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Photograph: Courtesy Mindy Tucker

30 iconic NYC institutions that have now permanently closed

R.I.P. classic NYC venues like Peoples Improv Theater, Jing Fong and Gem Spa

Written by
Christina Izzo
,
Shaye Weaver
&
Time Out New York contributors
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New Yorkers are resilient and rugged as all hell, but that doesn't mean it didn't sting when some of our favorite stores and boutiques and restaurants and bars closed in 2020 and 2021. Losing iconic venues like historic speakeasies, beloved improv theaters, century-old department stores and mom-and-pop neighborhood hangouts meant that NYC lost a little bit of its magic in the last year. But, if there's anything we know well, is that no city is better at bouncing back than good ol' Gotham. Until then, we'll be pouring one out for these much-missed NY institutions. 

Iconic NYC closures

Peoples Improv Theater
  • Comedy
  • Flatiron
  • price 1 of 4

After many years in Chelsea, this improv and sketch theater moved crosstown to a dramatic East Side location with a warm main stage proscenium, a black box in the basement and an inviting bar. Cheap shows and free jams keep the crowds young and lively. But on February 19, it announced on Instagram that it is vacating its main location on East 24th Street (Striker theater and PIT Underground): "It's been over 11 months that we have been shut down and eventually we have to surrender to survive," the statement from owner Ali Farahnakian read. "So we are in the process of surrendering the space."

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

For some, Jing Fong was intimidating: It was marked by giant escalators, a vast dining room and walkie-talkie–toting waiters marshalling diners. But it had remarkable dim sum. The shrimp shumai with glass noodles is exceptional, as is the ground pork and shrimp wrapped in a big black mushroom. The freshness and originality of its most mundane offerings keep people coming back for more.

On February 20, it announced on Instagram that it will be closing down its Chinatown location at 20 Elizabeth Street on March 7 at 8pm. "We will continue to operate from the 2nd floor kitchen for our outside patio, take-out, and delivery until further notice. This is not the end for us, here at Chinatown, as we are actively looking for a new location to move into as soon as possible. We will keep you all updated as we figure out the next chapter for us."

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  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 3 of 4

Barneys set the prodigious record for housing the most progressive, conceptual and hard-to-find labels in the city like Balenciaga and Commes des Garcons; Lanvin, Azzedine Alaia and Dries van Noten. It closed its Fifth Avenue and Chelsea stores on February 23, 2020. Barneys was sold in 2019 to Authentic Brands Group and financial firm B. Riley for $271.4 million.

 

  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Downtown Brooklyn

Luxury department store Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 and closed its shiny new Hudson Yards store permanently less than 18 months after opening there.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Financial District

If you were looking for a crazy night out, you could find some of the best dance parties in town at this unassuming dim sum restaurant. And best of all, the vibe was far from exclusive. (You were dancing on carpet after all.) But the party sadly had to end–the nightlife utopia shuttered in summer 2020 after 45 years in FiDi. 

 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • West Village
  • price 2 of 4

“Wait, is this Chumley’s?” a group of wool-coated bargoers would ask, after many befuddled minutes spent walking up and down Bedford Street looking for the entrance. Yes, through that heavy, unmarked wooden door—the same one that welcomed New York literati like William Faulkner, E.E. Cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay all those years ago—lies the landmark speakeasy, which social activist Leland Stanford Chumley opened back in 1922. Nearly a century later, however, that wooden door would be closed for good.

  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Financial District
  • price 2 of 4

A Gucci men’s suit for $300? A Marc Jacobs cashmere sweater for less than $200? Stella McCartney sunglasses for a scant $40? No, you weren't dreaming—you were shopping at Century 21. You had to rummage to unearth a treasure, but with savings from 25% to 75% off regular store prices, it was a goldmine for less-minted fashion addicts. Alas, the beloved discount department storewhich was founded in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1961filed for bankruptcy in fall 2020 and announced it would close all locations.  

