The dining room recalls the New York of yore, romanticized in many a classic movie but rarely experienced by the modern New Yorker. Swanky and glamorous, recalling the era of “The Great Gatsby,” it is adorned with mirror panels and framed paintings lit by brass-colored sconces.
Here and there, you’ll find those old-fashioned reading lamps you usually see only in university libraries. At the bar, gold stencil patterns and a shiny countertop accentuate a sleek look, harkening back to a time when men wore fedora hats and women wore long gloves.
But this place isn’t a relic of the past. You’ll soon find quirks that give away its modern provenance. The paintings are of an anthropomorphic wooly mammoth in various poses: standing like Napoleon, with its trunk tucked in its military coat, or surrounded by humans at a banquet table, à la 17th-century Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens’s famous pieces. Right before you walk into the restaurant, there’s a pay phone—it won’t actually make calls, but it’ll play jazzy music for you when you pick up the receiver.
This is The Wooly Public, a restaurant where throwbacks to the past are an excuse to have fun, from the dishes to the decor. It is located inside the Woolworth Building, once considered a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan back when it opened in 1913.
When the owners, David Tobias and Eric Adolfsen, first opened a bar and private events venue in the building’s first floor space in 2009, they aptly named it The Wooly. For the full-fledged restaurant, which just opened a few weeks ago, they took the play on words even further, adopting the wooly mammoth as the mascot.
Tobias and Adolfsen commissioned artists to recast the furry elephant as the main subject in famous historical paintings. The creature also features on coat hooks and wooden wall mounts.
The decor will certainly keep your eyes busy, as the walls are occupied with old drawings and paintings of all sorts. One of the owners loves to frequent flea markets around the country, and has amassed quite a collection: a portrait of Abraham Lincoln; the front page of The Richmond Times Dispatch in 1911; pastoral scenes; women in big hats like they’re dressed for the Kentucky Derby.
The menu is similarly filled with unconventional pairings. Prepared by chef Jeff Srole (previously of Maison Premiere) and conceived with the owners’ input, the dishes are split between daytime and evening menus, with slightly more options in the former. There, you’ll find grilled bacon slabs from Nueske’s in Wisconsin—so thick they’re referred to as “steaks”—accompanied by grilled slices of persimmon and a dill buttermilk sauce ($14). The bacon is cooked for three hours in apple cider, chicken stock, anise, thyme, bay leaves, a dash of rye whiskey, and other spices, so that it practically dissolves in your mouth. Its time on the grill really shows in its powerfully smoky taste, while the crunchy fruit helps to cut the meatiness.
Hake fish sits in a pool of almond purée seasoned with shallots, raw and confit garlic, and thyme—with shredded Brussels sprouts and sliced grapes sprinkled throughout ($25). Somehow, the garlicky savoriness works with the sweetness, making the flaky, moist pieces of fish even more inviting.
The Wooly Public also gives tribute to the first restaurant that opened in the Woolworth Building circa 1913, with a rotating selection of dishes that appeared on the first menu. In a dish of frogs legs and tartar sauce, the meat is grilled, instead of the usual fried preparation. Lightly seasoned with a spritz of lemon juice, the meat makes a great medium for the incredibly flavorful housemade tartar sauce, consisting of whole-grain mustard, capers, tarragon, bread and butter pickle relish, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic aioli ($12).
Another classic with a twist is the Peking Duck Tots, the familiar crispy potatoes topped with strips of confit duck, hoisin sauce, and a Mornay sauce, made with American cheese, that pools at the bottom ($15). The taste is reminiscent of eating classic Peking duck wrapped in Chinese buns, but with a different starch.
The burgers are not to be missed. The Private Burger, with dry-aged beef sporting a 70–30 lean-to-fat ratio, has just the right amount of grease. The special sauce—a mix of garlic aioli, pickle relish, Dijon mustard, and miso—adds a tanginess that elevates the burger ($19).
If all this rich, full-flavored food is making you feel guilty, look to the “Market Sides” section of the daytime menu (some dishes are also available in the evening), with vegetables creatively prepared. Baby beets, for example, are paired with a mild farmer’s cheese made in-house, its soft texture contrasting with crispy beet chips and pine nuts. The baby beets’ sweetness is accentuated with drizzled sherry honey ($11).
Like the restaurant itself, the cocktail menu, crafted by Eryn Reece (formerly of Death & Co.), has one foot in the old and one foot in the new. The “Old Souls” section consists of riffs on lesser-known historic cocktails, like the Queens Park Swizzle invented at the Queens Park Hotel in Trinidad during the 1920s. Similar to a mojito, the drink consists of white rum, lime, mint, and angostura bitters. Reece replaces the white rum with a blend of El Dorado 8-year rum and Hamilton 151 rum (cocktails all $15).
The “New Editions” section is filled with all-new creations, like the icy Woolynesia—served in a mammoth mug—with Greenhook Ginsmiths gin, Aperol, Ancho Reyes Verde and Giffard Peche de Vigne liqueurs, passion fruit, lime, cinnamon, and ginger.
The Wooly Public
9 Barclay St. (between Church Street & Broadway)
Near City Hall
Monday to Wednesday
Thursday & Friday
11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.
5 p.m.–1 a.m.
Closed on Sundays