Once upon a time, New York was a melting pot of designers, poets, writers, and performers who mingled with whoever would lend an ear. These days, it’s rare to go to a restaurant where the host exists to foster an environment of equality and introduction. But on an unassuming street that rubs shoulders with the West Side Highway, behind a heavy velvet curtain, a nightlight impresario named Patrick Duffy—an Adonis-like figure with wavy dark hair and Steven Tyler lips—and a cast of fellow artists and muses, is doing just that.
Called Boutique Eat Shop, or B.E.S., Duffy’s eclectic little space is producing evenings in New York that would do the creative minds of earlier generations proud. A refreshing addition to a sea of ho-hum Manhattan experiences, I was bitten by the B.E.S. bug as soon as I entered. The space itself is half-gallery, half restaurant. The exposed brick is chock-full of photographs, paintings, and multimedia exhibits. The back wall (looking into the kitchen) is an impressive architectural model that is part plantation, part dollhouse, while the black subway tiles in the back have been scrawled over with Patti Smith quotes. The banquettes are velvet, and the bar boasts drinks in honor of Elizabeth Taylor (White Diamonds, Passion; $15). Obviously, B.E.S. is in Chelsea.
On entry, our host swept us to our table, dance-hopping most of the way. The music at B.E.S. adds to the room’s electricity; it’s Duffy on his laptop. Sometimes, he’s shining a spotlight on himself as he lip-syncs ‘Bette Davis Eyes’; at other moments, he’s curating the perfect segue from Michael Jackson to Scissor Sisters to Boney M. Once he finds the right groove, he slips out from the behind the bar, and sidles up to his diners. He table hops, introducing one to another, never stopping to worry about social circles or six degrees. If you’re inside B.E.S., you’re part of the crew. As Duffy would attest, this is the way great synergies happen—the simple meeting of different kinds of people.
On a recent trip to B.E.S., Duffy introduced me to Columbia University’s head of dance and his wife, a stockbroker regular who lived around the corner, and the many artist friends who contributed pieces to the space (all for sale or on loan from local galleries). B.E.S. is a glossy space doing raw things, so it follows that a portion of everything sold, (including the Liz Taylor drinks) goes to charity. When we got around to perusing the menu, much grabbed our attention. After a good debate that tried the patience of our server, we started with a Seared Ahi Tuna with Apple, Watercress and a Peanut Dressing ($18), and a Tiger Shrimp and Scallop Risotto ($18), though the Artichoke & Chestnut Dip ($14) was a contender until the last possible minute. Both were excellent, especially the tuna which was a perfect shade of rare. For entrees, we went with the Ginger Crusted Snapper with Yellow Corn & Peanut Miso Dressing ($28), a light dish that teased to summer. The other standout was the Lamb Chops with Thyme Polenta. Desserts are slim, but the Molten Lava Cake ($8) was worth the extra 15-minute wait. In the interim, we ordered up another round of drinks.
By the end of the night, my upcoming week’s dance card was full: an early reading of my waiter’s play, a Bukowski tribute at B.E.S., a nearby gallery opening. Dancing to Sylvester, downing White Diamonds (Sancerre and Elderflower), and being twirled by the nearest suitor, I laughed at the perceived arc of my night. I thought I was merely going out to dinner.
Raw in talent, polished in décor, cutting edge all around, before it passes you by (or the ropes go up), check out the very fabulous Boutique Eat Shop. Here’s to one of the better dining and nightlife experiences I’ve had in a while.
And, of course, to Liz.