The Spotted Pig: a succulent slice of NY life
This starry joint may be a celeb favourite but they’ll find no special favour...
The Spotted Pig in New York’s West Village. The restaurant has a strict no-bookings policy and has many celebrity fans such as Sarah Jessica Parker, U2 and Matt Damon
Some rock bands want to drink their dinner; others want to order breakfast at midnight; all want a place where they can hang out until late in mellow but fun surrounds. It was with these particular
needs in mind that a group of famous investors – including Jay-Z, Michael Stipe, Fatboy Slim and ex-U2 manager Paul McGuinness – sunk money into the Spotted Pig bar/restaurant in New York 10 years ago.
Now the go-to eatery in New York and regularly cited as the most celebrity-strewn restaurant in the city, The Spotted Pig is the idea of music industry professional Ken Friedman (he used to manage The Smiths, which would drive anyone to drink) who as he puts it himself “went from being a guy who spent every night in clubs to being more interested in restaurants – instead of taking drugs you drank wine or ate food instead”. Friedman soon found there was more of a buzz to running a restaurant than there was to organising a rock tour.
“A busy packed restaurant on a Saturday night is as goose-bump producing as the moment the band walks out onstage and starts playing their first song. I just love it,” he says. The two worlds are frighteningly similar: populated by divas, loads of shouting and screaming behind the scenes and demanding audiences to satisfy.
A restaurant lives or dies on its menu and for Friedman it was getting this right from the start that made the difference. “The secret is to be really good and we are really good” he says confidently. “The food is always extraordinary, as good as any restaurant in town. And it’s as fun and sexy as any bar in town. If you are into awesome food and drinks and music and an interesting, attentive and knowledgeable staff in a great bar, what we offer is a great experience. New Yorkers have way too many choices to want to return to a place that isn’t any good. If the Pig wasn’t so good, we would only have lasted maybe two or three years”.
It helps that the head chef is the acclaimed English chef April Bloomfield who grew up in Birmingham on fried egg sandwiches and only ever wanted to be a policewoman. Now a big name on a big stage, she’s all about “execution not experimentation” according to a glowing profile in the New Yorker. As a colleague once said of Bloomfield: “when April’s making a salad that has nuts or capers or whatever in it, she’s always saying that she wants there to be just enough so that you don’t have to try too hard to find one but not so many that you’re not excited when you come across one.”
From the ricotta gnudi (it tastes a lot better than it sounds) to the chargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese, this is superb, no-nonsense fare. And the bill won’t be a buzz-kill.
Set in the leafy surrounds of Greenwich Village, it annoys some/delights others that this is a “walk-up” restaurant – they don’t take bookings. “A big part of the Pig experience is to come to this glorious neighbourhood and wander around and have a few drinks in one – or a few – of the many cool bars in the West Village. We hand out maps of all the places in the ‘hood to go for a drink, and how many minutes away they are from us. And we take your mobile and call or text you when your table is almost ready,” says Friedman.
Friedman remembers an incident from his music industry days when he was out with U2 one night and some people in a bar had to be moved from their tables to make room for them, which was “tacky”, he felt. “I vowed never to do that type of thing in The Spotted Pig,” he says. “Every decision we’ve made here has been from the customer’s standpoint. No one likes a flashbulb going off when they’re trying to eat and people hate it when some celebrity waltzes in after they’ve been waiting an hour for a table.”
The Spotted Pig is thanked on the new U2 album; the band once finished a show in Montreal and took a private plane to New York and got to the restaurant for 4am. “They’ve been great customers for 10 years. They’ve increased our late night – our very, very late night sales – immensely,” he says.
Depending on your mood, the place is either a bar with great food down the back or a great restaurant (it has a Michelin star) with a bar up front. And don’t be put off by the celebrities – they learn to leave you alone after a while.
Prices: starters from $16 (€12.60), entrees from $21, sides and desserts from $9. See thespottedpig.com