A few years ago, my friends lived on Bank Street between 4th and Waverly in Greenwich Village. I loved visiting because they had a great apartment in a perfect location and I had my own room and bathroom, which is generally unheard of when staying with friends in Manhattan. Upon my first visit to this spot back in late 2002, my friends took me to a quaint little place, Ye Waverly Inn, one-half block up on the corner of Bank and Waverly. This spot, which we called Ye Olde Waverly Inn (the addition of the "Olde" just seemed appropriate), was rustic, charming, genuine and hearkened back to the Village's more Colonial era (ok, maybe more Civil War, but it definitely has a historic feeling). The building itself is a brownstone from 1844 and the restaurant/inn dates back to the 1920s.
About 1.5 years ago, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter bought the property with some others and it has caused quite a stir among the glitterati of New York. The space has unofficially been open for a couple of months, but to get in you either have to know the chef's cell phone or get through to Sir Carter at his office - not necessarily an easy task unless you're well connected. A fair number of locals have cozied up to the staff and therefore get in as well. Last week, while in New York, I had to kill time between an appointment and meeting friends for dinner in Chelsea at Trestle (which was amazing, btw) and started wandering downtown. As I walked down 7th Ave and turned on to Greenwich, I realized where I was and said, "ah, I'll check out the Waverly."
Walking in, the upfront bar was fairly empty so I stepped up, ordered a glass of Syrah and started taking in the scene. I was immediately impressed with the new vibe. The last time I was there, before New York's smoking ban took effect and I still lived in a smoke-free California, we walked in to a dark, dank, tiny bar with low ceilings that was a smoker's paradise. We lasted five minutes. This time, the wood-beamed ceilings, brightly lit room and friendly host welcomed me. I quickly found myself chatting with a variety of people who lived nearby, who told me the rack of lamb ($45 on Fridays), braised short ribs ($19) and Amish organic free-range chicken ($19) -- all on the "preview menu" -- brought them back time and again (remember, the spot still is not officially open; even when I inquired about coming in the next night for dinner, the hostess said they were booked. After asking sweetly she told me to bring my party in around 6:30; we, however, opted to stay in Brooklyn for dinner). Other menu items include New England clam chowder ($8), Greenmarket beets with Humboldt Fog goat cheese ($8), Berkshire all-natural pork chop with roasted NY State apple ($21) and the Waverly burger with fries ($13).
Within 30 minutes of being at the Waverly, I turned to see Barneys New York creative director Simon Doonan with his partner, home design maven Jonathan Adler. A few minutes later, Queer Eye interiors guru Tom Fillicia sauntered in with a gaggle of gays (I wanted to ask what he was going to do now that the show was being canceled, but I refrained). They joined the many other pulled, tucked air-kissing who's who of the Downtown set all gathering to get a piece of the new Waverly, now that Sir Carter has taken over.
The space exudes an overall sense of romantic, vintage warmth and sexy flair. Much money was invested to bring out the best of the Waverly while retaining its charm with dark woods, rounded booths, red banquettes, ivied walls of the high-ceilinged back atrium (that evoked the feeling of a coach house from back in the day), numerous fireplaces and New Yorker illustrator Edward Sorel caricatures lining the walls.
One thing I found particularly interesting -- call it a full-circle moment -- came after I was reading about the Waverly online and discovered that Graydon Carter isn't the first Vanity Fair staffer to own the restaurant:
When working at Vanity Fair as secretary to Claire Booth Luce, Phyllis Abell visited Ye Waverly Inn. In 1937, she wed Clarence Dettmers and they took over, hiring Mr. McDowell, a New England chef who ruled there for 25-plus years. Edith, who became Mrs. Paul Piel in 1924, wanted to devote more time to her sons and resume her music. At Greenwich House Music School, she became a violinist and performed in the Village.
The Waverly definitely exudes positive energy and a welcoming vibe (once you're through the doors, that is), a great wine list and apparently wonderful food. I just hope that when it does officially open it retains the charm I felt and doesn't become a see-and-be-seen spot that happens to so many other classic places in New York. And once it is open to the rest of the world, will the beautiful folks still come? I'm sure Sir Carter hopes so.
The Waverly Inn & Garden is located at 16 Bank Street, Greenwich Village, New York. Number currently unpublished.
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