I thought it might be interesting here at Washington Square Park Blog to spotlight local businesses or local people from time to time. I’ve been following the press around the reopening of Minetta Tavern, the famed 72 year old eatery on Macdougal Street, just a few blocks off Washington Square Park, which had fallen more recently on hard times, closed for nine months and opened last week under the direction of restaurantur Keith McNally (Balthazar, Pastis, among others).
Former New York Times’ food critic and author Mimi Sheraton weighed in with her thoughts about the new menu and renovated space on Eater.com which she experienced via a private tasting before the restaurant officially opened.
I contacted Ms. Sheraton and asked her if she’d answer some questions via email about living in the Village (64 years!), NYU(she’s an alum and has strong feelings on the University’s buildings – “hideous”), living near Washington Square Park(she has some nice recollections about it, including floating crap games!), and, of course, her thoughts on the new Minetta Tavern. (Note: She’d commented here at WSP Blog last year in relation to a story on the potential restaurant in the historic Union Square Park Pavilion — she was against placing one within this public space.)
Q&A with Mimi Sheraton:
Q. You grew up in Brooklyn with a mother who loved to cook and father who was a merchant in the Washington Market, a wholesale produce market. Where did you grow up in Brooklyn?
A. I grew up in the Midwood section of Flatbush.
Q. You’ve had a career in the food industry as a prominent reviewer (many years for the New York Times), but also as a writer, researcher, consultant, teacher, and more. You attended NYU as an undergraduate and live in Greenwich Village. How long have you lived in the Village?
A. I moved into the Village in 1945 and have never left…64 years & that after 2 years at NYU so I really spent that time here before moving in at the start of my junior year.
Q. What are your memories of Washington Square Park? Do you remember when traffic went through the park and when there was no fence?
A. I remember the Square when there was often water in the fountain but often dry so people went every Sunday to read newspapers and there were folk-singers and guitar players like Susan Reed around what we called “the circle”, and when the traffic went through the Arch and there were no fences. I believe the Arch was also a turn around for the 5th Ave double decker buses and there were floating crap games in the park.
Q. Have you followed the city’s redesign/renovation plans for the Park? Do you have feelings about it?
A. I have followed all of the re-designs for the park and have hated all of them..the former mounds of black whatever, the dog run, the moving of the fountain, the fences and the hideous NYU buildings surrounding it…especially the Kimmel Center. I am embarrassed to be an NYU alum. if they had their way, they’d close it to the public and make it their campus.
Q. Did you review Minetta Tavern during your years as a food critic? Did you have a history with the place? Was Minetta Tavern ever known for its food or was it more about ‘the place?’
A. My history with Minetta was only as a romantic typical Village tavern to go when I was new here..the food used to be OK but not great and it got worse..I had not been back in at least 20 yrs before last Sat. night. I do not remember ever reviewing it..certainly not for the Times. It was a place we all wanted to love and now maybe we can.
Q. There’ve been articles highlighting the preservation work Keith McNally had done to retain the historical and much loved aspects of the previous establishment. What are your thoughts on the food and the ambiance of the new restaurant?
A. (Ms. Sheraton directed me to her Eater comment which she felt summed it up.) A menu is one thing. Delivery on its promise is another. So it is great to be able to say that a two-person tasting at Minetta this past Friday night resulted in these absolute winners..and so early in the game, too: What we loved were the oxtais and foie gras terrine, the 3 tartars, the grilled veal chop, the stupendous boned pigs’ feet and the aligot..to say nothing of the setting itself which is classic McNally genius and feels as it did about 60 years ago when I was there for the first of many meals.
Q. Keith McNally told The Villager that of course he’d welcome “the locals” but didn’t know if he’d truly be able to deliver on that. Once the place is up and running, it’s understandable that people will flock to it and there might not be room for “locals.” Do you see any way that the old-time “regulars” could still be welcomed back to the place they had such a connection with?
A. I think Keith will welcome locals but they will have to call for reservations in enough time to get them. I cannot imagine that they will exclude locals in favor of others..he doesn’t do that at Pastis or Morandi. Why would he here?..but they will have to call for reservations..wandering in might not work if this becomes as popular as I think it will. There may well be preference given to celebrities, especially those who are regulars at this and other of his restaurants, but all places do that.
He himself is a local resident and loves the Village and has fought unsightly inroads in Meat Packing District..etc. and he knows the value of having a place locals like. As for old-time regulars, who are they? Not me. It might be that such locals will be priced out of this but after all a restaurant is not a philanthropy. I also think if Minetta continues to grow and be good, it will upgrade the neighborhood and attract other quality establishments. Macdougal is a sleazy mess right now and Minetta Lane is a stark nightmare. … If not for Keith, Minetta might have been torn down, or, worse yet, taken over by NYU.
For more coverage of Minetta Tavern including before and after photos, info on the menu and more , go to Eater archives here.