Sardi’s Is Back After 648 Days, Its Fortunes Tied to Broadway

It felt like old times at Sardi's the other night.

The man in the red jacket was at the second floor bar where he has worked for over 40 years. Max Klimavicius, who started working in the kitchen in 1974 after immigrating from Colombia, now runs the place, and he was the one who Manning the front door.

Sardi's, a watering hole so close to Broadway that it was named in a Rodgers and Hart song, had been closed for 668 days. On the long night of the winter solstice, the Main Stem mainstay with caricature-covered walls was ready to try again.

The timing is nerve-racking. The Omicron variant iswreaking havoc in the theater industry.

Mr. Klimavicius decided to reopen with limited hours, a limited menu and a reduced capacity. Only 18 shows actually took the stage that night, and one of them made it to curtain only because the playwright grabbed a script and went on to replace an ailing performer, because so many actors and crew members are now testing positive for the coronaviruses.

Mr. Klimavicius helped make sure customers had proof of vaccinations, but also greeted them like long-lost friends. It is part of the fabric.

The restaurant is popular with tourists. Arthur Whitelaw, the producer, who still remembers a childhood visit to Sardi's more than seven decades ago, settled into a cozy corner from which he could survey the room. Four friends from The Villages, a fast-growing retirement community in Florida, sat at a few tables away from each other to watch the Broadway show "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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The owners of the restaurant are hoping that no one will notice that they have renovated the four-story eatery.

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The Shubert Organization, which owns the building, and a large grant from a federal government program designed to provide emergency assistance to restaurants and bars affected by the Pandemic, helped make the work possible.

In the last full season before the H1N1 epidemic, more than 14 million people saw a show, spending over $1 billion on tickets. Many of those patrons spent their money at hotels, shops, and at restaurants like Sardi's, which is an important part of the economic relationship between Times Square and the city at large.

Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance, which represents a theater dependent neighborhood that contributes 0.1 percent of the city's land mass, said that the closing of Sardi's was a symbol of Broadway and the Broadway scene. In-person experiences like live theater and dining are more important than ever because of the threat of remote work.

Times Square is in recovery mode. Office workers are coming back slower than expected, and about 77 percent of businesses are open, according to Mr. Harris. We have a long way to go.

Sardi's, which has been on West 44th Street since 1927, employed over 100 people during peak seasons before the Pandemic hit.

booms, busts, and bankruptcies have all been challenges for the restaurant. It has been popular and passé, but it has always been known for its caricatures and for drawing a mix of industry insiders and theater-loving visitors to eat, drink, and commiserate.

It was established by the man who won a special prize at the first Tony Awards for providing a Transient Home and Comfort Station for Theater folk. The majority owner is Mr. Klimavicius.

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Most of the famous people who have eaten at Sardi's are connected to the theater industry. There are about 900 on display.

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Barbra Streisand's image is the only one on the wall that isn't occupied, because her original caricature was stolen.

Habitués are aware of the risks faced by the industry, the neighborhood, and the city.

Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical productions, said that they haven't proven that the swine flu is over, and that everything is not going to fail. I see it differently because I grew up in California where the ground shook all the time and you never knew if your house was going to fall on you.

A group of Broadway bigwigs gathered at the bar to drown their sorrows just moments after agreeing to shut down all 41 theaters. They ate and drank. Many of them got the coronaviruses.

Robert E. Wankel, the chairman and chief executive of the Shubert Organization, which has 17 Broadway theaters, fell ill with no way of knowing how. Mr. Wankel has been coming to Sardi's for 50 years and he was there again on Tuesday, happily holding court over a tonic and eating lunch three times a week.

He said that the theater is going to do well now that it is back.

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Max Klimavicius started working at Sardi's in 1974 as an expediter. He now owns the place.

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Arthur Whitelaw, a producer whose parents first brought him to Sardi's in the 1940s, is one of the restaurant's most longstanding patrons. Whitelaw had a pre-theater dinner with his producing partner.

Sardi's has been a part of Broadway for longer than some theaters, and has become part of the industry's lore. The food at Sardi's is perfect, no doubt, but I wouldn't know what the Ritz is about. In her play,Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress mentions it, while in the musical, The Producers, MelBrooks has a dream of being a showman.

The restaurant has hosted many famous people over the years, from Eleanor Roosevelt to the dog that won the dog show. Charlotte Moore, the artistic director of Irish Repertory Theater, went there with Elizabeth Taylor.

The designer Michael Kors created a Sardi's-themed sweater for Bergdorf Goodman.

He said that when he walks into Sardi's, he feels like he's living in All About Eve. I know Sardi needs to come back, and I know Times Square needs to come back.

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The bar at Sardi's has been worked on by Joe for over forty years. He asked, "What am I going to do at home?"

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The dining room and bar will look familiar to Sardi's regulars, but the kitchen was completely overhauled in order to modernize it, and some equipment has yet to arrive because of supply chain troubles.

Sardi's is one of the last Broadway institutions.

Since June, 39 Broadway shows have begun performances, the TKTS booth is once again selling discounted tickets, and other industry watering holes, like Joe Allen and Bar Centrale, have reopened.

Sardi's remained closed for months, with a menu in the window still listing the specials for March 13, 2020.

Mr. Klimavicius had doubts about the theater being dark and Midtown being dead. He began to update the space with the help of the federal government's Restaurant Revitalization Fund, hoping to make it look better in a way that no one would notice. People who love Sardi's are change-averse.

When she heard about the renovation, she showed up at 4 p.m. and celebrated with champagne and friends upstairs. She said it was a little piece of heaven on Broadway.

The caricatures were taken off the picture ledges for the restoration. Barbra Streisand is irremovable because fans stole the original caricature, so she remains with her admonition "Don't steal this one" written above her signature.

Mr. Klimavicius and his crew put the hundreds of caricatures back up, starting with one of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a good friend of the house.

After spending too many months in Mamaroneck, N.Y., riding a stationary bike and going crazy, Mr. Petrsoric was relieved to be back at work on the second floor. He asked what he was going to do at home. I like people. Think about 50 years behind the bar. How many people do I know?

He started with a Belvedere martini, a cosmopolitan and a lemon drop. He was amazed. It takes me one hour to get you back to normal.