Raise a glass to the return of Pastis, the seminal French brasserie founded by Keith McNally in 1999 and beloved for 15 years for its icy oysters, perfectly crisp fries and steak sandwich with onions and Gruyère. People-watching was another reason to visit. Fashion designers, models, actors and artists turned it into their canteen, helping transform the Meatpacking District from a gritty frontier into a stylish enclave.
Pastis’s timeless beauty—golden lighting, vintage mirrors, white subway tile walls—made it a favorite filming location for movies and television, widening its appeal and breeding even more frustration when trying for a dinner reservation as the years rolled past.
“Ten thousand restaurants in New York and everyone’s at Pastis,” bemoaned a character in Sex and the City, so desperate for a table in a 2004 episode that she crashed Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Aleksandr Petrovsky’s (Mikhail Baryshnikov) date.
But in 2014, the party stopped.
“It was packed every night before it closed due to the landlord tripling the rent,” McNally said. “I was forced to close Pastis but vowed to open it again some day.”
That day has come. Although it took five years, the wait was worth it: the beauteous setting a close reproduction, the menu honoring its past (that steak sandwich!) while trying new twists, like adding avocado to eggs and toast (how could they not?). At 52 Gansevoort Street, it’s just around the corner from the original location on Ninth Avenue (now home to Restoration Hardware) and handy to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the High Line.
A fashionable crowd has immediately flocked back; sightings within the first summer month included Lorne Michaels, Julianna Margulies, Jay McInerney, Meg Ryan, Cindy Crawford and Salman Rushdie, to name a few. But if you’re not of the in-crowd and hoping for a table without a reservation, it’s best to avoid primetime lunch, brunch or dinner hours.
If you’re an early riser, note that Pastis opens for breakfast on weekdays at 7:30am—you’ll find strong coffee, impeccable eggs Benedict and fabulous buttermilk pancakes. Can you escape here mid-afternoon? That’s when you can waltz right in and enjoy classic onion soup, a light and lovely salad or an opulent serving of macaroni and cheese, accompanied by an affordable ($24) carafe of Bordeaux blanc. Are you a night owl, perhaps? Head here for fortification before bed (open until 11pm Sunday–Wednesday and midnight Thursday–Saturday) and polish off a cheeseburger, crunchy croque monsieur or wine-soaked moules frites.
Pastis may look like it never left, but its resurrection was not without complications. McNally, whose Balthazar, Minetta Tavern and Augustine are still going strong, had a stroke in 2017.
Enter Stephen Starr, a Philadelphia-based restaurateur with some 40 restaurants worldwide and eight in New York City, including the esteemed Upland, Le Coucou, La Mercerie, Buddakan and Morimoto. He was a fan of the old Pastis, preferring it for breakfast or mid-afternoon to avoid the mobs. He had even met McNally but didn’t know him well.
“I was contacted by his daughter, Sophie, who asked me if I’d like to be part of Pastis,” Starr said. “I’d run into her at one of my restaurants and she was very nice, so we talked. But I didn’t want to do it unless he really wanted me to do it; wanted it in his heart.”
McNally and Starr met formally and hit it off.
“My original investor pulled out, and it took me a long time to find another I liked enough to partner with,” McNally said.
And it seems to be working. Starr still sounds starstruck when he talks about McNally. “His restaurants were more than restaurants," he said. "They altered pop culture in New York and had an impact beyond food. I respected his aesthetic and didn’t want anything to be an obstacle to that. He had full control of how Pastis would look.”
The curved zinc bar is back, as are sidewalk seating and other trademark touches. The British-born McNally had been living in London for a time, overseeing the opening of a branch of Balthazar there, but now he splits time between that city and New York and is a regular at Pastis. His favorite dishes are escargots in parsley-garlic butter, duck with olives, sea scallops in a Grand Marnier sauce and, of course, the steak frites and famous steak sandwich.
While the Meatpacking District has changed around Pastis, it’s comforting to know that its second act is already proving to be as strong as the first.