Probably because of Mr. Carter’s sponsorship, it is already a much talked about new restaurant and difficult to book a table. There were no empty tables when we were there. It’s got such great atmosphere – the low ceilings, intimate dimmed lighting, along with votives on the tables, dark wood paneling setting off the Sorel murals of famous and legendary New Yorkers. And the food? I had the country salad (frisee, bacon chunks, poached egg) and the Amish organic chicken and it was great.
Actually, as a restaurant location, Ye Waverly Inn has been doing some kind of business since 1919 when it was leased out to a brother and sister, Clarence and Edith Dettmer who agreed that they “wouldn’t sell liquor” -- although rumors remain that during Prohibition, the establishment was a speakeasy with a bordello upstairs, as was the case with many speakeasies.
Calling it Ye Waverly Inn and Garden, the Dettmers partnered with a man named Paul Piel, an artist-sculptor and scion of a wealthy Brooklyn brewery family. Mr. Piel, who among other things invented the transposing piano for Irving Berlin (who could only play the black keys – E-flat), designed the sign and the menu of the Dettmers’ new restaurant. Lunch was 65 cents. The early dinner menu (5:30 – 8pm) featured chicken pot pie and meatloaf, both for a dollar.
Mr. Piel was very much a member of the bohemiam set of the Village of that era, which was also good for business. During the 1920s, Willa Cather, who lived nearby, lunched there every day. Mr. Piel’s sister Agnes, who lived with child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim on West 11th Street, also dinner there frequently; as did choreographer (“Kiss Me Kate,” “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot”) Hanya Holm, Laurence Stallings (“What Price Glory”), as well as Stanley Watkins, a pioneer of film sound who worked on the first Vitaphone talking film short.
In the 1930s, Miss Dettmer married Mr. Piel and started a family while Mr. Dettmer met a woman named Phyllis Abel who worked as a secretary at (the original) Vanity Fair magazine for Claire Boothe Luce, and married her. Edith Dettmer Piel retired to bring up her family and concentrate on the violin, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Dettmer ran the restaurant, which remained in business long after even the Dettmers departed this world. By the 1980s, the restaurant had lost all of its allure, not to mention ratings with food critics. Mr. Carter’s new venture will undoubtedly change all that, enhanced by the fact that Greenwich Village is amidst a renaissance as a popular spot for the young and the restless, the creative and entrepreneurial as well as stars of stage, screen, TV and Wall Street. In the meantime, the crowds are already clamoring.
New Year’s Eve in New York was quiet on the Upper East Side, although a taxi driver taking me to Swifty’s for dinner told me that midtown it was a madhouse because of the million or so people congregated in the Times Square area for the lowering of the ball. They had to close off parts of 7th and 8th Avenues to accommodate the crowds.
Swifty’s was decorated with silver, black and gold balloons clinging to the ceiling, and lighted wreaths. Also packed, like the Waverly two nights before, Charlotte Ford was entertaining some friends (including this writer); Harold and Nancy Baker were dining with Mrs. Baker’s sister Tobie Roosevelt. Gerry and Pat Schoenfeld were hosting Casey Ribicoff, Tita Cahn and Tony Danza. At a table nearby was entertainment tycoon Herb Siegel with Jeanne Leff.