When Gotham Burger opened last year in Teaneck, N.J., it seemed like a fairly conventional business: a family-friendly, moderately priced, kosher burger joint serving a largely Orthodox suburb filled with families looking for moderately priced kosher food. But when chef Avi Roth and his two business partners decided to open a second location, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, they took a more novel approach: The new Gotham Burger, which opened June 6 on Amsterdam Avenue, has the same burgers, but a very different vibe: It’s an upscale kosher sports bar, the only one of its kind in New York.
The new location, said Roth, is meant for the “boys after work” or a date, as well as families. Decorated in blues and browns, with a glowing red arch in the middle of the room that separates the front bar from the dining area, Gotham has a polished, lounge-like look, with cushioned booths and oak tables beneath black chandeliers. Small flat-screen televisions play ESPN and NBC Sports over the marble-topped bar in front. The back of restaurant, which holds the largest TV, is meant as a “VIP lounge.” The restaurant, which can accommodate about 35 people, also includes an outdoor deck currently under construction.
“I grew up as a Lakers fan, and my son got me into the New York Giants,” said Roth. “I’ve always wanted a place to go and watch the game while still eating quality kosher food, and now we have it.”
Roth, 42, a native of London who holds a doctorate in developmental psychology, transitioned into the restaurant business after working for 15 years as a manager at a development center for children with learning disabilities. With a desire to break into culinary arts, Roth enrolled in the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Brooklyn. But his aspirations weren’t kosher haute cuisine: With good memories of days back when Kosher Delight ruled the hamburger scene, Roth’s go-to food choice was always a burger.
Although running a restaurant and bar seems quite different from his previous career, both jobs focus on service, Roth explains. “When I hire staff, one of the big questions that I ask, which is a make-or-break is: If a costumer eats 90 percent of the burger and says he wants a full refund, what would you do?” he said. “Anyone who said ‘gets a full refund, or a different item on the menu’ was hired. Anyone who wouldn’t be as generous won’t get hired, because customer service is our goal.”
The restaurant has been compared to other hamburger chains like Shake Shack—a nonkosher chain with 19 locations across the United States—largely due to the similarities in the menu options, focusing on burgers, fries, and shakes (although Gotham’s shakes are pareve). The burgers at Gotham are juicy and served on a fluffy, brioche bun. “Our burger can please everyone: the foodie and someone who is just coming in for a simple burger,” said Joey Litz, Gotham Burger’s 26-year-old manager, who first met Roth at summer camp. “It has that meaty flavor you expect from a gourmet burger and comes with a ‘special’ sauce, mushrooms, and onions.”
Gotham’s fries are also getting rave reviews from customers. “Their french fries are amazing,” said Abie Cohen, a 41-year-old financial adviser who’s a loyal customer in Teaneck. “They peel and cut the potatoes and throw them in the fryer. You’re not getting something that was pre-frozen in a bag somewhere. That quality for their price is extremely reasonable.”
Gotham is not the only kosher burger place on the Upper West Side: Amsterdam Burger Company is located just five blocks south. But the sports bar aspect sets Gotham apart. Jonathan Adler, a 25-year-old customer of Amsterdam Burger Company who lives nearby, heard about Gotham through friends and decided to try out the new place on opening night by ordering take-out. “If I were going out with my friends, I’d definitely come here because of the bar,” he told me. “There should be more bars with kosher food in the city.”
Gotham serves six different beers on tap, as well as wine and cocktails. And there are eight televisions mounted high on the walls. “Technically we could have eight games going on at once, but last night we had three games until the middle of the basketball game, then all the TVs were turned to the NBA finals,” said Roth. “We will certainly be cheering for every New York team.”
Gotham’s hours reflect the busy and often late work-night hours of young professionals. It will be open until midnight Sunday through Wednesday, and until 1:00 a.m. on Thursday. But most important, after being closed on Friday night, Gotham will open an hour or so after Shabbat ends on Saturday and will keep serving food and drinks till 4 a.m. Jonathan Shore, one of Roth’s behind-the-scenes business partners, said: “If this place had existed when I was dating my wife, we wouldn’t have been such frequenters at kosher pizza spots that close at 12 a.m.”
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