Actors Playhouse Nightclub Opens & Disappoints

I was invited to the Saturday night opening of Actors Playhouse, a club in what used to be the Actors Playhouse Theatre, 100 7th Ave. South right off of Christopher St. I had first seen the space  a couple of years ago when James Huddleston was considering it. James was hot off being the doorman of hotspot The Jane Hotel when the hip crowd couldn’t get enough of that space. For all the usual reasons, things didn’t pan out, and James found his gold over at Pravda. The Actors space he showed me was ancient wood, and had antique mirrors and a dressing room maze where people could easily get lost and then deliciously  found. At the time I thought it might be a winner. But a new crew has taken over the joint and they’ve paid no mind to the natural beauty of the room, opting to gut it and slick it out. It doesn’t work on any level.

I was told by attendee Joe "Viagra" Vicari that it was designed by Bluarch, which did Greenhouse and Juliet Supper Club. I didn’t much like either of those, but Greenhouse was affective. Juliet looked worn out way too soon. Anyway, design-wise Actors Playhouse looks like a cheap version of those. The biggest design crime was not embracing the assets the space offered; now it’s cold and lit up like a Coney Island attraction, and the flow is just awful. I could go on and on but my mother told me at dinner last night while we were discussing an entirely different matter that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything. So I’m not going to say anything.

I will say that Joe Vicari and I have buried the hatchet after many years of wanting to hit each other with one.

Word comes that Matt Levine has grabbed the old Florent space in the Meatpacking. Florent was the in-place for the in-crowd, when they were still butchering cows where high-end clubs, restaurants, and boutiques now flourish.  Back before all that, it was the scenes last stop or – gasp – if you were real in and desperate you might get a bit of vodka in your coffee at 6am. Every ho, bro, and club employee would head there after all the chores were done for a good meal. Tables  werethisclose, and spying on the celeb and his date –  who were almost in your lap – became an art form. It was grand.

Nothing has worked in the space since Florent closed. Matt will come up with something. I have been told by a guy who should know that Matt snatched up the failed Merkato 55 space as well. Everyone in town is pushing and shoving to get an inch in the Meatpacking, and Matt lands two. He either is the wiliest of operators or paid too much. A combination of both is probably close to the truth, but then again what is too much for the area which has more foot traffic than anywhere, save Times, Herald, or Union Square. The Meatpacking District might soon be named the Cheesepacking District, but there still are outposts of elegance to entertain even a jaded old codger like me.

A Big Who: Civetta Opens

I have some history with 98 Kenmare Street, the address of chef Ron Suhanosky’s new, “real” Italian restaurant, Civetta. I tried to broker a deal at that space between “fiends” — oops, that’s a typo but let’s leave it — I meant friends, Todd English, Joe “Viagra” Vicari, my boy Igor, and some other chaps. People with Igor as a first name invariably have forgettable last names, and anyway we made up as he apologized to me on his wedding night, and so he gets a pass. I saw The Godfather 50 times. A public bitch-slapping match between myself and super duper chef Todd English happened in all the funny papers some time ago, but even Todd I forgive, as I hear through channels that he is sorry. The problem with Todd in the first place is that he does everything through channels. He negotiated in bad faith and blamed the “channels.” He bitch-slapped me in the papers through his publicity “channel,” and I guess with 20 restaurants under his wing, he even cooks through a “channel.” Well, the deal fell through, and fast friends have slowly become less hateful to each other. Anyway, I’m not here today to talk about old beef. I’m here to talk about new beef, in the form of Civetta owner and chef Ron’s grilled sirloin alla pizziaola, rughetta, sea salt, and other delectables.

My old co-worker and fast friend Dirk Von Stockum is on board to steer this ship. His trademark belly laugh and James Bond-ish accent are familiar to the fast-lane crowd. With a wife and a four-year-old kid, Dirk will find a quieter happiness in this beautiful downtown restaurant. Years at Life, Spa, Crobar, and a dozen other joints bring an A-list rolodex of patrons to Civetta. My old pal Michael Benett, (“the good twin” to the club world) is also on board. My “old number 2” bartender from my Life/Spa days, Drew “Z” Zechman is slinging cocktails and is in on the drink menu. They make their own sodas, and they have a state-of-the-art water-purifying system, which is all the rage about town. Those nasty water bottles are petroleum-based and plastic and have to be shipped — but you know all of this. Cocktails have never been better in this town as the Milk and Honey types and chefs everywhere take this very seriously. Yet no one has shown me an improvement on Jamesons — oh, oops, I’m rambling again. Roberto Scarpati, late of Le Cirque, is the wine director. Wines will be accessible, low-production, paired, and readily available with solid organic choices.

“Civetta” means owl, or in Italian slang, a flirtatious owl or flirtatious woman. The up and down movement between the dining room on the street level to the casual dining lounge below is designed as dynamic for socializing. It will be a place to see and be seen for a flirtatious Nolita crowd. La Esquina, a short flight west. has done all the heavy lifting and still caters to a very sharp set. The Civetta menu is dominated by a ginormous list of antipasti and has 30 wines by the glass. I love ordering lots of small tasty things, so if you’re looking for me I’ll be there, albeit with my seat facing the 50-plus feet of open French doors. An old menu from 1937 is framed on a column, and it lists bottles of classy champagnes for around six bucks a bottle and a spaghetti Bolognese that goes for 35 cents. Today’s menu has a rigatoni Bolognese for $28 and lists some very wonderful “Rari and Unici” bottles for non-1937 prices.

Times change and so does my old neighborhood. New cuisine comes with the new inhabitants and visitors. I asked chef Suhonsky why he would open an Italian place so close to the hundred other such places of Little Italy. He told me that they were “not serving real Italian food.” I asked him if he had discussed this theory with anyone in the neighborhood. He answered that he “didn’t feel that Civetta was really part of Little Italy, but skewed west as part of Soho.” I quipped that it was sort of like an Omaha beach, a foothold of his “real” Italian food for the gentrified set. He explained that what was served around the corner was “spaghetti and meatballs, American-Italian food.” I ate at Umberto’s last night with GoldBar door concierge Jon Lennon, and I don’t know what to call it, but it tasted good. I can’t argue with Ron. His massive success at Il Buco and Sfoglia here and in Nantucket means he’s right. With the Bowery booming with life and new construction, a serious “real” Italian menu, amazing wine list, dedication to cocktails and service from proven veterans, and two floors in a location I almost died for — I see this as a hit. I’m going to find myself some flirtatious owl and check it out next week.