Nylon Nights

Cafeteria at 25: 'Sex and the City,' Kimye, & More NYC Moments

The seminal Manhattan brunch spot celebrates its 25th anniversary by looking back on its biggest cultural moments.

Originally Published: 

If New York City was the fifth character on Sex and the City, let’s get specific: Cafeteria, the famed Chelsea restaurant, was the fifth character. It was there that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda brunched on a seemingly daily basis, swapping sex stories over eggs Benedict and fruit salad (classic Charlotte).

On the heels of the iconic television show’s 25th anniversary in early June, the restaurant celebrated its own 25th on Thursday evening in New York City. Taking over an entire block of 7th Avenue, the party was quintessential Cafeteria: live performances, plenty of spicy margaritas and mac and cheese, and even an appearance by Carrie Dragshaw, who is exactly what the name implies.

Ahead of the event, Cafeteria partners Susan Leonard, Stacy Pisone, and Mark Amadei break down some of the restaurant’s most memorable moments over the years for NYLON.

When you first opened the restaurant, did you envision what it might become and still be 25 years later?

We created Cafeteria to be a place where people of all walks of life could come together. We thought that the idea of opening an inclusive comfort food spot that celebrated diversity was a good idea, but we could never have imagined that we would still be relevant 25 years later. It is an honor and a blessing to still be at it!

How has the restaurant grown beyond what you first set out to accomplish?

We have always made an effort to evolve along with the city that inspires us. That has meant everything from expanding the physical footprint to reimagining our marketing, but the menu itself is the most important thing that has grown and evolved with the times. We are always looking for ways to reinterpret comfort food and give our guests something new to crave.

At what point did you feel the "we've made it" moment?

When we saw others try and duplicate the concept. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and also a pretty good sign you are doing something right.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in the restaurant industry, for the better?

There have been many positive changes over the years, from the ability for us to offer experiential outdoor dining in winter months to how many more menu ingredients are readily accessible. But the biggest positive change has to be how technology has helped us to improve our guests’ experience.

What are the biggest changes in the restaurant industry, for the worse?

Social media has been a great thing for the industry in so many ways, but can be a double-edged sword. The cost of opening and operating a restaurant in New York has stifled a lot of creativity in recent years. Lower retail rents and more available spaces will definitely help the industry keep its edge.

What was one experiment you've tried that didn't work, and why?

We took our original concept of American comfort food too literally and limited our beer and wine to all American options when we first opened. That experiment definitely didn’t work. Taking a more global approach to our menu and cocktail programs has been far more successful.

What food trends would you like to see die, and which would you like to come back?

We are big fans of fun, delicious, crave-able food that doesn’t take itself too seriously. =Tweezer food and anything involving foam should die. Fondue and pu pu platers… yes please!

Who was the first celebrity to ever dine at Cafeteria?

Leonardo DiCaprio came in with his pet parrot the second day we were open.

Who is the most surprising celebrity to come through the doors?

There have been many celebrities we were pleasantly surprised to see at Cafeteria over the years, from Meryl Streep to Harrison Ford to Mick Jagger. But perhaps the most surprising sight was Ivana Trump who came in specifically to try our Mac and cheese. She loved it.

What is the weirdest celebrity order or request over the past 25 years?

Requests for late-night afterparties in the lounge from multiplatinum recording artist regulars were up there, as was a major celebrity asking for us to give her a straw so she could drink her soup. One of our favorites had to be P. Diddy showing up in person at 2 a.m. and ordering 25 fried chicken and waffles to take back to the studio. We always do our best to accommodate, and we always will.

What's your most memorable celebrity encounter?

Mariah Carey standing up and leading the restaurant to sing “Happy Birthday” to another guest when she saw the cake come out. Priceless.

How did Sex and the City and Cafeteria first come together?

Darren Starr, Patricia Field, and Rebecca Weinberg were regulars when we first opened, which coincidentally was when Sex and the City came out. Darren’s team asked us to use the restaurant as a location for late-night filming, but because we were about to launch overnight we couldn’t make it work. They asked if it was OK if they built a set to resemble Cafeteria, and the rest is history.

How did appearing on the show affect the business?

We never sold more Cafeteria Cosmopolitans….

What are your favorite memories from the SATC era?

How exciting and relevant New York City was from a creative and nightlife standpoint. New York is always amazing, but there was an energy during the SATC era that was positively electric.

This article was originally published on