By  on May 22, 2007

NEW YORK — Forget chopped salads, quiches and lobster-filled avocados. Henri Bendel is giving the Ladies Who Lunch what they really crave — chocolate.

The Fifth Avenue retailer is replacing its restaurant, Le Salon de The, which closed in 2001, with the slightly irreverent Chocolate Bar, a spin-off of the popular West Village shop of the same name.

Chocolate Bar, which opened Wednesday, offers treats such as freshly popped and salted popcorn with carmel and chocolate dipping sauces, a chocolate bar sandwich made with peanut butter on whole wheat bread and white mocha latte. There's also a menu featuring panini, choco-centric desserts, such as a warm spicy brownie with vanilla gelato, and a selection of teas and spirits.

All that remains from the original menu is the Bendel's Salad, made with grilled chicken, avocado, radishes and bacon, and the Bendel's Bellini, a concoction made with strawberries. Chocolate bars are $4 apiece and $40 in boxed sets. Truffles may be purchased individually or in boxes from the truffle bar.

Chocolate Bar is the creation of Alison Nelson, who came to her addiction by way of privation. "I was denied chocolate as a child," she said. "I've always been a major chocoholic."

Ed Bucciarelli, chief executive officer and president of Henri Bendel, said the store was attracted to the sense of fun Nelson brought to chocolate. Her goal when she opened Chocolate Bar on Eighth Avenue, between Horatio Street and Jane Street, was to take the pretention out of chocolate. "There was Godiva and other fancy or formal chocolate [shops]," she said. "I wanted to make chocolate and coffee the easiest things."

Bendel's was "looking for a partner," Bucciarelli said. "This is very New York and emerging. We're about the new and the next. We felt something was missing. We wanted something to help us complete the experience. We need some place where people can linger."

Bendel's, like other retailers, understands that food keeps customers in the store longer and studies show that consumers who spend more time in stores, spend more money.

Chocolate Bar on Bendel's third floor is equal parts Sixties grooviness and modern sophistication. Small round tables are stenciled with images of a shoe and a woman with an Afro hairstyle. The space, which includes a veranda, is 600 square feet and can accommodate 28 people with two cream-colored leather tufted banquettes, leather chairs and chrome and leather stools at the counter. The pale blue walls are decorated with gold and silver designs and Chocolate Bar's milk chocolate-colored logo."I'd like to bridge the gap between fashion and chocolate as much as possible,'' Nelson said. "I'd like to work with designers." She's already enlisted Alice + Olivia's Stacey Bendet, who designed uniforms for the restaurant's staff, a cap-sleeve minidress in white and brown with pale blue trim.

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