“Wait, is this Chumley’s?” asks a group of wool-coated bargoers, after many befuddled minutes spent walking up and down Bedford Street looking for the entrance. Yes, through that heavy, unmarked wooden door—the same one that welcomed New York literati like William Faulkner, E.E. Cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay all those years ago—lies the landmark speakeasy, which social activist Leland Stanford Chumley opened back in 1922. “Some things never change,” one gent chuckles, before the group heads into the handsome room.
But for the newly restored Chumley’s, change was par for the course. Following a chimney collapse in 2007, the bar was in limbo for the better part of a decade before Sushi Nakazawa restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone partnered with longtime owner Jim Miller last year and revamped the historic space, slightly tightening the room and dividing it into a front restaurant and back barroom. And though prices are certainly higher than during its golden years (cocktails run $16 a pop), a toast to the return of Chumley’s is worth every penny.
ORDER THIS: Brown-spirit cocktails that are as cozy as the dimly lit, wood-paneled environs they’re poured in. The Basement of Thieves is a pretty-in-purple froth of a cocktail that offsets the peppery kick of Cutty Sark Prohibition whiskey with crème de violette, sweet blackberry and a shake of egg white, while the Chaplin plunks an ice cube made of coffee extract and cocoa nibs into a strapping cup of blended Scotch, Fernet-Branca and maple syrup. Even clear-spirit quaffs boast a whiskeylike smoky heft: The Smart Little Feller accents Old Tom gin, mint and lemon with peat spritz.
GOOD FOR: A sip of New York past, updated for 2016. The team closed the original’s second Barrow Street entrance— known as the “garden door” and accessed through a hidden courtyard—and swapped out the wooden benches for leather banquettes, but the book jackets remain. In keeping with the bar’s tradition of framing book covers of the scribes who frequented the place, the team brought in local historian James DiPaola to curate the selection, which lines the walls alongside gold-framed portraits of Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds and even Chumley himself.
THE CLINCHER: Even the food touts the bar’s history: A towering double cheeseburger ($25), stacked with crispy shallots and smeared with bone marrow, is dubbed the 86’d Burger, after lore that the term was born at Chumley’s. (Police would warn bartenders to “86” drunken guests through the front entrance—86 Bedford Street—before coming through the alley door during Prohibition-era raids.) Less historical but no less tasty is Atera alum Victoria Blamey’s beef tartare ($19), savory with confit tomatoes and a blizzard of butterscotch-nutty Ombra cheese, or crispy chicken ($23) with cognac-stirred consommé poured tableside.