Update: The iconic Financial District flagship may still be closed, but Century 21 is now officially plotting a comeback in the city at yet-to-be-determined locations.

"Never count out a New Yorker!," the retail chain wrote on an Instagram post last week. "We officially will relaunch the beloved institution in 2021." According to the New York Post, the company is looking to both re-open brick-and-mortar locations and amp up its e-commerce strategy all around the world.

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  • Bars
  • Gastropubs
  • Washington Heights
  • price 1 of 4

Sure, you’d run into politicos at the self-proclaimed “uptown Tammany Hall,” but you’d also meet cops, firemen, medical students, nurses and doctors from the ’hood. This all-embracing uptown Irish bar featured bilingual (Spanish and English) karaoke on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the active grill meant there was always a nice, juicy burger at the ready. Lin-Manuel Miranda stepped in to save the Washington Heights bar from a rent hike a few years back, but even celebrity intervention couldn't save it from the 2020 pandemic. 

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Hell's Kitchen
  • price 4 of 4

Copacabana, long the city’s most iconic destination for Latin music, was a full-fledged party palace. It was always a prime stop for salsa, cumbia and merengue, but in addition to booking world-renowned stars (Ruben Blades, El Gran Combo and Tito Nieves with Conjunto Clasico), the Copa also had an alternative nook called the House Room, where dancers could spin to disco, house and Latin freestyle. The club closed after an 80-year run in 2020. 

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Danish Athletic Club

After 128 years of slinging Scandinavian culture and homestyle cooking in Brooklyn's south end, the wood-paneled supper club and community center announced its imminent closing on its Facebook page in June of last year. 

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Hell's Kitchen

At its flagship location near Port Authority, this longtime importer and seller had a selection of coffees ranging from flavored to organic to decaf and roast choices like French, Vienna and American. But after 112 years, the java purveyor announced it was closing via a sign in the storefront's window in spring 2020. Empire's Hoboken outpost remains open. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Puerto Rican
  • Lower East Side
  • price 4 of 4

If you walked into this LES rathskeller on a crowded evening, you'd think you stumbled into a bar mitzvah—Yiddish sing-alongs and folk dancing ignited by a live synthesizer and further fueled by icy shots of vodka. The very Eastern European menu included chopped chicken liver, garlicky karnatzlack sausage and enormous beef tenderloins, all of which were hearty enough to slow down the hora. The schmaltzy steakhouse performed its final hora, announcing its closure in January 2021. 

Gem Spa
Photograph: Shutterstock

Gem Spa

Of the restaurants and bars sadly forced to close due to the pandemic, the shuttering of Gem Spa was especially soul-crushing. The corner store–meets–community clubhouse was churned right into New York culture, an East Village icon that attracted not only the rich and famous (Madonna, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith), but also regular ol' locals seeking the sweet pleasures of an egg cream. 

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John Jovino Gun Shop

Founded in 1911, John Jovino had many claims to fame. It was the oldest gun retailer in New York City, and claimed to be the oldest in the entire country. It was featured in many classic New York films, including Mean Streets and Serpico. And its iconic revolver sign was a Little Italy fixture for more than a century. But after 109 years, the store was forced to close shop due to rising rents and the coronavirus pandemic. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Dominican
  • Upper West Side
  • price 2 of 4

No one stayed a stranger when the staff mixeed with the patrons to peppy cubano music. The portions were gigantic; the bread was steamy and buttery; and specialties like masitas de cerdo (crisp, chewy pork chunks) or bistec en escabeche (a platter-size steak pounded thin and marinated with peppers, onions, garlic, olives and vinegar) came with heaps of rice, beans and fried plantains. By the end of the meal, you’d be viewing the mirrored wall of painted beach scenes with great affection.

