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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

The business of tourist traps

Mark Garrison Apr 24, 2014
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The iconic New York restaurant Tavern on the Green is reopening Thursday under new ownership after being shut down for years. It has a storied history, but suffered in recent years from a reputation as a tourist trap with dreadful food. The new owners vow to restore it to its old glory and have invested millions in revitalizing the space and the menu.


By Shea Huffman

In light of Tavern on the Green’s return, we decided to look at some of the most well-known, or infamous “tourist trap” restaurants around the country. These restaurants may have originally gained noteriety for good food or intriguing historical origins, but have since become better known for their tourist draw.

Top of the World Restaurant – Stratosphere Hotel, Las Vegas

One could argue Las Vegas itself is one big tourist trap, but to pick one restaurant out of all of them, you have to go with the rotating restaurant atop the Stratosphere Hotel, the Top of the World. Like most touristy places to eat, this one banks mostly on the view it offers customers, but doesn’t offer the high quality food to match its high price range (it costs $18 just for admission).

Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth – Frankenmuth, Michigan

This all-you-can-eat chicken restaurant is somewhat of a landmark in Michigan, known for its massive 1,500 person seating area, making it one of the largest restaurants in the U.S. Zehnder’s staff all wear traditional German-style uniforms to match the general style of the restaurant, though the food is decidedly American.

Fisherman’s Warf – San Francisco

This is probably one of the most well known tourist traps in the world, and it would be unfair to single out just one of the restaurants that inhabit it for being unremarkable beyond the fact that they are in Fisherman’s Warf.

The Billy Goat Taven – Chicago

“Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” The famous line from the Olympia Restaurant skit in Saturday Night Live was inspired by the Greek immigrant owners of the Billy Goat Taven in Chicago. To this day the restaurant is graced with long lines of patrons waiting to hear the staff recite the words, but the general consensus is that it’s just typical diner food.

Times Square – New York

Another famous tourist trap whose restaurants we just couldn’t single out. If we had to pick one though, it would probably be Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, the restaurant belonging to celebrity chef Guy Fieri, if only for its brilliantly scathing review in the New York Times.

P.O.V. Rooftop Bar at the W Hotel – Washington, D.C.

This lounge, sitting atop the W Hotel in Washington, D.C., offers patrons a great view of the White House and a number of the city’s historic monuments, as well as a chance to rub elbows with a few classy politicos. But that might be all it has to offer, as reviewers contend the drinks are overpriced and the food isn’t that good.

The Ivy – Los Angeles

Adorned with flowery cottage-style decor, this nouvelle American restaurant sits not far from the talent agency International Creative Management, which has prompted a number of visits from celebrities and pursuing paparazzi. The chance to spot their favorite movie stars drives many tourists to The Ivy, and they pay for it.

The Varsity – Atlanta

The main branch of this burger chain in Atlanta is the largest fast food drive-in in the world, and has become an iconic fixture in the city’s culture. The unofficial catchphrase, “What’ll ya have?” has become ingrained in Atlanta’s folklore, and the restaurant has even been graced with visits from presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But pretty much everyone who goes there agrees, the food is just “meh.”

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