This is not the Park Slope I know and love. Once upon a time, there was a beloved bar and grill on Seventh Avenue called Snooky’s. Part “Cheers,” part diner, this was the place where everyone went for a cheap beer or a steak, salad, baked potato and soft drink for $14.95.
The restaurant was popular — for a fashion. But times change. And neighborhoods change. Snooky’s finally closed in April, so that tells you how popular it had become.
After Snooky’s put up the “Going out of business” sign, Park Slopers Roy and Mallory Rutledge rented the space and began turning it into the upscale Italian restaurant, Elementi.
OK, groan if you must. After all, the last thing Park Slope needs is another upscale Italian restaurant. But Roy, who was working for a restaurant group in Manhattan, and Mallory, who owns the M.Y.R. cosmetics store on Seventh Avenue, had a chef and a concept and — they thought — neighbors who would live up to their famously open-minded principles and judge Elementi on the merits.
But hell hath no fury like a bar-lover scorned — and fury hath no greater ally than the Internet, where anyone, whether he’s a seasoned restaurant critic or just a pompous windbag, can spout off like an expert.
Even before the Rutledges hanged the Elementi sign, the Revenge of the Snooky’s Barflies began.
“I heard a rumor that she said she doesn’t want any of the Snooky’s crowd in her restaurant,” wrote an online gadfly named Caseopele on the message board Brooklynian. “The other part owner (a guy) was quite rude. … Really smart being s—ty to your neighbors.”
Never mind that the closest thing the Internet comes to fact-checking is a quick Wikipedia search, but this one post set off an amazing (even for the Web) chain of attacks on the Rutledges — who were still weeks away from opening.
“Yuck. It looks like it took a wrong turn on the way to a Jersey mall,” wrote a poster named “Germfree!”
Not knowing what to do, the Rutledges committed the cardinal sin of the Internet era: They went across the street to Caseopele’s employer — whose name was mentioned in one of her posts — and asked him why one of his employees would be trashing the still-opened restaurant.
Online retribution was swift and brutal: “They are trying to control me through my boss,” Caseopele wrote. “I will not apologize to the new owners of Elementi for speaking my mind.”
At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered if Daniel Boulud was in the Elementi kitchen: the blogosphere had condemned the still-unopened restaurant to the dustbin of history.
“These people are merely turds,” Germfree! wrote in.
“Elementi. Olive Garden. Elementi. Olive Garden. Decisions, decisions,” added DW438.
“The owners of Elementi must really have their heads up their asses!” chimed in Drea. “They can’t really be that great if they’re muzzling people’s opinions before they’re even open” (as opposed to spouting one’s opinion on a restaurant before it’s even open, huh?)
Meanwhile, no one had yet eaten at the now-open restaurant, which many of us in the print community still quaintly consider a basic part of restaurant commentary.
I asked one of the moderators of the Brooklynian message board whether it was considered fine by Web standards to slam an eatery before anyone has actually eaten there, but he wouldn’t really answer. “That’s kind of like asking the Internet what it thinks about the stuff that gets posted on it,” he said.
That wasn’t enough for me, so I contacted Caseopele myself. She seemed proud of her handiwork.
“I have a bit of a problem with people who push older businesses out only to open another cookie-cutter business in its place,” she wrote via e-mail.
I reminded her that no one “pushed” Snooky’s out — that it merely closed for lack of business — but she responded that the Rutledges “turned a perfectly good restaurant into what they thought Park Slope needed. They think they know what the neighborhood wants but they never ask.”
But that that’s what business people do: look around, make their judgment and let the market — not anonymous yahoos on Yahoo! — make its ruling (just as the market did to Snooky’s).
And then I did something that Caseopele never did: I ate at Elementi. Full disclosure? It was a kick-ass meal, from the pappardelle with oxtail to the skirt steak.
So as far as I’m concerned, the issue is settled. Now, can we all get back to using Web forums for important discussions, like the gender of a toddler’s winter hat?
Gersh Kuntzman is the editor of The Brooklyn Paper and a Park Slope resident since 1991.
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