2007_02_rats3.jpgYou know what's awesome in high definition TV? Seeing images of huge, fat rats run around a fast food restaurant in the Village! WABC, WCBS, and WNBC descended on a Taco Bell-KFC location on Sixth Avenue at 4th Street. The restaurant had been open until 11PM last night, and someone called in a tip when they saw rats running around. While people have seen rats in restaurants, they probably haven't seen something that looked this close to the Rats of NIMH. This story also made the Today Show, in a broader piece about "Is food from your restaurant safe?" Which makes us wonder about the pros and cons of e. coli and rats.

We spoke to someone who has eaten at that location, who first said, "Holy Jesus," thought for a moment, and then said, "The sad thing is, this probably wouldn't deter me from eating there again." And WNBC linked to the Taco Bell-KFC's Health Department inspection: The restaurant passed, though there was "Evidence of rats or live rats present in facility's food and/or non-food areas."

Are there any restaurants where you see rats?

2007_02_kfcclosed.jpgUpdate: The Health Department has officially closed the Taco-Bell KFC at 6th Avenue and West 4th Street. The Health Department spokeswoman said that the restaurant passed inspection in December because "Evidence of rats" meant there were only rat droppings. Maybe the Health Department needs to increase the severity, because obviously, where there are droppings, there are rats. If anyone can shed light on the hours Health Inspectors work, please tell us, because we wonder if the Health Department should be visiting more locations at night, when garbage has accumulated.

WNBC reporter Adam Shapiro has an account of covering the story: A tip was called in at 2:30AM, and he and a crew were the only news station on the scene between 3:30AM and 6:30AM.

It was one of the more disgusting things I have covered in my career because there were so many of them...

These were big rats too! Some were easily a foot long.

One of the rats actually climbed up on the counter, then on to stools that were turned upside down and dangled from the stool's chair like a gymnast. Others kept darting out from under the restaurants two garbage containers with bits of food in their mouths while a horde of them ran back and forth from the kitchen.

He adds that the fact the Health Department didn't respond to calls or emergency pages was "troubling." Sadly, that is not surprising, given that the Health Department has a serious lag when it comes to responding to reports of rats (though the pest and restaurant divisions are different, one would imagine). WABC 7 has a statement from KFC and Taco Bell, which reads, "This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards. We've talked with the franchisee who is actively addressing this issue as is evident by the preventative construction in the basement yesterday that temporarily escalated the situation. This store will remain closed until this issue is completely resolved."

Here are Gothamist posts on rats. We highly recommend reading Robert Sullivan's opus about rats in New York City, Rats.