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Welcome to the Fauxdeon

There’s a nicotine light — a warm, dim, dangerous flicker — that suffuses a certain kind of brasserie. Bad decisions are made here gladly. It’s been years since anyone smoked in New York restaurants, but bathe in that luminescence and you can believe, for a second, that you could, maybe even that you should. Never mind that it’s usually the work of highly paid lighting consultants. We flutter like moths to char ourselves in it. If a martini with fries has become the New York Happy Meal, as my colleague E. Alex Jung wrote earlier in the year, this is the New York Tan.

That light radiates at Cecchi’s, which opened this past summer on the ashes of the late beloved Café Loup, the West Village stalwart where generations of writers sloshed bucket-size martinis and ate passable dinners. (“I threw up in the bathroom several times,” one much-read magazine journalist told me wistfully.) The wolf may have been at the door for Loup, which reportedly extended its loucherie from its ambience to its tax bills, but Cecchi’s has maintained the spirit of the original. It has, in fact, maintained the spirit of several progenitors, all of which have burned this same sultry oil. Yes, these are restaurants — where you can get a decent burger and sometimes a fine steak and always a good drink — but even more, they are haunts. Their lineage goes back at least to Elaine’s in the 1960s and Raoul’s, which opened in Soho in 1975. The modern iteration begins at the Odeon, Lynn Wagenknecht and the McNally brothers’ decade-defining Tribeca brasserie, which opened in 1980 and has arguably been the most influential of the three. Both Raoul’s and the Odeon are going strong decades later, despite a marked critical skepticism of their cooking, and both have spawned more imitators than many of their compeers, which began with Wagenknecht’s Café Luxembourg, the proto-Fauxdeon, and continued through about half of Keith McNally’s latter-day empire. But a Fauxdeon needs no family tie to its patriarchs, and at the moment, New York seems especially flush with new arrivals. This is the season of the Fauxdeons.

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, Cecchi’s owner and namesake, has more claim to this line than most. He is an NYC restaurant lifer who ran the door for the Raoul brothers at Raoul’s for 17 years and worked for Keith McNally himself at Minetta Tavern after that. He knows all too well the food has to be good enough, but for this kind of joint, that alone is not sufficient. “Raoul’s is failproof,” he writes in Your Table Is Ready, his memoir from last year. “It didn’t matter if the steak was overcooked, the fish fishy, the escargot cold. People want to be there, be in that space, to see and be seen, to sometimes (especially in the old days) fuck and do drugs, and leave feeling like they’ve experienced true New York.”

Cecchi may have gone from maître d’ to owner, but he still patrols the floor like a wiry general, kibitzing. “From Charlotte? Glad to have you!” he crowed to a table near mine on a recent Monday night, the kind of democratic bonhomie that doesn’t necessarily thrill the old Loup set. “The food at Café Loup was bad,” an art critic I know snarled as he left, “but the people didn’t look like they came from Cleveland.”

To paraphrase Groucho, no one wants to belong to a club that will have both him and his midwestern cousins. But that’s gentrification for you. In our cynical private-club moment, I find it’s a relief that the gates are not so staunchly kept. In any case, clubhouses are more often claimed than built. They take years to accrue the bruises and neglect of history — though the new ones are designed to look patinated from day one. At Cecchi’s, the pendants are Deco-ish and the murals — of Pierrots and bellhops and showgirls — Weimarian. (Framed on one column is a solitary portrait that looks like Anna Wintour as seen by Otto Dix.) The food splits the difference between brasserie classics and the stuff of a Chicagoland supper club: soft, stretchy dinner rolls; giant cocktail shrimp on ice; steaks both frite’d and table size; and a thoroughly competent burger with happily excellent fries. They are skinny and golden, tasting more of fast food than potato — artisanal they are not. In fact, contra the provenance-spouting ways of many of the city’s haughtier bistros, they are frozen, Cecchi-Azzolina confirmed when he plopped down in our booth. “We tried them all,” he said, and these were the best; the secret is the oil mix, which he declined to share (it includes duck fat, is all he would say). This, too, is tradition. “People loved Raoul’s fries,” he recalled. “They were the cheapest fucking fries.”

