At Bowery Beef, No 'Farm to Fucking Table'

Rebecca Marx
Gray Burton, behind the Bowery Beef counter.

Gray Burton stands in the Bowery Poetry Club, surveying the lay of the land. "Up there, we'll have every pot and pan you ever dreamed of," he says, gesturing to the wall above a long stainless-steel display case. A life-sized iron eagle with a broken foot rests on the case, which is filled with books.

"And there," Burton continues, his hand sweeping toward the ceiling, "there will be enormous chandeliers. We're going to have French birdcages, plates, lights, architectural pieces from Savannah, everything that's the opposite of what a roast beef place would be. I'd describe it as punk rock meets French restaurant meets Bowery kitchen row."

Last month, the space was being described as the Manhattan branch of Harrison's, a legendary Boston-area roast beef shop. But according to Ray LeMoine, one of the partners behind the project, "people hate Boston." So now it's being called Bowery Beef.

While Burton, the restaurant's designer, has been scavenging warehouses across the South for the abundant furnishings and decorations that will adorn the 30-seat space -- "I'm a maximalist," he explains -- LeMoine and his partner, Mike Herman, have been attending to the myriad tasks of opening a restaurant, like finding an apartment for their slicer, Patrick Sweetra. Sweetra, a Harrison's vet of 15 years, had never been to New York prior to moving here to open the restaurant. So far, Manhattan agrees with him. "People are a lot friendlier here than in Boston," says Sweetra, who is built like an aircraft carrier. "There, they just wanna fight."

"Patrick is giving up his life of crime to move here," LeMoine says half-jokingly. "They're all legitimate criminals up there." LeMoine worked at Harrison's, which he describes as a "notorious drug den" run by "Deadhead Phish-heads," as a teenager. He was fired on his first day. "I've never made a sandwich in my life," he says cheerfully.

Sweetra remembers the Harrison's staff a bit differently. "They're really good people," he says. "It's difficult to describe. They have a loyal customer base. I always enjoyed working there." Even so, he was receptive to LeMoine's offer. "I had had enough. I wanted to do something different."

LeMoine, a self-described "underemployed news producer and journalist," has never run a restaurant before. Herman -- he of Mike's Apartment infamy -- has owned two in South Jersey. But they're both certain that they want Bowery Beef to sell only a $5 roast beef sandwich, albeit one served with Blue Bottle coffee.

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