ISABELLA’S CLOSES SUDDENLY AFTER DECADES ON THE UWS

By Carol Tannenhauser

Isabella’s at 77th Street and Columbus, a staple of the Upper West Side dining scene for decades, closed its doors for good on Monday morning.

“Wow, they were open last night,” said one woman who walked by and saw the “closed” sign.

An employee said “the landlord chose not to renew our lease.”  BR Guest Hospitality, explained further.

“Isabella’s lease was up for renewal and the landlord chose not to renew. We enjoyed the past 30 years and thank everyone in the community for their support. BR Guest Hospitality will continue to offer many other great restaurants in the city, including Atlantic Grill, Dos Caminos, Blue Fin, Bill’s Bar and Burger, Blue Water Grill and Strip House.”

It was recently reported that BR Guest would be purchased by Tilman Fertitta, who owns the Landry’s restaurant chain, several casinos and Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant in Times Square. At the time the sale was announced a lawyer for the company said, “We plan on keeping all of the restaurants….We don’t plan on changing anything.”

“It’s the end of an era,” said one passerby. “It’s like the 80’s,” said another (presumably a reference to tough times on the UWS).

Another blamed the management for allowing the place to deteriorate.

“What one man built and operated successfully for over two decades, was destroyed by corporate entities in recent years that lacked any knowledge of our UWS community and the landmark value of Isabella’s,” wrote Joseph Bolanos.

The Mediterranean spot has a large outdoor patio and a sun-filled dining room. On weekends, it was usually packed for brunch. It was featured in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Isabella’s employee said the restaurant had been around 30 years.

Update: Read the letter from a former Isabella’s owner here.

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser. Chair photo by Peter Weiss.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 129 comments | permalink
    1. 10023 says:

      The UWS has too many greedy landlords

      • F M says:

        The entire city has too many “greedy landlords”, and those two words are redundant.

        • Chrigid says:

          In a cab, somewhere between 82nd and 94th, I glanced across the median and saw two banks cheek-by-jowl on the west side of broadway, nothing between them but a wall.

          • Kimberly says:

            That is perhaps the corner of 89th and Bway. There was a large HSBC there that reduced their size by half. I was very surprised and delighted by this bank downsizing trend until a Wells Fargo took the space they vacated.

    2. Guest1 says:

      First Ocean and now Isabella’s. What’s going on with BR Guest.

      • Stephen says:

        RE Ocean Grill. Do you think any restaurant could survive behind the elevator on the Ocean building. That and killing off cafe service meant without rent concession it did not stand a chance.

        Surprise the landlord did not work harder on that one. A good ground floor tenant for the Chi chi apartments being constructed above.

        • AC says:

          First was Park Avalon, perhaps the best BR Guest Restaurant they ever had. Went down from there , , , Blue Water Grill revamping their Menu a few years back didn’t help. New Owners have just made things worse.

    3. Anthony says:

      That’s a shame – I’ll miss the chocolate bag dessert!

    4. jeff says:

      unreal that there’s a typo in the goodbye sign

    5. LuluT says:

      This makes me sad. Many good memories there, followed by shopping at the flea market.

    6. Janet Sullivan says:

      just like Tempura Dan, a popular, reasonably priced and always busy restaurant on B’way and 68 St. It suddenly closed too. What losses for our community.

    7. Bob says:

      It surprises me because it was one of the few restaurants that seemed to be doing well – well enough to pay the high rents that seem to be the norm these days across NYC. It had a few people for lunch most week days along with a decent dinner crowd, and on weekends it did very well from open to close. It was not like many other restaurants that rely on three our four meals a week (Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch).

      On the other hand it does not surprise me if Tilman Fertitta bought it. He seems to be penny wise pound foolish.

      This could be an opportunity for a decent restaurant to come in. Isabella’s was nothing great and it still seemed to do fairly well. Something more formal than Shake Shack yet more casual than Dovetail. Maybe someone like Keith Mcnally will come in (Balthazar, Pastis, Morandi, Minetta Tavern, Augustine,…) or Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack, The Modern, Maialino, Marta,…). It’s a good location and a nice space.

