Tommy Updegrove — the notorious restaurateur, social-media-guru, and man about town — is the able mind behind stunt-burger trailblazer P.Y.T. But last October, his freewheeling days of 1400 calorie donut-cheesesteak burgers turned sour. Updegrove, known affectionately as Up, closed his Piazza shop a week before opening an 80s-themed NYC version of the same concept. A little over a week ago, that one closed too. As Up's social media went quiet, phone calls went unanswered, and it was only this week that Philadelphia magazine's Victor Fiorillo found Tommy Up.
"I had to shut it off for a while," said Up. "I just had to take some time."
To backtrack a bit: The Piazza's closing was a strange one unto itself, considering that less than a month prior, Phoebe Esmon and Christian Gaal, bartenders at Emmanuelle (Up's speakeasy cocktail bar behind P.Y.T.) announced plans for a two month-long "farewell tour" held at Emmanuelle, with big-shot guest bartenders from Philly and D.C. scheduled to mix it up with the duo before they left town. His reason for closing in the Piazza? A dispute with his
landlord "overlord" and Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner:
"Mr. Up repeatedly failed to both pay rent and follow property rules," said a spokesperson for Kushner's company. "After multiple forbearance attempts and rent reductions, he vacated the property. We are now in court seeking to recover some of what he owes."
To which Up responded:
"They drew first blood, not me. I was honest with them about their failed efforts and their only response was to retaliate against me, financially and otherwise, again and again. I have documentation of their negligent management and systematic destruction of the Piazza that is revelatory. I look forward to sharing it if it comes down to it."
On to the next. Still riding the wave of some big press leading up to the opening of his Bowery Street P.Y.T., it seemed as though there was some real New York excitement surrounding the impending burger joint's arrival. And it did open, just like Up said it would. Everything looked to be running smoothly, even with a $64 Basquiat Burger on the menu, until a closed-for-renovation sign was posted to the front window, and soon after, a "for rent" sign.
Apparently in New York, the landlord loves them. "He was hanging out there all the time." But high rent prices coupled with not having a liquor license often leads to an unsustainable restaurant model.
Even now, Up remains to be optimistic about his P.Y.T. dream. The Fillmore P.Y.T. deal fell apart due to "timing" issues, so Up is focusing his efforts on New York, working to get a liquor license, which he says is both "difficult" and "political". Until then, drink your ridiculous-burger-missing sorrows away at Up's tiki bar, TheYachtsman, still serving fruit and flower-bedazzled drinks in Fishtown till the wee hours of the night.