By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
UPPER EAST SIDE — The latest casualty of the Second Avenue subway construction on the Upper East Side is going to leave a gaping hole during graduation and wedding season.
Tony’s Di Napoli, the family-style Italian restaurant on Second Avenue at 83rd Street, closed its doors Sunday after serving its last meal since opening its doors in the area 20 years ago.
Unlike some of its suffering neighbors on Second Avenue, the bustling 5,000-square-foot restaurant had more than enough business to keep it humming, with parties for neighboring high schools as well as rehearsal dinners and engagement parties.
But the Second Avenue subway construction closed it down anyway, because the MTA cited eminent domain to use the property to build an entrance for its 86th Street station. The subway construction is currently slated to last until 2016 — four years behind the original schedule.
"We made a lot of good friends over the years," said the restaurant’s general manager, Bruce Dimpflmaier. He said school graduations "would empty out into Tony’s. We’re a big part of the community."
The restaurant had known they were in the subway’s path and would have to move. But the owners hadn’t been certain of when.
The MTA gave them notice last month, Dimpflmaier said. The restaurant told their 75 employees about the imminent closure Sunday night. Employees were promised jobs at Tony’s DiNapoli location in Times Square or at one of their other restaurants: Dallas BBQ, Sambuca on the Upper West Side and Bistro Le Steak on the Upper East Side.
"At the end of the night, we told a few stories, had cocktails and cried," Dimpflmaier said.
The restaurant is looking at other spaces and would like to reopen in the area, Dimpflmaier said, but he didn’t know when that might happen.
For now, the Times Square Tony’s and other restaurants will absorb the higher payroll, he said. That’s what they did when 120 workers at a Dallas BBQ on 43rd Street were displaced seven years ago to make way for the Bank of America building.
"It’s like a family here," said Leslie Di Nicola, 29, a musician who has been working on-and-off as a hostess at Tony’s for four years. "I feel like I just graduated high school. We’re all leaving, asking each other which restaurant they’re going to next, like we’re going away to college."
Di Nicola spent Tuesday calling reservation holders to tell them about the closure. The restaurant planned to offer up its other branch for rentals, if available.
The MTA will pay the restaurant a "fixture allowance" and is trying to help it find a comparable new location but has been unable to find anything within its price range, Dimpflmaier said.
"They evaluate what your fixtures are worth," Dimpflmaier said, explaining the money they will receive from the MTA, "but that doesn’t include your lease or loss of business. It’s nowhere [near] what the restaurant is worth."
Residents had mixed feelings about whether the new subway line was worth the price.
"Despite the economy, we still survived," said Tony's manager Jesse Feldman. "You can’t survive eminent domain. My customers tell me they don’t understand why this is being done for a subway that’s going to be 30 blocks long."
Tony Van Cleave, 52, who lives three blocks away, was pessimistic. "The subway is not going to be completed for many years and then they’ll probably run out of money before it’s ever really finished," he said. "It’s going to be a boondoggle."
Longtime customer Debra De Lorenzo recalled numerous dinners and bridal showers at Tony's.
"I’m so sad. It was a neighborhood mainstay," said De Lorenzo. "You didn’t even think about it. You’d just go to Tony’s. Was it exceptional? No. But it was always good and dependable."
Looking at Tony’s boarded up windows and the construction crews drilling nearby, De Lorenzo said, "I have mixed feelings about the subway. I know we need it, but it breaks my heart."
Dimpflmaier planned to launch a blog on the restaurant’s website on Tuesday where customers and staffers can share their stories about Tony’s Di Napoli. "There are a lot of stories," he said. "A lot of people celebrated milestones with us."