Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter—nattily dressed publishing macher—has become something of a cross-training restaurant-reboot specialist, bringing faded landmarks back to life in between editorial meetings at Condé Nast. He revived the clubby Monkey Bar twice, most recently in 2011 with an all-star culinary team, and the cozy Waverly Inn with a celebrity-studded mise en scène in 2006. The Beatrice Inn is the schmoozy editor’s third foray into restaurant restoration and, for now at least, the place is on fire, a madhouse around the bar while media titans hold court in the front dining room.
The historic basement space, a former red-sauce trattoria, was once a den of New York iniquity: a dive bar for rich-kid delinquents, with Samantha Ronson out back spinning tracks. The crowd these days is better behaved—more likely to be squeezed alongside their parents on leather banquettes than piling into the bathrooms in twosomes to powder their noses.
Unlike other Carter openings, you don’t need a secret phone number to score a table. Still, the hot scene, not the drab food, is clearly the draw, despite a chef with serious pedigree (Brian Nasworthy spent five years as sous chef at Per Se).
Vanity Fair’s culinary hatchet man, A.A. Gill, has savaged better restaurants than this. What would he have to say about young waiters who don’t know a Negroni from a Nehi? About potato soup for diners with dentures, garnished with sad wilted cabbage? Or ho-hum salad greens on pastrami-cured duck breast that has all the grace of bodega Boar’s Head?
The monochromatic fare is so tame, you might call it postfoodie, and you might wonder if there’s a secret menu somewhere that plebeian diners don’t receive. Insiders seem to know what to order at least, judging from the number of lamb chops coming out of the kitchen one night. The exceptional meat, from Thomas Keller’s supplier, Elysian Fields Farm, anchors a very rare thing here: a dish that’s an actual pleasure to eat, with baby artichokes and charred-eggplant puree.
Fortunately, the retro space is much less depressing than the cumbersome cooking. The old rec-room decor—frayed couches and scuffed carpeting—has given way to a Great Gatsby–style clubhouse, with antique ceiling fans, a lit fireplace and mahogany walls. In any era, though, the slim, leathery $46 New York strip in a dull brown pepper sauce would be about as appealing to eat as scuffed Louboutins. An overcooked puck of halibut isn’t much more appetizing, despite flashes of flavor from nutty romesco and sliced pickled peppers.
The spot certainly doesn’t copensate for the low-caliber entrées by charming with first-rate hospitality. “No photography,” the menu admonishes. There’s no coat check either, no cocktail list and no pastry chef. The short roster of uninspiring sweets includes generic crème brûlée with diced apple in the custard and a miniature sundae—vanilla scoops with whipped cream and chocolate sauce—that’s about as exciting as ice-cream night in a nursing home.
The Beatrice Inn recalls the bad old days when good food and an A-list crowd were mutually exclusive. Even the Monkey Bar and Waverly Inn, at least at first, served solid fare from credible (now departed) chefs, but both lost their mojo real quick. If history is any indication, the power gang won’t stick around here very long either.
Eat this: Lamb chops with artichokes
Drink this: Though there’s no cocktail menu, the seasoned barmen shake up fine, old-fashioned drinks, like a nicely balanced, if pricey, Negroni ($16). The wine list is short on bargains too, though a velvety red qubel tempranillo from Madrid won’t break the bank ($51).
Sit here: The back room where trust-fund brats were once dancing till dawn draws a young, late-dining crowd. The more mature front room, though, is the most coveted real estate, full of big tables packed with Carter’s media, fashion and film industry pals.
Conversation piece: The name outside—a restored neon sign spells out beatrice inn in bright green and red letters—is a precious commodity, or at least that’s the thinking behind an ongoing legal dispute. Former owner Paul Sevigny, who ran the place as a hot nightspot, claims he still owns the moniker, if not the space it’s attached to.