Zeb Stewart and Jud Mongell’s three restaurants at the Williamsburg location of hotel chain the Hoxton just opened this week, but the ethos is all old Williamsburg — well, at least the version of the neighborhood that Stewart and Mongell helped build close to two decades ago.
In 2000, Stewart opened legendary music venue and bar (and infamous “horny utopia”) Union Pool. It became a social home base for the rapidly changing neighborhood — and the place where Mongell met Stewart after becoming a regular. By 2008, Mongell opened his own restaurant Five Leaves in Greenpoint at Williamsburg’s border, helping to establish what brunch culture looked like in the area. They shared contacts for designers, and they shared friends. Back then, the duo says, Williamsburg felt smaller.
Obviously, things have changed dramatically since then. Chains like Whole Foods and Apple have joined, tourists swarm the area weekly, and several hotels have shot up, including the Hoxton, a London-based company.
But Mongell and Stewart think that this hotel and their projects — ground floor all-day restaurant Klein’s, rooftop bar Summerly, and second floor terrace bar Backyard — can add some more of that old feeling, where people who live and work in the area can hang without needing to pay a huge price, and where people like Mongell and Stewart could meet organically. The ground floor lobby, located at 97 Wythe Ave. between North 9th and North 10th streets, is open for anybody to come in and sit. It has free wifi, no time limits, and no purchase requirements. Bottled water costs the same as it would “at a bodega,” Stewart says.
It doesn’t sound like a revolutionary thing for a hotel to do, but when Mongell and Stewart first considered joining the project, they realized that none of the other hotels in the neighborhood have that degree of openness. For them, the restaurants at the Hoxton are not necessarily the focus of the property, instead acting as added amenities for people who are coming to hang out in the lobby anyway.
“Unfortunately, as the neighborhood got more and more expensive, a lot of the small places that we hung out are going by the wayside,” Mongell says. “It doesn’t seem like there’s been a place that’s been open to the community to kind of gather, to seek out locals. This could really fill that.”
The menu of the flagship restaurant Klein’s reflects the goal of being a gathering place with simple Americana dishes centered around a wood-burning grill, the idea being that “everyone has a grill in their backyard,” says chef Warren Baird of Five Leaves, who oversees the food here. Steak, a burger, and a charred Amish chicken are options, as is an entire section dedicated to grilled breads and accompaniments like steak tartare and little neck clams with chorizo. (See the full menu below.)
The space, too, is intended to be casual and approachable for impromptu meals, whether alone or with a crew. More than two dozen seats of the restaurant are around an open kitchen, where a Molteni cooking suite (the “Lamborghini of cooking equipment,” Baird says) sits. It’s meant for solo diners or couples. A bar in the middle of the space has plenty of seats too, while chairs with floral cushions that line the sunny area look more like they belong in someone’s living room than in a restaurant.
That same homey floral pattern finds its way to the barstools at Summerly, the rooftop bar with views of the Manhattan skyline that will open soon. And Backyard, which also has outdoor space, will have ping pong tables and fare like hot dogs and pimento cheese dip. As its name suggests, this seasonal space is supposed to be like a party in someone’s backyard.
“We’re hoping it becomes a community gathering place,” Stewart says. “The neighborhood used to have lots of little places where people hung out. It’s where we met each other; Jud and I met each other more organically. We’re hoping [this place] becomes a neighborhood hang.”
Klein’s is now open from 7 a.m. to midnight daily, with the bar open until 1 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Backyard and Summerly will open soon with seasonal hours.