All Don Evans wanted was a nice place to eat near his West 70s apartment. Little did he know that this urge would eventually become the start of a dining renaissance that has helped reshape the culinary landscape of the Upper West Side.
Evans, a law school graduate, former mayor’s assistant and one-time lobbyist, grew up in eastern Queens and now calls the Upper West Side home. He says he came to truly know and love Manhattan during the 1960s and 1970s, when he worked as an assistant for former Mayor John Lindsay and spent his days traversing the city with the mayor.
“I basically learned the city because I sat in his car for several years,” Evans said.
When Lindsay left office, Evans headed to Albany, where he worked as a lobbyist.
Several of his clients were in the restaurant business, and as Evans worked to secure spots for their ventures, he began to consider going into the industry himself.
He started by opening several restaurants in the Hamptons, including the now- closed Bridgehampton Café. The Upper West Side became his focus after he moved to the West 70s and had trouble finding high-end places to eat.
Compass opened in 2002, and in 2003 it was voted the best new restaurant in the city, according to Zagat. The restaurant recently underwent a renovation, and the menu’s seafood selections have been expanded.
Compass’ success has helped encourage more fine-dining establishments to move into the neighborhood over the last several years.
“Years ago you had to take cab downtown to have a decent dinner,” Evans said.
No more. Multiple foodie havens now dot the Upper West Side, including Dovetail, one of the best-reviewed new restaurants of the year. Evans worked as a consultant on that project.
This past spring, Evans brought together the owners and chefs of more than two dozen of the neighborhood’s upscale restaurants at “The New Taste of the Upper West Side,” a food and wine fundraiser he spearheaded to celebrate the neighborhood’s “arrival” in the culinary world.
The event, held under a 12,000-square-foot tent in the M.S. 44 and Computer School yard at 77th and Columbus, featured chefs dishing out tasting portions of their own creations to eager guests. More than 1,000 attended, with 400 being turned away at the door because of space constraints. The money raised will be put toward a new fence for the schoolyard.
“It was more successful than I ever could have conceived,” Evans said. “This has really become more of West Side community of restaurants and owners. The restaurants create a lot of jobs and a lot of good for the community.”
Evans is currently working on another culinary event to bring the Upper West Side restaurant community together next May.
“It was definitely a fun evening,” he said of last spring’s event, “one of those magical evenings you hope you can replicate. Next year, we anticipate it will be even bigger.”
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