As word spread of the closing of Forlini’s, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant in Chinatown that has become a haunt for fashionistas, artists and writers who reveled in its old-fashioned red-sauce glory, a procession of devotees he visited Baxter Street in the hope of savoring one last piece of beef. Marsala. But they were too late.
“Forlini’s has been sold,” read a note on its wooden doors. “Thanks for the memories!”
One pilgrim was Harrison Johnson, a lanky 30-year-old tech entrepreneur, who leaned out of windows last week as kitchen staff heaved crates of vegetables, canned sauces and dusty bottles of wine into a van waiting at the end of the block.
“I was going to have my wedding reception here in a few weeks,” he said. “I’ll always remember the time I tried to order the tortellini and was told, ‘We can’t do the tortellini.’ Did I say why? You always have the tortellini. And the waiter said: ‘Mrs. Tortellini died. So, no more tortellini.’”
“When it started happening, I noticed it on Instagram,” he said. “I started seeing the old paintings on their walls and their booth seats appearing in people’s photos, and I thought, ‘Are people starting to go to Forlini’s?’”
Since the 1950s, the family-owned restaurant, just down the street from the Manhattan Criminal Courts building, has been a waiting spot for the courthouse crowd, serving generations of judges lobster fra diavolo and chicken cacciatore. lawyers, secretaries and bail bondsmen. It underwent an unintended metamorphosis in 2018, after Vogue magazine hosted a starry pre-Met party there, attracting a new generation of regulars that included magazine editors, designers, stylists and skaters. The downtown arts and literary crowd also embraced Forlini’s as a canteen.
As Eater reported last week, the Forlini family recently sold the building that housed their establishment for an undisclosed sum to an unknown buyer. The family had purchased 91-93 Baxter Street in the late 1960s and it had been listed for $15 million in 2019.
Behind the restaurant’s closed doors, things have been busy ever since the owners rushed to vacate the premises.
Lawyers and detectives drinking martinis at Forlini long before their young clients were born reached out to hug staff members. Regular patrons distinguished enough to have been honored with booth plaques bearing their names have retrieved them as souvenirs. An associate of Robert M. Morgenthau, the former Manhattan district attorney who died in 2019 at age 99 and used to eat at Forlini’s twice a week, also arrived to secure his plaque, the owners said.
Among those who paid their respects was Judge Ruth Pickholz, 73, who stopped by to collect her plaque last Friday. “They’re making me one last chicken parmesan to go,” she said. “My last meal of Forlini’s.”
That same day, the staff gathered at a long table. Chefs and waiters sipped Chianti and clapped as Joe and Derek Forlini, the third-generation cousins who ran the business, handed out bonus checks. The celebratory mood contrasted with shock and alarm among the restaurant’s younger fans on social media, who probably weren’t thinking much about the security that selling a Manhattan building can bring to someone retiring.
Sitting next to one of their pink banquettes, the Forlini cousins said they had struggled with the decision, adding that they would not miss their respective morning commutes from Dobbs Ferry and West Nyack.
“In our hearts, we both wanted to stay, but then you think about reality,” Derek Forlini said. “He is 69 years old and I am 65. It is difficult, but we leave while we are still at the top. That the judges knew us by name was just an honor.”
“We have another family involved with the building, so it’s not that simple either,” Joe Forlini said, explaining that they owned the property with 11 extended family members who were not affiliated with the restaurant, most in their 60s. “Everyone wanted to go out, so we decided to go with them. It was time.”
“We looked at what it would be like to stay here with new owners,” he added, “but they would probably quadruple the rent.”
What did they think of the stylish newcomers who flocked to the place in their later years?
“All the kids and art galleries were great to us,” said Derek Forlini. “They packed our bar and we have nothing bad to say about them. Many of them became our friends.”
The cousins returned to their bittersweet task.
Derek planted kisses on the cheeks of his former clients. Joe began researching who might appraise the paintings on the walls, some of which depict the countryside of Groppallo, the northern Italian town from which family patriarch Joseph Forlini emigrated in 1938. They began removing the red signs on Tuesday. of the restaurant.
Due to the abrupt closure, most of Forlini’s devotees were unable to say goodbye. Among them was Mike Pepi, 36, a writer and art critic who partied at the restaurant with friends last month, unaware that he was enjoying his final course of diced chicken Forlini, a dish served with potatoes, onions and cherry peppers.
“What’s really fading in New York with old places like Forlini are places where you can hold court,” Pepi said. “Places where you can have a forum. You can’t hold court on a Sweetgreen.
“The big question,” he added, “is where are we all going to go now?”