(Photo: Brinkhoff/ Moegenburg)

Patrons are returning to restaurants in the theater district, but owners are still cautious about returning to full hours of operation. 

Theater district standbys such as Joe Allen and Glass House Tavern have seen an uptick in business since Broadway reopened and since the city mandated proof of vaccination for indoor dining. However, due to staffing shortages and the evolving return of the industry, restaurants are still not back to normal scheduling and are holding back on expanding further. 

After a brief, restricted reopening in fall 2020, Joe Allen reopened at full capacity this August. Bar Centrale, operated by the same owner, reopened a few weeks later. 

The restaurants have had a run of fully booked evenings, with business helped by the increasing number of shows returning to Broadway, as well as the approaching holiday season. Owner Julie Cronauer said she feels the vaccine mandate has helped patrons feel more comfortable returning to restaurants. 

But while customers are returning, Cronauer said the businesses are still trying to make up for the financial impact of being closed for close to two years.

“We’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re doing well,” Cronauer said. 

The restaurants are also affected by staffing shortages. Joe Allen is still closed on Mondays. Cronauer is waiting to reopen Orso, another sibling restaurant, until she can hire back a full, professional staff and after monitoring the state of Broadway in January and February. 

Sardi’s is nearing a reopening date, once renovations on the restaurant are completed. 

Glass House Tavern, which reopened July 1, is also operating with a smaller staff and reduced hours. And it is closed on Mondays. However, the bar still stays open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. most nights in order to welcome the theater industry after shows.  

“They have that real sense of community, since everyone kind of works with each other at some point or another,” said owner Chris Reilly. “So we wanted to be here for them after the show.”

The theater crowd, which includes those seeing shows and those who work in the industry, is one of the biggest customer segments for the restaurant and has been a driver of business since the Broadway reopening. Corporate customers, another important sector for the restaurant, have been slower to return.

While business has not yet returned to 2019 levels, Reilly said it is getting “vastly better.”

“Hopefully everything continues to go in the right direction,” Reilly said. “But it’s been really great to see everybody again and things starting to come back to normal.”