Machiavelli Restaurant to Close in Late October

Trattoria Machiavelli, the lavishly decorated Italian restaurant at 519 Columbus Avenue (85th), will close its doors on October 27, according to a message from the owners.

The restaurant couldn’t agree on a lease with the landlord, according to the note.

UPDATE: Machiavelli signed a last-minute lease!

“Like many of our small business neighbors in New York City, we were unable to achieve a sustainable lease agreement with our landlord.”

Machiavelli showcased live music and held Venetian Carnevale festivities every year and made a Zagat list of Upper West Siders’ favorite restaurants in 2015. A Times reviewer wrote that eating there was “like visiting a museum of Italian food.” It has been open for six years.

“It has been our pleasure to serve this community through offering a unique sanctuary for classic Italian cuisine and live music,” the note said. “Please join us for one last performance of The New Camerata Opera this Thursday evening.”

“There’s no other place like it,” wrote Marcia Menter, a fan of the restaurant, in an email to West Side Rag. “Medieval murals, heavy chairs like little thrones that require you to ensconce yourself, seriously good food. A high toned hangout with a great happy hour. Love to sit by the window and watch 85th Street go by.”

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 72 comments | permalink
    1. Catherine says:

      That is a real shame.

    2. Ish Kabibble says:

      Another one bites the dust. Pretty soon there will only be Chase, Starbucks and Duane Reade on every corner.

      • David Collins says:

        And if that is the case, which it is not, then it will mean that that is what people want.

        Neither Starbucks nor Chase nor any business will pay open stores and pay high rents unless they are making money by doing so. And if they are opening up all these locations it is likely because they are indeed making money, and they are doing so because people are going there.

        What is wrong with giving people what they want and with business owners making money?

        • Smithe says:

          Yes indeed. It is a simple concept called economics which is obviously a subject most WSR commenters are not familiar with.

          • MarkM says:

            Yes. If we, as a neighborhood, want to keep the local businesses than we should shop or dine their often. Conversely, if we organized to boycott national chains and they would have a tough time paying the rent, then maybe landlords wouldn’t be so willing to push the local merchants out. It is on us.

        • Adam Smith says:

          Your notions of economics would be cute-ish, but until there is a plausible explanation of how landlords can afford to sit on vacant real estate indefinitely, the laws of supply and demand will remain muddled by unknown externalities.

          The business and service offerings that residents of the UWS neighborhood WANT do not have a direct relationship to the ROI that landlords demand.

          You can see prime commercial real estate sitting empty for the past 3.5+ years all up and down Columbus (I could offer you a walking tour), where previously there were well-patronized restaurants, grocery stores, and retail shops, all closed because they could not negotiate leases with landlords that would allow them to profitably stay in business.

          I certainly don’t begrudge landlords the right to make a profit on their holdings, but something is certainly out of equilibrium when real estate can’t be rented at a level that allows both landlords and business owners to survive profitably.

          Ultimately, vacant storefronts (–> lack of services, lack of options) will affect the quality of life in the neighborhood, and then perhaps real estate values. But it will take a long time for those market forces to grind to their natural economic conclusion.

          • Jay says:

            Your notion of economics are cute-ish as well, “Adam”.

            There are quite a few reasons why a real estate can be vacant for a long time.

            1) Leases often last for a long time, so the landlord isn’t willing to lock themselves up in a contract for a price they know to be below market

            2) There are multiple negotiations that take place that you are unaware of and take a long time. If those negotiations fall through then they have to start all over again.

            3) Permits take a real long time to be acted upon by the city.

            4) Waiting on other leases to be up so spaces can be combined

            In all these cases, you may see an empty store front but you have no idea of what’s going on in reality.

            Reality, would show you that there are very few spaces that are empty for a really long time (>5 years). I realize people see what they want to see, reality or not.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          what a ludicrous reply by David Collins. do we even have to answer this? certainly, David, since you appear to know some economics, you can answer your own point.

          • David Collins says:

            Ludicrous is to be so tunnel visioned and myopic and unaware of reality.

            Seems everyone on here thinks they know better/more than landlords and business owners. Every time a business closes the same rhetoric pours in.

