I was there the night Ellen Barkin threw a glass of water in Ronald Perelman’s face. Sadly, I didn’t see it happen, but that was all the inspiration I needed to keep coming back to the Waverly Inn.
With Page Six headlines like this one, most New Yorkers would be hard pressed to say they’re attracted to the Waverly Inn for the food alone. After a slightly rocky start, the kitchen is turning out meals that are “surprisingly good,” as Nathan Lane would say. It’s Yankee cuisine – very American, with British touches. The prices are low, as they were to attract artists when the Olde place first opened.
But first, the setting, because this is one of the most special interior spaces in New York. The buiding itself dates to 1845, though it didn’t house the Waverly Inn until 1920. The inside retains the low ceilings and slanted floors of the olde Waverly Inn. The gray-maned owner Graydon Carter often holds court in the see-and-be-seen front dining room, which winds back into little nooks and opens into a second dining room with a fireplace (an excellent place for a tryst, if only there weren’t so many media people around). Antiqued mirrors give way to more walls painted ruby red, and an elaborate mural of various famous people in sometimes lewd poses of Greek revelry snakes along the far wall. The dining room feels more like old London than any place I’ve been in New York. It’s truly a wonder.
A brief survey of the food, since, as mentioned, it’s not really the point. The frisee salad has just the right lemony, vinegary tang to balance the creaminess of the poached egg, and the lardons are toothsome. The vegetable plate won’t win any prizes for presentation – it arrives as a slew of sauteed vegetable nubs – but it certainly tastes good. A moment of reverence for the biscuits. So light and flaky, they are the ultimate Yankee version of a non-buttermilk biscuit. It would take superhuman willpower to resist devouring the whole thing, especially when it’s slathered with the sweet butter that comes alongside. I’ve only seen the popovers at the Harvard Club inspire the same kind of fanatacism.
The chicken pot pie is an Olde Waverly Inn standby. The creamy chicken stew inside is exactly what it should be, if a little bland. But the pastry! The crust that tops the pie makes the whole dish. It makes me want to burst into the kitchen and demand, “Who are you?” to the pastry chef.
One signature dish here, the macaroni and cheese with shaved truffles, was once just the Monday special but is now available every night (see preview menu, below). I didn’t get it, alas, because I loathe truffles, but everyone else seems to think it’s great. My friend opts for the tuna tartare, and like most of the dishes here, though it isn’t wildly creative, it is fresh and well put-together.
A note on getting in: Though the restaurant is still “not open,” it is possible to eat there if you frequent the bar until the staff recognizes you, and it also helps if you live in the neighborhood. If you don’t know where the intersection of Bank and Waverly is, that’s probably a sign that you should do the rest of us a favor and just stay away.
Ye Waverly Inn
16 Bank Street, at the corner of Waverly