May 12, 2016
Fort Greene’s Chez Oskar Will Close in Two Weeks, But Has a Bright Future in Bed-Stuy
For the past 17 years—nearly forever in the restaurant industry—Chez Oskar has been an anchor of casual and affordable dining in Fort Greene. Just a couple blocks up from Fort Greene Park, it has the feel of a well-worn family restaurant, something that can’t be said of those that have cropped up near it in the past decade; a handful of higher-end neighbors, and competitors, on Dekalb Avenue. (Think: Roman’s, Walter Foods, Colonia Verde, Dino, Martha—wonderful places, all! But… not the same feel.)
Which is why, in December, when we learned Chez Oskar would leave Fort Greene for Bed-Stuy, the news stung. Not even a year before, the New York Times had assured, “Fort Greene Changes. Chez Oskar Doesn’t.” But in retrospect this portended the restaurant’s end; it was like saying something out loud specifically because it could not last much longer. Substantial rent increases neighborhood-wide meant many of the restaurant’s original and most loyal customers had already left, and Chez Oskar would follow.
When news spread in December of their relocation to Bed-Stuy, owner Charlotta Janssen (who doubles as the painter behind all of Chez Oskar’s noteworthy art, including its large mural) was tight lipped about what spurred the move (though neighbors knew and said it was rent), and few details were released about what their new location would be like. We knew only that Chez Oskar Bed-Stuy, at 310 Malcolm X Boulevard, would be smaller than the original, and would be ready around May.
But we did not know when Chez Oskar Fort Greene would close. And as winter became spring, we were surprised to note the restaurant still seemed to be serving lunch and dinner as happily as ever. Would they be staying, after all?
Yesterday, we stopped in to get an update from General Manager Angelique Calmet, who has been with Chez Oskar for the past 15 years. (“I came to New York to learn English, I fell in love with Fort Greene, and then, of course, I fell in love, and I stayed,” she explains.) While Calmet did confirm, yes, they really will be closing and, yes, it really is due to increasing rent—and the final date will be in about two weeks—it would be the beginning of something new, more than a sad ending.
“It was becoming very hard in this neighborhood with so many new restaurants, we decided it was better to go to Bed-Stuy—I mean, we had a good run,” Calmet explains, sitting across from me at a two-top near the front window. Despite the subject, Calmet was notably cheerful. “People were amazing all those years,” she continues, “We had great support, but it’s time to go—it is what it is.”
And largely, that is a brand new chapter for Chez Oskar, which will retain what is familiar and relied upon by devout customers, but will also evolve in exciting ways. The menu will keep essentials like the spicy lamb burger and all-you-can-eat mussels on Tuesdays (lest people rebel), but Calmet says new flavors will be added in Bed-Stuy, like “some Mexican touches, or Thai; just mixing it up a little bit.”
And while we were told in December that the Bed-Stuy space would be smaller; in fact, it will be much larger. Janssen was able to take over the address next door to the one she originally purchased (a well-situated corner space at Decatur and Malcolm X), and will combine them to form a dining room with close to 70 seats and a longer bar. Next year, the Bed-Stuy restaurant will also feature sidewalk seating, just like in Fort Greene.
There is not an exact open date yet (though the buildout is nearly finished) but Calmet said it was important that there be no gap between the closure in Fort Greene and the opening in Bed-Stuy so that employees would not lose work or their jobs. To that end, they were able to negotiate with their landlord to stay in Fort Greene until Bed-Stuy was ready.
As of now, that will be around Memorial Day Weekend, and Chez Oskar Fort Greene will go out with a bang: they’re planning a series of parties that weekend, an entire week of live music, including during brunch and dinner hours, and there should be burlesque and a DJ on Saturday, says Calmet. Full details are being worked out, “but there will be an official party,” she confirms.
When it’s over, the corner of Adelphi and Dekalb will look a little sadder, but Calmet and Janssen have a reunion to look forward to on the other end of it. “A lot of the customers that used to be here 17 years ago when we first opened have actually moved to Bed-Stuy, because they couldn’t afford Fort Greene,” she said. “So, actually, a lot of our clientele will be there, and they’re very excited, too.”
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