Visually exploring and documenting every single one of New York City’s 24,000 restaurants seems like a lifetime of work, but that’s exactly what self-taught artist John Donohue has set out to do. His extensive project, dubbed “All the Restaurants in New York,” is a compilation of pen-and-ink sketches of restaurant facades, which he has created by spending 20 minutes documenting each place he visits.
Before launching his project in January 2017, Donohue had a big interest in food, having authored Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families, a 2011 best-selling anthology featuring contributions from Stephen King, Mark Bittman, Mark Kurlansky, Mario Batali, and more. Previously serving as an editor and cartoonist for The New Yorker, he also has experience in using illustration as an extension of his personal and professional wellbeing. “The process of drawing is indescribably transformative for me,” says Donohue, who used to practice on the subway. “Drawing connects me with a better part of myself, and I love that my restaurant drawings connect people to their good memories and fun times, and to each other.”
Because he wanted to focus on the “food-media space,” Donohue eventually left his job at The New Yorker and launched All the Restaurants in New York on January 1, 2017, beginning with his drawing of The Odeon. “I decided to do all the restaurants in New York because I want to draw forever and I wanted a subject that could not be exhausted,” Donohue tells us.
The Odeon, Image courtesy of John Donohue
Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Image courtesy of John Donohue
Donohue creates all of his illustrations from life and using ink, leaving room for little to no corrections. He initially documents the restaurants in black-and-white from an exterior street view, then spends time coloring the illustrations later on the computer. All of his fine-art prints are signed and produced in editions limited to lots of 365, making each illustration a “beautiful reminder” of how our days are numbered.
Angelica Kitchen, now shuttered, Image courtesy of John Donohue
Veselka, Image courtesy of John Donohue
In addition to his illustrations, Donohue also offers brief context about each restaurant on his website — often noting the history of the place or the dishes he liked there. He even takes requests and suggestions for his illustrations, and donates part of his proceeds to hunger-relief organizations.
Peter Luger, Image courtesy of John Donohue
Corner Bistro, Image courtesy of John Donohue
He has used this ongoing project to secure book deals with Abrams Books, a publishing company that focuses on art and illustrated books. Donohue’s first book focusing on New York City restaurants is set to be available for purchase in spring 2019. After its release, Donohue will be issuing two more books that will document restaurants in both London and Paris. Until then, his illustrations can be purchased as prints on his website.
Come summer, Donohue will also join Untapped Cities contributors and photographers James and Karla Murray for a live drawing event. Sign up for advance notice below: