As a fan of the old Minetta Tavern, it was only a matter of time before I forced myself to go to the new Minetta. When I finally got there, I discovered a major piece of the place has gone missing. But it took a couple of painful tries just to go in.
One night, I stood around outside watching well-heeled, flinty patrons climb out of monstrous Escalades on the helping hands of chauffeurs, to be passed like precious eggs into the hands of the Minetta's doorman/bouncer, a large, shaven-headed man in a black suit, with hands, by the way, the size of catcher's mitts. Deterred, I walked away muttering.
I guess I'm one of what Thrillist called, "the joint's wizened, soon-to-be-muttering-outside-angrily ex-patrons."
But I went back, this time getting close enough to hear the big bouncer, with surprise tenderness, warn away a number of poor schlubs who knew nothing of McNally's renovation. He gently told them, "It's changed since you were here last. An hour and a half wait if you don't have a reservation. Come back tomorrow at 5:30 and you might get a seat at the bar."
I took his advice. I arrived at 5:28. The place was empty, with only three people at the bar. I took a stool. A pearl-chokered woman two stools over quickly grabbed the seat between us, glaring at me as if to say, "Mine!" Her friend arrived, took the stool, and they commenced a gruelingly detailed conversation about the properly made Pimm's Cup.
Literally, within 5 minutes, the place was mobbed. I quickly finished and left, but not before noting a glaring omission in the supposedly faithful preservation of the wall decor.
2008: The missing portrait
The portrait of Joe Gould is gone. I searched the walls, but could not find it anywhere.
Joe Gould was probably the most famous, or infamous, habitue in the history of the Minetta Tavern. We know him thanks to Joseph Mitchell, who wrote about the Village eccentric in Joe Gould's Secret, later a film starring Stanley Tucci. Gould, a marginally domiciled, psychiatrically challenged bohemian, ran with famous artists and writers, like EE Cummings and William Saroyan. He was drawn by Al Hirschfeld and painted (sporting three penises) by Alice Neel. He exemplified the Village spirit.
So why did McNally choose to remove Gould's portrait, once prominently and proudly displayed in the center of Minetta's front dining room?
2008: Gould's portrait is in the center of this photo
Maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe it was moved to another spot and I missed it. But a commenter on Greenwich Village Daily Photo noticed the erasure, too, and stated that he asked the restaurant's host about the missing painting, saying, "it's now collecting dust in the owner's 'private collection.'"
Same view, 2009, photo: Daily News
Back in March, Keith McNally told Zagat, "No one familiar with the Tavern from the past will know exactly what's changed." But the truth is, the place has changed quite a bit. It's a lot like the new High Line--the old, rag-tag contents were taken out, cleaned up, and rearranged in a careful design not at all organic but pleasing to the eye. Not every item made the cut.
It would take a real Minetta expert (and I am not one) to go picture by picture to know exactly what didn't make the cut, but the deletion of Joe Gould cannot be overlooked. It's a telling omission. Today, Gould would never get through the door.
Last Night at Minetta's
Minetta May Day