We Keep Seeing Restaurant Merch Everywhere


When Balthazar celebrated its 25th anniversary party in April 2022, it was impossible to get a table. But earlier that day, outside the restaurant, I passed the manager at the time, who put a small gold coin on a key chain that had a “B” written on it. Only later did I find out that only 150 were given to the people dining there that night. These kinds of familiar finds not only look cool, but they telegraph the person you are inside.

Some people say the commodity is over, but I would ask them to open their eyes and see that it is actually (still) everywhere, and perhaps more than ever a status symbol. In New York, everyone he wears restaurant baseball caps at the moment, some of which can be bought online, but others can only be obtained with good timing and even better people skills. In the past few weeks alone, I've seen a few Odeon hats at the guys at J. Mueser, an Estela at the Elizabeth Street Garden, several flat-brimmed Nat's on Banks in the West Village, and more Amber Waves Farms than me. important to mention But in the larger context, in an age where even trying to get into certain establishments to spend your money is passed for blood sport, a Raf hat, for example, shows you've got friends who can slip you a hard to find accessory. now, and a more difficult reservation to get later.

Locally, merchandising also reflects who we are and where we live, right down to the neighborhood, almost functioning as an instant personality test for passers-by to decide whether or not they want to participate. “Like attracts like,” says Liv Schreiber, founder of Hot and Social. “If you want to attract someone who went to Michigan, put on a Michigan shirt, right? It's just about signaling that you place yourself inside that bucket.” And with, for example, an Estela hat or a Neir's Tavern shirt, you can identify yourself as a member of the most niche groups. “Living in the part of Brooklyn where I am, if I see someone wearing a Sharlene shirt, I feel like I have something in common with that person,” says culture writer and merchandising connoisseur Jason Diamond of the Prospect Heights dive bar.

That's why finding someone who represents your favorite place in nature can feel like seeing a friendly face. I recently moved to the Upper West Side; i'm glad i'm uptown now but i was worried i'd never go back to wildair or kiki's again. But my first weekend, I saw someone waiting on the 96th street subway platform wearing a white cap that said “Raf's” in embroidered letters. That guy was at 9am, but he still went to Noho often enough to grab one of the rare hats they produced when they opened. (If you weren't there or don't know the right person to ask, there's nothing online to track him down.)

A Raf hat shows that you have friends who can bring you a hard-to-find accessory now, and a harder-to-find reserve later

Merchandise previously provided a financial lifeline to restaurants during COVID – every time I took a socially distanced walk, people would nod and point at my black The Odeon hat (I assumed they were smiling). Now, it can feel like another emblem of how restaurants have been gamified to favor the mega-rich and well-connected. But even so, the very fact that the commodity is so ubiquitous that we have created stratified levels to categorize it indicates that it is not a thing of the past.


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