Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen closed forever when it shut its doors on New Year’s Eve, after a decent run of feeding New York tourists and being a target for the snobbishly detached. I was there, on its last night, for the first and last time.
America, what will you do without Flavortown? A deep fried tumbleweed glides across an abandoned grill. A coyote howls in the distance; somehow, you know it has frosted tips.
I bought a ticket to Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen New Year’s Eve Party because my boss told me to, after I’d joked—a little over a year ago—about spending New Year’s Eve at Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen. Wouldn’t it be funny to spend New Year’s Eve at the least desirable place in New York?
When news broke that the restaurant would be shuttering and it became a real assignment, it was less funny. My editor encouraged me to have “a pal” join me. Everybody I was close to issued a fair rejection.
“It’s in Times Square. On New Years Eve. And it’s at the worst restaurant in the world.”
I knew the perimeter of Times Square was undesirable, even though I hadn’t tried it. New Year’s Eve this year was particularly awful. The wind chill was around 0. Everybody seemed okay with this.
I haven’t lived in New York City for long enough to be considered a real New Yorker (I have lived here almost six years; the rule is 10), but I knew that Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar was something that we real and aspirant real New Yorkers didn’t like. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells pioneered this; internet denizens solidified this. I knew that, despite my middle-class middle America upbringing, I would despise it, because I was a deliberate New York City resident, deliberately separated from the place that birthed me, deliberately different than the place I was from. I knew that I’d been assigned to write about it because it was a spectacle.
I bought a single ticket to a seated table at the New Year’s Eve party.
There was something fitting about about the gratitude I felt when I finally gained entrance to Guy’s, after standing out in the cold for almost an hour. I was grateful for it, for the long line for the buffet featuring sticky penne and grainy tomato sauce, for the “free hors d'oeuvres” which were actually plates of cheese squares. I was grateful for the nice family from California with whom I was placed. I was sad when they left around 11 and I had to let the aggressively sexy Swiss girls with general admissions tickets sit on the vacated seats.
A small band of bros had been convening on the Swiss girls, and I felt bad about telling them they couldn’t sit at the table that was suddenly mine. So, shortly after the family left, they were part of my immediate Guy Fieri world. They were here, they explained, because they thought the last night at Guy Fieri’s restaurant would be hilarious.
It all felt bleak at that point. The bartenders had run out of Jack Daniels, but who cares? They weren’t really attentive to drink orders, but who cares? Who is going to yell at them? There is no tomorrow. As I was talking to Guy’s employees, the bros left, conveniently avoiding a goodbye.
Guy’s American Kitchen employees cleaned up from memory. There was nothing sentimental about the final routine.
As I watched them, I thought about the cottage industry their employer had spawned. The extended blue-collar retail or restaurant experience as a hillbilly safari. It was the swan song for a punching bag. In 2012, when Pete Wells wrote his review of this place, he couldn’t possibly have known that he would inspire a mean-spirited subgenre of soft Gonzo classism.
The strangest thing about the closing of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen was how regular it all seemed. How the staff, laid off with little notice, took care to stack the chairs atop the tables at close, as if somebody was coming the next morning to reverse the order. As if the wait in the frigid cold was worth it and would be worth it again.
I left alone, into a world bereft of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, wondering what stupid garbage 2018 will bring. I am freezing cold and I cannot wait.