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Who Goes There?: Pergola des Artistes

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This is the fourth edition of Who Goes There? a new regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.

Krieger, 5/1/08

Unless you're a New Yorker cartoonist, you probably have little experience with Pergola des Artistes, a tiny, family-owned French holdout among the chain eateries and tourist traps of Times Square. For whatever reason, the septuagenarian doodlers of the venerable weekly do Tuesday lunch at this narrow, 45 year-old bistro, which advertises a "Year Long Lobster Special."

Who else eats here? Couples. Old couples. Aged twosomes who have haunted the dusty red W. 46th street storefront for decades. The night I visited, nearly every four-top was occupied by a twosome, often armed with a cane, a hearing aid and a well-preserved sense of dignity. The pair seated next to me said they had been coming once a month for 25 years.

Each knew by name the host, the mustachioed and heavy-set Jean-Christian Ponsolle (known as Chris). And Chris, the son of the French immigrants who founded the restaurant, knew them. Exceptions included a flush, visiting Australian, who bought himself and his two sons the decadent $85 six-course meal. A couple in their 20s, who obviously had no idea that they had just slipped through a time portal, stared in queasy bewilderment at window-shaped murals of Roussillion, Provence and Bearn, set alongside their coats of arms, and the ancient Pyrenean farm implements hanging from the wall.

It turns out the oldsters and cartoonists know what they're doing. Pegola may look drab on the outside, but inside its clean, efficient, friendly and bustling. Taskmaster Chris keeps the staff hopping and the service is superlative. Too good, maybe; I was brought bread and olive oil twice, and my wine order was entreated as many times, all within a minute or two. Chris himself recommended the rack of lamb or the crispy boneless roasted duck. I went with the latter and wasn't disappointed.

Chris' mom, Marie, apparently still comes in from time to time. The family doesn't want to its creation's longevity to go unnoticed; a pink Xerox of a 1963 World Telegram & Sun article about Pergola's founding sits folded on every table. The writer guessed that "one of these days when you go to Pergola des Artistes there'll be a doorman there, and maitre d' and some captains." Nope. Didn't happen. Good thing, too.
— Brooks of Sheffield
· Who Goes There? Spain Restaurant [~E~]

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