Is 4am the new 8pm in restaurants in New York City?

I remember where I was when that New York Times attempted to argue that New York was “turning into Los Angeles” due to a recent surge in local cannabis dispensaries, sound baths, and other phenomena simultaneously unfolding in countless cities outside of New York across the country, and probably around the world .

It was a Thursday and I was in my bed working but not functioning after a long night out the night before. At least one brain cell survived the attack, and this is what she told me: New York will never be Los Angeles. Because unlike in the West, New Yorkers eat up to 4 a.m. and beyond.

New York was once the city that never sleeps. Before the pandemic calmed restaurants, some of the city’s busiest meals were happening around and after 4 a.m., the hour when bars have to make their last call: in Chinatown’s crowded Wo Hop basement, at the Veselka counter next to one bowl of unfinished borscht and a balled-up tip, or in the Great NY Noodletown dining room, where hanging roast ducks glistened in the reflection of Ubers routed home.

No shadow to Los Angeles. The products are better, but restaurants serving them become less common after 2am

Guests line up at a long wooden bar counter, chatting and sipping drinks.

Pubkey in Greenwich Village serves smash burgers and hot dogs until 3am

Until recently, it seemed like these scenes, and others like them, were in danger of becoming victims of the pandemic. In the past three years, most late-night restaurants have reduced their opening hours due to a number of factors that have made it impossible to stay open 24 hours a day without losing money: citywide staff shortages, reduced footfall, higher food costs, Restrictions on indoor dining and so on.

Many have yet to change them, including the three Manhattan restaurants mentioned above, which now close before midnight on weekends.

But lately, plates have been clattering at unexpected times as a new generation of restaurants, mostly in lower Manhattan, serve food well past Los Angeles bedtime. Bandits, a two-year-old cocktail bar in Greenwich Village, serves Greek salads and steak au poivre Thursday through Sunday until 4 a.m. A few blocks down the Pubkey, Chicago Dogs and New Jersey Rippers are on the menu until 3am. Munchiez, an offshoot of the old Chinatown bakery Mei Lai Wah, keeps its lights on until the same time on weekends.

A man in a cast tends a grill with skewers.

Munchiez, an offshoot of Chinatown bakery Mei Lai Wah, is open until 3am on weekends.

Gen Korean BBQ House, a California-based chain that landed in Union Square earlier this month, is among the latest to arrive. The restaurant has more than 30 locations across the country, and in Manhattan it’s open until 4 a.m. every day. After 2 a.m. on a recent Saturday night, about 40 people hovered over tabletop grills in his dining room, which has more than 40 communal tables.

The numbers don’t add up, but restaurant owners are testing the waters anyway to see if they can make 4am the new 6pm — which, don’t forget, the new 8pm was Sam Yan, the owner of Dim Sum Palace, a small dim sum chain that opened in Manhattan’s Chinatown in December, says the 200-seat restaurant seats about 30 to 40 customers, most of whom are local residents, between midnight and 4 a.m.

“During the pandemic, almost all restaurants in Chinatown closed before 11 p.m.,” Yan says. “When we finish work after a long day and go to Chinatown to relax, we can’t find a place to sit down with our friends.” The restaurant’s late hours are for locals, he says, and for everyone else longing for 3am Siu Mai, the last call for dim sum.

A large banquet-style dining room with round tables and leather chairs is mostly empty.

The Dim Sum Palace was almost empty at 3am, an hour before advertised closing times.

Dim Sum Palace is something of an anomaly in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a neighborhood that used to be home to some of the city’s best after-hours restaurants but now mostly closes at midnight. Earlier this month, Vic Lee of local nonprofit Welcome to Chinatown said most property owners in the area are still not ready to go back to pre-pandemic times.

“What about keeping our shops open later? Will it pay off given that the margins are already so low?” asks Lee. “Winter is definitely not the time to try this.”

Johnny Huynh, the owner of Glizzy’s, a late-night hot dog joint in Williamsburg, is optimistic that warmer weather could change the tide for the city’s late-night dining scene. His bathroom-sized restaurant serves food until 3am Thursday through Saturday, but he plans to stay open an hour longer on those spring days. After all, he wants to be open until 4 a.m. seven days a week.

“People are walking around with hot dogs at 1 and 2 a.m. in mid-January,” says Huynh. Granted, they wear parkas—another reason New York will never be Los Angeles.

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