John Donohue, a former New Yorker editor and cartoonist, is now close to seven months into his yearlong project to draw all the restaurants in New York, which is estimated to be about 24,000. As of this morning, he has documented only around 200. “I call it an ‘intentionally hyperbolic’ project,” he said, laughing. “Accounting for openings and closings, travel between each one, sleep, work, outside responsibilities and the coloring I do, I could keep at this for the rest of my life. And I would. The point for me is to keep drawing forever—it keeps me present, it de-stresses me. I love food and cooking, so I’m confident I’ve picked the right subject.”
While the title of “All the Restaurants in New York” is playful, Donohue’s motivation to start an ongoing visual compendium of the city’s eateries is completely earnest. He began posting images in January. The Odeon in Tribeca was his first sketch. “It’s such an iconic spot,” he said. “It felt like the perfect place to start.”Donohue sketches each restaurant facade in pen and ink in about 20 minutes and doesn’t make any corrections. Drawings are often accompanied by written context ranging from the history of the restaurant to a noteworthy dish. Some of the places in his inventory, like Semilla in Williamsburg, have since closed. “The archival nature of the project surprised me,” he said. “Restaurants are more ephemeral than I realized.”
Donohue offers a similar intimation of how time passes with his prints. The images are available online in signed editions of 365. “Each annotated print is a beautiful reminder that our days are numbered,” an included note says. The prints are $95, and a portion of the proceeds is going to hunger-relief organizations.
A selection of drawings from “All the Restaurants in New York” has also been on display at the powerHouse on 8th bookstore in Park Slope since March, where prints are sold for $100. The exhibit was recently extended through September 12 and we recently asked Donohue to share his three favorite Brooklyn-restaurant illustrations since starting the project:Freek’s Mill
285 Nevins Street, Gowanus
This is absolutely one of my favorites from the series, both because I got to play around with that perfect robin’s-egg blue for the sky and experiment with adding a bit of abstraction to my work, but also because I had a most wonderful meal there last summer to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I can still remember the sweetness of the sugar-snap pea salad and its refreshing hit of mint, along with the dry-aged duck that I found a rare treat. They were newly opened back then, and they mixed up our drink order, and to compensate gave us one for free. Their cocktails are mighty tasty!
85 Broadway, Williamsburg
One could not do a series of Brooklyn or New York restaurant drawings without including Diner. It is such an unassuming and welcoming spot, with its open-air tables and comforting awning. I have yet to eat there, but I remember well the warm afternoon that I stood on the street drawing it and enjoyed watching folks savor their meals at the outside tables.
al di la Trattoria
248 5th Avenue, Park Slope
This is my favorite neighborhood restaurant, which is hardly an apt description. It’s a destination restaurant more than anything else, and it’s been around for some 20 years now. The Venetian food is unique, the owners charming, the interior delightful, and I like the sparseness of my drawing and the light use of color here.
Illustrations by John Donohue.