendly faces for the art world.