Cecchi-Azzolina isn’t alone in recasting classic ideas for today. On Lafayette, just opposite Indochine (founded by Brian, the other McNally brother, after splitting from the Odeon), Jean’s has insider aspirations: It takes no reservations — officially, at least — and divides itself, like many before it, into Promised Land and Siberia, the better to assess your social standing instantaneously. Siberia, here, is a hallway opposite the kitchen colorfully called “the Cafe.” Make it to the inner room, lit by a crackling fireplace (a diversion from the typical Fauxdeon décor), and the world is, briefly, yours. Jean’s bistro burger is agreeable enough, especially at $28, a relative bargain these days. Jean’s entire menu, to its credit, is reasonably priced; it’s less focused than Cecchi’s, though possibly catering to a more eclectic dietary spectrum. Here, you can bounce from a Thai chicken salad to a French dip to a fluke meunière unlikely to displace sole from the pantheon. Jean’s naughtiness is of a slightly more teenage kind. But no one at my table complained about dessert: a single oversize chocolate-chip cookie, served warm with a chaser of bourbon-laced milk.

In Brooklyn, the Fauxdeon banner is flown at Swoony’s, a neighborhoody clanger in the not terribly accessible neighborhood known as the Columbia Waterfront District. The locals may be grateful, to judge from the full tables. I’m not sure I’d travel great distances for Swoony’s half-innovated brasserie classics (shrimp cocktail served warm, short ribs — rather than steak — au poivre) or its burger, served, for no discernible reason, on a squishy Portuguese bun. But the light warms and the din cheers, and one of the marks of a great Fauxdeon is its perilous proximity to mediocrity. The last laugh often belongs to the restaurateurs. In 1980, Raoul’s earned damned-with-faint-praise single-star reviews. The critics passed; the restaurant remains.

Bollywood Masquerade Ball : New Years Eve Gala @ Cantina Rooftop NYC

Join a Beautiful crowd at The Cantina Rooftop this year in NYC, for the New Year’s Party of the year, partying on the top of the world.For VIP Table Packages & amp; Large Groups : 

Bollywood Masquerade Ball : New Years Eve Gala @ Cantina Rooftop NYC

Join a Beautiful crowd at The Cantina Rooftop this year in NYC, for the New Year’s Party of the year, partying on the top of the world.For VIP Table Packages & amp; Large Groups : 

Bollywood Masquerade Ball : New Years Eve Gala @ Cantina Rooftop NYC

Join a Beautiful crowd at The Cantina Rooftop this year in NYC, for the New Year’s Party of the year, partying on the top of the world.For VIP Table Packages & amp; Large Groups : 

The Wiz on Broadway

Step into a world where imagination knows no bounds and the music is a rhythmic enchantment. “The Wiz” is a dazzling Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that reimagines the beloved classic “The Wizard of Oz” with a contemporary urban twist. 

The Wiz on Broadway

Step into a world where imagination knows no bounds and the music is a rhythmic enchantment. “The Wiz” is a dazzling Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that reimagines the beloved classic “The Wizard of Oz” with a contemporary urban twist. 

The City’s Most Festive Christmas Display? Rolf’s Has Some Competition.

For years now, Kips Bay restaurant Rolf’s has maintained an iron grip on New York’s insane-Christmas-decorations market. The price is steep — reportedly $60,000 a year, an absurd 150,000 lights, and a few murderous-looking dolls — but it has paid off. The restaurant is famous enough that people in Oklahoma know it. The situation has only worsened because of social media, and the restaurant is slammed all winter, much to the delight of New Yorkers and the disappointment of their visiting relatives, who can’t get in. Naturally, other restaurants (like Papillon in Midtown) offer their own take on the Garish Christmas Experience, but now the most prominent threat to Rolf’s Christmas crown has emerged, and it’s in the Financial District.