      • Brad Gross says:

        Its a GREAT location, one of the very very best on the UWS. I always thought that was the real secret behind the success of Isabellas. OK food, nothing special, but a smashing location and cozy space.

    8. Eln says:

      Another one bites the dust.

    9. ScooterStan says:

      Check door-sign:
      “Atlantic GILL East” ??!!

      smells fishy

    10. Alberly says:

      They lost their way. It started when they removed their beautiful plants in order to squeeze in a few more tables.

      • Amanda Perkins says:

        Actually, that was to save floor space 🙂 We didn’t add any tables when we took out the plants!

    11. Spence Halperin says:

      I hope we can find out what really happened here. I thought it was the most pleasant restaurant space on the UWS.

    12. Superf88 says:

      Will never recover from La Fortuna

      • R says:

        Finally someone remembers La Fortuna! Thank you! I still find myself walking over there for coffee and then remembering that it’s long gone.

      • nycityny says:

        I too miss Cafe La Fortuna. I wish another Italian cafe would open instead of a new French bakery every other week.

      • M.pipik says:

        I so miss La Fortuna and its cookies and biscotti, and sitting for hours after a performance at Lincoln Center.

      • Longtime Upperwestsider says:

        I still haven’t recovered from Marvin Gardens and Teacher’s.

    13. young Sally says:

      Well now I know who to blame for the scourge that is Bubba Gump shrimp.

    14. Albert Wu says:

      I believe they will be undergoing renovation under the same ownership

    15. Corine says:

      And Ruby Foos. I had,my Sweet 16 there. Very bummed. I was more upset about Ruby Foos as the food was scrumptious.

    16. jor says:

      Isabella’s was also featured in a Seinfeld episode “The Visa” (S4 E17).

    17. GG says:

      Maybe we will get lucky and they will put a Chick-Fil-A in there…..

      When is the UWS going to expand its supposedly sophisticated palate??

      Also, i’m a little confused about the “it’s the 80’s again” comment…I thought that is what we all wanted. Were the 80’s a good thing or a bad thing? I guess it depends on who you ask…and when.

    18. Sean says:

      They need to open something for the kids.

    19. Ruthie says:

      This is very sad. There are WAY too many empty storefronts on the Upper West Side – it’s quite troublesome.

    20. Bobby says:

      one word, Tragic

    21. amy says:

      We were literally just there on Friday. This is is so sad.

    22. Lauren says:

      The UWS is dying….north of 86 all along Broadway right up to Columbia. Empty storefronts. I counted almost 70 on that stretch of Broadway.
      The greed of landlords has turned UWS into….banks, drugstores and walk-in medical. No mom and pops… nothing that would make a neighborhood a neighborhood.
      I WISH this Mayor or the City Council would pay attention to us…before there’s nothing left. #BleakBroadway

    23. Carlos says:

      I would think they would be entering their most profitable season as now they can make full use of the outdoor space. I was not a huge fan but it was fine and I highly doubt that something better will replace it. I know many have requested something fairly upscale but I think the best solution is something that services the pre/post museum crowd to alleviate some of the crowds at Shake Shack, though maybe slightly more upscale than Shake Shack.

    24. Amanda Perkins says:

      I have been employed at Isabellas for ten years and after reading certain comments in this article, I have to say that we are and always have been a family. Landry’s/Tillman were extremely supportive of us and our management/chefs are the best of the best.

      It was my absolute pleasure to serve the Upper West Side and I will miss all of the regulars and my Isabella’s family with all my heart. You have changed my life and I am so proud of our team.

      • Ethan says:

        Thank you Amanda! As your frequent customer I will miss your excellent service and ready smile. Also our discussion about politics, etc. With Telepan and now Isabella’s closed, I will have to find a new “regular”spot but it’s becoming impossible on the UWS so I may have to start seeking out places in the boroughs or north Jersey or something gross like that! All the best, Ethan

        • Amanda says:

          Aww, Hi Ethan! I will miss our talks too 🙁 It is truly difficult to have to leave and not say goodby to all of the regulars we have grown to know over the years. Try Frida! Their food is amazing!

