For most of the past decade, I lived around the corner from Ye Waverly Inn. I took my wife there on one of our first dates, but it remained an afterthought, a charming but tired spot that wouldn’t have ranked among my top 100 restaurants within walking distance. Other people apparently agreed: Open in one form or another since 1920, the space closed in late 2005. Like some classic parable—one especially well suited for a Dickensian townhouse built in 1844—a savior finally arrived a few months back in the form of...a celebrity magazine editor and some nightlife impresarios?
Yes, Village diners, there is a Santa Claus. Well, technically, three wise men have reinvented the pub: Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson (the guys behind style-over-sustenance spots Park and Maritime Hotel) joined forces with Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter.
Media hype about the Waverly Inn (they dropped the Ye)—and the trouble in securing a table—made me think the emphasis would be on whom you see, not what you taste. Reservations are currently handled only via a private number—one I don’t have. So I took an alternate approach: I got in once as a walk-in, and scored a prime Saturday table by dropping in 24 hours in advance and mentioning that I’m a local.
This is no tie-and-jacket affair. The place retains its musty, decades-old, casual feel: The owners kept the uneven wooden floors, low ceilings, fireplaces and ivy-covered patio, and added a small dose of panache—velvet curtains, red banquettes and a large mural by Edward Sorel, who has drawn dozens of New Yorker covers. The restaurant is no longer merely shabby; it’s shabby chic.
The menu, appropriately, is decidedly down-market (and still officially in “preview” mode when I visited), with a smattering of French bistro bites, seafood staples and comfort-food dishes. Chef John Delucie’s last gig, at the Maritime’s La Bottega, did not suggest that he was so dedicated to details, but this meal was looking good before we even ordered. Hot, eggy biscuits came with sugar-laced butter and the tap water—specially filtered in house to make it taste better—arrived in a carafe.
The city may not need any more frise salads and tuna tartares, but Delucie’s versions rise above similar fare at most brasseries. Rather than aggregate a bunch of scraggly weeds, the chef creates a dense frise mat weighed down by a heavy dose of tart vinegar-and-mayonnaise dressing—with crisp lardons and a rich poached egg on top. And the tuna tartare had a nice creamy avocado texture and spicy Dijon-emulsion kick. Clam chowder, crab cakes and oysters should appeal to the Hamptons crowds.
The prices should please everyone: Half of the dozen or so entres cost less than $20. This includes wood-grilled mussels ($15), braised short ribs ($19), Hudson Valley free-range chicken potpie ($18), Amish organic free-range chicken ($19) and the Waverly burger with truffle fries ($13). I liked the bakeryworthy pastry in the potpie, and I’d gladly pay $21 again for the salty pork chop, seared on the outside and served with a cored baked apple (stuffed with cinnamon and rosemary) and bitter kale.
Rather than a simple cheesecake, the one here is made with chvre, which provided some fun sourness and chalkiness. The bananas Foster, prepared like fritters, is not cooked tableside, but it’s tasty and—like all desserts here—costs just $7.
Amazing but true, the Waverly—which was chided in the press for its $55 mac and cheese ( a tasty seasonal special with white truffles)—is generally a value meal. Even the wine list has its bargains, including a Rotllan Torra Priorat Reserve which goes for $40. This place is the best surprise of the season. Good luck getting in.
The Waverly Inn, 16 Bank St at Waverly Pl (no phone yet). Subway: A, C, E, 1, 2, 3 to 14th St; L to Eighth Ave. Mon--Thu 5--10pm; Fri, Sat 5--11pm; Sun 11:30am--3pm, 5--10pm. Average main course: $24.