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Do Restaurants Need Rescue?

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New Yorkers would do just about anything for Giuliani at this point. But despite his encouragement, they still aren't going out to eat. So countless waiters -- who, of course, make up much of young, creative New York -- are finding themselves with little or no income.

"Normally it's very hard to get a reservation at our restaurant. Now, I'm making less than half of what I normally make," says Ashway Lawyer, a 29-year-old actress who bartends at Luxia on West 48th Street. "I was supposed to get head shots taken this week, but I can't afford them. The after-theater waitress was there from nine to midnight and didn't have a customer. It's really scary."

So far, Peacock Alley in the Waldorf has closed, Cipriani has fired more than 100, and Daniel has temporarily suspended lunch. "We have to worry about the living victims," says Drew Nieporent, whose almost 1,000 employees at places like Nobu and Montrachet are virtually out of work, since it's impossible to get food, let alone customers, below Canal Street. "We've worked for years to make this the greatest restaurant city in the world. We can't let that be destroyed."

The sudden downturn comes just as some owners were starting to feel better about business. "We had suffered from the double whammy of the summer and the economic downturn, but then things had really started to pick up," says Jerry Kretchmer, whose restaurants include JUdson Grill and Bolo. "Monday, the 10th, was a great night, and we were really pumped. Then this. I live on Central Park West, and there you wouldn't know anything is different, but when you walk down lower Fifth Avenue and see that incredible hole, it scares people."

Uptown, things do seem almost normal. "Right now, people are gravitating to smaller places where they see familiar faces," says Laurent Lesort, whose East 75th Street bistro, Mai Lin, is at capacity. Waiters are flocking north, too. "We're on the Upper East Side; we're safe," says Enrico Proietti, owner of Bella Blu and Baraonda. "Every five minutes someone asks for a job application."

Still, if people feel like staying home -- or close to home -- now, it's unlikely they'll want to forever. "At the core of New Yorkers is the instinct to be out," says John McDonald, owner of Canteen. "It starts the healing."

In the meantime, a few waiters are trying hard to find something positive about their predicament. "The only silver lining," says Molly Mulholland, who works at the Water Club, "is that fewer people seem to be showing up for auditions."


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