Dining Out at the Waverly Inn


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February 12, 1958, Vol. III, No. 16

Dining Out

By Roger Maxwell

Sitting there, neat and attractive in her salt-and-pepper suit, an orchid gracefully at her lapel, Mrs. Dettmers said, with only the faintest smile: “My husband thought it would be fun to have a tea room in Greenwich Village.” And he opened one.

That was in 1920. Thirty-eight years later, the Waverly Inn is still at the old stand–16 Bank Street, at the corner of Waverly Place–in the same handsome rooms, still serving plain honest New England food at wonderfully low prices. Lunches run from 85 cents to $1.50–“but they can build up to $1.75,” says Phyllis Dettmers. Dinners begin with soup or juice, vegetable plate, dessert, coffee at $1.50, and climb through a hash-type entrée, plus vegetables and salad, at $1.65, through fish or a casserole at $1.90, through the famous Waverly Inn chicken pie at $2–always a real pleasure–to the various roasts at $2.25 to $2.50.

People who discover the Waverly–I discovered it my third year in the Village–usually have come to stay. They are composed for the most part of business and professional people, on the staid side, quiet, well-mannered. Gentlemen are required to wear jackets at dinner, ladies requested not to wear slacks. “It seems over-fussy sometimes,” Mrs. Dettmers ventured, “but you know what sometimes happens.” As one who always guiltily suspected himself a prime provocator of the ruling, I did. And still I go back, tied and jacketed. Never left a scrap on my plate: literally.

Clarence Dettmers–he had once been cost-accountant for the Ritz dining room–died in 1951. Mrs. Dettmers carries on, keeping a tight rein on the books (“That’s my department”), recording every course ever ordered, charting with phenomenal accuracy just how many people will eat beef, fish, or chicken on any given day of the year, charting and predicting even the effect of that day’s weather.

Sarah M. Lowell, her partner, is the mastermind of the kitchen. Once head dietician of Post Graduate Hospital, she came to the Waverly in 1930, introduced to it the fish chowder and other specialties of her native Maine. Says Mrs. Dettmers of Miss Lowell’s menu-ing: “I can honestly say I’ve never got tired of our own food. The waitresses either.”

Famous visitors? “My husband always said our guests were privileged to eat here anonymously.” So the only noted visitor I know of is Mildred Natwick, who frequently comes to accumulate character ideas while she dines.

No bar. Closed Sundays. You’ll want to try the garden when spring comes. And be sure and try the leek soup and the Chicken Hawaiian.

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