>> Sunday, August 14, 2011

Atlas Park Mall
80-60 Cooper Avenue
Glendale, NY 11385
(718) 326-1200

As I once up a time may have mentioned, Atlas Park needs customers. There needs to be some sort of a draw. In my line of thinking, such a draw could be its dining options. Venezia is the newest of these options and the latest restaurant to occupy the central green space by what used to be the fountain. The central area is both a blessing and a curse. First, the atmosphere of dining outside by the grass with the lights from the arches all around, is unmatched in the neighborhood. I love eating outside and the Forest Hills vicinity doesn't have nearly enough of it. But, come the rain and come winter, nobody wants to be outside, and the interior isn't too big.

Venezia is a quaint little Italian bistro serving up frills free comfort food. It's simple. It's cute. It won't win awards but it's far from bad... though they do have a penchant for excessively al-dente pastas (ie: undercooked), so if I were you, I'd suggest asking for them to boil those noodles a wee bit more. Service-wise, everyone was pleasant, but they're sloppy and tripping over each other. The left hand clearly doesn't know what the right hand is doing. At one point, Bro and I had three waiters ask to take our order.

I ate at Venezia twice recently. Once with Operagirl and once with Bro. Both times, we ordered the Fried Calamari. The first time, it was mediocre and doughy and salty. The second time it was impressive. The marinara sauce was very good and we asked for more of it. Operagirl ordered the Portobello Trifolato, a mushroom salad. She was impressed, especially since she only ordered it as a gag because "trifolato" doesn't mean anything in Italian.

For both of my meals, my entree was the Pappardelle Bolognese. What can I say? I like pappardelle. The meat sauce was perfectly fine, if not terribly inspiring, but, as I said, the pasta itself was undercooked. Five more minutes and it would have been al dente. Five less and it would have been in the box. And this was both times, so they need to update that recipe. Operagirl ordered the Penne Alla Vodka, which was more cooked, but they still should have let it sit in that water longer. She liked it, however. And despite a few hiccups, we left saying "actually, this place isn't bad!" When I went with Bro, he ordered the Chicken Francese, two chicken breasts in a sweet lemon pepper sauce with a side of sauteed vegetables and some potato. It's the kind of cafeteria-style Italian food that would make an Olive Garden line cook wince, but it was, I regret to admit, pretty tasty.

The food, by the way is super heavy and we never ordered desserts.

Operagirl and I split a pitcher of sangria and I recommend that you skip it. It was the weakest sangria I've ever had. Definitely not worth the $30-something it cost. The other cocktails that they serve are pretty good. Cutesy drinks, not the classic speakeasy types I typically get, but fun for when you're sitting outside at sunset.

Venezia, while not "expensive" isn't cheap. My meal with Operagirl (a pitcher of sangria, two appetizers, two entrees, tax and tip) cost over $100. My meal with Bro (a few drinks, a single appetizer, two entrees, tax and tip) cost $85.

So it's got a great atmosphere, not-too-bad grub, and it won't break the bank if you hold off on the booze. Is this enough to get people to go to Atlas Park? And can it inspire others to open up shop? Time will tell.


Atlas Park is melting in the dark...

>> Monday, August 1, 2011

Atlas Park is melting in the dark...
...all its sweet green icing flowing down

With the death of Border's Books, one of the anchor stores at Atlas Park, yet another storefront bites the dust.