Last year, the Dead Rabbit, the well-known three-floor Irish bar and cocktail destination, tested the waters, launching a “Jingle Jangle” pop-up in its taproom. This year, the owners have gone all in, Jingle Jangling the entire restaurant with Christmas-themed drinks like the Blintzen (whiskey, port, pear, maple, vanilla, soda water), Christmas decorations, and a holiday soundtrack. There are red Jingle Jangle cups, Jingle Jangle coasters, bartenders in red Jingle Jangle shirts, and the words Jingle Jangle plastered on the front door as well as a frozen-Irish-coffee machine. The group even produced a teaser trailer. (“Those Christmas lights lit up the street down where the sea and city meet,” Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James sings — we aren’t going to be pedantic about the differences between harbors and seas.) According to the bar’s beverage director, Aidan Bowie, they shut the bar down for a day, handed every employee a staple gun, and unpacked 50 U-Haul boxes worth of decorations. (It will all be taken down after January 1.) In contrast, Rolf’s reportedly employs six people who work overnight for six weeks to set up its own holiday display.

When I popped in around 1 p.m. the other day, one thing became immediately clear: my sister’s in-laws would love this place. In one room, I counted 326 ornaments before deciding I didn’t need to keep counting. (Though it should be noted that only one of those ornaments was a Guinness mug, which felt wrong.) It does not look like there are 150,000 lights, but there are definitely a lot, as well as a number of wreaths and the words “Naughty or Nice?” propped up over a window. Songs like “Last Christmas,” covered by Remi Wolf (not the original George Michael version — scandal!), and “Blame It on Christmas,” by Bebe Rexha, played.

Photo: Hugo Yu

The place was packed, though it was unclear how many people were there for the Christmas display. There were, no doubt, some people in bright-red sweaters. “We’ve been lucky for the last two weeks because a lot of people from the U.K. are coming into town, and a lot of them will come just to get Irish coffee,” Bowie says. “They don’t necessarily know the pop-up’s happening.”

A couple other customers were clearly impressed by the décor and asked the bartender when this all started. He gave a little backstory and said that it takes about eight hours to put everything up. “Wow, that’s a lot of work,” the visitor said.

As another couple sat down, they immediately took a selfie with the closest available decorations. I asked if they’d been here before, but they told me they were in town for a friend’s concert, and he told them to come get a drink here. They didn’t seem to want to talk more — so much for holiday spirit! A little bit later, one took a photo of a Guinness pouring out of the mug, framed against a wreath. Clearly, the Jingle Jangle was working.

The front room seemed to possess a livelier (drunker) crowd. There were some Irish locals with Irish tourists, explaining how it would be even colder out if they were in Chicago, and three mulleted guys having a great time. On their way out, one bumped into a chair, then shouted back to the bartender, “Have a good night!” It was 1:40 p.m.

Around this time, the bar started thinning out. A group was leaving temporarily so they could take a quick helicopter ride. “We are gonna come back — can we leave our cards?” one asked. Nearby, a couple — Chris and Jen — were discussing where to eat congee and when to go to Midtown to see the display at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was their first time back in New York since having their kids — did they come to the city to get Jingle Jangled? At this point, they were three rounds deep, loving their drinks. But it turns out they weren’t here for the Christmas decorations, either. “I love drinking — and this place is pretty well known,” Chris replied. “The decorations are a nice bonus.”


Where to Eat in DecemberCocktails Are Sandwiches Now. Deal With It.Maybe You’d Rather Get a Drink at Ray’s?

It’s the Most Hyped Burger in Years — But Is It Any Good?

Aside from Danny Meyer and Ronald McDonald, George Motz is the biggest name in burgers. He is a pundit and author of hamburger-history books, with a large fanbase thanks to his First We Feast YouTube show, among whom he is known as America’s foremost “burger scholar.” For decades, he has been the go-to source to discuss burgers. Now, he has a restaurant where people can eat his food, too. Hamburger America, which opened last week on the corner of West Houston and Macdougal Streets, is a big-city ode to the small-town roadside griddles that Motz has evangelized throughout his career.

Between Motz’s own fans and everyone who saw the news on TikTok, the place had no problems drawing a crowd during its first official day in business after a protracted and heavily publicized soft-open period. Wednesday’s ribbon cutting saw Michael Bloomberg, Hot Ones host Sean Evans, and Christy Turlington Burns all in attendance. Chris Rock apparently made an unplanned drop-in, too. “He was just walking down the street,” Motz says, “and somebody said, ‘hey, come in’ — so he did.”

