FLATIRON — The owners of a recently closed rooftop bar lovingly referred to as a "dive in the sky" have opened a new, sleeker spot for boozing and noshing nearby.
New restaurant Lulu & Me is staffed by the husband-and-wife owners of Mé Bar, which stood on top of the La Quinta Inn hotel on West 32nd Street near Fifth Avenue until it closed at the end of September.
“There would be a line to get into that spot,” said A.J. Stabe, a former bartender at Mé Bar and now a manager at the new establishment, which is located on Fifth Avenue near East 28th Street. “[So] I knew [Lulu & Me] would be successful.”
This is the fourth bar/restaurant venture for husband and wife Michael Miele and Karen Fohrhaltz, who got their start in the business with Amsterdam’s Bar & Rotisserie, which opened in the '80s on Amsterdam Avenue near West 81st Street.
“That was the first restaurant in that area,” said Andrew Pellegrino, who has worked for the couple for 16 years and is now a manager at Lulu & Me. “All the stars would come [there] before they were who they are [now].”
Madonna and David Letterman were early customers, dining off a menu prepared entirely with two rotisseries and a fryer, said Fohrhaltz, who is both the chef and co-owner.
“Whatever I could get to spin on a spit, I cooked it,” she added with a smile.
After 11 years in business, the team sold Amsterdam’s and pursued two other ventures, including Mé Bar, which staff members called their "dive in the sky.”
The rooftop spot was strictly a bar and didn't serve food, but it also had its share of celebrity visitors. Bono, Mary J. Blige and Elijah Wood all stopped by for a drink or two, and a Victoria's Secret photographer who was one of the bar’s regulars always bought by a different, famous drinking buddy, Stabe recalled.
Mé Bar ultimately lost its lease and was forced to close, but the owners embraced the opportunity to open something a little bit different in a neighborhood they see as up and coming.
Lulu & Me occupies a small storefront inside a landmarked building at 252 Fifth Ave., the former site of a Quizno’s, Stabe said.
“The character of the neighborhood is changing,” Stabe explained, “and [the owners] wanted to be there for that change.”
The restaurant, which touts itself as a “gastro-bar,” opened on Nov. 18 offering just beer and wine, and has been building its menus ever since.
Stabe said the wine menu alone took a month to put together and offers a distinct variety of choices at moderate prices.
The food menu is small for the moment, as the restaurant is still waiting to have its gas turned on. The chef and her kitchen crew are using hot plates and electric convection ovens to churn out paninis and crostinis, as well as larger dishes such as Sicilian tuna served with potatoes and shaved fennel.
“It’s been awhile [since] we’ve had our own place with food,” said Fohrhaltz, who will expand the menu once the kitchen is fully up and running.
“It’s nice to be back doing that,” she added. “It’s like riding a bicycle. You don’t forget.”
For the first few weeks, Lulu & Me only stayed open for dinner, but last Friday it officially opened for lunch, with a few customers trickling in throughout the early afternoon and many more stopping by to peruse the menu outside.
The coming weeks will bring even more changes to the new space. Artwork is on its way to accent the décor already defined by an old New York style, including an exposed brick wall, original wood floors and subway tiles behind the bar.
There’s also a New Year’s Eve party in the works, and a grand opening on a date still to be determined.
While staff and customers alike saw the end of Mé Bar as “a tragedy of the commons,” Stabe said, the opening of a new establishment has been greeted with excitement.
“We kind of hope to carry that [Mé Bar] vibe over here,” he explained. “We really wanted this to be a neighborhood spot.”