Sotir Zonea cut his hospitality teeth in the night club worlds of LA and New York, but he gained a deep appreciation for food during childhood. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have one set meal,” he explains. “My grandma would put a million plates on the table, and we’d all dig in and mix and match.”
And that’s what he’s trying to channel at Bea (403 West 43rd Street, 212-602-1910), the restaurant named for his grandmother that he just opened in the theater district with his brother Vasile.
“I wanted to create a place that was cool enough for me and cool enough for my mom,” Zonea explains. “In this area, there are a million pubs and sports bars, and then there’s upscale fine dining restaurants — this is the in-between. You’re going to get great food and top-notch drinks,” but you won’t have to pay fine dining prices.
And with the proximity to the theater district, Zonea hopes people dine at Bea the way they used to dine 100 years ago. “I’m a big fan of the roaring 20s,” he explains. “People didn’t go out at 11 p.m. They went out early, they got a drink, had some dinner, did some dancing. You had a conversation rather than staring at a wall or TV screen.”
As for the neighborhood, Zonea says it was fate: The brothers scoured downtown Manhattan for a space, but nothing came together. When they saw the spot that used to house Le Madeleine, they knew immediately that they’d take it. “It had been closed, but you could see through the windows,” he says. “I thought immediately, this is the place.” It helped, too, that the area seemed to be crying for more pre- and post-theater options — and restaurants for locals who live along Ninth Avenue.
The guys transformed the room, favoring exposed brick walls and chairs and leaf-imprinted tables that they built and designed. They kept the tree in the outside space, and they’ve added plant life “to make it feel like you’re in an outdoor cafe in Paris,” Zonea says. Inside, three projection screens will show art and play black and white foreign films, “something that’s hard to get into,” says Zonea, and meant to spark conversation rather than serve as a distraction.
The brothers are channeling their grandmother’s style when it comes to the menu, and with chef Anunya Clarke, they’ve put together a board that’s heavy on shareable small plates and lighter fare so people don’t leave yawning. Highlights, says Zonea, include the lamb chops, lamb meatballs with pita, steak and buttered tomatoes, pork dumplings, and green tagliatelle with shrimp.
The drinks list comes by way of Jason Walsh, who has worked behind the stick at Monkey Bar, Bouley, and Bistro La Promenade, where he met Zonea. And the owner says he asked his bartender to craft his menu based on speed. “When you’re downtown, it’s okay to wait five minutes for a cocktail,” he says. “In midtown, people aren’t going to be that patient.” All drinks can be made in under two minutes, and the showstoppers, Zonea says, are the Lavender Monk — made with lavender-infused Tito’s vodka — the pisco sour, and the thyme-infused gin and tonic.
You’ll also find three beer cocktails on the menu, eight local craft brews on draft plus more in bottle, and a short wine list that Zonea says will soon expand. “I can tell it’s a wine crowd, so we’re definitely going to add to the list,” he observes. Among other pours, you can get a couple of kinds of Champagne by the glass here, which Zonea says he’s pricing so no one has to look at the list and say they can’t afford it.
One final family touch: “My dad makes this sour cherry liqueur; it’s been in the family forever,” says Zonea. “We started giving it to regulars as a thank you. It’s like a sherry, but stronger than a sherry.”
Bea is open from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.