"I hear this place is like a nightclub during Sunday Brunch," a celebrated wine writer told me as we awaited festivities relating to a celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau, taking place just that minute at the Bagatelle restaurant in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District. "People dancing on the tables, and all that."
"A club at lunch …" I repeated, conjuring up fond memories of champagne-soaked lunches at St. Tropez restaurants like Club 55 and La Voille Rouge, where guests dined al fresco in swimsuits to the sound of the world’s top DJs. It’d been a while since I’d been able to enjoy a St. Tropez summer, and the prospect of replicating that fun, easy vibe — even in the midst of Manhattan’s cold winter — proved too tempting to resist. With some clicks of my cell phone I secured a rez for the following Sunday.
True to expectations, the disco beat was on in full force as we entered this newish restaurant, co-owned by the French Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente. Several people were having drinks at the bar, and the majority of the tables contained very large groups of friends. Now if you’ve been to Club 55 or La Voille Rouge, you will remember there are only two real options for drinks: premier champagne and rose wine. Everyone around us seemed to have a magnum of Veuve Cliquot “Yellow Label,” which was brought to each table in ceremonial fashion, with a sparkler torch crowning the champagne and everyone jumping up, cell phone cameras at the ready, to see who ordered it. Unlike at Club 55 and La Voille Rouge, no one was slicing open the neck and spraying the bottle over friends and colleagues. At least, not yet.
Once settled in, I studied Executive Chef Nicolas Cantrel’s menu. Googling him earlier, I found he had worked under the famed Alain Ducasse in Paris as well as one of my all-time favorite chefs, Daniel Boulud, here in New York. The above are all ultra-fine dining experiences — so you might be asking how he adjusted to what is basically a French neighborhood bistro. From what I can see, he’s adjusted very well, with his stint at the friendly, hip Bobo (another club-type restaurant in Manhattan) perhaps paving the way.
Now the cuisine at Bagatelle is fun — Le Burger de Bagatelle (a juicy sirloin patty with the works), eggs Benedict, grilled salmon (that would be me!), and steak au poivre. You will also find lots of salads, risotto, and other tasty dishes.
Yet as great as the cuisine is, Bagatelle is all about the scene. So much so that I spent serious time coordinating my outfit (hello, Seven skinny jeans and high-heeled designer boots!) The women, mostly under thirty, came in three distinct looks: the faux (or real) Russian heiress, hot supermodel wannabes, and cute NYC coeds among the first to jump on the tables when a particularly memorable song was played. Men, mostly under forty, were considerably well-dressed. One wore a very stylish white designer sweater and sunglasses, achieving the look of a chic trust fund recipient lounging at a Gstaad ski resort.
By five o’clock, the party was going full force, with almost everyone dancing on tables and having a great time. Bagatelle isn’t just about brunch — dinner is very popular and has a menu of its own with specialties such as whole fish to suit parties of two and more. And I’m sure the DJ spins his tunes during dinner service as well. Yet there is something fun and decadent about a nightclub vibe during Sunday brunch that you can really only get in a city like New York, so Bagatelle is very much a welcome venue on the scene.