Thursday, September 04, 2014

Modern Denny’s? Hip Denny’s? Lower Manhattan Denny’s? Huh?

Just got back from a quick overnight to NYC, so I’m still in a New York state of mind.

And that New York state of mind, when hearing about Denny’s taking up residence in a luxury building in lower Manhattan, keeps asking things like, ‘Huh?’, ‘Duh?’, ‘WTF?’

Especially when I read that this downmarket hash-house, this much needed, and long sought restaurant of a certain kind,  the first Denny’s in Manhattan:

…will offer a full bar with Prosecco on tap and a $300 brunch for two that includes a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. The interior will be upmarket as well, with copper-stamped ceilings, wood paneling and leather booths. (Source: Bloomberg)

I’ve eaten in a Denny’s once or twice, many long years ago,under what can only be described as an only-option-available-while-experiencing-near-death-by-starvation scenario.

You know, the sort of gut-wrenching circumstance under which you’d be inclined to eat at Denny’s, or Cracker Barrel, or Roy Rogers (sorry, Uncle Roy), or Arby’s or Kentucky Fried.

I do want to go on record as saying I am not averse to the chain, fast or slow, dining experience. I like Cosi. I like Boloco. I like Bertucci’s. I like Legal Seafood. I like Carraba’s.

Once in a blue moon, BK or McDonald’s.

But Denny’s…

When I think of Denny’s, I think of their artery-clogging breakfasts, their obesity-inducing burgers. Weren’t they the ones who brought out a 1,700 calorie burger bomb a couple of years back?

I think of pedestrian, boring, not particularly tasty fare. Filling, for sure. A pleasurable dining experience? Hardly.(Admittedly, I also think of their history for racism.)

I know, I know. Easy for someone who can afford to eat at places other than Denny’s to turn up her nose at Denny’s, but I do believe there are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants that offer better food than does Denny’s.

But the sad truth is that even places that do have the critical mass to support a restaurant or two will still,  for some reason, gravitate towards a place like Denny’s. Places where Mom’s or Joe’s just get overwhelmed by the advertising might of the chain, so much mightier than the local. Places where it’s too risky to open a new place that’s not instantly recognizable to the locals. Which would not be Manhattan – at least not Manhaattan as in NYC.

I do know that when tourists tour, they sometimes gain comfort and dining out confidence when they find a familiar place to eat. Thus the Applebee’s in Time Square. But that’s in Time Square, where every tourist goes. Not the Lower East Side, which is more likely to be visited by non-touristy tourists. Like me. Who go to New York to eat at places that are different from what they could find at home.

So, no, I didn’t stick my head into the just-opened Denny’s, even though I was just around the corner, just the other day.

I probably didn’t miss much, but perhaps that’s just the inner-snob talking.

In creating the Manhattan diner, Denny’s went to great pains to appeal to the customers of lower Manhattan, said Frances Allen, the company’s chief brand officer. That meant offering a full bar, a feature present in only a handful of Denny’s approximately 1,600 locations around the U.S.

“The bar is a reflection of what we believe the people of Manhattan want,” Allen said in a phone interview yesterday. “It’s a very weekend brunch place, and it’s also a place where at brunch you expect a cocktail.”

Well, I get that if you’re eating at Denny’s you might want to wash it down with something stronger than a cup of joe or a schooner of soda. (What I don’t get is characterizing Denny’s as a “very weekend brunch place.” Say what?)

I also get that Denny’s might want to brunch branch out from their standard-fare, mass-market restaurants.

What I don’t get is the thinking that New York sophisticates would be attracted in the least to the Denny’s brand.

Maybe the chief brand officer is gambling that folks will we willing to give it a try, at least once. That hipsters, and foodies, and just plain yupscale urbanites will give Denny’s a go, even if it’s not the sort of place that Anthony Bourdain frequents.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and that Denny’s will be able to turn its image around among the urbane, without damaging the image with their regular non-brunch, non-Prosecco-swilling customers.

In any case, they’ll be doing it without me, I’m afraid.

There is one in Worcester, however, if I have a change of heart. But I suspect that one doesn’t serve craft cocktails.

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