Business slumps for restaurants after terrorist attacks Some area eateries report a sharp drop in customers as well as a spate of canceled parties and banquets.

Posted: September 25, 2001

Philadelphia restaurants, many of which had felt the dual pinches of a soft economy and the traditional summer doldrums, were hoping for a strong fall season.

This month's terrorist attacks have put a degree of uncertainty on the menu.

Business has been down - more than 20 percent, according to some estimates - at some of Center City's glitzier restaurants, now reeling from a spate of canceled parties and banquets, traditionally a restaurateur's bread and butter. Operators are particularly sensitive to the lost business, coming as it does amid a decline in expense-account dining.

Many neighborhood establishments, particularly bars at which people sit and vent, say they are doing strong business.

"The pub is a place where people go to share joy and sorrow throughout life and history," said Paulette Fahringer, general manager of Flanigan's Boathouse, in Conshohocken.

The bar at London Grill in the city's Fairmount section is a local hangout. Its dining room is more of a destination. With many people preferring to stay close to home, "the bar has been busy, the dining room's been dead," said Terry McNally, an owner.

Restaurateur Neil Stein said that the week of Sept. 11 was his busiest ever at Rouge and Bleu, his Rittenhouse Square bistros, which draw most of their customers from the neighborhood.

"People felt the need to get out among other people, but they did it close to home," Stein said. But he noted empty tables at Striped Bass and Avenue B, his more formal Center City restaurants. Striped Bass served 200 dinners on Sept. 6 - the Thursday before the attack - but only 155 on Sept. 13, Stein said.

He said he believed the numbers were recovering.

Stephen Starr, who also owns multiple high-profile restaurants, noticed a similar rise at his "neighborhood" restaurant, the Continental in Old City.

Ed Dougherty, who runs the Capital Grille, a steak house on Broad Street, said his bar had seen a "resurgence" last week with "people who were more friendly and just happy to be alive." During the airport shutdown, the restaurant seated many out-of-towners, he said.

Pat English, general manager of the Smith & Wollensky steak house on Rittenhouse Square, said he had been busy feeding traders from the American Stock Exchange in New York who had temporarily relocated to Philadelphia to trade.

The Museum Restaurant in the Art Museum has seen a dramatic drop-off since the attacks, mirroring museum attendance.

The restaurant normally serves 100 dinners a day, Christine Trapaga, general manager of food service, said last week. "Since [the attacks], we have only done about 50."

Nationally, the restaurant boom of the last decade seems to have cooled. A study this summer by the Chicago-based NPD Group found that the number of meals consumed in restaurants during the last year declined for the first time since 1990 and by the largest margin ever recorded in the survey's 16 years.

As busy as bars may be, the overall mood has changed.

"People are more serious," Fahringer said. "It's just a different tone."

On Sept. 14, Flanigan's closed its kitchen at 7 p.m. and handed out candles and matches for a candlelight vigil.

A candlelight vigil at a sports bar?

"It's been just an outpouring of love here," Fahringer said.

Rick Nichols' e-mail address is rnichols@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Lea Sitton Stanley contributed to this article.

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