New Queens beachfront French eatery opens during pandemic: ‘Everything is upside down’

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When lawyer-turned-restaurateur James Mallios picked Arverne for his newest eatery, Bar Marseille, the narrow strip of oceanfront land in between Far Rockaway and Breezy Point was already going through a renaissance.

The Queens beachfront locale — long home to many fourth-generation cops, firefighters, plumbers and electricians — has become hot with surfer dudes, young families, vegan hipsters and Condé Nast staffers.

The perfect spot, thought Mallios, for a French restaurant.

Mallios, his partners and chef Dominic Rice jetted off to France, pre-pandemic, to find inspiration — bringing back things like a salad they discovered at LouLou’s in Saint-Tropez. There’s also grilled oysters, crispy artichokes, trout with miso butter and asparagus, moules frites and chicken provencal, plus a 100-plus wine list and Frenchy cocktails.

“The Rockaways are like Marseilles — a mixed bag of ethnicities on the water,” said Mallios, who also owns Amali in Midtown and Calissa in the Hamptons.

But construction shut down during the pandemic. Bar Marseille missed the summer season and couldn’t open until Oct. 1.

When asked if opening during a pandemic made sense, Mallios laughed like a crazy man — and didn’t stop laughing for some time.

His team had sunk $1 million into the restaurant, including more than $200,000 of their own money.

“Sadly I didn’t have another $200,000 lying around to double down and wait it out,” he said.

The eatery has been filling up on weekends. During the week it varies, depending on the weather. But Mallios says the crowd keeps him optimistic.

“It’s kind of surreal. Truthfully, it is so eclectic that it defies any normal demographic study. It’s like a 1970s nightclub. Steve Rubell, of Studio 54, once said you never want a nightclub to be the same. That’s our dining room. Cops mixed with young families beside six vegan hipsters and surfers from Bushwick, all beside a group of sixty-something ladies from Breezy who go to Mass together every Sunday,” Mallios said. “It’s not the Upper East Side.”

The restaurant seats 45 people at tables and 30 at the bar during normal times, but only 18 people under COVID guidelines. The ground floor, outside, adds another eight socially distanced seats. And the rooftop, which can hold up to 85 people during normal times, now seats up to 55 socially distanced people.

Popular during the summer, the area thins out during icy winters. But Bar Marseille, at The Tides at Arverne by the Sea, a new residential development, is part of a revival that includes The Rockaway Hotel, designed by top architect Morris Adjmi.

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Bar Marseille

Stefano Giovannini

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Bar Marseille

Stefano Giovannini

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Bar Marseille

Stefano Giovannini

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Bar Marseille

Stefano Giovannini

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“We believe in the neighborhood,” said hotelier Jon Krasner, who says his friends in the city come out to the Rockaways — 40 minutes from Midtown by subway and also reachable by ferry — to surf before and after work, and then stay for dinner.

He also believes it will become “the place” for people in the tri-state area who want an upscale fun “staycation,” especially during the pandemic, when travel options have narrowed to the extreme.

“It’s the same white sands and wide beaches as the Hamptons,” says Krasner, who also the co-owns Hero Beach Club hotel and Shagwong Tavern, both in Montauk. “And where else can you look at the ocean and the city skyline at the same time?”

Will they survive the winter?

All the regular worries, like making sure his staff have “look books” of reviewers who try to sneak in, are out the window — replaced by fears of how to contact-trace workers during a pandemic.

“Everything is upside down. Normally you worry about reviewers, not seating. It’s like Alice in Wonderland,” Mallios said.

“We were crazy enough to open as we try to build our customer base — it’s very different from people who had loyal customer bases reopening after the shutdown,” he added.

“Anyone who says their restaurant will assuredly survive is lying or kidding themselves. We have some advantages, like outdoor space and a supportive landlord. I’ve named my to-do list ‘Gloria Gaynor’ to remind myself that dozens of families, including my own, rely on us not to quit.

“So much — like the election and passing a stimulus bill — is beyond our control. All I know is that we won’t quit.”

A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine

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