In last Wednesday’s Village Voice, I reviewed the Cecil, decrying it shamefully short of it’s potential, which, I believe is very, very vast. Here’s hoping the restaurant gets it together soon.
But the Cecil isn’t the only project Richard Parsons and Alexander Smalls teamed up on last fall. In October, the duo reopened legendary Jazz club Minton’s (206 West 118th Street, 212-243-2222) next door on 118th Street, and it’s wonderful. And I can’t figure out why it’s been so upstaged by its larger, less polished next door neighbor.
The space is well-appointed, unpretentious, nicely lit, and comfortable. With wide, plush bar stools, and gracious, competent staff who make your drinks how you like them — a bourbon Manhattan with rocks was first-rate, fragrant with bitters but not, as is often the case, bitter at all — it’s the kind of place that might fast become my living room if I lived uptown.
But it’s the easy swing that’s the soul of the place; in its heyday, Minton’s was a stage to Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and other jazz gods, and now, nightly live jazz, played by a fine house band, channels the be-bop greats of yore. “A lot of ghosts stumbling around here,” the bartender says, capping a brief history lesson. Never deny a barkeep a chance to tell you the story of his roost.
In homage to the history, Smalls & Parsons painstakingly restored a 1948 Charles Graham mural, depicting a drunk Billie Holiday laying face-down on a mattress as Charlie Christian and Tony Scott play on. It’s sole artifact of the old playhouse, and likely the most debauchery this room will see for some time: This dinner-jacket hideaway seems bent on keeping its wits, but it’s a fine, civilized place for a special dinner or nice treat when in need. It’s also a good place to relax into a quiet buzz at the bar any night of the week.
The menu, headed by chef de cuisine Banks White, speaks with heavy Southern inflection and is pricey but worth the splurge. We tried a supple, wide-cut Berkshire pork chop smothered in rich,brown-onion gravy; it comes with a hammy side of collards that keep their crisp without the bitterness.
And for dessert, Mame Sow’s parfait-style banana creme pie is an excellent not-too-sweet finish.