Renowned West Village speakeasy Chumley’s will reopen its doors tonight after nearly a decade out of commission. Restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone, who’s best known for opening upscale sushi house Sushi Nakazawa, took over the space last December and has turned the former literary pub into a full-fledged restaurant, with food from Atera alum chef Victoria Blamey. Dinner is reservation-only for now, though people can walk-in for drinks at the bar. But people familiar with the old version will see some changes. They can’t walk in through the side door in the alley like they did back when it opened in 1922, and the space is also slightly smaller, a necessity to bring the space up to code.
The old Chumley’s has been gone for a while. When Borgognone came in, the space was essentially a white box. It closed in 2007 when the roof fell through, and since then, owner Jim Miller has been trying to reopen it without success. Borgognone wanted to bring it back to its 1920s heyday as much as possible, when writers like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald stopped in. He tracked down James DiPaolo, a historian who used to curate all the memorabilia in the space. They looked closely at old pictures. They dug up all the book jackets and portraits of writers who passed by, and they’re now displayed in the dining room with as much precision as possible. (Some had been destroyed over time, so a fair number of the book jackets are copies of the originals.)
Still, it’s not a straight replica. Borgognone added wallpaper and replaced wooden banquettes with more cushioned ones, and some people have bemoaned that the former dive bar would never have served the $16 cocktails that the new Chumley’s offers. He knows. "Listen. It will never be the old Chumley’s and what the old Chumley’s was like," Borgognone says. But making it feel as special as possible was paramount to reopening, he says. He’d never been to the original, so they’ve been recruiting neighbors to make give feedback. "It feels warm. It feels special. It feels like something no one knows about," he says. "It feels like what Chumley’s used to feel like, from what I was told."
Blamey’s menu offers 18 items, including fried chicken, burger, steak tartare, a vegetarian mushroom tart, and a kampachi dish, a nod to Borgognone’s Nakazawa influence. Jessica Dure’s cocktail menu focuses on brown spirits, and like the rest of the space and menu, she tried to mimic the feeling of being in the 1920s with drinks. "There were so many people who were here and are excited or afraid that we won’t pay respect to what it used to be," she says. "We’re definitely hammering that in with all the products and attitude and hospitality, making them know that we appreciate and respect the spirit of this place."
Many of the people who have already booked reservations for the next month are old regulars of Chumley’s, Borgognone says. He knew he wasn’t going to turn it into a bar, but he knew he wanted his version to help continue the legend. "The most important factor is we salvaged and kept the history of Chumley’s," he says. "We represented it in the best way we possibly could." Check out the menu for the first days of the new Chumley's below.