Has the Chumley’s Reboot Been Eighty-sixed?

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Chumley’s after the reboot. Photo: M. Cooper

Three and a half years after its fancy reboot, West Village bar Chumley’s appears to be closed. The restaurant’s equipment, barstools, booth benches, and collection of author portraits were put up for auction on the website of A.J. Willner, which originally listed preview dates of tomorrow, July 28, and Wednesday, July 29. According to the auction page, the bar has “closed for good, and everything must be sold regardless of price.” Curiously, that auction was cancelled as this story was being published: Grub had reached out to a representative for the restaurant, and has tried to contact owner Alessandro Borgognone, and will update this post if they get back to us.

Opened in 1922, the original incarnation of Chumley’s was an actual speakeasy that became one of the city’s most famous bars, known as a haunt of literary figures like e.e. cummings, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. In 2007, a collapsed wall threatened the building’s integrity, and Chumley’s didn’t reopen until 2016. Various setbacks delayed the bar’s return, including opposition from locals who went so far as to file a lawsuit.

The bar was brought back in October 2016 by Sushi Nakazawa owner Alex Borgognone, who turned Chumley’s into a proper restaurant with online reservations but décor out of the 1920s. Along with a more sophisticated approach to cocktails, Borgognone brought in chef Victoria Blamey (late of Gotham Bar & Grill, which closed during the early days of the restaurant shutdown). Blamey’s cooking generated a lot of noise, including from New York Times critic Pete Wells, who gave the restaurant two stars and called her burger “like an erotic poem on the theme of fat.” Esquire critic Jeff Gordinier named the restaurant one of the country’s best that year, too. But Blamey left a little over a year into the reboot. No major critics rereviewed Chumley’s after she left, and it seemed to have difficulty becoming the kind of clubby, exclusive place it was intended to be.

The past four months have seen the closings of restaurants around the city; some were teetering on the edge already, and others couldn’t weather the coronavirus and consequent restaurant shutdown. Takeout and delivery have been a struggle for many, while outdoor dining has been an imperfect solution at best, which, for some, isn’t even on the table.

Chumley’s was an expansion for Borgognone, who opened Sushi Nakazawa in 2013 to rave reviews as sushi replaced the power lunch. (The restaurant is the setting for a scene in Billions, in which one of the main characters yells at a sushi bro who, he believes, is disrespecting the sushi arts.) In 2018, Borgognone controversially brought Sushi Nakazawa to the Trump International Hotel; that year, a Washingtonian critic wrote that no one was going to the restaurant. In January 2020, Wells demoted the New York location from four to three stars, writing that “some of the qualities that made it so exciting when it was new have been tossed overboard.”

This post has been updated to note the cancellation of the original auction.

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