New York City’s skyscrapers, flashy lights, and “go big or go home” mentality make it easy to forget sometimes that space is precious and scarce in the city. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that rent on East Village spaces under 1,000 square feet can often be $10,000 or less a month—a steal, considering a typical 1,500-2,500-square-foot retail space costs $15,000-$30,000. With the rise in rent is a growing number of tiny food establishments no bigger than a studio apartment. But what these seven places lack in size, they make up for character, from graffitied brick walls to pink naked lady wallpaper, and, of course, delicious food as well.
1. Sel et Gras, 131 7th Ave: 32 seats, 225 square feet
The name of this West Village wine bar/bistro translates to “salt and fat.” While there’s a lot of both in the rich French food served there, diners wouldn’t fit between the 14 tables if they ate there every day. The cramped space is livened up by graffiti-adorned brick walls, chalkboards, and a brightly-colored tile floor. According to the Daily Meal, it’s the smallest full-service restaurant in the city.
2. Nook, 746 9th Ave: 24 seats, 350 square feet
This Hell’s Kitchen restaurant definitely lives up to its name, with just ten tables and under half a dozen staff. Good luck to anyone who needs the restroom. Located at the back of the kitchen, getting there requires some expert maneuvering between tables and chefs.
3. 26 Seats, 168 Avenue B: 26 seats
It’s not hard to guess the number of seats at 26 Seats, a French restaurant on Avenue B. None of the twenty-six wooden chairs match, and the red walls add a cozy feel to the eclectic space.
4. Baohaus, 137 Rivington St.: 400 square feet
This Lower East Side restaurant originally opened at a 400-square-foot subterranean storefront on Rivington Street not much larger than the “gua bao” (a small sandwich-like Taiwanese snack) it serves. Owner/chef Eddie Huang called the original location a “bomb shelter” and a “futuristic YMCA.” In 2011, Baohaus upgraded to a slightly larger location at 238 E. 14th St. which seats twenty and actually has a bathroom and full kitchen.
5. Graffiti, 224 E. 10th St.: 28 seats, 410 square feet
Be prepared to get intimate at this former scuba diving shop turned East Village wine bar, which features communal seating. The restaurant is just eight feet wide, but brick walls and bright lighting make the four-table space more inviting, if not a tiny bit larger.
6. Dirt Candy, 430 East 9th St.: 18 seats, 650 square feet
Size doesn’t seem to matter to this studio-size, vegetarian restaurant, as it’s received two stars from the New York Times. With just eighteen tables, Dirt Candy is often booked two months in advance. The restaurant keeps its wine glasses on a ledge in the dining room, and any diner can see into the open kitchen at the back. The place is getting an upgrade next fall though, with a new (bigger) location opening at a former Chinatown Bus Tour Agency space at 86 Allen Street.
7. Naked Lady Room at the Bell Book & Candle, 141 W. 10th St.: 2-6 seats
This restaurant is actually 5,940 square feet, almost thirty times larger than Sel et Gras. But it’s also home to the secret Naked Lady Room, a private dining room hidden behind a fake wall near the bar. The small room, decorated with exposed brick and pink wallpaper with naked ladies, contains a single table for 2-6 (non-claustrophobic) people.
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