Eataly: New Uses for Old Lobbies
Our neighborhood, full of early 20th-century office buildings and hotels, has many examples of grand lobbies once meant for circulation and making a good impression. Many of these in the last few years have been transformed into coffee bars and restaurants. For instance, there is Tabla in the Metropolitan Life Insurance building and the nearby Ace Hotel's espresso counter, both of which take a reverential approach to their spaces. Now, in the old Toy Building there is Eataly, a lively food market that leaves you sated with the wonderful foodstuffs displayed, but with little recollection of the original setting.
It is a fantastic array of "all you can eat that is Italian" as the press release says. There is a vast continuum of counters and nooks stocked with enticing products: coffee, gelato, desserts, charcuterie, cheese, fish, produce, bread, pasta, and pizza. The program for the space is so intense that the remains of the old lobby decorations can only be seen in fragments. Those segments of old ceiling and walls that do appear are largely obscured by signage, air conditioning, and lighting.
One is reminded of those old European drawings showing life continuing in the shadow of ancient ruins, with the struggles and pleasures of daily life leaving most oblivious to the antiquity that surrounds them.