Sneak Peak: Caliza Mezcal Bar y Cocina

Tribecan Josh Lebowitz has been angling to walk to work for a while. In restaurants for his whole career, notably at Brother Jimmy’s, he snagged the prime corner spot in the (long shuttered) Independence Plaza strip at Greenwich and N. Moore in 2019. And then the pandemic.

But he kept at it, securing the liquor license in spring of 2020, and now here we are with Caliza: the space nearly finished save for the hook up of the gas by ConEd. He figures he is a couple weeks away from opening.

The menu is a secret, though mezcal will be a prominent part of the bar menu, and I didn’t photograph any angles that weren’t camera-ready, but you get the sense of what is a very subtle, beautiful, beachy-feeling build-out of 3500 square feet. (Capacity is 120, with space for 22 on the deck, which is a permanent structure thanks to the wide sidewalks and the IPN leasehold. The deck will be enclosed for weather.)

Backing up for a minute because I like these kinds of stories: Lebowitz, who lives just up the street with his wife and three kids, was looking at the Tribeca Tap House space with his broker when they looked across the street and spied this space — most recently the Peace & Love Caf√© (and before that Tribeca Pizza). It was his understanding that Vornado, the landlord, wanted a more “majestic” retail as he put it — he knew they had cleared out the second floor as well (not to mention the entire strip).

“I always thought this would be an amazing corner,” he said. Turns out his broker had just gotten a brochure, and they were the first people to look at it.

He knew he had to take advantage of every square foot and be busy for as many hours as possible to make the numbers work, so he figured: Tribeca, families, ice cream. Then he stalked (my words) the Mexican chef and cookbook author Fany Gerson, who ooened La Newyorkina — an ice cream and pastry shop in the West Village — in 2016 (it’s now in Red Hook). She now has Fan-Fan Doughnuts in Clinton Hill, so you get the idea for that corner of the restaurant. It will open for breakfast and have a special coffee and hot chocolate program — think City Bakery.

That space will also have Caliza “Next Door” — a Sweetgreen model of Mexican fast casual — salad bowls, some form of quesadilla — with a service window and an app.

The chef is Alfredo Vergara, who like Gerson is from Mexico City. This to say that Lebowitz knows he is not the one to direct the food program. “I’m a kid from Brooklyn and obviously not the most Mexican guy around so it was essential I bring in people who know what they are doing,” he said. “I can say what tastes good but I want the authenticity. I don’t think fake sells in New York.”

He’s fully aware that we have a whole crop of Mexican restaurants that just opened: Casa Carmen, Fonda, Chela, Los Tacos No. 1 — as well as the OGs: Anejo, Zona Tribeca and El Vez. But he is counting on the location being supreme (“This is New York — competition is every 10 feet anyway”) and he really didn’t want to be any place else in the city.

He and his wife moved down here in 2011 and stayed out east for most of the pandemic; it was the kids who insisted on coming back. “We forgot what they loved about it — walking everywhere, seeing friends on the street. When you live down here you don’t want to go any place else.”

Caliza
378 Greenwich at N. Moore

La Newyorkina

 

1 Comment

  1. Been waiting for this one to open. Sounds like a great concept with something for everyone. Particularly excited about the fast casual option. The neighborhood is really lacking on that front since covid. As long as it isn’t remotely similar to Bro J’s it should do well!

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