As much as it is hard to believe today, there was once a law in the United States that banned the production and sale of alcohol. The Prohibition gave rise to courageous people who opened secret bars everywhere called “speakeasies.” I love visiting a speakeasy in New York City because it gives off an intimate and exclusive vibe at the same time and more often than not, a speakeasy tends to offer superior cocktail selections. I’ve never had a chance to visit Chumley’s, which opened in the Roaring Twenties until it closed in 2007 when its chimney collapsed, and once the word got out this iconic institution will be reborn finally after multiple attempts by different restaurateurs and bar keepers, I was certainly intrigued. A friend recently told me Chumley’s was his all-time favorite bar before it closed and he would never go back at the risk of breaking his heart. Unlike him, though, I don’t have old sentimentalities to worry about so I decided to visit with my girlfriend for an early Saturday dinner. Overall, the food at Chumley’s offered a lot of satisfaction, but perhaps in a too predictable way.
The kitchen led by chef Victoria Blamey, who used to cook at one of my favorite places Atera in TriBeCa, doesn’t play around when it comes to the use of bold flavor. My girlfriend and I certainly were impressed by the cauliflower puree and caviar that added another dimension to the pickled oysters, making for one delicious snack. I’ve had a lot of beef tartare dishes everywhere in the city, but the one at Chumley’s can really hold its own, with impeccable texture of raw beef that worked magically with hazelnut and confit potato for elegant but not too overpowering flavor. Yes, seasoning can get a bit aggressive with the use of butter and salt, but in Chumley’s case it didn’t come out as off-putting even though we ended up drinking a lot of water afterwards.
I have generally tried to stay away from fried chicken in recent years, but Chumley’s dish with pickled black trumpet, pearl onion an matsutake consommé was quite well executed and felt like a different species of fried chicken. For restaurants like this, I knew I had to get the burger, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with juicy tender meat combined with bone marrow and crispy shallot to create pure decadence. For dessert, we enjoyed vanilla ice cream with pistachio and crumbles that actually came out less rich than the savory dishes that preceded it, much to our relief after huge intake of calories. Overall, I would say the food at Chumley’s doesn’t have the subtlety or imaginativeness of a fine dining destination, but it offers a broadly appealing level of satisfaction that caters to different tastes and preferences.
Getting a reservation at Chumley’s can be pretty challenging with all the publicity behind the reopening of the historical venue, so I highly recommend booking in advance. I obviously can’t compare the vibe of today’s Chumley’s to that from the past, but I did like the classic old-school New York vibe coming from the venue, with a ton of black and white photos and old posters everywhere on the wall reminiscing about the glory days of the Big Apple in the early- to mid-20th century. I would suggest going with potent cocktail selections to complement your meal instead of wine. That’s the whole point of visiting a speakeasy restaurant in the first place, right? I don’t know how long Chumley’s 2.0 will be around this time, but I sure hope it stays on longer this time.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 86 Bedford Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (212) 675-2081