            We live in a free market country. People and businesses are focused on making money. They need the money to pay for their efforts, the debt they took on to open the business, to pay for the high costs of doing business.

            You want to complain about something, complain that restaurants are charging you $25 for a plate of pasta that costs them $4.50 and that would cost you $2.50 to make at home.

            Complain that clothing stores up and down the Columbus Ave are charging $30 for t-shirts that cost $3 for them to make.

            Why don’t you complain about banks all around the UWS charge $2-$5 to withdraw money from their ATMs.

            Surely you must feel the need to complain that residential landlords are charging upwards of $3,000 a month for one bedrooms, sometime studios.

            And if you have kids surely you must complain that private schools on the UWS like Trinity are charging close to $50,000 a year to teach a six year old.

            Why should landlords not be allowed to charge whatever they want and do as they please with their properties?!

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              David Collins responded to me with a rant about the free market, which doesn’t exist in real estate in NYC. but he didn’t respond to what i was targeting as ludicrous, which is this statement by him:

              “And if that is the case, which it is not, then it will mean that that is what people want.”

              by this he means that there is a greater demand for services and products offered by banks, Duane Reades, etc than by the small restaurants and unique shops that are being driven out of business by high rents.

              So David ranted about how i should complain about high prices and exorbitant ATM fees than about high rents. By the way, i make it a point to never pay any banks fees of any kinds, and i rarely do.

              his argument is ludicrous because there are so many complications and offsetting factors that get in the way of the pure “market” in NYC. it is impossible to compare the “need” or desire on the part of the populous for banking services from Chase to shoe repair from a local merchant, or a mom and pop restaurant.

              several things ARE clear:

              1) we have what is called a “market failure” in retail real estate on the West Side, and in most of Manhattan south of 110th. this is apparent from the large number of long term empty storefronts. and yet the retail rent levels appear to continue to climb. the excess supply, according to Econ 101, should be bringing prices down.

              2) the destruction of small stores is a destruction of a public benefit that all of us and the city as a whole, profit from.

              oh, and by the way, landlords of any type CANNOT do “whatever they want” with their properties TODAY, whether the properties are residential or commercial.

        • keith says:

          I am as much of a free market guy as there is and error on the side of progress rather than prop up buildings and businesses that are not sustainable.

          However, your thinking is not entirely accurate. large corporations have the corporate capital to in fact absorb losses on locations and do so strategically.

          Banks in particular locate branches to compete with other banks and give the overall brand profit rather than specific locations. Starbucks as well carries at least 25 % percent of its branches as a loss to maintain the larger brand.

          And many of those “flagship stores” on madison avenue and in time warner center do not actually make a profit. They are located there for exposure and appearances.

          With all that said, yes that type of behavior does jack up rents.

          • D-Rex says:

            Agreed.

            And the branches/stores are advertising, basically function as billboards. They take a loss but gain exposure and hope to capture a larger share of the their respective market.

            Not good for the variety/health of the community, but good for someone’s bottom line.

          • francis says:

            Loss leading is supposed to be illegal.

        • Richard says:

          What keith said

          The viable economic threshold for a corporation is vastly different than a small business owner. The small business owner needs to make enough money to feed his family and live a decent life. Which in NYC can easily be $150k and up. Starbucks on the other hand would be happy to break even if it enhances their brand or forces other coffee shops out of business so they could one day maybe make money at that location.

        • EGF says:

          I’m an accountant working in commercial real estate and many of these comments are laughable. They are obviously coming from individuals with zero knowledge of how the commercial rental market operates let alone how a commercial lease is structured and negotiated. If you truly want to know the economic complexities behind what is shaping your neighborhood try reading a book or taking a class on the subject. Otherwise accept your neighborhood for what it is because whether you realize it or not, you, your neighbors, and your wallets asked for it!

          • Tommy Mandel says:

            Thanks for the (lack of) details. The smug attitude highlights what’s wrong with “Real Estate at AnyPrice” thinking that is ravaging the diversity of our neighborhoods by, yes, forcing out small businesses with personality. Incidentally, Machiavelli seems to have reached an agreement to remain open. So, Art, fine food, and Way Out Murals remain in our neighborhood!

