Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar on Times Square will close on Dec. 31, which means that starting next year, professional critics and the Yelp army alike will have to find a new target to skewer in New York City. Guy Fieri – Food Network star, restaurateur, celebrity punching bag – will officially remove Flavor Town from Manhattan on Jan. 1, focusing his efforts in smaller, perhaps more hospitable markets.
During its brief, bloated and misbegotten existence, Guy’s American (its motto: “Welcome to Flavor Town!”) may have been the most mocked restaurant in the country. It started shortly after the place debuted on Sept. 10, 2012. The following day, a Yelper tore into Fieri’s three-story, 15,600-square-foot homage to cars, rock-and-roll and America’s right to consume unholy amounts of Donkey Sauce:
“Food was poorly made,” the punctuation-averse critic wrote on Yelp, “service was bad and the atmosphere was like a frat party at the lamest frat youve ever seen.”
It only got worse for Guy’s American, a collaboration between Fieri and the Blue Stein Group. Later that same month, Anthony Bourdain, the former chef and cultural critic who serves as Fieri’s unofficial nemesis, went on the Opie and Anthony radio show and called Guy’s American a “terror-dome.” Bourdain further eviscerated the host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and his tourist-heavy restaurant near the theater district:
“But all of these poor bastards see him eating cheap food on TV, they go in there and it’s what $18? For a f—ing hamburger!” he said. (Incidentally, on its last menu, the only burger available – one topped with applewood-smoked bacon and mac-n-cheese – cost $19.50.)
But the real takedown – the critique that became a cultural artifact on its own – was the November 2012 review from Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the New York Times. The zero-star review was fashioned as a series of criticisms posed as questions to Fieri.
The questions ranged from the comical (“And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?”) to the cutting (“When you cruise around the country for your show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it? Or is it all an act?”).
The Times review probably provided more pleasure than 1,000 sips of the “blue drink” at Guy’s American, the one that Wells said “glows like nuclear waste.” Fieri’s hardcore fans, however, were outraged by what they considered a hit piece on a restaurant not designed for the gourmet crowd. Fieri himself told the Today show that Wells had an agenda. “It’s a great way to make a name for yourself: Go after a celebrity chef who is not a New Yorker,” Fieri said on the morning program.
Still, Wells’s criticisms didn’t seem to have much impact on the place. Guy’s American appeared on the Top 100 Independents list for the past four years, raking in more than $16 million annually, according to estimates by the Restaurant Business site. Which is why the closure of Guy’s American remains a head-scratcher to those on the outside. Fieri was not available for comment, but his publicist provided a statement from the restaurateur:
“I’m proud that for over five and a half years, Guy’s American in New York City served millions of happy guests from all over the world. And upon the restaurant’s closing, I’d like to say thank you to all of the team members and guests who helped make it all happen.”
Last year, Fieri sold his shares in the small California chain that grew out of the first restaurant he created. Now, the celebrity chef’s empire is mostly devoted to restaurants inside casinos, on cruise lines or in smaller markets.
In the end, Wells’s review of Guy’s American will have a longer life than the restaurant it skewered. The critique is already considered one of the greatest pans of all time, routinely evoked whenever a new restaurant slam goes viral. Yet Wells doesn’t think his five-year-old review had anything to do with the closure of Guy’s American, even as a kind of James Bond villain device that leads to a painfully slow death.
“I think it’s foolish to posit some kind of cause-and-effect between a bad review and a restaurant closing,” Wells said. “It’s likely that the restaurant closed for the same reason the review was bad: Because the restaurant was terrible, or the restaurant wasn’t working, and the review was just reflecting that. A bad restaurant is not going to stay in business very long.”