Nike Just Did It to My Favorite Restaurant


Tony Wu

Cafe Bari’s old location on Spring Street and Broadway is now occupied by a Nike Store.

Pamela Jew, Under the Arch Managing Editor

Hypebeasts have destroyed my life. Sneaker culture has torn my family apart. It’s ruined the sanctity of what it means to dress up — and worse — the “clout chasers” have killed my favorite restaurant. What’s next? Will teenage white boys shut down brick-and-mortar grocery stores and make us resort to online grocery shopping? I shudder at the thought.

Cafe Bari was a Mediterranean-Italian restaurant in the heart of SoHo at 526 Broadway, overlooking Broadway and Spring Street. On the first floor, you could sit ground level as passersby watched you work on your latest zombie historical fiction book and sip on your fourth cup of coffee. Or you could make your way up the spiral staircase to the second floor where you’d be eye level with all the scaffolding and everyone looks like an ant frantically trying to not get hit by a cab.

On a rainy summer day, my dad and I stumbled across this monstrous restaurant. I was 12, and pasta was my favorite food. It still is. Just the two of us and our empty stomachs; it felt like we ordered the whole menu. The table was filled to the edge with pastas, breads, salads, chicken parmesans and appetizers galore. But the best item on our table: the crisp, thin-cut fries. My food dreams came true as fries and pasta sat like two happy clams on my plate. Every time we returned to New York, Cafe Bari was a staple. My grandparents who never stray from Chinese food and anything bland came with us; we schmoozed my dad’s former high school friends. Cafe Bari was our place to impress.

When I went to New York solo, I knew it would become my go-to place, or so I thought. 

The summer leading up to my first year at NYU, my dad let me take a trip to New York with two of my best friends, given we stayed at my grandma’s house in Queens. We weren’t permitted out past 12 a.m., but between 9 a.m. and midnight, New York was my buffet and playground.

As the child of two native New Yorkers, I carried the responsibility to show my friends the city. We made the trek from Queens to Lower Manhattan, and stepped off the R train. My body was ready to be resurrected by the flavors of Cafe Bari. I was ready to take my friends to this swanky — for 18-year-old me — SoHo dig. I proudly led the way to Cafe Bari, only to be met by the skeleton of what used to be. Plastered over its floor-to-ceiling windows were ads and signs informing the city that Nike would be moving in soon.

I should have known — the news was everywhere. But it seemed that I wasn’t the only one upset about the new Nike headquarters — its SoHo neighbors were just as disappointed by the construction and thus further intrusion of corporate America. To be fair, no one was concerned for the death of poor Cafe Bari, only the birth of Nike. Later on, I checked the Cafe Bari Yelp page to be welcomed by two star reviews laden with complaints of bad service and cold food, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by its sudden death.

For a year, I refused to step into that damned Nike store. It was a symbol of death, gloating over its kill. Sure, it has a mini basketball court, but how dare they dribble on my heart for such a marketing scheme. The five-story waste of space supplies the masses with athleisure and me with a sense of betrayal.

Now, Cafe Bari has turned into a dinky cafe down at 276 Canal St., serving solely pastries and drinks and the occasional salad or sandwich. In other words, my beloved pasta in the Cafe Bari world is gone; it’s not making a yearly McRib comeback but a McDonald’s Super Size menu goodbye. My Cafe Bari and I never got our proper farewell with a side of french fries.

Email Pamela Jew at [email protected].