          • keith says:

            Not sure if you are refering to my comment being baseless, but for what it is worth I was the retail location project executive for a bank which has at least a dozen branches on the UWS. I have direct knowledge of the rental and return costs for all of those branches and insight on the decision making process for closing them, opening new branches, or renovating existing. So I assure you I know what I am talking about.

            As an aside I left that position for something more rewarding.

      • Woody says:

        Typical knee-jerk whiny response lacking any originality or depth. People want ATM’s, coffee shops, and pharmacy/convenience stores in abundance or they wouldn’t exist.

        I never heard anyone complain about the proliferation of bars where people can hang out but Starbucks is a big problem to them.

        They also complain about ATM fees but don’t appreciate their own banks expanding to more locations where they can access their money without fees.

        Yada, Yada, Yada about convenience stores.

      • francis says:

        Duane Reade ?

        It will be Walgreen’s by then.

    3. Ethan says:

      Some time ago, they started having a pianist, a bad one, who played all the time. It filled the very reverberant room with unpleasantness and there was simply no escape from it, so we stopped going there.
      The problem with losing a place like this is that experience shows that its replacement will almost certainly be something much worse.

      • David Collins says:

        Ha!

        Could not agree with you more.

        And yes, I am shocked at some of the new businesses going into recently closed spaces. It almost seems painfully obvious what bad businesses they are – worse than what was there before.

    4. CanUWS says:

      Sad news. Are they relocating? Will be touch to top the decor

    5. John says:

      Damn it! This is getting to be really depressing. Within the space of a few months, two of my favorite UWS joints have closed (or are about to) — Turkuaz and now Machiavelli’s. Downtown, a perennial fave (Cafe Orlin) just closed. The whole city is becoming inimical to smaller businesses.

    6. UWS says:

      What exactly does the Columbus Avenue BID do?

    7. Kathleen Treat says:

      LOATHE this story…LOVE Machiavelli! Real estate runs this
      town and it’s beyond time for our pols to take this down. Greed for higher and higher rents is why Hell’s Kitchen is now nothing but bars. No more Mom and Pops; a neighborhood overrun with bridge and tunnel drunks every weekend. Your community board has been warned…..

    8. Rose Lynn Sherr says:

      I am so sick of greedy landlords devastating our neighborhood. Every block has empty store fronts because they had to leave due to their rent being doubled.
      Now the best and most gracious restaurant in our neighborhood is being pushed out by the greedy landlords who have no interest in our neiborhood, only in their out-of-control greed. We almost lost our Judaica store. One clothing store after another had to close.

      • Sherman says:

        Since you’re so upset about “greedy landlords” maybe you should invest in commercial property and lease your space to the tenant willing to pay you the least in rent.

        • Stacey says:

          Sherman, your reply is ridiculous. Have you seen all the open space on the UWS? It’s because of greed – plain and simple. Our neighborhood is becoming a ghost town.

          • Woody says:

            Anyone who wants to make a decent profit on a risky investment that’s not yours is considered greedy according to you.

            Most of you don’t remember how bad the real estate market was years ago when property owners had to walk away from properties and lost everything. Unlike residential renters who take one or two-year leases, landlords need to lock in for much longer uncertain lease periods and have no certainty that either the business environment or financial strength of the lessee will continue to be healthy.

            It’s very easy to have no skin in the game and critique investors who do put their money at risk.

            • Sarah says:

              “landlords need to lock in for much longer uncertain lease periods and have no certainty that either the business environment or financial strength of the lessee will continue to be healthy.”

              This is an argument for moderate rents for already established and thriving businesses, not an argument for driving out such businesses in the hopes of tripling the rent. The higher the rent, the more fragile the business will always be.

        • Jay says:

          Sherman, you forgot that it’s pretty much do as I say, not as I do around here.

          It’s funny to read about “greed”, when I’m sure they’d want top dollar for anything they would want to sell.

        • MJ says:

          No, Sherman. Rose doesn’t have to fix this on her own.

          Perhaps our fabulous elected officials could step in and make laws to help keep neighborhoods in tact.

          Helen Rosenthal anyone?? The UWS loves her so much, is she helping with this at all? My guess is no. And while you might not care, it’s a similar greed that is occurring with all the condo developers that partially caused the terrible school rezoning.

