Since opening in 2010, Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem has emitted an uproarious hum of clinking glasses and voluble conversation from its perch on 125th St and Lenox Avenue. Reservations at prime time are still a prized commodity and the Siren call of the mouth-melting cornbread and the perfect fried chicken—not to mention can’t miss cocktails from house-infused bourbon—has reached non-Harlem residents from the West Village to Brooklyn.
But while the theater of an evening at one of Red Rooster’s tables—and the activity of the open kitchen—might prove entertainment enough, Samuelsson wasn’t content to leave things be. And so he, along with partner Andrew Chapman, has turned the private dining areas in the restaurant’s basement into Ginny’s Supper Club, which opened to the masses last week.
Red Rooster Lite it is not. Taking cues from Harlem’s 1920s supper clubs and speakeasies (the name Ginny was popular in those times), the space combines live performances with small, shareable plates and specialty elixirs in a cozy environment that is more intimate than its upstairs companion.
“We wanted to give our guests a killer venue to listen to music, while enjoying food and drinks,” explains Samuelsson. “The décor is inspired by two decades: the 1940s and the 1970s. A lot of the vintage pieces are from the 1940s, while the musical vibe of Ginny’s embodies the 1970s.”
So on any given night, you could take in a soul, R&B or Brazilian band from your perch in a vinyl booth, meant to evoke a vintage car seat (a rotating roster of guest DJs take over on non-performance nights). A long wooden bar greets guests, who can choose to sip a Rooster Colada (coconut rum, strawberries, pineapple and cream) or a Good Times (gin, thyme, lemon, colonial bitters), courtesy of mixologist Eben Klemm. Amber lights and Italian chandeliers cast an ever-flattering, sepia toned glow on diners. In one corner is an old phone booth, both a nod to the venue’s back-in-time vibe and a good place to make a call without distracting fellow patrons. A back wall facing the bar is covered in a fabric pattern and wooden paneling whose honeycomb appearance is meant to resemble a vintage speaker. It acts as a backdrop to the stage once the booths in front are moved aside for performers.
On a recent evening, a woman sat at a table with her young son (sporting a very on trend varsity jacket) grabbing an early dinner, while across the room, a couple of Italian tourists perused the executive chef Jeremie Tomczak’s multi-cultural menu of “Relishes,” whose standouts include a 5 Spice duck breast with scallion pancake (a riff on Peking duck) and the Bobo chicken and waffle. As the room grew more packed, the high-energy Samuelsson worked the space, introducing himself to diners at every table, greeting friends. The manager made the rounds, too, complimenting clients and making sure their glasses stayed full.
After a generous sampling of the Powell (a peach and pecan bourbon, sloe gin and lemon creation that is utterly addictive—and dangerous), I made my way up through Red Rooster’s jovial din towards the exit. The tables were noisier, the voices reverberated off the walls, the servers moved a little faster. If Red Rooster is a chorus, then Ginny’s is an a cappella solo, both worthy of your attention, depending on your mood.
Photo credit: Monika Sziladi