First came the texts. Then the emails, tweets, and Facebook posts, all offering condolences. Usually that level of concern out of the blue would make me worry that someone close to me had died last Thursday. It wasn’t a person who died that day, but rather an ideal. A dream, even. A belief that in a bastion of irony and cynicism, something sincere, bold, and delicious could thrive. That’s because as of January 1st, 2018, Guy’s American Kitchen & bar in New York is no more.
A spicy, deep-fried beacon of hope in a bland and cruel world for five years, Fieri’s first foray into the east coast dining scene was besmirched by haters and losers nearly from the moment of its conception. The new restaurant received an immediately infamous zero-star review from Pete Wells at the failing New York Times. Its menu, which aped the enthusiastic cool-dad lingo Fieri dishes out on his Food Network shows Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games, was the subject of (admittedly hilarious) parody. Fieri—famous for his frosted tips, boundless optimism, and friendship with the guy from Smashmouth— took it all in stride, suggesting on The Today Show that New York’s culinary gatekeepers weren’t ready for an outsider to disrupt the biz with his infamous Donkey Sauce.
It turns out that in the end, the cynics won. Despite ranking 43rd out of the top 100 independent restaurants in the country by sales for four years in a row (with an average check far below other nearby entries), one of the more polarizing establishments in the history of American restaurants met its unceremonious end on December 31st, 2017. A year that seemed to defy comprehension from beginning to end had one last acid reflux-inducing surprise for us after all.
Hang around any New Yorker long enough and they’ll inevitably detail how much they loathe winding their way through the hordes of tourists and kitschy outposts that throng Times Square. But I happily braved that gauntlet to dine in my own personal velveeta-drenched Valhalla. One of the fondest memories of my time here in New York will be my first visit to Guy’s American Kitchen to celebrate my 24th birthday. Even though I had to fax(!) my private party reservation to secure seating for 20-plus, the chance to scarf down some Guy-talian Nachos (nachos with pepperoni, natch) and Motley Que Ribs (barbecue that tasted like the floor of said hair metal band’s tour bus) surrounded by good friends is something I’ll cherish forever.
Guy Fieri, half man, half meme, will endure despite the closing. He still owns a string of Johnny Garlic’s (his pre-Food Network restaurant) and other Guy’s American locations, meaning that “Flavortown” stretches from Dublin, California all the way to Mashantucket, Connecticut. In addition to his gigs hosting both “Triple D” and “Triple G”, Fieri also helped groom his heir on the recently-concluded Guy’s Big Project, where he shepherded acolytes of awesome flavor from neophyte all the way to completing their very own Food Network pilots. His impact on American food culture will be as permanent and artful as the tattoos covering his left arm.
Don’t mourn the closure of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar. Don’t dance on its grave either. Though his attempt to bring out-of-bounds tastes and ambitious assemblies of food to jaded New Yorkers failed, his culinary journey is far from over So pour yourself a homemade Crazy Hagar (Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, Mint, Lemon, Cucumber infused Simple Syrup, Ginger Ale), sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Peace, love, and taco grease indeed.