The brushed aluminum doors, the golden Parisian lights, the aged subway tiles and the night’s specials scribbled on a fading mirror. The signature paper menus, the smell of warm steak frites and that famous steak sandwich, and even the familiar faces seated around the room.
Unbelievably, it’s all there, and if you didn’t know any better, you might just think it’s 2004 and you’re simply enjoying a meal at Pastis in the Meatpacking District. But you wouldn’t be completely wrong because, five years after closing its doors, Keith McNally’s storied French brasserie is officially back.
It’s hard to overexaggerate the legendary status of Pastis in the New York City restaurant scene in the early aughts. With its iconic design, delicious food and renowned service, the Ninth Avenue bistro made regulars out of Sarah Jessica Parker, Martha Stewart and Salman Rushdie and was equally popular with locals. It’s where Malcolm Gladwell wrote most of his books and where Lorne Michaels hosted "SNL" after-parties. The Clintons ate there, as did Prince Harry, and Anna Wintour was as much of a fan as the models trying to land in the pages of her magazine.
Pastis opened in 1999 in the gritty Meatpacking District, a then-unpopular stretch of the city where blue-collar butchers carried meat on hooks. The restaurant, McNally’s seventh, went on to play a pivotal role in the radical transformation of the neighborhood during its 15-year tenure, attracting writers, photographers, actors and other change-makers to the area. But despite Pastis’s success, McNally was forced to close the café in 2014, when his landlord tripled the rent in the wake of Meatpacking’s gentrification.
But last spring an official address was announced for the revival, as was the news that celebrated restaurateur Stephen Starr (of Le Coucou and Buddakan fame) would join as an equal partner. And as of Friday, roughly five and a half years since it closed its wooden doors and took down the red awning, Pastis is officially back.
The obvious goal of the new spot, which sits inside an 8,500-square foot space at 52 Gansevoort St., is to recreate the magic of its predecessor, and the McNally-Starr duo has made every effort to do so. The layout is reminiscent of the old Pastis, though now with cushy, red leather booths á la SoHo’s Balthazar, and much of the classic décor remains. McNally spared no cost in getting the lighting and design right, using the very subway tiles that lined the original space and tracking down what seems like an exact replica of the mosaic flooinrg. He even spent a reported $10,000 on a single cabinet for the women’s bathroom.
Where the circa-2019 Pastis and the circa-1999 versions differ, though, is on the quality of the food. Twenty years after the original opening, New York dining culture has evolved, and in many ways, the new cafe is getting up to speed. Ingredients are being sourced more responsibly, and the menu includes a few options of a lighter variety, like steamed whole branzino.
“It will look the same. The bar’s almost exactly the same. The food will be better,” Starr told Esquire last month.
But how will the new bistro live up to the magic of its forebear?
Roberto Monticello, the 57-year-old Cuban-American who many know as the “Mayor of Meatpacking,” was a regular at the old haunt, having eaten there 200 or so times over the years, and he has a treasure trove of stories and memories from that time. He attended the restaurant’s opening in 1999 and its closing 15 years later and even hosted a party there as the neighborhood’s “mayor” in 2000. He’s slightly dubious of Pastis revival. “It’s mostly new people now, and that could make a difference,” Monticello said. “But I am going to give it a try and welcome it back. I am the Mayor of Meatpacking, after all.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the number of McNally’s restaurants. Pastis is his seventh.
Pastis, 52 Gansevoort St , pastisnyc.com