Minetta Tavern

Finally! Minetta Tavern is open. Yes, that one, the place that's been around for 72 years.

Amid all the buzz about Keith McNally's new venture, there was always one thing that wasn't clear. Why had he chosen this crusty old place as the next incarnation of McNallyism? If you've lived in New York long enough, you know the Minetta Tavern because you've walked by it--often solely for the purpose of getting away, fast. Once the intersection of cool and the setting for Serpico, MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane is now only the home of Cafe Wha? (and the underrated Bellavitae) and has gotten as touristy as it once was cool.

Of course, there are exceptions. 124 Rabbit Club opened up across the street, and before that, underground jazz den Bar Next Door. So maybe the writing was on the wall.

But as soon as you walk into Minetta Tavern, the answer is apparent. There's an old school bar, murals and caricatures on the wall, the decor harkens back to an earlier age of the Village, and gorgeous Ralph Fiennes is sitting across from you. Is Minetta Tavern McNally's answer to the Waverly Inn? Certainly McNally had an unlikely rival in Graydon Carter, who never so much as dabbled in restaurants before, then came in to gather up the celebs in one fell swoop.

If Minetta Tavern is the next chapter, McNally has come up on top. He's wisely gotten away from Italian and back to his bistro roots, installing Riad Nasr of Balthazaar in the kitchen. The Pat LaFrieda burger (called the "Black Label Burger" on the menu) that has inspired so much worship appears here, and, as steak meat ground into burger form, it's exactly right for the times. If we like to have our steak and eat it to, this is it - and yes, it's all it's cracked up to be.

The Dodd cocktail - a tasty mix of bourbon and absinthe. Also - the wines. There's a great $9 Malbec that goes perfectly with the Black Label burger.

Mesclun salad with goat cheese.

This was quite tasty - and owed something to Jodi Williams, I thought. Stuffed calamari with salt cod, like a brandade. Delicious sauce and olives, too.

Comfort food alert: the Pommes Aligot.

The Minetta Burger - pretty darn good for a regular old cheeseburger.

Choux Farcis - stuffed cabbage.

The supposed Holy Grail of burgers, the Pat LaFrieda patty, was excellent. Really more like a ground steak than a burger, but we're not complaining. For God's sake, don't you dare put ketchup on it.

The back dining room, definitely a little more chill and quiet than the front.

The bustling front room. It's really hard to get in - literally - because of the log jam at the door. But the front of the house staff is very quick.

Caricatures on the wall.

Beautiful old bar (totally packed). There are lots of interesting little details like the mural of boxers (?) on top.

Looks quiet outside but wait until you get inside.

Old meets new? Minetta Tavern and Cafe Wha, two Village standbys.

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street, at Minetta Lane
New York, NY