New Kid on the Block: The Butterfly

The Butterfly serverWhen was the last time you ate at a restaurant where the servers wore pocket protectors? Or frilly aprons?

The Butterfly, which opens tonight, feels delightfully un-focus-grouped. We all know the back story by now: Acclaimed chef Michael White, who grew up in Wisconsin, wanted to open a place inspired by his love of what Wisconsinites know as “supperclubs”—friendly, casual spots where everyone hung out. His beverage guru, acclaimed mixologist Eben Freeman, made sure that the emphasis would be as much on the cocktails as on the food, announcing early on that he planned “to rescue the sullied reputations of the Tom Collins, the whiskey sour, and the grasshopper,” in the words of Grub Street.

What we only learned recently was that the whole place would be wrapped in decidedly retro packaging. “This is all done through snobbish sensibility of a New Yorker,” said Freeman, who oversaw the design—and who has never been to a Wisconsin supperclub. “And when I think midwestern, I think midcentury.” He scoured eBay for the mirrors and artwork, he tracked down the perfect fan from Minka Aire, he had an Italian company make the rear banquette, inspired by vintage. While the effect is definitely back-in-time, there are contemporary touches throughout—note the crisp metal chairs. Or the tables: Freeman drew the line at the classic metal-framed Formica tables; instead, the Butterfly’s tables—done in a Formica pattern called “Petrified Wood”—are edged with mirrors. (The pattern continues onto the next table, so a pair of two-tops looks more like a true four-top when pushed together.)

I asked about the starburst clocks: Weren’t restaurants and bars, like casinos, supposed to avoid clocks? “We don’t let them work,” said Freeman, because the last thing they want is to remind someone he or she has been waiting. “And they’re set at 4:35 p.m., because no one is ever likely to mistake that as the real time.”

The question of whether the Butterfly is more of a bar or a restaurant has been a touchy one. It feels more like a bar to me, but in a 60/40 way. While cocktails are the star, Freeman wanted to make sure everyone knows they have wine and beer, too. As for the food, it’s best described as New Old American: housemade bratwurst sliders, Reuben croquettes, a relish plate that includes pea shoots, a pressure-fried chicken, and a patty melt made with dry-aged beef. And the desserts—well, see for yourself. I dropped both menus—and my camera—when I went to shoot them, so that’s why they’re crumpled. Obviously, the Butterfly being the Butterfly, the menus presented to diners will be sheathed in plastic.

There are only 55 seats, and the Butterfly doesn’t take reservations, but it’s using something called NoshList that’ll text you when your table is close to ready. (“We’re hoping—if we’re busy enough—that we’ll be able to send people to nearby bars to wait,” said Freeman.) There are plans to open for brunch and lunch, in that order, and to offer delivery.

For all the fun the Altamarea folks clearly had in putting the Butterfly together, Freeman says to expect “the same level of staff knowledge and service” as at Marea. He, for one, sounded ready to loosen up: “I can’t really do cocktails with smoked Coke at Marea, but I can do them here.”

The Butterfly is at 225 W. Broadway (between White and Franklin), 646-692-4943; thebutterflynyc.com.

The Butterfly facadeThe Butterfly roomThe Butterfly back banquetteThe Butterfly clockThe Butterfly pocket protectorRecent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
Distilled
The Greek
ManuelRacim
NY Kids Club
Best Made Company
Aqua
Mulberry & Vine
Gloria Jewel
Los Americanos
Hotel Particulier
The Hummus & Pita Co.

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5 Comments

  1. Are their prices Wisconsony????That is the question.

  2. Most definitely not Anna. Check out these Madison modern takes on a classic supperclub: http://www.vintagemadison.com
    http://www.theoldfashioned.com/

    Should also point out the butterfly has no bloody mary. Look to my second link for inspiration.

  3. The whole place is so Not Wisconsin. I may not have lived in WI for many years now, but I was born and raised there, and if you want to know what a WI supper club is like, check out this 3-minute clip:
    http://www.supperclubmovie.com/trailer.html

    They could have at least named the fish sandwich after something to do with the great lakes and not the ocean: the Edmund Fitzgerald, perhaps?

  4. Loved that video. Made me homesick for the good old Midwestern food I grew up eating.

  5. Thank you for steering us to this place. We just went tonight. A stunningly great addition to the neighborhood. Less than a week after opening, they have definitely hit their stride in terms of both service and food. I have spent 15 years in this neighborhood and have lived both the agony and ecstasy of its restaurants: this new entrant falls squarely into the latter category!

    And yes, prices are not “Wisconsin,” but they are definitely not “Tribeca,” either. I’d say at or below.