The jewel in the crown of Rockefeller Group’s redesigned 1271 Sixth Ave. is the mammoth, new Greek restaurant Avra, opening this week after more than two years of pandemic-driven drama. This crown sits not at the tower’s top, but at sidewalk level with more than 400 indoor and outdoor seats.
The Avra Group’s investment in its third Manhattan location was north of $10 million, according to Nick Tsoulos, who is partners with Marc Packer and Nick Pashalis.
It completes Rock Group’s vision for the tower, the former Time + Life building, on which it spent more than $600 million to re-clad and re-engineer after the magazines moved away. Its offices are now 100 percent leased to companies such as AIG, Major League Baseball (which also has a retail store), Bessemer Trust and Latham & Watkins.
But it wasn’t quite complete as long as most of the ground floor sat vacant. Enter the Avra Group, which began talks with Rockefeller “about six months pre-COVID,” Tsoulos said.
The partners were searching for a high-profile third location for Avra, which has thrived at 14 E. 60th St. and 141 E. 48th St.
“Our broker located the Sixth Avenue space,” Tsoulos recalled. “We had just finished negotiating a lease. We were in the lawyers’ office in February 2020 when Marc said, ‘Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.’”
“What elephant?” one person at the meeting asked.
The beast in question was, of course, the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the metropolitan area.
“One lawyer said, ‘It will be over in a week.’ We said, ‘What if it isn’t?’” Tsoulos recalled,
“We postponed the signing. The world shut down the next week. Then Rockefeller Group came back to us in August . We kind of started over again. We put in protective COVID language that worked for them and for us.”
Tsoulos wouldn’t spell it out. Sources previously told Realty Check that the complex, hybrid deal — which combines a lease and a revenue-sharing formula with the landlord — came with unique, COVID-specific contingencies involving future vaccine availability and further possible government lockdowns.
“We thought the world was going to come back,” Tsoulos said. “The location is the center of the universe. Our landlord was very helpful to us. They helped us through the construction process and the whole ordeal.”
The result is a sight to behold — three floors comprising 16,500 square feet, plus a unique outdoor plaza fronting the avenue. Thirty-foot-high windows wrap the sun-drenched space.
The design echoes those of the earlier Avras, with acres of white oak, limestone, bronze, stone and linen to conjure the Greek islands. Whole fish are on abundant display. The menu from executive chefs Jose Diaz and Arman Arsan is similar to the crowd-pleasing, seafood-focused ones at the earlier Avras.
The restaurant directly opposite Radio City Music Hall is turning heads on Sixth Avenue, which never had such an expansive dining venue with alfresco seats in the midst of office towers.
Did the team ever have butterflies during the challenged months of lease negotiations and construction?
“We are open for business,” Tsoulos said, “And the butterflies are still there.”