Washington Market Tavern: A Restaurant Four Generations in the Making

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Courtesy Washington Market Tavern
A selection of Chef Aksel Theilkuhl's dishes at the brand new Washington Market Tavern

Though Washington Market Tavern (41 Murray Street; 646-964-4860) is not even two weeks old, its relationship to Tribeca goes back decades -- and not just because it's located in a landmark building. Owner Eric Schwimmer's great grandfather and grandfather operated a stall in the old Washington Market, a burgeoning scene of commerce that represented the largest fruit and produce exchange in America during the 1940s. In 1977, Schwimmer's family opened local bar and grill Mudville 9. That makes Schwimmer a fourth generation Tribecan.

Schwimmer was trained by his father, and he's worked just about every job imaginable in the restaurant industry. "If you want to be in the restaurant business, learn how to use a mop and learn how to fix things," he advises.

Schwimmer's ability to fix things helped him with the build out of his new space, where the plumbing, electricity, and HVAC systems were all replaced, not to mention the entire interior of the three floor establishment. Only a brass railing remains of 41 Murray Street's former life, a reminder of what Schwimmer calls a "mom and pop land" left behind so he could execute his vision. You might now call the decor "tavern chic." Six wraparound booths with white cushions sit across from the long polished wooden bar, while the middle of the floor is filled with high bar stools and tables for four. Diners can chat up the bartenders and charge their phone at the same time -- there are built in stations tucked away throughout the restaurant.

Towards the back, a small staircase leads to a bright dining room illuminated by rays from a skylight. There's also a downstairs lounge, and Schwimmer plans to feature a cocktail series with different in-house bartenders in addition to hosting private parties and events. The downstairs lounge is also open for regular service for those looking for a dark and romantic hideaway.

As for the menu, the tavern deals in dishes for a casual setting that revolve around French culinary technique. Schwimmer cites Minetta Tavern as an inspiration, albeit his place has a more American focus. "This is how I like to eat," he says. "That's why I made this menu...you eat this food you're not coming out of here bloated."

Schwimmer tapped veteran chef Aksel Theilkuhl to run the show; Theilkuhl cooked under renowned chefs like Laurent Tourondel. The seasonal menu is broken up into four categories (Raw, Garden, Ocean, and Farm) and includes options for veggie lovers, like Blooming Hill Farms carrots, cooked multiple ways. The chef is also turning out lamb tartare, fava bean ravioli, and Maine lobster, and he plans to roll out a market board menu, which will include a burger, charcuterie, and, potentially, flatbreads, with everything based on seasonality.

"Vegetables are definitely a driving factor for me right now," says Theilkuhl of his menu. "A lot of people come to restaurants and don't necessarily think, let me have an entire dish driven by vegetables. I'm kind of hoping to change that a little bit. Vegetables have a bad wrap in a sense because I feel like a lot of restaurants or places in general don't understand the process behind how to cook vegetables properly."

That philosophy is applied to all four food categories as well as artisanal cocktails, on the drinks list in addition to wine and beer.

For a first look inside Washington Market Tavern, check out a few photos on the next page.

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