Housed in midtown for over a decade, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole has been converted to Charlie Palmer Steak, on track to open in April, while his company negotiates a new Upper East Side location for Aureole.
Palmer has mentored a surprising number of chefs at Aureole (135 W. 42nd St.), with a handful, like Bryan Voltaggio and Michael Mina, opening their own restaurant groups. The original location opened on 61st Street in 1988, followed by the move to midtown 2009.
Palmer made his career in Manhattan, first at The River Cafe in the early ‘80s, after which he opened Aureole, and eventually a fleet of restaurants and hotels in and outside of Manhattan — in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Reno, NV; and Napa and Healdsburg, Calif.
For the steakhouse opening in the former Aureole space, Palmer says they’ve just finished the redesign and have expanded the menu, which will include more fish and pasta, since “this is what a lot of people are looking for,” he says.
In addition, it’ll be the Charlie Palmer restaurant for people staying at The Knick, since he says he doesn’t see his restaurants in the hotel opening much before the end of the year. His rooftop bar at The Knick, St. Cloud, will reopen later in the spring, however, and will include its rooftop cigar lounge.
Over in Washington, D.C., the Charlie Palmer Steak location will reopen for dinner, five days a week, tentatively on April 12, with lunch rolling out a couple of weeks later. At that point — in time for cherry blossoms — the company is opening a bar on the rooftop, serving drinks and light bites, “snacks you’d want for drinking,” he says. The roof has a spectacular view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument — and if it rains, guests can stay put since it’s sheltered.
(Palmer’s son Reed, who just graduated from Cornell, is getting into the family business and is involved in the reopening of both locations.)
Since the pandemic began and Palmer temporarily shuttered his New York dining rooms, his company has been working out of the (former) Condé Nast restaurant/cafe/lounge/food hall designed by Frank Gehry. The food for the space had originally been managed by Claus Meyer. It’s now called Well& by Durst, with Palmer taking over the space almost two years ago.
Well& is the kitchen where staff prepped 2000 meals a day early in the pandemic for World Central Kitchen; it’s been where staff has been feeding people working through the pandemic; it’s where Palmer has hosted online cooking demos, and where employees cook online delivery and takeout orders.
Palmer says the location has been more important than the company had expected since it has allowed a lot of staff to stay employed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, “we had a very short list of priorities,” he says. “It started with, ‘How do we make sure our people are taken care of?’” which meant helping people get unemployment, making sure their health insurance stayed current, and helping to reposition workers elsewhere in or out of the company.
The next step was “rethinking each one of our business models,” followed by making sure partners — in owned and leased spaces as well as management agreements — were comfortable with the company’s decisions. As the pandemic continued, the company also went to each partner and renegotiated leases and management deals. For example, “It doesn’t make sense to pay for a licensing agreement when the restaurants aren’t even open,” he says. Of his partners, he says, “we’ve been incredibly fortunate.”
But recovery will be a long haul.
“It’s going to be so important that all the restaurants, smaller independent restaurants, new restaurants, all restaurants are supported by the public,” he says, comparing the near future to a post-9/11 New York. Of that time, he recalls more tourists than usual visiting — staying in hotels, going to the theater, and eating in the city’s restaurants.
“Here we are again,” he says. “And that’s where the public can make a difference and help New York come back to where it should be.”