That same evening, I was still a full city block away when I picked up the scent of onions and beef fat wafting through the air. I followed it to the source, which was still completely packed. After waiting for 25 minutes, I was seated at a counter overlooking the griddle. Motz’s fans were easy to pick out because they were trying to talk to him while he worked the grill, producing thin, crusty burgers that draped over their buttered potato rolls.

Photo: Ron Antonelli

For now, the restaurant offers just two types of burgers: a classic smash burger and an onion smash burger. They both start the same way: a drizzle of melted butter hits the flattop, then the balls of beef — double-ground chuck from Schweid & Sons — that are dusted with salt and attacked on the griddle with a Smashula, the 1-pound tool that Motz commissions from a shop in Argentina (and sells in his online store for $240).

Motz’s slogan is “grease is a condiment,” and he stays true to his mantra here, but the finished burgers are nevertheless balanced, provided you stick to the single-patty option (Motz’s preferred ratio). It’s not as if New York needs another big-name burger, but I can report that the $7.25 smashburgers here live up to the hype: They deliver a concentrated beef flavor and bring a new level of crusty smash to the city. The immediacy of counter seating makes all the difference: Still-crunchy patties are delivered directly to waiting customers, topped with little more than a layer of American cheese, some onions, pickles, or mustard. For the fried-onion burger, of course, a pile of shaved onions are added to the patty on the griddle, but they don’t steam the way they might at a White Castle. Instead the high heat of the grill provides quick caramelization. I could see why Motz says it’s his favorite.

Photo: Ron Antonelli

Taken together, Hamburger America is the kind of tidy concept that it’s easy to imagine expanding across the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. Motz says multiple locations would be nice in the future, but for now they’re “just trying to get one right.” Considering the Schnipper brothers are managing partners, the idea doesn’t seem so far flung.

Unlike S& Pthe Eisenberg’s reboot that also sells affordable cheeseburgers at a retro-leaning counter, and perhaps the closest analog to Hamburger America right now — there is no confusion here about the best order. Hamburger America’s menu is rounded out with tuna and egg salad, PB& J, grilled cheese and a warm ham sandwich that Motz tells me has proven popular. I’m not convinced; and I can’t imagine anyone sitting in this room with so much rendered beef fat in the air, would choose to eat anything other than a cheeseburger.

Photo: Ron Antonelli

Early Access: New Year’s Eve in Long Island City!

New Year’s Eve 2023 – Welcome 2024 at Jungly!? Early Access Prices – Grab Your Tickets Before They’re Gone! ?Join us for the most exhilarating New Year’s Eve celebration as we bid farewell to 2023 and welcome 2024 with open arms at Jungly 

My Quest to Drink a Nobu Martini in My Pajamas

In November, Robert De Niro’s former assistant Graham Chase Robinson successfully sued the actor’s company for, among other things, De Niro asking her to scratch his back and rescue his dogs from an incipient fire, contacting her while she was at her grandma’s funeral, and calling her a bitch. De Niro’s company unsuccessfully countersued Robinson, arguing that she used the company card for personal Uber rides and watched too much Netflix on the clock. In an attempt to prove that the company-card argument held no water, Robinson’s lawyer pointed out that De Niro once asked Robinson to Uber him a “particular martini” from Nobu, the restaurant he co-owns, at 11 o’clock at night.

Robinson had been dining at Nobu for her friend’s daughter’s 21st birthday when “Bob” called. “And I told him I was at Nobu, and he asked that I bring a martini to him after I finished dinner … He asked me to bring him a martini on my way home.” Robinson did and “met him downstairs,” ostensibly at one of his Manhattan residences, where “he was in his pajamas and slippers, and I handed him the martini in a plastic container.”

Can anyone just get a to-go martini from Nobu and Uber it home? I arrived at its downtown outpost on a Wednesday evening around 9:30 to find out. I wore what I imagined an assistant to Robert De Niro might wear: a pleated black skirt, knee-high boots, and a sense of nervous imperiousness. Both the aboveground bar and the basement dining area were packed with rich people celebrating their friends’ daughters’ 21st birthdays. I took a seat at the bar and coolly asked the bartender for a martini to go.

“No,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

I studied him in an assistant-y way. “I’m aware there’s precedent for getting a martini to go,” I said.

“Are you just finding another way to ask me the same thing?” he said.

I conceded that I was but pushed once more: “You never do that? Even for a special guest?”

