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Few restaurateurs are more ebullient, effusive and flat-out charming as Marcus Samuelsson and Andrew Chapman, the duo behind Red Rooster and, beneath it as of today, Ginny’s Supper Club, the subterranean throwback to the swinging gin-soaked Harlem nights of the Twenties.
Located down a flight of carpeted stairs from the main dining room, Ginny’s is a modern take on the supper clubs of the first Harlem Renaissance.
“We always reminisce about the places that transcend just one thing,” Samuelsson explains. “‘Oh, I had a great time, I met people of all ages, the drinks were fun and the food was incredible and we danced and we talked a lot.’ That’s a night out.”
Chapman adds: “It makes it special that everyone participates, that it’s not one of those places that’s like, ‘Oh, no, I’m going to look at your shoes and you can’t go in.’ We want to celebrate the beauty of who you are and that you’re different. New York needs a bit more of that.”
Samuelsson greets his staff and guests upstairs with broad smiles and broader embraces. He is also very nattily dressed.
“There’s a commitment to style here,” he says. “When we opened a restaurant, it was a down economy, tough time. Our Harlem customers? They came every day dressed up. And that drove how nice we wanted the place to be, to make it as elegant as it can be. It’s flair. Uptown flair. People’s style is important — you can wear whatever as long as you made an effort.”
Ginny’s own interior style is all swirling colors and leather banquettes with bistro tables, carved wood paneling and tile floor. It’s an easy place to imagine wiling away an evening well into the early hours, and that’s the plan. There also will be music, film and speaking series, as well as cooking classes for mothers and children from the community and a rotating schedule of live musical acts.
Samuelsson describes his menu as “fun, sexy food” that references the clubs of the Twenties, which were heavily influenced by Chinese and French fare. The 12-item menu is diverse and mouth-watering: fried shrimp and walnuts with endive and pickled onion cozies up to a five-spice cured duck breast and lobster Thermidor, fried chicken and waffles with chicken liver butter and bourbon maple syrup and a jerk veal tongue on Chinese buns. “You want a real, big dinner you can get that…but it’s pick and beverage happy,” Samuelsson explains. The cocktail list complements the menu with classics like the Harlem Mule (Japanese whiskey, ginger, basil and Peychaud’s), a triple caipirinha (cachaça, cucumber, kumquat, grapefruit cordial) and the Dandridge (aquavit, sweet vermouth and orange bitters).
Food and beverages aren’t all that’s on the menu, however.
“We’ve had everything from a 17-piece jazz band to a fun after party for Bruce Springsteen,” Samuelsson says. “And that was before we really opened. Keith Richards was our first guest upstairs, you know? We knew right away that we were blessed like that.”
There will always be a DJ in the booth at Ginny’s, though there might be a band or open mic night, Chapman explains. Sunday brunch is gospel, Sunday night is jazz. They hope to eventually host a series of post-midnight jam sessions with a mix of several well-known musicians improvising together.
“It’s not just you come to Harlem for one type of music, you come here one night and it might be rock ’n’ roll, it might be a club,” Samuelsson says. “Don’t box it in, you know what I mean?”
Ginny’s Supper Club
310 Lenox Avenue at 126th Street, New York
Open for dinner Monday through Sunday, 6 p.m. to midnight; bar until closing.