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Season's eatings: #spaghettiandmetballs
AS rats scampered among trash cans by moonlight in Chinatown, a procession of tall and very good looking people started entering an old Italian restaurant on Baxter Street called Forlini's. They walked past its grand wooden doors and moved right through the stuffy chandelier-lit dining room, where middle-aged customers looked up from their veal marsala and clams casino to consider the stylish spectacle.
One of the first arrivals was a 20-year-old model/skateboarder with 1 million followers on Instagram. He flipped his dreadlocks to the side and strode through the place like it was a fashion runway. A thin woman wearing military boots and hoop earrings appeared next and remarked to a friend: "I've never been, but I keep hearing about it. This is my first time. I'm so excited to be here."
Outside, a fashion designer wearing dark sunglasses and smoking a cigarette shrieked when his date arrived and he greeted her with a kiss on the cheek.
The old regulars paid their bills and left, but Forlini's kept getting busier. The dominant attire switched from suits and ties to haute streetwear: Opening Ceremony tote bags, jackets from Balenciaga, at least one pair of Yeezys.
The beautiful people were all heading to a birthday in the rear dining room, which soon transformed into a dark lounge filled with stylists, actors, social-media influencers, magazine editors, designers, bloggers and people who didn't appear to have jobs the next day at all.
Uniformed waiters frantically served calamari, stuffed artichokes and chicken Milanese. In one booth, a Victoria's Secret model filmed her friends gleefully tossing rose petals into the air before posting the video to Instagram.
As midnight approached, and the delights of being young and beautiful and partying in an old red-sauce restaurant were possibly exhausted, everyone started heading to an after-party at a bar on the Lower East Side called the Flower Shop. Leading the exodus was Jordan Barrett, a 21-year-old Australian surfer who is currently one of the most in-demand male models in the world.
"I've never heard of this restaurant before," Barrett said. He had been there for the celebration at hand - the birthday party of a social-media influencer and creative consultant. "I am only here for Jenné Lombardo. This restaurant only matters because of Jenné Lombardo. This restaurant did not even exist before tonight."
Forlini's has actually existed since 1956. A holdout from when Little Italy still extended into what would become Chinatown, the restaurant is a time capsule of old New York, and the Forlini family still runs it. But Forlini's is also distinguished for its unique clientele: Located down the street from the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building, it has been a canteen of choice for the courthouse crowd for decades, feeding the judges, lawyers, reporters, secretaries, court officers and bail bondsmen who work in the neighbourhood.
When lunch breaks at 1 pm, Forlini's becomes a neutral site, where prosecutors and defence attorneys enjoy chicken piccata together. Judges hold court from booths bearing plaques etched with their names. (Actual inscription: "Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder. Founded First Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau in US, 25 Years Patron.") Legal teams await verdicts before celebrating victories with champagne or slinking off to the bar to drown defeats.
Robert M. Morgenthau, the former Manhattan district attorney, used to eat at Forlini's twice a week, and is still referred to by the staff simply as "the Boss". Now 99, Mr Morgenthau visits Forlini's less often, but he remembers the restaurant fondly.
"Forlini's was a friendly and nonpolitical atmosphere," he said over the phone. "You could see people who were adversaries in court but without any hostility, and that's why we liked it."
Now, on any given night, mixed among the stalwarts in suits and ties, you'll find customers like Pablo Douzoglou, 34, who works for an indie music label. Douzoglou took out his phone to show the Slack channel (#forlinis) he and his colleagues maintain devoted to the restaurant. A typical message in the chat read simply: "been thinking about forlinis".
The locust descent of the young and beautiful, the skateboarders and models, upon this Old World restaurant is also part of a grand and subversive New York tradition. In a city whose famed grit is being sanded away, a certain young romantic chases authenticity. And this purity tends to be found in holdouts like Forlini's.
Vogue's lavish pre-Met Gala party
Interest in Forlini's undeniably accelerated last May after Vogue magazine hosted its lavish pre-Met Gala party there. Alexa Chung, Kate Bosworth and Hailey Baldwin attended, a DJ played until morning, and the event garnered its very own hashtag: "#spaghettiandmetballs".
The Forlini's selfie became a coveted social-media accomplishment shortly after the spectacle. Recently, a Vogue writer named Brooke Bobb happened to be dining at Forlini's, and she had some thoughts on the phenomenon.
"It's becoming a spot," said Bobb, 31. "One of those places that has become Instagrammable. It's not really about the food. It's about looking cool on the couches. Getting a million likes from sitting in the booths and posing like models. That's just what happens when something goes viral now."
In the background of these selfies with people posing like models are paintings of the Northern Italian countryside that depict Groppallo, the mountain village that Joseph Forlini emigrated from in 1938.
He opened a restaurant in Little Italy in 1943, and over a decade later his sons started Forlini's at 93 Baxter Street. Today, third-generation cousins, Joe and Derek Forlini, run the restaurant. "My father always used to say, 'We came from Italy with nothing and now judges know me by name,'" said Derek, 60.
He recalled how the summer of Forlini's began when he got a call from Vogue last spring. "We want your restaurant," the caller said. "We want to close you down on a Saturday."
"I don't want to close on Saturday, to be honest," he replied. "Well, what would it take to make that happen?" the caller asked. "So I threw them a number," he continued. "Figured she'd walk away. But she said 'Yes.' Then she said they needed to come in early. I asked why. She said, 'Well, we need to prep.' "
Since that May evening, a dozen stylish parties that have lasted until daybreak have been booked at the restaurant. "I even got one this coming Monday, in fact," he said. "They told me they want to do it identical to the Vogue party and want the same stuff on the menu." NYTIMES