Chumley’s first opened its door in the West Village in 1922 as a local speakeasy that was frequented by locals and literary giants such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. In 2007 the restaurant closed due to structural issues. Now 10 years later, Chumley’s has reopened in the same landmark location of 86 Bedford Street as a swank gastropub. Having grown up around NYC, I had many drinks at the old Chumley’s and was eager to go back.
The new Chumley’s is entrenched in rich history and tradition, there still is no signage out front, and the entrance from the street is quiet and discreet. Chumley’s has been restored by firefighter Jim Miller and restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone, of Sushi Nakazawa. The restaurant feels like a movie set from The Great Gatsby. Upon entering you are dazzled by the romantic soft lighting, the crackling of the fireplace, and the indulgent leather banquettes. The long narrow dining rooms is small and cozy with seating for 30 people. The back room is where the long bar is anchored.
The walls are adorned with the original book jacket covers that were a part of the charm of the original Chumley’s. There are large portraits of Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and many other famous literary figures prominently in view. Lee Chumley would always get a book jacket cover and then frame it on the walls whenever one of his patron published a book. This tradition of collecting book covers continued for almost 75 years. The book covers impart a rich literary vibe reminiscent of the prohibition era.
Being a speakeasy, the cocktail are a must try. I especially loved the nostalgic gold rimmed Champagne Coupes, conjuring up my imagination for a bygone era. There are over 90 different whiskies on the menu and the beer offerings are quite impressive as well. The wine list is alluring as well, with a variety of wines from around the globe at appealing price points, something sure to please a wide variety of guests.
Unlike the original speakeasy where only drinks were served, or rather no one really went for the food, Chumley’s now offers a small but decadent menu. The cuisine is predominantly American fare with a mix of international influences. The dishes are created by Chef Victoria Blamey of Atera, and are presented in a handwritten menu, adding a distinct personal touch.
Some highlights from the menu are the 86 Burger . This is a serious burger for meat lover, drenched in bone marrow, with no toppings(no lettuce, tomatoes or any other options) but cheese. The 86 burger is seriously decadent and indulgent, one of the best burgers I have had in 2016. The pretzel with dipping sauce is as traditional as New York City gets, and is a nice local touch. The hamachi crudo is an added influence by Sushi Nakazawa and is wonderfully delicious and just melts in your mouth. If you are a foie gras fan like me, then it is a must order, it is lighter in texture, but still buttery and creamy like foie gras should be. Lastly, be sure to end with the Ice Cream Sandwich.
Just a little bit of fun etymology, the now famous term ‘eighty sixed” is purported to have originated at Chumley’s. Back in the day it was claimed that speakeasy’s had bribed policemen into being informants, so that they would know when a raid was imminent. The police would call and ask the speakeasy to 86 their customers, which was code to the bartenders to have the patrons exit the back door on 86 Bedford Street.
If in the mood for a nostalgic setback in time, Chumley’s is the place to be. Full of rich history, wild stories and fun anecdotes. The drinks, food and atmosphere all deliver. No signage out front means you will have to hunt down the entrance, but will be well worth it
86 Bedford Street
New York, NY 10014