Heather Tierney of The Butcher’s Daughter has an eye for design – and neighborhoods on the brink.
While many downtown restaurant and bar owners have helped accelerate the Lower East Side’s transformation from gritty to glam, Heather Tierney and her brother Christopher were the first to venture into Chinatown. Five years ago, they opened their speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Apotheke, on the elbow of hairpin-shaped Doyers Street, a one-block stretch just west of Bowery whose past treacherousness earned it the nickname “the Bloody Angle.” The apothecary-themed boite became a hit, and a few years later, the siblings debuted a Mexican restaurant, Pulqueria, just a couple of doors down. Then last year Tierney (without Christopher, whose interior design career is keeping him busy) introduced a vegetarian cafe and juice bar, The Butcher’s Daughter, on a sunny corner of Kenmare Street. After she rolled out a small next-door grocery, The Butcher’s Daughter Market last month, we thought it was time to sit down with Tierney and talk about how, at the age of 33, she’s managed became one of downtown’s most prominent tastemakers.
Apotheke wasn’t the siblings’ first hospitality project. In 2007, they’d helped open Wall Street Burger Shoppe in the Financial District, which Heather contributed to as a creative partner while Christopher designed the space. Though the retro-style diner shuttered after three years, the siblings got plenty of on-the-job training there. “Your first business is when you learn everything,” Tierney says. When the pair rolled out Apotheke in 2008, the learning curve was still there. “We didn’t have a general manager when we opened,” Tierney laughs. “I took the money to the bank myself and ordered all the liquor. Once you learn to work with management, it gets so much easier.”
Tierney also had the advantage of four years as a restaurant and bar writer at Time Out New York, plus experience as a high-end culinary concierge for her own business, Sorted NYC. “I knew right away what was going to work or not,” she recalls. Although Apotheke’s out-of-the-way location made it “a huge risk,” the cocktail bar took off – with its signless entrance and mixologists in lab coats presiding over an old world pharmacy dispensing boozy prescriptions. “Whenever I start a project, it’s all about the space,” Tierney reflects, and something about the “derelict, mysterious street” housing an unmarked, upscale bar clicked not just with her, but also with the city’s nightlife mavens. In 2011, the pair opened the subterranean tequila and taco den Pulqueria just a few doors down.
I think the best places have a concept that’s very cohesive,” Tierney reflected last month, sitting at the lone sidewalk table in front of The Butcher’s Daughter Market, a tiny grocery and takeout shop she recently opened next to her Nolita cafe. The market offers organic vegetables from a farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, plus house-made granola, jams, and nut butters, and there’s a full espresso and juice bar as well. “I live in the neighborhood, and there was nowhere to buy good produce,” she explains. The back of the space also serves as a much-needed production facility for cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices.
The Butcher’s Daughter seems to be Tierney’s most successful project yet. Its whitewashed look with yellow accents has proven a cheery addition to this still gritty stretch of the neighborhood, and the vintage butchering equipment that decorates the space plays cheekily off a menu, with offering like nut-based vegan sausages and heaping kale salads. Tierney herself is not a vegetarian, although, she says, ” I eat more vegetarian these days; it’s healthy. The demand for this kind of food is there and it’s only increasing, but the servicing of that demand is lacking.” The cafe has been so well-received that Tierney is contemplating a second outpost somewhere in Williamsburg or Greenpoint, although “the location will have to be calling to me,” she says
The Butcher’s Daughter was the first space Tierney designed by herself, and its look has generated demand for her interior decorating skills, which she hires out under yet another company she started, Wanderlust. (When she has time, that is. Tierney recently helped deck out Lower East Side oyster joint Tiny Fork.) Fundamentally, she says, her enjoyment of running restaurants and bars all circles back to design. “The reason it’s fun for my brother and me is we’re both designers. It’s about having a vision, and making it come to life, and then constantly making that vision new.” Given Tierney’s track record, there’s clearly much more newness to come.