You Can't Always Gentrify What You Want

The Italian restaurant Sal Anthony's was an Irving Place institution for 40 years, until it closed last February. Its last supper came after owner Anthony Macagnone lost a five-year court battle with his landlords, allowing them to raise his rent some 500 percent. Unable to afford it, Macagnone closed up shop. And yet still a Sal Anthony's awning leads up to the restaurant's second-floor entrance. Why? Because after insisting in court that a fair-market rent would be much more than what Macagnone was paying, his landlords have been unable to get anyone to pay the new, higher rent.

"I'm amused," Macagnone said recently, speaking at his Movement Salon on Third Avenue, which offers yoga and Pilates classes. (He also still runs two other restaurants, one in the East Village and one in Little Italy.) "I was paying $12,000 a month and they wanted $60,000. They had all these witnesses coming into court who said it was worth so much. It must have cost them a million dollars to get me out." The problem, Macagnone says, is the stairs in front of the building. It's a flight up to his old restaurant space and two steps down to a basement space he used as a catering hall, among other things. The stairs, he says, "are a bane to a retailer's existence. I wouldn't rent [the space] now if they gave it to me for free." Broker Adina Azarian, who is trying to rent the property, agreed that the stairs "have turned off" some prospective tenants. "But the second floor has great visibility and the staircase is dramatic," she says. "It has a beautiful view and the windows are great. It's up for grabs, and I'm sure the right person will come along." Indeed. But for what rent? —Mary Reinholz