Joe Allen, Theater District Restaurateur, Is Dead at 87


“Joe Allen was right about the spirit of what theater people want – a glass of wine, a hamburger,” said Mimi Sheraton, a former restaurant critic for the New York Times, in an interview. “It was this simple meal. The atmosphere was very relaxing, there wasn’t a lot of decor, and the food wasn’t too expensive. “

Next door is the more elegant, yet comfortable Orso, which Mr. Allen named after a Venetian gondolier dog. And just above is Bar Centrale, an unmarked smaller version of Joe Allen that serves drinks, tapas, and bar fare and bows to old New York nightclubs like El Morocco. Mr. Allen’s unofficial swan song, the intimate Bar Centrale, opened in 2005 and attracts theater insiders, especially actors who appear on shows.

Mr. Allen’s home is also upstairs. He bought the four-story building that would eventually house his three restaurants in the 1970s and lived in an apartment above Joe Allen in town.

Though a successful owner, the laconic Mr. Allen – a divorced father of two who had only been in the restaurant business for a few years when he opened his first restaurant – did not feel comfortable being the gracious host or any kind of host play.

Unlike some famous restaurateurs who charmed their patrons – for example, Elaine Kaufman from Elaine on the East Side – Mr Allen preferred anonymity. (He once described his personality as “minimal”.) He often sat at the bar, a humble, slim man, sometimes in a plain T-shirt that looked like anything but the man who owned the place.

Once when asked to explain his success, he cited his reluctance. “Maybe it’s because I don’t add myself to customers,” he said.

Not that he was a disconnected boss. “I was careful,” he once admitted. To what? “Everything. The salt, the ketchup, the menu, everything. This is a retail store. I’ve always said that I lack ambition – but that doesn’t mean I’m lazy.”



Robert Dunfee