What a Drag: Lucky Cheng’s Will Leave East Village for 52nd Street

chengs.jpogDaniel Maurer Lucky Cheng’s at 24 First Avenue.

The neighborhood’s top drag destination, Lucky Cheng’s, will be moving to a location near Times Square in the next six months, the owner revealed today.

Citing dwindling tourist traffic, Hayne Suthon, who has run the First Avenue cabaret restaurant since 1993, said that the operation would move to a more desirable location on 52nd Street.

“The phone used to ring off the hook, but as Times Square became a magnet for tourists — we just can’t get them down here,” said Ms. Suthon. “We’ve tried back flips, standing on our heads; they want to stay up there now.”

Ms. Suthon would not give an address for the new location because she had yet to sign a lease. But that didn’t keep her from singing the new space’s praises. If all goes as planned, the location will have two tiers of drag performances, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a more high-end menu and seating for around 350 people. (Yesterday, Grub Street reported that the current location was on the market.)

“Walking by the space, and looking at the people, we said, ‘This is our demographic,” Ms. Suthon said, later noting that her clientele is “the kind of customer that wants to go see ‘Jersey Boys,’ and tourists from Missouri.” The bachelorette and birthday partiers will just as easily go to Times Square as the East Village, she added.

Ms. Suthon touted the current location as a rare opportunity for a large-scale business in the neighborhood. The space has three liquor licenses, and enough room to accommodate an Eataly-style business with a grocery store, tasting area, restaurant and catering operation. “It could be a total flagship for a celebrity chef,” she said.

Bento Burger and Nublu will have to find new locations (the owner of the former is scheduled to go before Community Board 3 on Monday regarding a new space).

Ms. Suthon was not looking to romanticize her business’s role in the neighborhood after 18 years. “We’re part of the neighborhood, but the locals don’t come here,” she said. “The Gray Line [tourist] bus announces us when they go by, but how do we get them to come back down here?”

Ms. Suthon said that whatever business moves in, it will likely fit in with the “new” Bowery and East Houston Street, which just recently welcomed the playboy hotelier, Andre Balazs. “The Standard East Village really makes a statement about what has happened there,” she said.

Ms. Suthon added that she was well aware of the criticism that comes with all the changes in the neighborhood, describing the destruction of Mars Bar as “blasphemous.”

“There’s some blasphemy going on, maybe I’m part of that blasphemy — but I always say you can’t get too attached to the past, change is always good.”