The new West Village spot was originally a legendary speakeasy established in 1922. The historic pub was frequented by every important American writer of the first half of the 20th Century, in the Prohibition era. It became a favourite place for influential writers, poets, playwrights and activists that came to drink and mingle. Food then was more of an afterthought. The building sat vacant for over ten years. Fast forward to 2016, after the building was torn down and rebuilt, they kept the name at 86 Bedford Street, although Chumley’s it isn’t easy to find, as there is no name outside, keeping with the “secret” speakeasy of yesteryear. You will know you are in the right spot when you see a sign saying “not Chumley’s” next door, which used to be one of the secret entrances to the building. If you are lucky, the restaurants “historian” is there most nights, and he will tell you a bit of the restaurant’s history and possibly quiz you on some of the past guests – the whole place has book jacket covers and pictures of the artists who wrote them. He is the gentleman with the long grey ponytail – a venerable walking encyclopedia on the era.
Lucky for us the reincarnation and resurrection is now a full-fledged restaurant under the talented Chef Victoria Blamey. She offers a tight concise menu of six appetizers and six main courses. The menu mixes American gastropub standards along with some bistro style favourites. Things like oysters, Caesar salad, beef tartar, sea bass, wild mushroom risotto, cassoulet, bouillabaisse, and côte de boeuf. But the focus is on the Highrise 86 burger, with bone marrow, crispy shallots, American cheese, and a special sauce. The execution of this burger is near perfection. Call me simple, but I think it is, in fact, worthy of a medal – or at least should be trademarked for its insanely rich in taste that sets it apart from others. I just may be spoiled for life. Don’t forget to bring your Lipitor after this baby. It has some equally delicious and crispy, twice fried shoestring fries, done in beef fat. I recommend not wearing white, because of all the drippings – it is messy but worth it.
Dessert is always two choices, and for us the offer was a chocolate caramel indulgence or an impressive, creamy rice pudding with orange peel and an array of candied nuts.
Most of the portions are on the smaller side, except for the burger, and there are not many choices for vegetarians. The drink menu had lots of scotch and soda choices, and the craft cocktails are given clever names and unusual pairings.
The tables are tight, the room is dark, and we had a positive experience with all the staff, save the women at the front entrance who was a New York shade of unfriendly, and rather unwelcoming.