  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Midtown West
  • price 1 of 4

Oft-overlooked for its more glamorous department store counterparts, Lord & Taylor offered an ever reliable selection of classic brands like Ralph Lauren—minus surging crowds. It sadly might have been the lack of those surging crowds that led to the chain's demise in 2020, after 194 years in business. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Lower East Side
  • price 1 of 4

When the legendary dive bar closed its original Lower East Side location in 2013, regulars were devastated. They didn’t have to go without their Max Fish fix for too long—the bar reopened just a few blocks away in 2014—but alas, six years later, the reboot has ended yet again due to the pandemic. The team is currently scouting new locations for the storied bar, according to an Instagram announcement

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Midtown East
  • price 3 of 4

When you're flush with cash and cachet in certain prominent fieldsat the head of DreamWorks, the Yankees or even The New Yorkerit's expected you'll poach talent from everyone else. So why weren't there restaurants, like movie studios, sports teams and magazines, that are staffed top to bottom with the industry's most coveted gets? The Monkey Bar, owned by publishing titan Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, was the first New York eatery to give that model a shot.

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  • Restaurants
  • Diners
  • East Village
  • price 1 of 4

Although the venerable joint offered classic Greek and Italian dishes, it actually pulled in a frugal, funky clientele for its Eastern European specialties. Potato pancakes were made with real grated potato, and the Romanian pastrami sandwich was salty, fatty and delicious. The stuffed cabbage was light and savory; pierogi and blintzes were deliciously substantial. Adding to the fun were frothy egg creams and saucy waiters.

 

Palomba Academy of Music

After 64 years of teaching Bronxites how to play their instruments, this family-owned Williamsbridge music store shuttered last year. Thankfully, the historic 25-foot neon sign outside will live on at the American Sign Museum in Cincinatti, Ohio. 

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  • Bars
  • Café bars
  • Financial District
  • price 1 of 4

Over the years, this old-timey bar and restaurant, established in 1873, became home to a motley group of locals who planted themselves on the stools at the U-shaped mahogany bar. Big-screen TVs, cheery barkeeps, a kick-ass jukebox and eighteen beers on tap, including Boddingtons and Blue Moon, made up for the overly bright lighting and minuscule bathrooms.

  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Soho
  • price 1 of 4

You could spend hours wandering around this three-floor hodgepodge warehouse of home goods, clothing and random trinkets you desperately want but probably don’t need. You're going to have to seek distracted retail therapy elsewhere now, as the eclectic emporium announced the closure of its Tribeca flagship in 2020. 

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Record Mart

Established in 1958 by Jesse Moskowitz and Bob Stack, the little record retailer tucked inside the Times Square subway station was Manhattan's oldest record shop and one of the city's most faithful distributors of Latin music. However, a sign placed in the shop's window this past summer unfortunately announced that the store would be permanently closing its doors. 

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  • Hotels
  • Boutique hotels
  • Midtown East
  • price 3 of 4

Mad Men fans will recognize the Roosevelt as Don Draper's temporary pied-à-terre in the cult TV series. Occupying an entire city block, the hotel maintained its classic looks in both the chandelier-lit lobby and the bedrooms. Fittingly, there were plenty of choices for when cocktail hour arrived: The old-school Madison Club Lounge, the more modern Vander Bar and mad46 rooftop lounge. 

In November 2020, the New York Yankees announced that it would be cutting ties with its minor-league affiliate after more than two decades, as part of a league restructuring. Staten Island's not exactly one to take anything sitting down, so the team has since filed a lawsuit against the Bronx Bombers and Major League Baseball in general. 

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Midtown West
  • price 4 of 4

After nearly a century on West 52nd Street—including a storied stretch as Manhattan's most thirsted-after speakeasy—the 21 Club and its famous jockey statues will be waving goodbye for the "foreseeable future" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest in a crushing wave of corona-era closures that have hit New York.

  • Theater
  • Off Broadway
  • Hell's Kitchen

The 30-year-old improv and sketch comedy troupe founded by famous funny folks like Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh announced the closures of both its Hell's Kitchen theater and Garment District training center in 2020. The UCB nurtured the early talents of comedy stars like Kate McKinnon, Donald Glover, and Aubrey Plaza. 

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