Report: Robert De Niro to give push to Chumley's, Sheridan Square restaurant reconstructions

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Review: "The other memorable aspect of the restaurant is Mr. Becker's food, which is exceptional. It's not just because of his long history on the scene that his dining rooms are often dotted with chefs from other restaurants."

Screen legend Robert De Niro -- who has a hand in numerous high-profile eateries and hotels around town, including the magical Nobu -- is being prodded to lend his name and restaurant industry magic to two recently closed West Village eateries -- Sheridan Square at 138 Seventh Avenue South at Charles St., a favorite dining spot of celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Nathan Lane, Liv Tyler and the Olsen Twins, which was downed recently by bad market timing, and Chumley's, a historic Bedford Street speakeasy that once provided lucrative second-job opportunities to numerous firefighters from the Engine 24, Ladder 5 firehouse at Sixth and Houston at 227 Sixth Avenue.

"We're really hoping Bob can pull some magic out of his hat for us and get a great place back on its feet," says Chumleys landlord Margaret Streicker Porres. "What we really just need is some moral support and maybe some people need a strong De Niro-style talking to and we are quickly back in business."

According to a "Grub Street" column reporter named "Brooks of Sheffield" from New York magazine, the Chumley's reconstruction is still proceeding at a snail's pace:

"I swung by Chumley's the other night to see what was doing. Answer: nothing much. Doesn't look like anything's been done since the Times wrote an update on the old speakeasy back in August. The dispiriting new cinder-block facade looks to be at the same state of construction it was them. I guess the fact that people are still trying to resurrect the place at all after all this time is a sign of something hopeful.

Meanwhile, people are still discovering that the bar is closed and dismantled. A guy walking by me said, "Chumley's is gone? Man, that sucks. Gone? Wow. What a great place. That really sucks. I can't believe Chumley's is gone. That really sucks." Yeah. That about says it."

According to the New York Times' James Barron, Chumley’s was a speakeasy during Prohibition and, more recently, "a beery place that was clean enough but never well lighted. It was a hangout for writers like Ernest Hemingway and E. E. Cummings and a coming-of-age destination for generations of New York University students. It was, and is, a destination for tourists whose guidebooks tell of its secret passageways and its back-alley entrances.

"The landlord, Margaret Streicker Porres, chose simple words that anyone who has ever been sucked into a renovation-from-hell could surely echo: “This has been an unfolding process.”

"She said the most recent timetable called for the work to be completed in “midfall of this year.” But the contractors discovered still more problems earlier this month, and she said the architects and engineers had been conferring with the Buildings Department. Mr. Miller said he now hoped Chumley’s would reopen early next spring — “or, if we’re lucky, late winter.”

Meanwhile, Franklin Becker's beautifully Sheridan Square and its "exceptional food" closed after four months, with the space still hoping to reopen. Here's one mixed review from the "New York Sun" that explains why:

"Franklin Becker is now manning the kitchen at Sheridan Square and opened the adjacent tapas bar, Tierra, last Friday. It's exhausting.

"From Sheridan Square's 'Cherry Wood Oven,' as stated on the restaurant's menu, is a Berkshire pork chop, served with black cherry-pommery sauce and country grits.

"The wood-burning oven is the focus of Sheridan Square's dining room, which is otherwise almost design-free: Its plain banquettes and black-and-white photos could as easily decorate a restaurant in Atlanta or Lincoln, Neb. The chef changeover has been accompanied by a dramatic bout of service haplessness. Although the faces are the same, they look jittery, and have utterly lost the coordination with the kitchen and with each other that they had a couple of months ago, to the point that confusion is now one of the restaurant's key features. I watched a drink I had ordered emerge from the bar and make the rounds of the restaurant, stopping at various wrong tables and being turned away, before it was eventually — almost correctly — set down in front of my companion.

The other memorable aspect of the restaurant is Mr. Becker's food, which is exceptional. It's not just because of his long history on the scene that his dining rooms are often dotted with chefs from other restaurants. At several previous restaurants, I've recognized his knack for unexpected variations and re-envisionings of familiar themes. That knack is nowhere to be seen at Sheridan Square, where the dishes are straightforward and powerfully fueled by their ingredients."

Accoridng to sources, De Niro's wife, Grace Hightower, may also lend a hand in the rescue operation, with Nathan Lane and Jodie Foster as co-investors.

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