Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem (310 Lenox Avenue, 212-792-9001) and Ginny’s Supper Club have been far more than restaurants since they opened — the spots function as a kind of neighborhood nexus where a variety of cultural lightning rods cross paths. Local jazz bands and variety shows fill the stage at Ginny’s, and area artists contribute work that hangs on the establishments’ walls. And Samuelsson wants these elements to be far more than ambiance: He wants them to be part of an ongoing conversation about Harlem.
“Art and culture sit so well with Harlem and the Rooster,” he explains. “I think about our music and storytellers — chefs and artists are part of that segment. When I was building the Rooster, I thought, I know today’s artists and today’s storytellers, and I want them to walk into this restaurant. I’m not looking at art — I’m solely looking at uptown as a narrative.”
That narrative, he maintains, is what’s important to the vitality of the neighborhood. “Part of the work we’re doing here is local investment in the community,” he explains. “We’re introducing local artists in a contemporary way that feels fun and exciting.” To wit, the Rooster displays the art of a number of artists with a Harlem connection — but the restaurant also invites patrons to partake in the conversation, hosting salons that bring together those interested in art with the artists themselves.
Tonight, for example, the Rooster will feature Derrick Adams, an artist who uses a variety of medias and specializes in urban scenes and the African-American experience, downstairs at Ginny’s. Samuelsson and his cooking team will put together a meal inspired by the work of the artist, and diners are invited to have a conversation with Adams about his canon, six works from which are currently on display at the restaurants.
Samuelsson hopes the meal removes some of the barriers that someone interested in art might find in a gallery. “It’s not a traditional space, so it opens up the conversation — you can ask straightforward questions,” he explains. “People have to have dinner anyway — how often to do you do that while you meet an artist who can share their vision and share that passion with other people?”
Samuelsson is also clear that the Rooster and Ginny’s are not intended to be galleries — the work is not for sale; rather, this is a way to introduce artists to the wider community. He does hope, though, that potential buyers seek out these artists in their own spaces.
While tonight’s salon is sold out, it’s one of a series: The Rooster has also featured artists like Gary Simmons, Brandon Cox, Sanford Biggers, and Lorna Simpson. Check the restaurant’s events page for upcoming conversations.