COVID-19, two years later: American Brass in Long Island City welcomes restaurant industry’s return to normalcy

American Brass
Photo courtesy of American Brass

American Brass in Long Island City is ready to welcome back Queens diners after COVID-19 upended New York’s restaurants two years ago.

According to owner Robert Briskin, the restaurant at 2-01 50th Ave., featuring top-rated chefs and gorgeous views of the city, is gearing up for some “normalcy” as the weather starts to warm up.

“After this entire rollercoaster for two years, we’re finally hoping for some normalcy,” Briskin said. “We’re seeing signs of it and with the better weather, we hope that it comes. I would say New York City restaurants are not out of the woods yet but we’re hoping that spring brings that for us.”

But the restaurateur recalled that the journey to normalcy was an uphill battle.

Challenges for American Brass

Prior to American Brass officially opening in March 2020, Briskin said that the restaurant was making its final preparations — hiring 60 staff members and holding special friends and family events. At the time, he said that the city’s leaders were encouraging “business as usual.”

On opening day, Briskin said that they received a liquor delivery in the morning, opened at 5 p.m. and then were forced to shut at 8 p.m.

American Brass
Photo courtesy of American Brass

“We were open for three hours and we already knew it was shut down, so it was kinda like all for nothing. So that was very disappointing,” he said.

American Brass quickly pivoted to make accommodations for the subsequent mandates that posed several challenges.

“Of course, the virus took precedence and we knew people were suffering, so we shut down and did it gladly to save lives. We offered takeout, which is not something we were planning for. We quickly ramped up for that but takeout and employing enough people and keeping a space this size was just a recipe to lose $10,000 to $15,000 a week,” Briskin said.

In June 2020, the city allowed restaurants to have outdoor dining, a measure that Briskin said was working to an extent. In bad weather, he found that diners were choosing to eat on Long Island, which allowed indoor dining when New York City did not.

When American Brass was finally able to resume indoor dining, Briskin recalled that the city implemented its infamous curfew, limiting the amount of time when restaurants could make a profit. So the restaurant pivoted once again and built 34 heated outdoor spaces, which helped the restaurant “thrive” for a time before the omicron variant hit the city.

“[Omicron] was a complete disaster [because] for the first time in two years, staff was actually getting sick. We almost had to shut down and of course, customers dropped by 80%.”

American Brass
Photo courtesy of American Brass

A brighter future

But Briskin said that after tumultuous two years, things are finally starting to look up.

On March 7, 2022, the city announced its decision to lift the vaccine mandate, meaning that patrons are no longer required to show proof of vaccination.

“We’re happy that it was removed. [If] people are claiming to follow the science, then you have to remove it because vaccinated people get and spread omicron just as easily. We’re happy to start putting the virus in the rearview and we’re happy to welcome people back from Queens who were going to Long Island this whole time,” Briskin said.

The owner added that American Brass will also remove all of its COVID-19 safety measures that were previously in place but they plan on continuing to check on their staff’s health.

“We check our staff, we make sure nobody’s sick or coming to work sick,” Briskin said.

As patrons return to American Brass, Briskin said that the restaurant is offering an expanded menu, with a kitchen led by Michelin-starred chef Kevin McGinley, who earned the prestigious award while working as the chef de cuisine at Bâtard in Manhattan.

American Brass
Photo courtesy of American Brass

“We have incredible food. We just added a whole steak program with New York’s best butcher, DeBragga, so we now offer four cuts of steak, sides and some sauces along with composed dishes that are all worth a Michelin star,” Briskin said. “And I believe our chicken is worth two Michelin stars.”

Two other key members of American Brass’ kitchen are the chef de cuisine Chris Lewnes, who previously worked at Augustine in the Financial District, and the “super talented” pastry chef Ellen Scariati.

“So, [there’s] serious firepower in that kitchen, for sure,” Briskin said.

Ultimately, Briskin said that he’s looking forward to “getting our people back” at the restaurant.

“American Brass is putting out some of the best food in New York City. We have a lot of famous chefs that come and eat at our place every two weeks. [For] people who understand food, this is always at the top of their list. And we have a beautiful location with beautiful views and we want to reach out to our people who are living deeper in Queens to come back to Long Island City and enjoy a great meal with us,” Briskin said.

Visit the American Brass website to learn more.