    25. Paris Wyome says:

      I have lived in the W 70s since the 70s, and I don’t ever recall so many restaurants closing in this area in rather a relatively short period of time as has been going on recently. And most of them are very good, upscale places. Empty retail spaces are not good. Why doesn’t WSR produce a report for reasons behind all the closings and what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend?

    26. Sophia says:

      Oh, no! And I was just about to make brunch reservations for this coming Saturday! How sad!

      • YourFriendlyIsabellasServer says:

        We actually don’t take any reservations for brunch; it is first come first available. We do tend to go on a wait around noon, so I would recommend coming in before 11:30. However, we only seat complete parties so make sure you and your guests are all in the restaurant to ensure being sat as quickly as possible. Enjoy your brunch!

    27. 10025 says:

      A passerby said “it’s like the 80’s”? Really? Lol Super exaggerated. Restaurants like Isabella’s weren’t present in this area during that era. I wish it was still like the 80’s then all us native New Yorkers could still afford to rent any kind of space here whether it was residential or commercial.

    28. Cyrus says:

      You know, you can take my mustard shops and specialty macaroons with nary a whimper, but now you’ve crossed the line by taking Isabella’s.

      So sad.

    29. Mary Stout says:

      Probably an WAHLBURGERS

    30. jeffrey goldberg says:

      And Artie’s deli on Broadway and 84th closed too.

    31. E says:

      This is sad, I just had dinner there a few weeks ago.

      I’m so sick of the comments when a restaurant opens or closes on this site – you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There is so much criticism and living in the past that it’s not surprising that businesses don’t wants to open on the UWS. How about supporting those that venture here, it’s not easy to own a business and get great staff. I know, I own a small business! please be kinder and maybe keep your negative comments to yourself especially if you don’t actually eat at these places.

    32. Former Employee says:

      Good news. Owner is a prick. Worst boss 20 years in the business.

    33. Big Earl says:

      Wow, another one bites the dust. Speechless. I see others mentioned it was used in a couple sitcoms – Seinfeld and Curb, but maybe 1-2 years ago they filmed part of a movie there for a day or two. Does anybody recall what movie filmed there? Just curious.

    34. George says:

      After 40 years Jackson Hole closed three Manhattan locations. Greedy landlords.

      • Jay says:

        Or the food wasn’t that great and the competition is high and margins low.

      • ws says:

        Ignorant commenter and greedy tenant in this case.

        Jackson Hole closed because they were sued for withholding tips.

    35. Linda Wolfe says:

      A disgrace!

    36. Kelly says:

      The greed landlords at W. 67th and Columbus where they doubled the rent on Starbucks is STILL sitting empty a year later! Serves them right!

      • Bob says:

        Greed is everywhere! Please don’t be so myopic to only see landlords as greedy. You are over-paying for just about everything these days, regardless of where you are.

    37. Ted says:

      Isabella’s was one of those teflon restaurants that flourished despite a mediocre product and poor service. One of the few UWS “institutions” that I am actually not sad to see go.

    38. hfalk says:

      so sad, this was an UWS institution!

    39. Sherman says:

      There are numerous reasons why any business will close.

      To blame Isabella’s closing simply on “greedy landlords” is ridiculous and ignorant.

      I’m sorry Isabella’s is gone but I’ve eaten there a few times and I found it to be very mediocre and overrated.

    40. A Westsider says:

      I’m sure that spot will make a beautiful bank or pharmacy. Just what we need on the UWS. /s

      • Bob says:

        If that is who can afford the rents then that is who will move in. The space is not really great for either – nor is the location – but you never know.

        Speaking of that block, the clothing store down on the south side if the block can’t be doing too well. Peruvian clothing!?!?!

    41. Sean says:

      It is right across from the museum. It would be a perfect spot for something for the tourists or the kids. This stretch of Columbus Ave. is no longer a destination to eat adult fare or to sit outside unless someone was to do something truely outstanding.

      • Cato says:

        That stretch of Columbus hasn’t been a destination for adults since Paul Prudhomme closed his pop-up in the space that became Isabella’s 20-plus years ago.