To be sure, Atlas Park seemed a long shot back when they were breaking champagne against its bow and lowering it into the sea a few years back. I had hope but I was realistic. Too few stores had signed on prior to the grand opening and its location seemed... ill advised. Creating a classy mall that dreams of one day housing Coach stores and Givenchy outlets requires quite a leap of faith when you stick that mall in working-class Glendale. (UPDATE: still no Givenchy outlet)

It's one thing to stick a fancy-pants mall in a neighborhood with zero intention of actually having the residents of that neighborhood shop there, but if that's the plan, then it requires drawing people TO that area from afar. Sure, Forest Hills proper has some spending power, but there has to be more than that. Atlas Park needed to pull people from Manhattan (but they have SoHo and Fifth Avenue) and it needed to pull people from Long Island (and they have Roosevelt Field). Hell, at the very least, it needed to pull teenage girls with daddy's credit card (and they all went to Queens Center because it at least has access to a subway line). Even if Glendale wasn't a terrible place for a shopping center, and everyone who lived there was an avid wearer of J. Crew polos, one side of Atlas Park borders a cemetery (and those residents don't shop for much) and another side is almost entirely industrial. In essence, even if it was the correct demographic for an upscale mall, the location still leaves much to be desired.

Making matters worse, they charge for parking(!) and they keep their overflow lot closed to everyone but Carnies. This is just flat-out stupid. Hey, I get it. The malls on Queens Boulevard all charge for parking, it doesn't seem fair. Maybe, I have heard, they fear that the lot will be used people commuting to work in the morning, but without a subway or LIRR station, this is clearly an unwarranted fear. Maybe, I have also heard, they're concerned that people will park there 24 hours a day, leaving shoppers without. The simple solution to that one is for the shops to validate the parking space with a purchase and then to have management run a tow truck through the garage after closing. And hey, maybe charge a monthly fee for people to park there overnight without getting towed.

Indeed, so few people are willing to pay for parking that the neighborhood is clogged with those cruising for a spot on the street. Yet, for all this traffic, once you get inside beyond the walls, the place is a ghost town. During the week, tumbleweeds might as well blow through it.

I write a restaurant blog and recognize that this post goes against the grain of my usual topic flow. But so far, half of the places I've reviewed at Atlas Park for y'all have gone under. How is that helpful to me? I'm just watching my money get sucked away. I'm sure that this has to do entirely with the fact that it's desolate. The restaurants are far from alone, though. Amish Market, the fancy supermarket, is gone. The Filene's Basement-style department store under the movie theater is gone. ArtWorld, which moved from Austin Street thinking that Atlas would be a boon to business, moved out and is now on Metropolitan. Stella Gialla, a cutesy boutique, moved out and is now on the opposite, ass-end of Metropolitan. Rosetta Wines is gone, moved to the Wall Street area. The rent may be fifty times as much, but people there actually go inside the store.


My advice to the Atlas Park owners is two-fold. First, you need to attract people. People aren't attracted to pay-parking, so shit-can that turd of an idea. I have literally driven back home after being unable to find street parking. Next, give people a reason to go there other than to see an abandoned mall. Call up Target. It fits the price-point for the neighborhood and doesn't feel cheap. Do not call Kmart. Give them a rent-free year if they seem iffy. Under no circumstances should a dollar store or nail salon be green-lit to come in. They're a slippery slope. Like broken window syndrome, you invite one, and then, the next thing you know, there's a check-cashing joint and a place wanting to sell phone cards scratching at the door. Instead, find a florist and entice students at FIT to open boutiques. There's plenty of space for a Crate & Barrel or a Pottery Barn and the borough doesn't have either of 'em. Talk to the people at Lillian August. As a furniture store, they rely more on single large purchases than on lots of small purchases. People plan out their furniture excursions in advance so a store like this does not require as much foot traffic.

Host a food truck festival. It got people to go to Staten Island last week. Think about that.

You want to really drive up sales? Sell that open parking lot that you don't let anyone use to a developer. I know, "developer" is a four-letter word 'round these parts, and the real estate market isn't what it used to be. But, well fuck it. You want to go into bankruptcy (for a third time)??? Have this developer put in a high-rise condo and now, all those tenants are guaranteed shoppers. The Lofts at Atlas Park, you could call it. They'll buy their clothes at the mall, go out to dinner at the mall, fix their bikes at the mall, see movies at the mall, park their cars in the (thus far unused) garages at the mall. And they'll bring friends.



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