— -- I’ve walked by it at least a dozen times and never once noticed it.
In fact, one of the times I breezed right by was just a week earlier, when I was in search of a restaurant serving the exact same cuisine.
Gaonnuri is a high-end Korean dining spot housed in an office building at 1250 Broadway, not far from New York City’s Koreatown area centered on West 32nd Street. There’s a small sign outside the building -- and inside the glass doors, a host stands at a podium in the building lobby to direct diners to the penthouse.
I rode the elevator to lunch at Gaonnuri with office workers who got off at other floors. Upon stepping off, the bar was right in front of me, and beyond that was an expansive restaurant open for lunch and dinner. With views of the city below, I ordered Korean barbecue duck that was prepared in the kitchen and brought to me, rather than being prepared at the table, as is the norm.
Gaonnuri is among a handful of highly-regarded restaurants inside corporate office or residential buildings around the nation.
R2L is one of Center City Philadelphia’s most dramatic dining rooms -- sitting 500 feet above the city on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place.
In Portland, Oregon, the Portland City Grill is located on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower.
Sweeping views like these attract developers to spaces that need to be sought out a bit more than those found on ground level. But it’s not without its challenges.
Said Jason Park, manager at Gaonnuri, “It was the 270-degree penthouse skyline views and Midtown South location that was initially attractive. The challenge of being tucked away in an office building is that not everyone knows about us, nor can they see or appreciate us from on the street below. ... For those that are aware of us and that frequent often, we are a special ‘hidden gem’ restaurant in a tech-focused building.”
It’s that “hidden gem” quality that diners love, experts say. But it’s also a function of necessity. Jamestown, the owners of 1250 Broadway, wanted to offer tenants of the building a place for lunch or dinner meetings, Park said.
Gaonnuri is not the only Korean establishment to move on up.
“Faced with a space crunch, New York City’s Koreatown started spreading up instead of out,” said Arthur Bovino, executive editor of The Daily Meal. “The result is ‘hidden’ restaurants, clubs and karaoke bars on second, third, fourth floors, and higher, places where you’ll step out of an elevator into a wall of people you never imagined would be there five minutes before when you were walking down the street.”
In Chicago, the Pittsfield Café, inside the historic Pittsfield office building at 55 E. Washington St. gets great food reviews, but with several Yelp complaints about its “hard to find” location.
Being hard to find can have its upside. Bovino said people love to be in the know about the not-so-obvious restaurants, “both because we enjoy cool spots and also, on some level, to demonstrate our culinary hipness.”
It’s worked for VISA-OL. The Miami restaurant located on Michigan Avenue just off Lincoln Road on first floor of an unassuming multistory office building, is known as “that famous hidden place.”