    42. Melissa says:

      I am DEVASTATED!! I adored this place. So many wonderful and important occasions were celebrated here. I could just cry. Another special thing ruined by corporate greed.

    43. Marissa says:

      Such sad news! On the bright side for staff who are currently out of a job, HMG+ is now hiring servers, bartenders, and captains for exclusive NYC and Long Island events. You can apply at http://www.hmgplus.com!

    44. another westsider says:

      I have been eating there for a while the past year the food was horrible. the past few months, something changed. Food was the best its ever been . sorry to see it go

      • Bob says:

        The food was passable at best. Good place if you had some out of town visitors and had a large group. There was something for on the menu for everyone and it was not too expensive. Dovetail across the street is very nice but also VERY expensive and Cafe Storico around the corner just feels odd in that museum lobby and is also very expensive for the tiny portions they serve.

    45. nyc says:

      The thought of Landry’s taken over Any restaurants in NYC is terrible. I have eaten in past years when outside NYC , in some of the places they run or maybe own, what a joke. NYC will eat them and spit them out . SAD

    46. John L Venable says:

      Before Isabella’s moved in, it had been multiple names during my time on the UWS, even KPaul was there for a short stint with his “Roadshow”. Hundreds of folks on line.

    47. UWS Resident says:

      Someone has to stand up to these greedy landlords! There is more to the upper west side community than money.

      • Cato says:

        “There is more to the upper west side community than money.”

        Nope. Not any more. That’s it, that’s all, that’s everything. And so many voices here cheer that change. It’s sad.

        (Yes, yes, chorus, I know, I can move to the suburbs, etc. etc. But that doesn’t stop me from mourning what’s happened to my neighborhood.)

    48. Enoughisenough says:

      I am so tired of the greedy landlords on the upper west side. Has anyone noticed that all we have these days are drug stores and banks?There should be zoning and other regulations that prevent greedy landlords causing all of our favorite places to close down. We have lost so many great community places in the last few years – Harry’s Burritos, Ocean, even Starbucks couldn’t survive on Columbus. If Starbucks and Isabella’s can’t make it then who can? Someone needs to STAND UP TO GREED. THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN MONEY. WAKE UP PEOPLE.

      • julie says:

        You’re absolutely right!

      • Jason says:

        There is more to life than money?? Well yes, but there is no more to BUSINESS than money. Indeed that’s what BUSINESS is. Landlords are business people, do you really think that they have a moral responsibility to the neighborhood? No way, they have a fiscal and fiduciary responsibility to their investors and families. Get over yourself people.

    49. Alysa says:

      So tired of greedy landlords. Someone has to put a stop to this.

      • your neighbor says:

        Hey Alysa, we’ll put you in charge!

        First order of business will be for you to buy up some buildings.
        Next find tenants that will pay below market rents.
        Next, try to pay your unreasonably quickly escalating NYC real estate taxes,mortgage and building upkeep with whatever income you earn. Good luck even breaking even.

        • Margaret says:

          No. If the landlords were charging market rent, we would not be watching businesses close and spaces sit vacant. Spaces that had viable and supported neighborhood businesses in them are sitting vacant for a year or more. Existing businesses are going under when their leases roll and the landlords jack up the asking rent. Longtime employees lose their jobs, and the spaces sit vacant. I wonder what you think market rent means.

    50. Jens says:

      The hedge funds have moved into real estate so they can rape and pillage some more. Meanwhile they are all happy up on the gold coast in CT.

      • Larry Feldman says:

        The hedge funds/private equity firms – who look only at the bottom line – are buying up businesses (often for cents on the dollar in bankruptcy) and then pillage the businesses without any regard to the people who built them, the small suppliers who provided them with goods, the employees, the community or society.

    51. B.B. says:

      Oh No! For the love of God, NO!

      Now this one hurts.

    52. Eric Feldman says:

      This is the worst place I have ever worked. Ever. They treated their staff terribly. Management and owner alike ruled with fear. Good riddance I’m so happy I outlasted this place. And that no one has to work here ever again. May the rest of their restaurants suffer a similar fate.

