When New Yorkers learned that Forlini’s, a bustling Chinatown Italian restaurant popular with downtown sophisticates, was closing its doors for good in March, grieving patrons flooded their calendars with fond memories.
Closure plans had been underway for years: The Forlini family bought 91-93 Baxter Street, the building that housed their restaurant, in the 1960s. In 2020, 91-93 Baxter was listed at $15 million , and the restaurant’s owners said they would close Forlini’s in the event of a sale, which finally happened this year under a deal with an unnamed buyer. For Forlini diehards, the warning did little to lessen the blow.
Now his art is on sale: on the restaurant’s website, 32 works of art that once adorned the walls, including landscapes, provincial domestic scenes and a portrait of the Forlini brothers, are available for purchase.
When a beloved and well-appointed New York fine dining institution closes, auctions of the items it contains are commonplace. After 2019’s curtain call for the iconic Four Seasons, whose interiors were managed by none other than legendary architect Philip Johnson, buyers bought bespoke Ludwig Mies van der Rohe bar stools, service by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable and Hans J. Wegner Grill Room mezzanine chairs. In total, the auction, held in the Seagram Building’s iconic Pool Room, raised $4,105,623.
The treasures of Forlini, fortunately, are much more economical. An oil painting of a violinist and pianist teaching a young child is listed at $5,000, as is the family portrait and likeness of a beautiful brunette. A still life with grapefruit and a broken wine glass will only cost you $3,500. And that comes from the beloved Forlini, so who knows what dedicated fans might be willing to pay?
“Forlini’s holds a special place in my heart and stomach,” New York Post Senior writer Kirsten Fleming wrote in a eulogy on Instagram. “When the iconic family joint in Chinatown abruptly announced its closure, I was sad and also annoyed that I hadn’t been there more in the past two years, but that’s life in the big city.”
Since the mid-1950s, the old-school red sauce joint has served as a much-loved haunt for lawyers, prosecutors and paralegals weary from a day’s work at the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building just down the street. Big political names like Michael Bloomberg and Eliot Spitzer also hung around.
“The Forlini family makes you feel like part of their family when you walk into the restaurant,” said DeFiance Media founder Marc Scarpa. “I grew up in New York, and Forlini was a favorite haunt in the 1980s and 1990s, especially for Giuliani and the city when they were trying to tackle street crime perpetuated by bad actors from the Italian mafia . The restaurant was a neutral gathering place for district attorneys, feds and crime bosses. »
“At the same time, at the restaurant, you would have a family that had just had lunch,” Scarpa said. “Everyone was treated the same, there was no hierarchy or elitism.”
Then came an unexpected twist: in recent years, the restaurant has been enthusiastically embraced by a chic assemblage of fashion and art professionals after vogue chose Forlini’s for a pre-Met gala night, turning the neighborhood reserve into a real hotspot.
“All the kids and the art galleries were great with us,” said Derek Forlini, who ran the business with his cousin Joe Forlini. New York Times. “They filled our bar, and we don’t have a bad word to say about them. Many of them have become our friends. (The Daily Beast reached out to Derek and Joe for comment.)
No matter who showed up, the restaurant’s decor reflected the community spirit of its clientele.
Nestled in pink banquettes, diners gathered over traditional meals lit by glowing chandeliers and admired the artwork adorning the walls, enjoying an intoxicating ambience reminiscent of Vesuvius, the fictional Mafia’s favorite stronghold of Tony Soprano. In fact, the restaurant looks so authentic that it’s rightfully used as a filming location for shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Blue blood.
But after the Met Gala night, a change started to happen. “When it started happening, I noticed it on Instagram,” Forlini fan Harrison Johnson told The Daily Mail. New York Times. “I started seeing the old paintings on their walls and their booth seats appearing in people’s photos, and I was like, ‘Are people starting to go to Forlini? “”
Among the paintings put up for sale after it closed, a rendering of a bustling public square stands out in particular. “It might actually be worth more money than any of the others,” said NYU art history professor Carol Krinsky. “It’s not Italian, not at all. It’s definitely northern Europe, it could be a 17th century image or maybe an 18th century one, and I guess it’s a capital city. I don’t know Amsterdam City Hall well enough to be sure, but it is certainly a large public square in Northern Europe.
“It’s commercial art, and some of the artists probably wanted it to be what we might call fine art or high art in some way,” Krinsky said of the collection in his outfit. “I think the artists were mostly sincere artisans, but the results are quite conventional.”
“These paintings have witnessed some of the most clandestine conversations, from private eyes chattering about the womanizers they follow to judges relaxing from a murder case over a parm of chicken.”
— Marcella Zimmerman
In any case, for members of New York’s savvy and well-heeled cabal of aesthetes, Forlini’s memorabilia could quickly become a staple.
“These paintings have witnessed some of the most clandestine conversations in New York in 25 years, from private eyes chattering about the womanizers they follow to judges unraveling a chicken parm murder case,” Marcella Zimmermann, senior vice president at consultancy Cultural Counsel, told The Daily Beast. “What is it worth?”
“If people really like them, appreciate the realism, or appreciate the emotional feeling they have,” the paintings are worth paying for, Krinsky said. “If people like landscapes, or if they like slender black-eyed women that they find expressive, well, I hope they appreciate having the picture. I might pay nothing for most of these photos, because many of these subjects are familiar. But a person who wants a beautiful landscape? Well, why not?”