11/21/2012 02:00:00 PM

First Bite: The Beatrice Inn Returns

It's official - the West Village's Beatrice Inn is back. Restaurateur/Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter, owner of the neighborhood's beloved Waverly Inn and Midtown's Monkey Bar, is now in charge. He's cleaned out the stale cigarette smoke that the club kids left during this joint's previous incarnation and rebooted the subterranean space as a cozy destination that pays homage to old New York. Will this model, employed at his other two establishments, work for a third go round? We scored a must-sought-after reservation last night and dropped by to see what's swingin' at the space:

The Entrance: Can you be a hot new restaurant without a bouncer milling around outside? Spots like Jezebel and Catch let their front man tote an iPad, sending those without a reservation back into the cold night. We were worried that we'd face similar intimidation, with the doorman shaking his head in disapproval and saying "go to Monkey Bar, they'll take you." Not here though - the friendly fellow outside was greeting folks and pointing the way down the stairs.

Once you enter the dimly lit room, you're led into a bar area. And there it is, the reservations iPad, attached to a host station (manned by a Brit, natch) and angled so it's in plain view. As he scroll through to find you, you can see just how many people are booked that night, and you may catch a bold-faced name or two. If you do see one, it's best to pretend you don't care to better fit in.

The Layout: There are three rooms. The first contains a smallish, wooden bar which seems friendly for walk ins and has more stools than the one at the nearby Waverly - it was kind of like a mini Minetta Tavern. Then, there's a front and back dining room - we had a hearty debate about which one was the restaurant's Siberia. The front is sunken lower into the ground and has tables closer together, which is nice if you're looking to see-and-be-seen. The back has a few banquettes, a high ceiling with a sizable skylight, and a cozy fireplace that should cast aside any chill if this is truly the Russian arctic.

The restaurant is small, and the size makes it feel like there's no bad place to perch. But, it also means it will be that much harder to make your name appear on that glittering list up front.

The Artwork: There are no fancy, old school murals like in Carter's other establishments. Instead, there is a painting of a zebra in the back dining room. Don't go on an Instagram safari though, the menu states that there is a strict no photos policy.

The Drinks: We didn't spend much time with the cocktail list. We were in the mood for a classic. Witness he scene at the bar:

Us: "Can we get a Negroni, straight up?"

Bartender: "Would you like that with gin or vodka?"

Us: "Gin."*
*Negroni recipe

Random Dude at the Bar: "If someone comes in here and orders a vodka Negroni, they should be thrown out."

Bartender: [Nervously] "People do, people do. A new generation of drinker orders like that."

For the record, the (gin-based) Negroni that did arrive was perfectly tasty.

The Food: Fans of Carter's restaurants will recognize the classic American fare and throwback dishes. There's a wedge salad, another salad with some duck breast pastrami, a burger with fries (thin and crisp, they also reminded of Minetta), a few steaks and desserts like a creme brulee. It's comfort food for a certain type of New Yorker -one who has a lot of disposable income, lives in Manhattan and likes to go out Downtown.

The Music: If you had any doubt that this joint is old New York, that's out the window as soon as the Benny Goodman Orchestra's Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing) lights up the speakers.

The Crowd: We went on the ego-shrinking early side of the evening (but if anyone asks, our resy was at 9 PM, since we're brimming with cultural cache and all). The space was relatively quiet. The service was fast though, our entrees were dropped seconds after the appetizers were cleared - perhaps to make room for the pretty people who were going to show up later? There was a couple pouring themselves red wine by the fireplace and a few tables chatting it up in the front room.

As we were leaving, the bar was filling up with the type of well connected scenester that we were expecting to see. One woman with blown-out hair was wearing a blouse that appeared to made of alpaca, and she sported a leather vest over that. She was sipping something bubbly. Now that's more like it.

The Details: 285 West 12th St.; 646-896-1804


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