First Impressions: Café Noir

Cafe Noir front windowCafé Noir is supposed to evoke a North African café in France—or a French café in North Africa?—but for me it was a time machine set for New York City in 1998. That was because of the music—a genre we used to call “boutique hotel,” including tracks from the Hôtel Costes compilations—and because the late 90s was when I was last at Cafe Noir, at its former location at Grand and Thompson.

Back then, it struck me as a place you went because it was low-key, fun, and on the inexpensive side, and it handled groups well (at least that’s how my friends used it). The new incarnation on Lispenard feels the same: It’s as much of a bar as a restaurant—the curved bar takes up half the room, there’s a foosball table in front, and I can’t imagine the waiters would look askance if you skipped food altogether. The place is also dim like a bar, which might smooth out some of the rougher edges. Georges Forgeois—who also owns Cercle Rouge—clearly knows how to conjure up France; the highlight here is the pretty vaulted wood ceiling.

Adam and I ordered the following from the menu of small plates: charred escarole salad with green goddess dressing; roasted baby beets with apples and tahini yogurt; roasted radishes with feta butter and mint; baked goat cheese; fries with bravas sauce; and the “crispy” roma tomatoes. There were no losers in the bunch, and we had different opinions about standouts: He liked the beets, while I thought the radishes were fantastic (even the mint got roasted), and we agreed that breading and frying might be the only way to deal with a roma tomato. Although we went vegetarian, this was not a light meal—not just because of the frying, but in the liberal application of oil and salt. It’s drinking food, but it’s pretty good drinking food. Or smoking food, if the pot aroma wafting around was any indication….

Café Noir is still a bit new, so the service was all over the place. Settling up at the bar (instead of having the drink transferred to the table) shouldn’t take five minutes. On the other hand, the waiter was totally charming, his seemingly genuine interest in what we thought of the food making up for his lack of knowledge about it. Note: Currently, only American Express and cash are accepted.

Lunch and brunch will start up in the fall, and I understand there are no plans for rooftop seating (as had been indicated during the Community Board 1 approval process).

Café Noir is at 35 Lispenard (between Church and Broadway), 212-431-7910;

Cafe Noir banquetteCafe Noir mirrorCafe Noir goat cheeseCafe Noir crispy roma tomatoesCafe Noir roasted radishesRecent New Kid on the Block / First Impressions articles:
Pi Bakerie
Washington Market Tavern
Macaron Café
Grand Banks
Satomi Kawakita Jewelry
• Hudson Eats: Black Seed Bagels, Num Pang Sandwich Shop, Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque, Little Muenster, Umami Burger, Olive’s, Tartinery, Dos Toros Taqueria, SkinnyPizza, Sprinkles, Dig Inn
Tutto Il Giorno
Union Bar + Kitchen
Il Principe
Arcade Bakery
Sweet Green

Update: Comments have been turned off due to spam. To have them turned back on, email

1 Comment

  1. I didn’t realize they opened in a new spot. Thanks.