“Upscale comfort food” sounds like it should be an oxymoron, but the prolific New York City restaurateur John McDonald (Lure Fishbar, Bar Tulix) is betting on that very cuisine with his latest spot, Smyth Tavern in Tribeca.
Opening Thursday, the restaurant is serving a menu of updated classics, for a new spin on standby American tavern fare. The overall goal, McDonald told Robb Report, is to offer a range of options that will allow Smyth Tavern to fill a gap in the neighborhood, where he said there aren’t a ton of serious restaurants.
“Tribeca’s kind of like a city within a city,” he said. “We can be upscale but still be a restaurant that’s not super fussy or precious, and in my view that kind of encompasses the perfect mix … I think this is the perfect combo.”
Small plates at the restaurant run the gamut from branzino sliders with red chili and tartar sauce to meatballs with creamy polenta and tomato pan gravy. The raw bar is serving up oysters, of course, as well as a salmon tiradito with serrano chili and a miso yuzu vinaigrette. In terms of main courses, what’s a tavern without its signature burger? The Smyth version comes with bacon onion jam, American cheese, special sauce, onion rings and fries. And pasta lovers would be remiss not to order the house-made mafaldine with lobster knuckle and claw, uni butter and chili flakes.
While Smyth Tavern has a comprehensive wine list and a few beers, the restaurant is specializing in perfecting classic cocktails. You can have your pick from rosé Negronis, highballs, spritzes, martinis and palomas, but the real standout might be the $40 Smyth Manhattan, which isn’t for the faint of heart. The drink features Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, Abasolo corn whiskey, Suntory Toki, St. Agrestis amaro and Method Spirits vermouth.
The 100-seat dining room was designed by McDonald alongside the James Beard Award–winning Meyer Davis Studio. Deep wood paneling and red-leather booths call to mind old-school steakhouses: “It’s super dark, very warm—it’s a very atmospheric room,” McDonald said. The rotating artwork from downtown galleries brings a bit of modern NYC to the space, though. As you chow down on your burger, you might find yourself admiring a Peter Schlesinger photograph or Anne Collier work. “It subtly adds a level of seriousness and sophistication without having to say so,” McDonald added.
Smyth Tavern is now open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Later this summer, the restaurant will expand with outdoor patio seating as well as an adjacent bar and late-night lounge.
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