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Al Bustan -- thoughts?

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hi...i've seen Al Bustan mentioned here as "best Lebanese" in Manhattan, etc...but i haven't read a recent and comprehensive review...

i tried to go a couple weeks ago...it was 9pm or so on a Saturday, so i called and asked if they were busy...

Guy on Phone: "Yeah, pretty busy"

me: "We're two people. We'd be happy eating at the bar, getting a snack and drinks, or a table late, whatever"

Guy on Phone: "The bar's not open tonight"

me: "Really?"

Guy on Phone: "Maybe some other time"...he hangs up...he had a friendly voice, but clearly had no interest in bringing anyone else into the restaurant that night.

Looking at the website, which seems to show a rather sizable bar, i find it odd that the bar would be closed on a Saturday at 9pm, especially if the place was so busy that they didn't seem to even remotely interested in accepting a party of two who volunteered to eat late, at the bar, wherever...

What's the deal on this place?...does it get bizarrely crowded on weekends?...do they have a real bar?...if so, why would it be closed on a Saturday?...is the food worth another try?...what's the vibe like?...thanks...

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Al Bustan
319 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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  1. We've been to Al Bustan once in the mid-'90's. I have this vague memory of walking through the bar to get to the dining room, but I don't recall how large the bar area was. The decor was rather fancy-ish, much nicer than the decor at Byblos, the Lebanese spot we were frequenting at that time, on 39th, just east of 3rd. I also recall Al Bustan's wait staff wearing suits as opposed to the much more casual attire at Byblos. Also, the atmosphere was rather hushed unlike the joviality at Byblos.

    With regard to the food, I didn't think Al Bustan's, while good, was any better than at Byblos. But it was much more expensive. So, in essence, I felt we were paying for the nicer ambiance and fancier location, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    If you do decided to try again to go, I hope you'll report back.

    Btw, we also haven't been to Byblos since the 90's. I just looked at their website, and it states they're closed because of a fire but are rebuilding.

    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

    7 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      This is a new Al Bustan..they moved from Third Avenue to East 53rd Street a few years ago. The new place is glossy, shiny, and seems very large. It never looks filled when I pass by early in the evenings.

      http://www.albustanny.com/

      1. re: erica

        erica,

        I don't recall Al Bustan's exact location in the 90's other than it was in the E. 50's. So, I guess what you are saying is that they moved from Third in the 50's into a side street space?

        http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

        1. re: RGR

          Okie dokie! Let me clear up the confusion. Al Bustan was on 3rd Ave near 50 ST. They closed a few years ago and reopened a year or two ago on E 53 just East of 2nd Ave.
          We go there a lot on weekend nights and get a table for two @ 8 PM or so, without a reservation. For 4 or more we make reservations but the place is never full although it is busy on weekends. It's a big space with a bar area and tables downstairs which I have never seen open. I think they open it for private parties and later in the evening when they have a belly dancer. That might clear up some of the confusion for the O.P..
          That being said: I know my Syrian/Lebanese food and Al Bustan has the best, most authentic Syrian/Lebanese in Manhattan. It's excellent but I have to say Tanoreen in Bay Ridge Brooklyn beats it by a small margin.
          Byblos was 100 yards from my apartment and I miss them dearly. It seems some type of sports bar is going into the former Byblos/Frontier diner space. Just what 3rd Ave needs!!

          1. re: Motosport

            +1 for the Garden recommendation; I know that cuisine well, too, and al.Bustan excels.

            I live fairly close to the Byblos/Frontier corner, too, moto, and I'm crestfallen to hear the plans for it (although I'm not seeing any activity at the site; you must have read the fine print on the building permits.)
            In *that* block, on *that* avenue, to open *another* sports bar -really?! Lord, maybe they can incorporate a Duane Reade and a Bank of America into the same space and call it Clip's Bay.

            1. re: Phil Ogelos

              There is some signage on the plywood for O'Murphy's sports bar extravaganza, or something like that. Maybe Byblos will relocate close by. It took Al Bustan a few years to find a new spot.

              1. re: Motosport

                Maybe in the Zengo space -heaven knows they're used to fairly brisk turnover!

            2. re: Motosport

              thanks for the info...i'll give it a try one night soon...