Like many New Yorkers, the Blue Water Grill took some downtime this summer. But while much of the city traveled, the iconic Union Square restaurant took the opportunity to undergo extensive renovations, reopening for business this week.
The restaurant has been in business for 20 years — forever in New York dining time — and, in eyeing the next era, decided to give itself a refresh. “We went from facelift to total renovation,” explained Blue Water Grill general manager Rachid Abdelouahed. “It was an opportunity to look at what worked for 20 years, and what we’re working for is another 20 years.”
As a landmark building, the restaurant wasn’t able to change much of the space architecturally, but rather looked to update the menu and dining room design details — new furniture, new plate ware, an expanded bar. The restaurant also transformed its downstairs dining area — a former bank vault — into Metropolis, a separate but connected lounge and dining concept modeled after Thirties and Forties luxury, complete with velvet upholstery and rich wooden accents. The space will host request live jazz performances.
“We really wanted a different atmosphere, a different dining experience, different just overall guest experience down here,” explained Metropolis chef Adam Raksin, formerly of Per Se. The 85-seat room features a wide raw bar selection with emphasis on oysters, Raskin’s take on classic seafood dishes, and a Champagne-forward cocktail menu. “Everything we do links to a story, links to a classic dish, a sauce or a chef or a plate somewhere, and that’s really the idea of the menu,” Abdelouahed added.
Upstairs in the main Blue Water Grill dining room, chef Chris Meenan has tweaked the market-driven menu. The sushi section has been scaled down to highlight a raw crudo section, while staples — the miso-glazed Chilean sea bass — have been carried over into the menu’s new era. The restaurant’s location, right across the street from the Union Square Farmers Market, lends itself well to last-minute dish inspiration and the ability to cultivate close relationships with various farmers and fishers.
The Blue Water team was quick to credit the power of relationships in the restaurant’s longevity.
“The clientele that we have is just loyal — people have been coming for years. Like, they had their first date here and then got married here, and then they come and their kids are here. It’s amazing and you meet all these people — it’s magical, it’s really amazing, the relationships you get,” Meenan said. “I have my grill cook upstairs who has been working on that station for 20 years. You find me another person in this city that’s been working the same job, in the same four-square-foot area, for 20 years,” he continued. “We’re just trying to bring [the restaurant] in line with what the modern diner is looking for, and keep the classic feel, keep the tradition going, but in a really positive, forward thinking way.”