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The old speakeasy Chumley's reopened over the summer, having physically collapsed and then been closed for something like a decade. It's now a full-fledged restaurant with culinary pretensions. I am shocked how well it realizes them (within the confines of the Americana/comfort food it's trying to do). I never expected the new Chumley's to be this good a restaurant.

The old Chumley's was a favorite watering hole of my wife and me when we were younger. History-fixated as we were, we were habituees of Old Skool bars with cultural significance: here, the Cedar Bar, the White Horse. In retrospect, it seems kind of silly -- but we enjoyed it at the time.

In the decade or so since its collapse, Chumley's kind of fumfered around under a previous ownership group, who were unable to complete the work necessary to reopen. It was then taken over by the guy behind Sushi Nakazawa, who completed the work and installed a former Atera sous-chef named Victoria Blamey in the kitchen, with the brief of cooking trad American-style comfort food.

The obvious comparison physically and conceptually, if not culinarily, is Minetta Tavern. I think Chumley's has been changed more than Minetta (which makes sense since its interior was mainly destroyed). The layout of the interior rooms seems to be different (and the formerly hidden entrance has moved) (how strange to enter through one of those cold-weather booths rather than searching along Bedford St. for the hidden entrance!). There is still a plethora of bookcovers by Village authors on the walls -- but they don't totally cover the walls, as they did at least in my memory. This seems, in sum, more like what it actually is: a typical Ye Olde imitation than a refurbishment of an existing classic space. Probably because Keith McNally is unique, it lacks that Minetta fairy dust.

But the food! My expectations were hopeful but not sky-high. But for my money this is this kind of food done about as well as it could be. My dining companion and I both started with the terrine -- the waiter was clearly confused that two people at a table would order the same thing instead of sharing different things -- and I have to say it was one of the best I've ever had in New York City: rich, silky smooth and creamy almost, not heavy, flavors perfectly judged. I then had the fried chicken, served in a kind of Cognac/mushroom consommé, which was an unexpected and highly complimentary flavor combination with the flawlessly fried chicken. My dining companion had the highly-touted (aren't they all?) burger, which he loved.

Dessert was notable: a scoop of really good vanilla ice cream under a parsnip cream -- the best parsnip dessert I have ever had.

I don't know who did their cocktail program, but I really liked the gin-and-yuzu one I had, and several were tempting.

An interesting comparison is Mr. Donahue's. The concept of old-timey American food is similar, but this is to me much better (although, of course, MUCH more expensive). I guess Mr. Donahue's is conceptually purer -- but this food is simply more interesting.

This is sounding like a lunatic rave. So, for perspective, please insert the phrase "for what it is" into every other sentence. For what it is, however, the new Chumley's is just terrific. It would be a great place to be able to use regularly. Too bad it's so hard to get in.

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I had no clue this reopened! This was a go-to my first couple years in NY. Hopefully it's still a bar-bar at night post-dinner time?


eta: based upon the Wells review, I guess not.

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