He sighed. “No. That’s a lot of ways of asking the same question.”

I had no choice but to break cover. I asked if he’d followed De Niro’s trial, and he had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained that I possessed legal knowledge that De Niro had, at least once, ordered a martini to go from Nobu. “If you’re the owner of the place …” he trailed off, shrugging.

“Could you put it into a little to-go cup for me?” I asked.

“How many ways can you ask me this?” he said. He disappeared to tell on me.

A young woman sitting next to me watched the interaction with great interest. “I want this to happen,” she said. In 2022, New York State passed a law that made the sale and delivery of to-go cocktails legal for three years, so it should be possible. However, it’s important to remember that at Nobu, it’s still 2017.

The bartender returned, looking vaguely homicidal. I apologized for being a nuisance and asked him if he wanted to murder me. “I didn’t say anything like that,” he said.

I attempted to confirm that only Robert De Niro was allowed to get a martini to go at Nobu. “I’ve never given anybody a martini to go,” he reiterated.

“What about delivery?” I asked.

“No,” he said. I took a deep breath, looked at my accomplice, and asked what would happen if I got my own to-go cup and poured the martini in it and left. “If I give it to you in a martini glass, whatever you do, that’s on your heart,” he said. “What I’m not gonna do is pour it in a to-go container.”

I wondered if Nobu would be more willing to respect me and treat me like a to-go-martini girl if I were an actual diner in its restaurant. Seated quickly at the sushi bar downstairs, I studied the astronomically priced menu and decided to order the third- or fourth-cheapest appetizer, a few pieces of salmon sashimi that came to $38 with tax, so as not to draw immediate suspicion to myself. I asked the waiter which martini Robert De Niro preferred, and he said he wasn’t sure but suggested it could be the “signature” martini, the Matsuhisa, a $22 combination of Suntory Haku vodka, Hokusetsu Junmai sake, ginger, and Japanese cucumber. I said I’d wait a few minutes to order my drink.

When he returned with my sushi, I leaned on my theatrical training (the time I played Slut No. 3 in my high school’s student-written production). “I’m having a work emergency,” I said, looking pained, imagining Robert De Niro calling me a bitch at my grandma’s funeral. “Can I get this to go?”

“Of course,” he said.

I kept my face neutral. “And can I get a Matsuhisa martini to go?”

“We don’t have cups to go,” he said. “Sorry about that.” He did actually seem sorry.

“What if I have my own cup?” I asked. (I didn’t.)

“No, sorry about that,” he said. “I’ll get a to-go box.”

He packaged the sushi in a box and then a stiff bag, as if it were an expensive perfume at a department store. I gently placed my sushi bag in my arms and stopped by the downstairs host stand. “Do you ever do martinis to go?” I asked the host.

“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “No alcoholic drinks to go.”

“Is it a legal thing?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, narrowing his eyebrows. “You can’t have alcohol to go.” False. But he held all the power.

I went back upstairs, darting past the initial hosts and out into the chilly night. I ran across the moonlit street with my sashimi slung over my arm like a very bourgeois cat burglar. I asked an employee at Gong cha for a to-go cup, and they gave it to me without question — more comrades.

I ran back to the bar at Nobu. The bartender and I greeted each other silently, with begrudging respect, like pistoleros. I ordered the Matsuhisa, and we entered a brief détente as he made it for me, agreeing that martinis are good.

This one was especially delicious. I understood instantly why Robert De Niro needed it delivered to him at 11 p.m. at any cost. It barely tasted like a martini; it was more like the water they pour for you at a hotel spa. As the bartender walked away, I stealthily poured the rest of the martini into my to-go cup, creeping out the door slowly so as not to spill (there was no lid). Outside, I hailed a cab and held the martini in my lap, breaking New York’s open-container law but perhaps repairing some kind of karmic fracture by doing vaguely illegal things at Nobu, the scene of De Niro’s own ethical missteps.

When I got home a half-hour later, I put on my pajamas and took another sip. Shockingly, it was just as crisp and refreshing as at the moment of its birth. I had learned something new about what was and was not possible in physics and in New York City. I put the rest of it in the fridge for breakfast.

Photo: Rachel Handler

Photo: Rachel Handler