Restauranteur Danny Meyer announced today that Tabla will close at the end of the year. It is the first time Meyer has folded a restaurant since his remarkable run of success began with Union Square Cafe in 1885.
Tabla was a big risk in 1998, aiming to prove that nouveau Indian cuisine could work in a fine-dining environment. Its fancy upstairs dining room had a relatively expensive prix fixe format usually reserved for high-end French restaurants. It won three stars from Ruch Reichl, and a fanatic following thereafter.
As time went on, Tabla faded out of the conversation, while its next-door neighbor, Eleven Madison Park—which Meyer also owns—ascended to four-star glory. There were certainly signs of trouble a year ago, when Tabla ditched the prix fixe and installed its more casual “bread bar” menu in the main dining room.
Remarkably, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park opened within weeks of one another. The two are divided by a wall that couldn’t be removed in the landmarked building, which led to the seemingly harebrained idea of opening two fine dining restaurants practically simultaneously, adjacent to one another. Nobody can be happy about Tabla’s demise; still, twelve years is a pretty damned good run.
Meyer told the Times that it was a struggle to fill 280 seats every night. Restauranteurs’ own explanations are seldom the full story: no one ever wants to admit that their own mistakes could have contributed to the failure. Whatever the reason, Tabla will soon be no more.
He also said he is keeping it open through December 30 to give his staff time to find other positions. The fall and holiday seasons are usually the best months for the restaurant industry, and no doubt Tabla fans will want to go back for one last fling. Meyer will probably have no trouble breaking even for three more months.
What he will do with the space is unknown. It’s hard to imagine Meyer ceding prime Madison Square real estate to another operator. But that very large space is expensive, which limits the kinds of concepts that can succeed there.