          Our neighborhood is desirable, and all landlords/developers want a piece of it and they are literally bulldozing their way in.

          But the great nabe they want is slowly dying because there are no rules to protect anything valuable. Not that they care, they sell a picture of what was, take their money and run.

          Elected officials can work with the city to enforce penalties for spaces that sit empty, limit redundant businesses (banks) etc. If a space sits empty for years, landlords aren’t charging market rate – they are overcharging and probably claiming a tax “loss”.

          This is pure greed.

          • Sherman says:

            I’m a CPA.

            I know a thing or two about what a “tax loss” is and what you’re saying makes absolutely no sense.

            • MJ says:

              So if spaces sit empty and landlords don’t make income, it’s not a revenue loss when they go to file taxes?

          • Woody says:

            “If a space sits empty for years, landlords aren’t charging market rate – they are overcharging and probably claiming a tax “loss”.

            This comment alone gives me reason to discount anything you say about the real estate market.

      • Juan says:

        As anyone who reads the newspaper or owns there apartment knows, real estate taxes have been going up a lot. The reason for this is that the city has to balance the budget. The reason the city is having trouble balancing its budget is rapidly growing pension and OPEB costs. NYC employees get among the most generous retirement benefits in the county and it is costing taxpayers a fortune.

        So if you want your stores to stay open, perhaps convince some of the public employees you know to take benefits cuts. Then taxes won’t go up as much so landlords won’t need to charge as much rent to make up these increasing costs. Until taxes stop going up, there is not much landlords can do – they are entitled to make a profit also. Though I do agree that there should be some sort of penalty for leaving a store vacant for too long – it really is a blight on the neighborhood.

        • francis says:

          If decently fed and housed city employees are the only thing keeping rents up ( it’s not ), then so be it.

          Something tells me the landlords are living better than the union rank and file, but of course you’ll never see the tabloids make a big deal about it.

      • francis says:

        This “greedy landlord” argument is a fixture in the OPEN/CLOSED section, with both sides presenting hyperbolic arguments in bad faith.

        The real question is whether or not the NY commercial real estate market is open to new entrants, or is it controlled by a handful of colluders.

        If it’s really a free and fair market, there’s still the problem that only large companies can absorb downturns in high rent areas. Most likely it’s not completely free and fair, which is part of the problem.

        Antitrust laws were established to slow the natural tendency of capitalist societies towards big box-ism, and when enforced, they work.

        The question is therefore one of tuning.

    9. Jayce says:

      Sooo sad to see it go. Great atmosphere and delicious food. Another greedy landlord story.

    10. Brenda says:

      It’s always sad to see businesses leave the neighborhood. I had a very unpleasant dinner there once (& never returned) but still…

    11. Marci says:

      What a loss! I’ve had so many great meals at Machiavelli. The Upper West Side is on its way to becoming a vast vacant lot.

    12. best-sider says:

      The food was mediocre at best. Thanks to the landlord maybe the upper west 80s can finally get a reputable institution of fine dining.

    13. Paul RL says:

      While I don’t adhere to the “Those greedy landlords!” chorus, I’m actually starting to agree with Bruce Bernstein that maybe some sort of commercial rent control might be in order. I’m don’t know enough to understand the ramifications of it, and at the end of the day I might not be on board, but too many neighborhood-friendly businesses are closing strictly because of massive rent increases. Perhaps Bruce and others can elaborate on the pros and cons, and how it would work.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        thank you Paul. the comment is appreciated.

        I’ll try to circle back with an intelligent response by the end of the day. there are several proposals on the table, i believe.

      • francis says:

        Landlords get a lot of breaks from the city, and cry when they need to give something back in the form of rent controls. They take the subsidies and whine about the controls.

        Empty storefronts ( 86th & Bway ) for years on end hurt the neighborhood. If you want tax breaks and lax regulations, give a little in return.

