In New York City, a beloved local restaurant seems to close on a daily basis, the soul of the restaurant being dismantled along with its fixtures and fittings. After a few months, it’s replaced by a playful bistro or a trendy all-day cafe, and if you’re lucky, given time, it will become a beloved place in its own right, a place that seems to last forever. When old people turn a certain block or peek into a certain corner in the back seat of a taxi, they will sigh: That used to be Florent, that used to be China Chalet, that used to be Sorella, that used to be Sorella. It’s Lutes. The city is so full of ghosts that it’s a wonder one can even walk its streets.
Cecchi’s is a club restaurant opening this summer in the West Village at an address that’s haunted even by city standards. The space’s former tenant, Café Loup, was a true writers’ hangout and a home for Manhattan’s intellectual and artistic flair, including Seymour Britchky during the café’s forty-year history. , Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens and an army of other literary regulars. When the restaurant closed permanently in 2019 due to $500,000 in unpaid taxes, it was hailed as the end of a certain bohemian lifestyle in the city.
It’s grossly unfair to compare a restaurant to the ghost of its real estate predecessor. If the new occupant of the Café Loup space is a white-tiled, meat-filled Mexican eatery or a velvet-walled whiskey bar with a million-dollar sound system, the identity of the previous tenant will be nothing more than a fleeting Interesting facts. . But Cecchi’s is run by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, a career maître d’ who is making his debut as an independent restaurateur, and he seems happy to accept the comparison. If you’re aware of Café Loup’s reputation, your first visit may not make a huge impression. The restaurant is average and a bit tacky. Its complexity is a product of its customers, not a matter of design. Cecchi-Azzolina, by contrast, transformed the space into a major literary destination within Hollywood’s vision. The old Café Loup cane-backed chairs are still there; the huge vintage cash register remains the centerpiece of the bar. But now there are melting honey lights, curvaceous benches perfect for table-hopping, and the walls are adorned with whimsical murals depicting good people in various states of desire and play. Nothing whispers “this is an important literary destination” on stage like a set of whimsical murals – just ask Bemelmans, Monkey Bar or the late Café des Artistes.
Walking into Cecchi’s is like being thrown into the middle of a party: to reach the main stand, you have to pass through the front of the restaurant, where narrow wings flank the foyer with round bistro tables filled with delicious treats Delicious food. -Young looking people and rich looking old people. It’s a hopeful scene, although a promise isn’t a guarantee. Last year, Ceci-Azzolina published Your Table Is Ready , a brilliant memoir about working (and doing drugs and having lots of sex) at some of the city’s great restaurants. Decades of experience. The book also explores the question of what responsibility a restaurant – especially a very busy one – has to its customers. If guests don’t immediately feel, “Yes, we’re happy to have you here,” then “the restaurant is in trouble,” Cecchi-Azzolina wrote. In a later interview, he advised clients in this situation: “You know what? Let’s go.”
After waiting for a while at Church’s, I was directed to a table located between the service station and the doorway to the restrooms. Is this my cue to pack up and leave? Or was it when the gin I ordered when I sat down wasn’t delivered? I only met Ceci Azzolina once, when I asked the waiter if I could move to another table – something I wouldn’t normally do, but I wanted to get a taste of the man’s famous ability to run a room. He is a tall, elegant man with black hair parted in the middle. “More like Woody Allen than Jean-Paul Belmondo,” he describes himself in the book. He swept over and said, “Come with me.” Then he silently led a group of people to escape from the place near the toilet to a slightly better place in the back room, next to a birthday party of twelve people. Café Loup, despite its clubby feel, is always warm and welcoming, even for someone who has never written a text message. (The waiter at Cecchi’s finally brought my drink with my entree and said it would be deducted from the bill.)
Maybe it was a night of rest. When I returned a few weeks later, I found the same crowds, the same warm environment, the same chatter and clang of a nuclear cocktail party. Church’s Room is a room you want to be in, a room you want to be in – so when you approach their booth, you smile at the owners with great optimism. You kept smiling as you were sent to wait for your late companion to arrive at the bar, which was already full. You sway unsteadily sideways between two seated parties and stand there for an eternity for four minutes until you catch the bartender’s attention, with whom you exchange loud crosstalk (“A wet gin martini!” “A dove martini?” “A gin martini, soggy!”), and you teeter on a narrow path between the backs of the bar chairs and the sides of the dining table, which serves as the mainstay of the restaurant Arteries, trying to retain the contents of a cocktail glass splashing over someone’s seated head, the sunny mood darkening, just a little bit. The tables were nice this time around – almost all of them outside the island in the back room and bathroom entrance – though not as good as the curved booths that anchor the room, the thrones for guests. Very VIP, or maybe a very lucky person.