The Crown Affair
Thanks to a new hot spot, New Yorkers are rekindling their love for the Upper East Side.
Regulars at clubby West Village eatery the Lion might have a hard time picturing its chef and owner, John DeLucie, pacing back and forth on the ground floor of an Upper East Side town house across the street from a century-old funeral parlor. A downtown stalwart, he is the first to admit he didn’t exactly answer the siren call of Madison Avenue—though it’s now the site of his new boîte, Crown. “I had never really been above 14th Street,” says the Long Island native and West Village resident (DeLucie is the founding chef of the Waverly Inn). “And I can honestly say we weren’t looking. Someone presented us with an opportunity and I was like, Upper East Side? I don’t know…it’s not really our thing.”
But a turn-of-the-century mansion—formerly home to the restaurant- cum-lounge Bruno Jamais and, before that, the pricey Italian joint Parioli Romanissimo—beckoned. Although it’s slated to open this fall, Crown has already played host to celeb-packed private events, including the after-party for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute gala and a candlelit dinner celebrating Salvatore Ferragamo’s resort show, where actresses Eva Mendes, Emma Roberts, Freida Pinto, Ashley Greene, and Minka Kelly mixed with model Hilary Rhoda, hockey star Sean Avery, and It girls Vanessa and Victoria Traina. “I thought, Why not have it here in a new place in town?” says Massimiliano Giornetti, Ferragamo’s creative director. “I like very much this combination: It’s very chic, very glamorous.”
The building’s ornate molded ceilings and fixtures inspired DeLucie to create a Twenties Art Deco mood (the eatery’s name comes from the red and gold crown topping its wrought iron entrance at 24 East 81st Street). A long zinc bar with taupe velvet walls and matching seating—“like a really cool train car,” DeLucie says—opens up into a dark wood–paneled dining room with a fireplace, skylight, and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the gardens of the neighboring brownstones. Downstairs, a secret room hidden behind a swinging bookshelf can be used for private events; the adjacent kitchen turns out seasonal fare courtesy of chef Jason Hall from Gotham Bar & Grill. (Mixologist Ben Scorah and pastry chef Heather Bertinetti complete the team.)
Of course, whether such touches will convince the downtown crowd to make the trek uptown remains to be seen. And DeLucie, for one, is okay with that. “I don’t think West Villagers are inclined to go anywhere but where they are,” he says. “I’m certainly not. We want to be the canteen for the Madison Avenue–Fifth Avenue resident.”