New Kid on the Block: Washington Market Tavern

Washington Market Tavern upstairs boothEric Schwimmer has owned Mudville 9 for 13 years, but he had no interest in opening another sports bar. “If I were just in it for the money, I’d have spray-painted the place and opened,” he says of the storefront at 41 Murray that’s home to his new restaurant, Washington Market Tavern. “But I see how the neighborhood is changing. And this is how I like to eat—quality food in a convivial atmosphere.”

Washington Market Tavern is a massive step up not just from the previous restaurant there (Eamonn’s), but for Murray Street in general—it has much more in common with Racines NY than Woodrow’s. “I wanted to do the adult version of Mudville 9,” says Schwimmer, who not only lives in Tribeca but owns the storefronts of his two restaurants. His neighborhood roots go deep: Back in the day, his great-grandfather and grandfather had a paper-and-twine stall at the actual Washington Market.

“Everything is new,” says Schwimmer, leading me on a tour, “except this railing in front—it’s the only thing we kept from Eamonn’s.” The two public floors—a 90-seat dining room upstairs and a downstairs “tavern”—have custom paneling and millwork throughout, leather banquettes, and USB chargers at the bar and booths (with wi-fi). Upstairs, at the rear, is a pretty raised area, lit by skylight, that can be used for private events. Notably, while there is a television near the bar, it’ll remain hidden behind a chalkboard—which might list specials or farms supplying the restaurant—unless a truly major event warrants its presence. And the storefront got totally redone to landmark standards, something Schwimmer plans to do to Mudville 9 next.

He interviewed 60 chefs and did 15 tastings before deciding that Aksel Theilkuhl was “far and away the best choice.” Theilkuhl’s most formative cooking years were spent with BLT, including as the executive chef of BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park and opening BLT American Brasserie in Chicago: “Laurent Tourondel taught me the foundations of French cooking,” says Theilkuhl. “Get good ingredients and respect them.”

The food at Washington Market Tavern is “American seasonal,” and as you might expect, given the restaurant’s name, market-driven. “In last year or so, I’ve really focused on product sourcing, supporting farms in the region,” says Theilkuhl. “Everything stems from sourcing. I’m in constant communication with farms in the region, and I base the menu on what they’re telling me. Blooming Hills Farm in New York, for instance, is what’s called a black dirt farm—where the soil has tremendous minerality. The carrots are amazing, so we have one dish that’s simply multiple preparations of carrots.” That devotion to sourcing well includes meat and dairy, too. “Nothing here has ever seen a freezer. If it comes out of the ground on Monday, it’s on a plate on Tuesday.”

Sharing is encouraged, and the initial menu will be expanded once the restaurant gets settled in. Theilkuhl expects there to be four major menu updates, timed more or less to the seasons. This is the first menu he designed without someone like Tourondel watching over his shoulder, and he has loved the creativity—and he is proud of the results: “I believe the food here is at the same level as Eleven Madison Park or the Nomad.”

The downstairs tavern will open as soon as tonight, with a limited menu of foods that you can eat standing up, if need be—like oysters or housemade charcuterie. The cocktail list is divided into classics (with notes about where each drink was invented) and “signature drinks,” and if the High Fashion (carbonated whiskey, Angostura bitters, marinated cherry, maple syrup) sounds like trouble, you can choose from 30 wines by the glass. Lunch upstairs will follow with a more casual menu; brunch service will start in the fall.

“It all comes down to detail,” says Schwimmer of opening a restaurant with this level of ambition. “There are a thousand details: The details of the renovation, the details of food, the details of the cocktails. Everything is a detail, down to how a fork is handed to you. If you’re not good at details, don’t go into this business.”

Washington Market Tavern is at 41 Murray (between W. Broadway and Church), 646-946-4860; washingtonmarkettavern.com.

Washington Market Tavern facade

Washington Market Tavern dining roomWashington Market Tavern private roomWashington Market Tavern bar syrupsWashington Market Tavern art1(The food photos are courtesy Washington Market Tavern.)

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8 Comments

  1. Can not WAIT to go here!!

  2. Nice jeresulem cruisers.didn’t kniw it was picture day?

  3. Had a fantastic meal there last night… Food was delicious. Very relaxed vibe. Great cocktails.

  4. Food, cocktails and bartenders all great! Bar area of the dining room was a touch bright and hopefully they add hooks under the bar (but job well done on the USB ports and wifi). Can’t wait to try the Tavern part downstairs! Much needed addition to Murray St.

  5. Had a wonderful meal there last evening. Ordered 8 dishes and all were beautifully prepared, inventive, and tasted delicious. Definitely a place to share. Cocktail list is also impressive. Eric’s attention to detail is evident throughout. Congrats!

  6. 2 part comment
    1 – looking forward to checking it out, also…
    2 – adding the term “jerusalem cruisers” to my repertoire immediately.

  7. Amazing! Worth three times the price and with a dedicated staff. Can’t wait to go back.

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