    53. Amelia Voorsanger says:

      I don t believe the lease non renewal because it is not likely, two separate landlords,!in teo sepsrste locations
      Would refuse to renew simultaneously.

    54. Michael Grunberg says:

      Speaking for the owners of the building . . . we are as sad as everyone else that this great institution was left to languish on the vine by two successive corporate owners. In addition Isabella’s was unfortunately sued under a meritless aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act as have MANY merchants on Columbus Avenue resulting in costs difficult if not impossible to absorb especially in light of the reduced income. We as owners would have gladly renewed Isabella’s as we have for 30 yrs but unfortunately the economics and litigious world we live in ruined such a classic staple in our neighborhood. I for one will miss them . . . Maybe Stephen Hanson might be coaxed out of a well deserved retirement to open up another.

      • GG says:

        *****PLEASE READ THE COMMENT ABOVE*****

        This should be the top comment on this thread. Actually it should be in the article. Everyone is jumping to conclusions here without any verifiable information.

        A statement from an ex-employee?!?! That is what everyone is basing their opinions on?? I am sad to say that this is not very thorough reporting by the WSR here. Did they even try to contact the landlord/owner?

        I just want the real facts…not the same old narrative (Greedy landlords!!) that everyone loves to use to explain this unfortunate situation on the UWS. We are not going to fix it until we diagnose it accurately!!

    55. joe says:

      So sad. Funny that numerous posters mentioned Seinfeld and Curb. I have seen both Jerry (a couple of times) and Larry David eating there!

    56. Jason says:

      The greed in our country, and our city is getting out of hand. The hedge funds, who pay almost no taxes, are buying up all the businesses and making decisions in the interest of money only. We need leadership that will see the “big picture” and have the balls to make decisions that benefit all of society, not just the wealthy. Why do we allow people to HOARD billions of dollars in a bank account while others are starving? Time to stand up to what is right. Isabella’s is one more example of greed by landlords and hedge funds. We need to think of our community and what is best for our country in the LONG RUN. Enough short run thinking.

    57. The only outside cafe left on the UWS not shaded by scaffolding. Yay. Depressing.

      • Juan says:

        Really? Have you been to Fred’s? Nice Matin? Spring Natural? Mermaid Inn? There are numerous places where you can eat outside. I liked Isabella’s, but walking by, I found most of the people who sat outdoors to be pretentious snobs who were feeding the narcissistic natures – they were there to be seen, not to enjoy the nice weather.

    58. Urbanist says:

      As a landlord and restaurateur, I can only say, it is hard for any restaurant to make it that has to pay a market rent here on the UWS

    59. Richard Leibell says:

      I worked as a bartender at that same spotwhen it was Nicki and Kelly’s in the early 80’s.Sorry to see the restaurant close.Many more will follow with ridiculous rents and 15.00 an hour for restaurant waiters and bartenders.Greed is not always good.Glad that I live in Palm Springs now!

    60. Uws says:

      It’s a shame , Isabella’s had a good run . When the original Br guest ran the business , food was fair at best, then it was sold I believe . Greed # 1 the first group that sold . Then it’s run by a group ( Starwood ) from what I hear knew nothing about the Restaurunt business . Now we have greed again . Landry’s , fast food restaurant group of the year. The owner has a money show. Made me sick to watch it . What a jerk

    61. Sean Cooper says:

      Honestly people, this restaurant was never that good.

    62. Anita says:

      I am so sad about this. I’ve lived next door for 10 years, and I loved walking by there at night with my dog and talking to the staff who were taking breaks outside or closing up. It made me feel safe to be out and about at that hour. Not to mention how great it was to walk by and see people dining outside and enjoying the weather. Is the the owner selling the building??? Do you we have another w 78/Columbus situation to look forward to with years of construction and scaffolding? I’m so disappointed.

    63. UWS says:

      So much for the local Business Improvement District doing anything about all the closed businesses and empty store fronts. What exactly is NYC SBS doing about this? Seems like NYC SBS should be closed down. What’s the metrics of the SBS staff doing anything to help a small business owner?

