EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the May 17, 2004, issue of National Review.
The old place was strictly a neighborhood restaurant in the West Village. The décor was a combination of New Jersey basement rathskeller and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Stygian gloom prevailed; the wall behind the bar was hung with strange pointy objects. Christmas lights drew attention to the darkness, instead of diminishing it: a dance band at a funeral. The neighbors might have called the place cozy, and they would not have been wrong. At neighborhood restaurants, the food and the décor are barely even an issue; you go because nothing changes, and because you are known. The maitre d’ gives you your table, the bartender gives you your drink, the waitress gives you a smile. But then, the old place committed the ultimate act of betrayal: It closed.
She had been looking to open a restaurant for a long time; a space in Tribeca had shimmered in the air until it vanished, a casualty in the Thirty Years’ War that is landlord-tenant relations in New York. Then the West Village space became available, and she pounced. Her partner is a well-known young chef, perhaps even younger than she is. His reputation would guarantee a quick burst out of the gate; their partnership would keep him from being snapped up by someone else, the career path of well-known young chefs. Work and luck would have to do the rest.
A week before the opening, the place was a construction site. Captain Nemo had departed, but nothing definite had yet followed him. An artist knelt before a rear wall, painting a light surface with a dark brown network of lines, to suggest that the wall was made of boards sawed from centuries-old trees. Redwoods, the owners joked. Tell people you had to clear-cut them to put in the toxic-waste dump, I suggested helpfully.
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