“It feels a bit like it’s had loads of different owners with different tastes,” says Sacha, the chic Australian Maîtresse d’ of Grand Tivoli, an almost brand new chic bistro-type affair in New York’s Nolita. (North of Little Italy, get it?)
“The bold modern art there and the bit of Nanna-style stuff over there.” By Nanna-style stuff she means Tiffany glass lamps. Oh, and lighting so low and sexy (they’re good at low and sexy lighting in the USA, for some reason).
With a bar that is woody and dark with at least a thousand back-lit bottles, knowing dinner jazz playing not too loud and the air con turned down to human body temperature levels, this seems quintessentially New York.
It’s a town that famously does good brasserie, from Balthazar, not a million miles away from where we are, or Pastis, where Carrie met The Russian’s friends in Sex and the City, may it rest in peace (the restaurant and the show).
Looking through the dark slatted shutters, there’s a huge New York City mural all over the neighbouring wall, just to remind you you’re very much in the here and now and never mind how much of a classic experience you’re having.
“Eat the mushroom dumplings first,” says our waiter as he puts down a selection of starters. “They go cold quickly.”
They frankly wish they had the time to go cold, we neck them so greedily, the flavour is so intensely, well, mushroomy. Then it’s on to daisy-fresh asparagus, beer battered squash blossoms and just-baked bread (“Vegan butter? No problem!”) though we could have gone for organic oysters, wild black sea bass carpaccio or calamari.
Mains get even more exotic with offerings like Peekytoe crab spinach bigoli Cartoccio (we have no idea, but it comes baked in a paper bag for just $25, which around these parts is Pound Shop-cheap). And you can choose your sizes, with different parts of the menu depending how hungry you are. Even desserts come in ‘Tiny’ and ‘Medium’ so we go for a blood orange Campari granita with vanilla coconut yoghurt in Tiny and wished it was bigger, that’s how nice it was even to non-dessert eaters.
As we finish the second glass of wine we said we weren’t going to have before we clasped the golden hand that acts as a doorknob and is your only way in here, Sacha suggests we go down and check out Peppi’s Cellar, the speakeasy in the basement that explains all the people who have been walking mysteriously through the restaurant and disappearing.
Down we go to what could have been a wine cellar (they carry over 200 wines and 150 whiskeys) but has been turned into the sexiest venue with little cave-like booths and a mini-stage in the corner with red velvet curtains where they have live jazz and are working on a programme of stand-up comedy.
It’s only as we come back up – having resisted more wine, which is so not us – that we notice the totally impractical coat hook just inside the door, where you could never actually hang anything, but which is funny to see and just gives you a smile as you go out. And that’s just the sort of touch that makes Gran Tivoli what it is.
Gran Tivoli, 406 Broome Street / grantivoli.com