It's been a long, ongoing, dirty process of restoring the First Avenue Hotel at 101 Broadway -- for the last year and a half or so, owner Jesse Morreale (of Rockbar, La Rumba and Mezcal, among others) has been slowly but surely pecking away at restoring the long-vacant landmark, restoring the outer facade first, opening Sketch Wine Bar around the same time and then El Diablo about a year after that. And it's not over yet -- the second, third and fourth floors are as yet unfinished -- but that fact is not going to stop Morreale from throwing a Holiday Spectacular. And it is damn sure not going to stop that Holiday Spectacular from having reindeer.
"It's piecemeal, man," Morreale says of the redevelopment project. "I mean, it's a big project. When we started this thing, there was no power here, there was no heat, there was no sewer. We had to bring all that stuff in. I mean, we had 290 windows to replace. So you kind of have to take it one step at a time or you have a nervous breakdown or die of a heart attack, neither of which I want."
Indeed, the process has not been without setbacks; El Diablo, Morreale's magnum opus of a Mexican gastro-cantina -- which he's said boasts the "best layout, design and menu we've ever done" -- had its debut delayed for close to a year and a half before it finally opened the doors in August.
Tonight, it's not just opened -- it's filled with about 6,000 feet of Christmas lights for a total of about 24,000 bulbs, plus a giant Frosty, a giant Santa and a giant Nutcracker. Well, giant enough, anyway. Down the way at Sketch, the display will be a bit less garish, but still festive: "It's a little more for the adults," says Morreale.
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The focal point of the night comes at 7:30 p.m., when Morreale & Co. illuminate the exterior of the First Avenue Hotel for the first time in a long, long time, revealing the historic building in all its newly restored, Chirstmas-lit splendor. It'll be a sight to behold.
But the Pièce de résistance gets started about two hours earlier, at 5:30: Verily, there will be a reindeer petting zoo. With a handler who is dressed as a Christmas elf. No, really.
"Yeah, that's the one we've been getting the most calls about." Morreale chuckles. "It's been pretty funny, actually. Like, here's one of the conversations I overheard: 'Yes... there really are reindeer... they'll be here at 5:30... no, I don't think you can ride the reindeer.'"