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For the past four years, chef John DeLucie has enjoyed one of the plum gigs in cooking, helming the kitchen at Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter’s glimmering Waverly Inn. There, DeLucie has served up elevated comfort food to royals, couturiers, screen idols and media barons on a nightly basis. Not bad for a guy who started cooking at 30, following a deadening early career as a recruiter of accountants — and whose sole professional training was a continuing education course at The New School.
Now DeLucie is leaving the warm embrace of Carter’s golden Rolodex and opening his own place. Partnering with restaurateur Mark Amadei (Cafeteria, Delicatessen), he is set to open The Lion next week on a leafy stretch of West Ninth Street. It’s situated in a landmark brownstone in a space that’s been home to a restaurant or watering hole for more than 100 years — and resurrects the name of a saloon that catered to a largely gay clientele in the Sixties. Barbra Streisand won a talent contest here and director Joel Schumacher once worked as a busboy at the original Lion.
“I’m very enamored with things that are old, with the exception of women,” says DeLucie. “You could look 20 years and not find a space like this.”
The real estate, which was previously occupied by beloved neighborhood restaurant Village, features a soaring dining room with double height ceilings and a skylight canopy. DeLucie and Amadei, with designer Megan Sharpe (who has worked for Kelly Wearstler), have created a grand-yet-cozy room with a hodgepodge of antique furniture and decorations, a 14-foot stone fireplace that dominates one wall and Gothic elements, such as church pews for seating and iron chandeliers that hover above the tables.
The walls of The Lion are covered floor-to-ceiling with art and photography. The highly eclectic mix was curated by gallerist Drew Aaron (who is married to model Hana Soukupova) and features a rotating mix of work — including several Basquiats and a large-scale David LaChapelle portrait of Andy Warhol peering down on the 150-seat dining room. Sprinkled in amongst all this are 17th-century oil paintings and numerous vintage photos from the Daily News archives.
As for the food, Waverly Inn regulars won’t be too surprised by the ultra-accessible menu.
“The Waverly is a place with fancy people, but the food isn’t fancy,” DeLucie says. “I’m basically a one-trick pony as a chef. [At The Lion] we have pastas and shrimp cocktail and lobster bisque. It’s very antifashion, antivogue. Lobster bisque is not exactly in style.”
There will also be several oven-to-table dishes, such as steamed mussels, served in limited edition Le Creuset pots. Organic produce is being sourced from Hudson Valley farms, and Amadei is growing lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, mache, sugar plums and stevia at his Bucks County, Pa., farmhouse. Desserts include cheesecake cooked in a Mason jar and a 20-layer Nutella and banana crepe cake.
The goal is to become a trusted, classic Manhattan eatery, not a flash in the pan. “In the end, I hope The Lion becomes known as a New York institution, not as a trendy spot,” says Mediaite founder Dan Abrams, who is an investor along with Men’s Health editor in chief David Zinczenko — perhaps setting up a little rivalry in the editors-turned-restaurateurs department.
The first step in courting a loyal clientele? “We have a phone number,” says Amadei, referring to the Waverly’s notoriously impenetrable reservations policy. “With multiple lines.”
The Lion; 62 West Ninth Street; 212-353-8400; thelionnyc.com