In early May the Minetta Tavern will close and fall into the hands of Keith McNally. We went by for a last visit and to hear the thoughts of owner Taka Becovic. Originally from Montenegro, near Albania, Taka first worked as a busboy at the Minetta Tavern. Thirteen years ago, he bought the place and kept every inch of it intact, including the Italian menu, which will change to French bistro food under McNally.
“I like old-fashioned places,” Taka said, “family-style Italian.” The music he had playing was Frank Sinatra, Keely Smith, Eydie Gorme, the music that must have been loved by the first owner, Eddie “Minetta” Sieveri, a fan of boxers, wrestlers, and starlets.
Sieveri returned to the Tavern every year for his birthday until his death. When the landlord raised the rent too high for Taka, Sieveri’s son tried to buy the place, but it was out of his reach too.
“I’ve got a regular customer in his 80s,” Taka told me, “When he heard I was selling he asked, How much do you need? A million? Two million? He was ready to give it to me.” Taka didn't disclose the new rent, but he bemoaned that prices in the area were all $50,000 a month and up, so we can imagine.
When asked what his hopes are for the future of the place, Taka looked off into the distance. “It’s very hard,” he said, to think of saying goodbye. He hopes McNally won’t change the place too much. The wooden bar, with its stained-glass shelving, dates back to the Tavern’s opening in 1937. The walls are covered with priceless art and photographs. Taka’s favorite is the painting of legendary Village eccentric Joe Gould, but he won’t be taking it with him. McNally bought the whole lot, every last item, down to the hand-cut paper silhouettes that trim the top of the bar.
McNally has claimed he’s not going to change much, but Taka told me the tavern will be shut down from May until October, which means McNally will probably be doing a thorough renovation. Let’s hope he doesn’t turn this Village landmark into another Pastis.