    14. best-sider says:

      The food was not very good. It is always sad when rents rise and push out our favorites, but on the bright side maybe we’ll be happy about a new and better restaurant; maybe one of those Filipino joints that have been popping up around town…

    15. Lynn says:

      Sad to see. I hope someone saves the beautiful murals which are based on the Battle of San Romano paintings (one each in the Louvre, the Uffizi, and the National Gallery, London) by Paolo Uccello

    16. Jay Blankman says:

      While everyone is complaining about Greedy Landlords its also the city thats to blame by raising Real Estate taxes for commercial properties to unsustainable levels. Thats what pushes retail rents up. Each year city raises the Real Estate Tax.

      I own a small mixed use building on UWS and my Real Estate taxes went from 50k – 93k in a fairly short period of time. Retail tenants can frequently pay 50% of the tax increase per year which forces restaurants and retailers to raise prices literally every year. My taxes have gone up so much and I can’t pass it on to my restaurant tenant as I know he will not be able to stay in business. Those continually rising Real Estate taxes are a lot of the reasons rents have been pushed to unsustainable levels for retailers and restauranteurs.

      • Woody says:

        This nails it but most whiners around here will continue to rant about landlord greed while ignoring all other factors including their own online-buying habits which take business away from local brick-and-mortar stores and reduce local employment. Local people work at all establishments including the much-maligned ‘chains’.

      • Sarah says:

        Aren’t most of these leases triple net? The taxes get passed on directly to the lessee, in that case.

      • francis says:

        If you can’t afford the city, maybe you should leave along with Machiavelli.

        Perhaps a more efficient landlord who works harder can take your place and offer rents to some nice restaurants.

        Capitalism, brah …

    17. Bob Schiffmann says:

      My wife & I are broken hearted – it has been our favorite restaurant for years. Shame on the landlord!

    18. Scott says:

      Overpriced red sauce Italian. A little better than Bella Luna but exponentially more expensive. Nice atmosphere, but if it was giving the community what it wanted, the restaurant would still be alive.

    19. LesleyB says:

      Businesses come and go but this one will be hard to beat. The quality of their food, the live music, and the decor makes them unique and one of the best in the neighborhood. What makes me sad is that they are victims of their own success and that the location (not exactly a prime one IMHO) will most likely sit empty for years. Landlords have the right to charge what they want but this move is shortsighted. Perhaps the space is too big – they often can’t fill it. I hope they compromise and split the location in 2 so M can stay.

    20. Ellen Schreiber says:

      I should probably know this but can someone explain to me why it is advantageous for landlords to leave their commercial properties vacant for such long periods of time?

      • EGF says:

        It is not advantageous at all but these are usually multiple unit buildings that are already yielding a generous cash flow even at occupancy levels below 100%.

    21. bravo says:

      Garish “decor”, cavernous room, bad acoustics and awful food – what can go wrong. Glad to see them go.

    22. APF says:

      Noooooooooooooooo!

    23. Sally says:

      The space Machiavelli leases is owned by a real estate billionaire. Obviously, he’s doing okay even with high real estate taxes. So, landlords take the “loss” and wait till a big fish comes along (like a bank or Starbucks). There’s no incentive to rent at market value whatsoever. Thus, empty store fronts for years (I’ve seen decades – remember Dramatic on Columbus). Sorry no it all New Yawkers, you’re screwed!

      • Jay says:

        You don’t get to be a real estate billionaire by being as dumb as you suggest. Landlords are a lot more attuned to the market needs than you do because they have expensive consultants and they’ve been doing this a long time.

        Meanwhile, every week a store closes and the chicken littles crow at the same time ignoring the multiple store openings. It’s sad how myopic some folks can be.

        • Sally says:

          “Dumb” no just greedy. And, no I don’t see a lot of new stores opening. That’s what this whole discussion is about…empty store fronts for years.

    24. Gothamist212 says:

      All right all you Debbie Downers and know-it-alls, the owner has just announced to the dining room that she reached a deal with the landlord late this afternoon and will be staying. WSR, please contact the owner, Natalie, to uncover the details.

    25. Tommy Mandel says:

      NO, MACHIAVELLI is STAYING OPEN!!!

    26. Nathalie Delafontaine says:

      Machiavelli will go on! A last minute deal was struck and an announcement was made tonight before a memorable night of opera!

    27. Thomas Hayden says:

      Good news
      I was there last evening for an evening of fine food and opera and they announced that they are staying open.