Jody Williams and Rita Sodi’s West Village empire keeps growing. After more than two years of speculation, the chefs have flown under the radar the past few weeks to open the Commerce Inn, located at 50 Commerce Street, between Barrow and Bedford streets. On a leafy, postcard-worthy corner of downtown Manhattan, the James Beard-winning duo’s latest restaurant draws upon, according to their website, “Shaker inspired early American cookery.”
The restaurant began hosting diners in late November, according to multiple Commerce employees. While Williams and Sodi haven’t granted interviews with Eater, a person responding on behalf of the chefs confirmed on December 19 that the tavern section of the restaurant — a bar and few tables — is officially open 4 to 10 p.m. daily except on Mondays and that the dining room would follow suit in the coming weeks.
In contrast to the couple’s eye for detail (their staff uniforms are tailored just so and even bags used to transport liquor are branded) and popularity with a fashionable crowd, Williams and Sodi appear to be throwing a curveball with their Shaker theme. The Protestant sect started in upstate New York in the 1770s and were known as much for their vows of celibacy (there were only two alive as of 2017) as they were for their functional furniture. Williams and Sodi shared with the WSJ Magazine earlier this year that they pored through 19th-century cookbooks for inspiration, partly inspired by the Shakers’ focus on uncomplicated, simply prepared recipes.
While the menu at Commerce Inn is a departure from the Italian and French classics that Sodi and Williams are known for, the same type of no-frills recipes can be found here. On a recent visit, the menu featured oysters prepared three ways: raw, pickled, and fried. A pair of cod cakes ($25) look like the crustacean-stuffed ones but with potatoes cushioning the bits of fish. Rarebit ($19) arrives as a slice of ale white country bread with melted cheddar. The generous portion of Shaker beans ($19) includes chunks of pork belly. For a serving of spoon bread ($5), a server brings a casserole tableside and scoops what looks like cornbread. Two desserts include a bake apple and ginger cake, both $12 each.
The current cocktail menu — where most drinks are priced at $19 — is also brief. A milk punch can be ordered with spice rye or walnut rum ($20). Cocktails include classics like a gin martini and Manhattan with libations that feel like they belong in a tavern, including whiskey sours and a coffee with maple and whiskey added in.
The Commerce Inn has deep ties to the Village. It operated as a speakeasy out of a carriage house during Prohibition before the space transformed into a restaurant space. For nearly 50 years, it was Blue Mill Tavern before operating as Grange Hall and then briefly as Blue Mill. Chef Harold Moore helped open Commerce in 2008, which received one-star from former New York Times critic Frank Bruni, before it shuttered in 2015. The Latin-themed Fifty occupied the corner restaurant from 2016 through 2018.
Inside this historic building, Williams and Sodi have stripped the space to an austere aesthetic that reflects tenants that the Shakers prized: simplicity and utilitarianism. The tavern is anchored by a handsome wooden bar with a line of stools with no backs. A handful of dark-paneled booths that look like church pews and a row of Shaker pegs line another wall. A broom hangs from one wall, and flickering candles light up the tables. The main dining room has two rows of shelves lined with white oval plates. Instead of matches, there are packets of wildflower seeds to take home.
If the past is in any indication, the Commerce Inn is set up for success. All of their neighborhood establishments aren’t the type of places, at least for the most part, where diners can just swing by and expect to find an open seat. Sodi, who worked in the fashion industry, opened I Sodi in 2008 with a rustic Tuscan focus. A few years later, Williams, a veteran of New York kitchens such as Il Buco and Morandi, opened her tiny Parisian-style bistro Buvette. They opened Via Carota together in 2014, an Italian restaurant the New Yorker breathlessly fawned over in a headline that dubbed it “New York’s most perfect restaurant.” Their most recent NYC opening, Bar Pisellino, debuted across the street and is often packed with diners sipping Negronis and spritzes while they wait for a table at Via Carota, where there’s a good chance their order will include the towering insalata verde or creamy cacio e pepe.
The Commerce Inn is not taking reservations at the moment, but it is currently open 4 to 10 p.m. daily, except Mondays. Dinner service is slated to begin in a few weeks.