New York City has never had all that much to do with America, but stood apart, a free-living Dutch DMZ in a fanatical & witch-burning continent. The feeling of being in the city—the New York State of mind!—that caffeination—falls sharply away on the far side of the George Washington Bridge. It’s a forcefield, not unlike the legal one surrounding the UN Building, that declares the city sui generis—its institutions not, as in European cities, the efflorescences of its hinterland, but something helicoptered in. A resetting of brutal Old World fairy tales to modern tunes you can really hum. The great houses of 5th Avenue were in many ways absurd parodies of the European stately home, but in other, more important ways, they were better.
So it is with The Spotted Pig in the West Village, an American remake of, and improvement on, the English gastropub—that since its opening in 2004 has become one of the defining institutions of Manhattan. So successful was it in selling the comfortable, stripped-pine feel of a slow Sunday lunch down the local boozer that it—paradoxically—exploded any possibility of fulfilling that promise, and instead became an incredibly sceney and incidentally Michelin-starred restaurant whose gimmick is that the bar area is entirely coterminous with the dining area. It is absurdly popular. Reservations are deprecated. The place doubled in size after two years by opening up a second story, and still two hour waits are not uncommon. Evenings and weekends, even getting your elbows on the bar is a minor triumph, and once you’ve got your drink you’ll be expressed like a foreign body back into the center of the room, where you’ll attempt to drink it amid a symphony of frottage. If you’re eating at one of the sought-after tables on the ground floor it is absolutely probable that you’ll get jostled at a crucial moment and fork yourself in the face.
Make no mistake, the food is good—British ex-pat April Bloomfield, like Keith McNally before her, intuitively knows your pressure points—and it’s by no means expensive for Manhattan, falling quite low on the burger index ($20). But its popularity does means that it’s not really a pub any more; but there again, it’s not really a village, either. And it’s transcended its neighborhood anyway; it belongs to Manhattan now; of which, in many ways, its success is a minor metaphor. So go for a visit, soak up the spectacle, and see if you can see why so many people would pay so much money to be in such a small space.
The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th St
New York, NY 10014