The New York restaurant empire that not enough people are talking about isn’t Danny Meyer’s group of eateries. (Though those restaurants are great too). Instead, it’s the partnership of Rita Sodi and Jody Williams. If their names sound familiar, it’s because they’re behind your favorite West Village: I Sodi, Via Carota, and Buvette. This latest venture is located in the space that previously housed the Commerce, 50 Commerce, Grange Hall, Fifty and Blue Mill Tavern. Today it’s come back as the Commerce Inn, and we’d say it has more than a fighting chance.
The Commerce Inn is different from Sodi and Jody’s other places. Instead of Italian and French fare, the Commerce Inn feels more like a Prohibition-era speakeasy. In the words of the two owners, it’s a “Shaker Inspired Early American tavern.” The Shaker reference is to a New York Protestant sect that originated in the 17th century and became known for functional basic furniture. (As well as a vow of celibacy, which clearly is no fun). The American cookery is based on early-19th century recipes that are hearty and stick to your bones. The result is another perfect neighborhood spot — and a continuation of Sodi and Williams’ West Village domination.
Commerce Inn has that underground, hipster, effortlessly cool vibe that is distinctly outer-borough, but in the optimal location of the West Village. It’s the kind of place you want to duck into when feel like being cozy. Like when there’s a polar vortex or a massive rainstorm. It’s warm inside, with an English-pub vibe. It kind of channels the old Spotted Pig, with its dark wood-paneled interiors.
The crowd is all New York locals who are looking for a casual but gourmet pub meal. Here’s where you meet your significant other to talk about whether or not to bid on that West Village apartment. Or where you meet a small group of friends to catch up on life. The dining room has white table cloths, but the bar, which serves the same food, is the quintessential tavern. On some level, you expect there to be guys with handlebar mustaches mixing the drinks. But the Commerce Inn doesn’t try to create a contrived image. Instead you’ll find a team that really knows how to make a classic cocktail. There’s no vodka, by the way — true to the early-19th-century Americana theme. So get ready to imbibe gin and whisky-based cocktails. There’s also a decent selection of wines.
The food matches the cozy atmosphere. It’s reported that Sodi and Williams pored over 19th-century cookbooks to create the menu for the Commerce Inn. The result is comforting, simple American food. This isn’t New American either, which is all the rage today at spots like Sweetbriar. Instead, the food reflects the simple time when meals were about nourishment — but elevated to 21st-century standards.
Highlights include raw or fried oysters. We say just go for it and get both; the fried oysters are each nestled in the perfect amount of homemade tartare that is more pickle than mayo. They smell so good that guests sitting next to you will probably be inspired to order them too. In fact, FOMO will rule what you order, and the menu is compact enough that with a group of four you can get through most of the evening’s selections.
The cod cake is reminiscent of a French brandade, but this version is a mixture of light-as-air potatoes and house-smoked, pan-fried cod. It’s a must-order, if cod is your thing. Also on the must list is anything that’s bone-marrow-themed; 9/10 people at the bar indulged in the selection of the evening. Soup changes daily, but the night we were there, a meal-worthy bowl of lobster bisque was on offer.
Don’t Forget to Eat Your Veggies
Don’t pass on the vegetable options, which do change seasonally (like at every good restaurant). The salad of the evening was perfectly dressed in a buttermilk-like dressing and bread crumbs that ensure you have a perfect bite each time. Leeks in a horseradish cream are a dark-horse highlight. We can’t imagine this is a traditional American recipe — probably a French one — but it doesn’t matter. The chilled leeks, generously covered in the horseradish cream, are inspired, especially if you pair it with the “spoon bread.” It’s not quite a bread pudding, but rather a runny enough version of bread that the waitstaff brings it out on a casserole dish and spoons it onto your plate.
Of all the factors that went into our review of the Commerce Inn, this is the most standard. The staff was friendly enough, and in the busy tavern, they tried their best to manage the packed bar. We would say the service is nice and professional, but there’s nothing that would push it into exceptional territory.
Overall: 7.5/10. Maybe not worth the 2.5 hour wait for the bar but a worthwhile neighborhood spot to go for the early bird special or late night drink.
Q: What makes the Commerce Inn stand out in the crowd?
A: The Commerce Inn possesses a hipster, effortlessly trendy vibe while feeling like a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Its warm, inviting atmosphere attracts those looking for comfort and casual in their dining spots.
Q: Does it take reservations?
A: Walk-ins are always welcome, but reservations are limited and only offered 14 days in advance online.
Q: What time does it open?
A: The Commerce Inn’s tavern and dining room both open for service at 4p.m.
Q: What is the rating of the Commerce Inn as per Galavante?
A: Galavante rates this restaurant 7.5/10. Its raw or fried oysters, cod cake, and anything bone-marrow-themed stand out. We recommend this spot for early bird special visits or late night drinks with friends.
The Commerce Inn Information
Address: 50 Commerce St, New York, NY 10014
Contact: [email protected]