    64. Greg Uehling says:

      This is where my wife and I consummated our decision to have her move from Seattle to NYC to live with me and begin our lives together, forever. That was 20 years ago.

    65. Lynn Manuell says:

      Horrible. I don not think landlords should be allowed to withdraw leases – especially for ny establishment that is over 20 Years old. I think the city needs to step in and preserve part of our city before everything that has made New York unique is gone!

    66. Sean says:

      I miss the Bagel Nosh.

    67. Craig Strong says:

      That is sad. I bartended there in the 90’s but also grew up on the upper West Side and have eaten there over the decades. I always looked forward to stopping in when visiting NYC.

    68. UWSHebrew says:

      111 comments about a restaurant closing down, 7 comments about a crime spree. Seems about right.

      • GG says:

        Well, crime, relatively isn’t a significant issue in this area. Thank God! NYC is the safest large city in the country. Thank you NYPD! (Back me up here, Bruce..hahaha)

        And this isn’t really just about a restaurant closing, it’s about the economy at large and the future of our beloved neighborhood and its many excellent businesses. Remember your man Trump?? this is about jobs, jobs, jobs (and food, I mean, everybody’s got to eat, no??)

        Anyway, I know these places might not mean anything to the newcomers and transplants among us but to many of us who have been here for decades, these places are meaningful and often played memorable roles in our lives. Even you can understand that. Nostalgia is just one of those things that makes life worth living.

        I mean, Big Nick’s has been closed for years and I still cry myself to sleep every night.:)

        • UWSHebrew says:

          is there any topic that you don’t mention Trump? Have a nice summer wearing your pink wool hat.

          • GG says:

            Touche! and a fair point…but I can’t help it. I need professional help I think.

            I literally cannot turn on my TV, go on the internet, look at my phone, do ANYTHING without being bombarded with the Donald Trump show 24/7!! It’s like some horrible nightmare or some Twilight Zone episode but it’s REAL!!!

            I just don’t see how this is going to be sustainable for 4 yrs. Be honest…with all these scandals and his amateurish yet arrogant approach to governing….are you starting to have a little buyers remorse?? just a little?:)

            Anyway, I must say you are my favorite sparring partner around here. I was a lawyer for many years and I guess I miss the back and forth a little more than I am willing to admit.

            Which reminds me….Kids, don’t practice law..not even once.:)

            • UWSHebrew says:

              I would of voted for anyone except Hillary. Anyone. I have no buyers remorse because it is not Hillary. However, I do wish for a few things to change, number one being his daughter and son-in-law do not belong in the White House, I really want them gone.

            • GG says:

              UWSHebrew: I hear you on the Hillary thing…loud and clear. Hopefully this country has seen the last of the Clintons…all of them. I have a bad feeling that the daughter is going to be more and more active in politics. Let’s hope not.

              And I also agree about the nepotism situation in the Oval Office. AMAZING!!! we actually agree on something…a couple of things. There is hope!!

            • Mark says:

              Gotta love that UWSHebrew posted more times here than he did on the crime “spree” thread.
              Seems about right.

    69. Jean C. Joachim says:

      Horrible! I just ate there on Thursday. What the hell is happening? Too much landlord greed going around. First Artie’s and now this. So sad. It was a favorite of mine. Never had a bad meal there.

    70. mary says:

      This place had seriously deteriorated over the years so I’m not surprised it closed. Used to be great, but I stopped going a while back.

    71. BB Orlando says:

      This was nasty for the staff, which was very good –and added greatly to Isabella’s appeal Why couldn’t it have been done to give them more notice?

      But rich owners don’t care about the non-rich.

    72. JCT says:

      I will never be going to whatever restaurant moves in to that space

    73. Billy Amato says:

      BR Guest Restaurants are greatly missed managed.

      • nycmanager says:

        BR Guest has always been mismanaged . I worked as a manager , You have Steve Hansen had everyone scared, micro managed everything, never trusted anyone . And managed by humiliation . I have friends who still work there, they say Starwood was a joke and now Landry’s are only worried cost. ALL a recipes for failure . I’m so glad I left a few years back.