New York Times’ Pete Wells Heads to the Reopened Chumley’s

Two stars to the speakeasy-turned-fine-dining establishment

The Chumley's burger will be mentioned again.

The original Chumley’s was the origin of many a restaurant lore. There are stories of the writers and artists who carved their names into the tables, and, most enduringly, the kitchen term “86,” the address that was used as code during Prohibition to get patrons out before a raid and now tells servers when the kitchen is out of a dish.

The long-crumbling building was closed on April 5, 2007, when the ceiling collapsed. Just shy of a decade later, the restaurant has returned. Pete Wells visited the new incarnation, brought to us by the man behind Sushi Nakazawa, Alessandro Borgognone, and provides a rather conflicted review.

The restaurant walks away with two stars — nothing to sneeze at! — but there’s something a little nostalgic about the piece. Wells misses the divey atmosphere and practically rolls his eyes at the “reserved” signs populating empty tables and barstools.

Chumley’s is emphatically worth going to as long as Ms. Blamey remains content to work in that kitchen. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. The reservations policy seems to keep people from just dropping by for a drink, and casual drinking was part of the atmosphere that [Simone] de Beauvoir liked so much.

Now, instead of atmosphere, Chumley’s has décor; the book jackets and photographs are elements in a haunted house attraction featuring the ghosts of Hemingway and Kerouac. The neighbors sleep better, but the neighborhood isn’t as interesting.


The kitchen is adept, cranking out a cheeseburger that is already climbing reviewers’ must-eat lists, but at $24 there’s not likely to be another up-and-coming playwright swinging by to dine while working on his or her latest manuscript. Chumley’s will likely remain on the West Village literary tours but the future is for a different set.