FOOD: Goodbye, Republic

Republic was a place that I discovered in 2010, when I was a first year design and technology grad student at nearby Parsons. I had previously holed up at the corner Starbucks (which has since moved down the block) but I was looking for a spot more pleasant than one that housed throngs of tourists looking for an excuse to use the public bathroom. At Republic, I tiptoed into independent New York City adulthood, finding somewhere in which it was socially acceptable to dine alone. Smartphones weren’t really a thing yet, but I was content to linger day after day with endless bowls of pad thai as my companions – always with chicken and no bean sprouts, please.

It became a refuge, both solitary and eventually communal, and when I finally made friends, we gathered here, piling our laptops and toolboxes into the nifty under-table storage that I believe every restaurant needs to have. This was the place where we brainstormed on thesis projects, deciphered un-decipherable computer code, vented about teachers (and each other), cried, considered dropping out, pep-talked, and formed a bond, all over mountains of noodles.

Two years and a million meals after my very first visit, I naturally ate here after a very well-earned graduation with my parents, fully clothed in cap and gown, and used my student ID card for a discount like I always had, even though I was very clearly no longer a student. At this point, I had moved into an apartment a few blocks away. I took my parents here often, and it became my mom’s number one spot even when she came into the city alone. She liked sitting at the bar, watching bowls upon bowls of noodles and everything else churned out at a rapid, elegantly choreographed pace. We came here for multiple birthdays, mine, hers, my dad’s. I remember her coming into the city once while I was sick – she picked up a meal at Republic and in all her innocence, unsuccessfully tried to order me a cocktail to-go. We laughed about this every time we went there.

I went to Republic less after I graduated, since I finally had a base in the city, but it continued to feel like a home. Perfectly situated right at the corner of Union Square, easily accessible to everyone and anywhere, the meals were prepared at lightning fast speed but always stayed incredibly consistent in quality. When it all came down to it, everything was just really, really good. Aesthetically, it was dressed simply, sleek and utilitarian, with minimal decor besides the large photos of models with noodles sensually draped over faces and bodies. I always puzzled over one photo, a model running on a beach with a kite, the only one sans noodles – what was up with that?

My refuge was there for the worst of times. After the abrupt and completely unexpected end of a six-year relationship, I went ham on self-care. I started running every day, got mani-pedis, bought myself flowers – all temporary band-aids for a broken heart. Ultimately, I turned to Republic for comfort. With the discovery that I still had my ex-boyfriend’s credit card information saved on both Seamless and Republic’s ordering portal, I retaliated by ordering a few pizzas and pad thais to soothe my soul, the triumphant jab to feed my need for a delicious combination: revenge and good food.  He never said anything about it.  Maybe he didn’t check his credit card bill, or maybe he just let it slide because he knew it was the least he should do. Either way, I hope he doesn’t read this.

Republic was a great place to take a date because the food was prepared so quickly, and there was so much of it, that you could easily find an excuse either to cut things short or stay a while. Eventually, a very special someone came into my life, worthy of a lifetime of lengthy, relaxed Republic dinners, and it became one of our places. My now-fiance and I dined here over and over again, almost always during happy hour. Looking back on it, we (and I, in any situation) never had to wait for a table. Between the two of us, worked our way through almost the whole cocktail menu, eventually settling on the frozen red sangria as our favorite. He fell in love with the chicken pad thai as instantly as I did (again, hold the bean sprouts). Those gigantic bowls could somehow be perfect for whatever you felt like. If you were one very hungry person, or one kinda hungry person who wanted leftovers, or two kinda hungry people who wanted to split, one bowl would find a way to work for you. We recommended this place to everyone.

I sing my praises on the pad thai, but have to give a shout out to their other dishes. I would occasionally sub my go-to order, never with regrets. I went on a kick for the seared marinated salmon with curried rice for a while. Back when I could still eat gluten, that crispy tofu with the peanut dipping sauce was a grad school staple. I’m hoping to figure out the recipe for a gluten-free version of the sauce based on memory. The coconut curry soup was a later discovery, a gargantuan portion of creamy, bright yellow broth with noodles and their signature juicy pieces of chicken. I could never finish this, but would save the leftover broth to douse noodles in the next day at home. That soup was my second to last meal at Republic, and I ate the entire thing.

Our last meal here was on closing day, around noon on Saturday, December 30, 2017. We made it a point to come here just for this, and sat at the window counter, which was always a prime people-watching spot. I remember looking out the window at the people who would peer at the menu and then walk away, wondering if they had any idea that they were forever passing up their chance to eat here. We split a bowl of chicken pad thai and forgot to ask for no bean sprouts, but decided this would be an appropriate day to give them a chance. They weren’t bad. Maybe I was too emotional to be bothered by them. Of course, we ordered one frozen red wine sangria for each of us, sans orange garnish since according to our waiter, there were no oranges left. I took every bite slowly and with purpose, feeling like this was a Very Important Life Event. Every detail was heightened – I noticed they used a different plate for the pad thai, maybe they were slowly putting the bowls away. The snow was falling, it felt very romantic indie-movie, like a non-malicious break-up, a relationship that still had love, it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s not either of us, we gave it all we got, it just couldn’t work.

It will probably be a while before I want to eat another pad thai, and it might be forever before I find one that lives up to these particular standards. In the ever-changing landscape of New York City molded mostly by rent hikes, it was inevitable that one of my favorite haunts would leave soon, but it still stings to know that my New York, the one as I know it, has lost a staple. I know that I am young and many people have felt this way before me, for many and all kinds of New Yorks ago, so for all of you who felt the beginning of A Change – I feel you. I wasn’t expecting this to end up being so personal, but this place was always there for me, and to it, I owe these words. It deserves that closure. Anyway, I’ll see you in another life, Republic. Until then, I’ll always Think Noodles.