NEW YORK — Seductive may not be the first word associated with museum eateries, but Danny Meyer’s restaurant, The Modern, at the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art teases the senses from the moment one arrives. A glowing glass entrance beckons from the street and a sleek, illuminated wine wall leads museum goers into the cool buzz of the Bar Room, the more casual of The Modern’s two areas. The other, titled the Dining Room, is slated to open on Feb. 7.
“Who wrote the rule that you can’t bring a sense of sexiness, fun and excellence to Midtown and to the institution of the Museum of Modern Art?” asks Meyer. “The new museum is kind of sexy in and of itself.”
Meyer made his first mark on the gastronomical landscape of New York with his much-lauded Union Square Cafe in 1985. He founded the Union Square Hospitality Group in 1998 to encompass his other ventures, such as Eleven Madison Park. This new project, however, comes by way of the publishing world. The late Paul Gottlieb, who was a daily patron of Union Square Cafe and a trustee of the museum, insisted that Meyer submit a proposal to MoMA’s competition to choose a restaurateur.
One glance at The Modern’s interior, designed by architects Bentel & Bentel, confirms Gottlieb’s confidence. Black and chocolate Danish furniture combined with silver surfaces and white accents capture its Bauhaus inspiration, while the long, curved marble bar and a huge, panoramic photograph of a forest (Thomas Demand’s “Clearing”) keep it from being retro.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon — a day when the museum is closed — the Bar Room was humming with eager diners, their movements reflected in the glossy white ceiling and mirrored columns surrounding them. “You kind of have the best of all possible worlds, because you can confront the institution but you don’t feel like you’re in one,” Meyer explains. “You can look out onto the sculpture garden, but you’re in a real restaurant, with a real New York buzz.”
This energy has yet to descend on the more formal Dining Room. Separated from the Bar Room by a frosted glass partition and overlooking the sculpture garden, its spare, white table settings, selected with the help of MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli, anticipate the bold flavorings of chef Gabriel Kreuther’s cuisine. Formerly of Atelier, Kreuther drew on his Alsatian roots in crafting his menu, which features such dishes as a celeriac salad with oysters and caviar and a squab and foie gras croustillant.
“It’s an open-minded place where you can really play with different things and go and create with your gut feeling and heart,” Kreuther explains.
His adventuresome approach is echoed by the ambitious cocktail menu created by beverage director Karen King, which includes the Red Square, a mixture of spiced beet juice, red wine, Stolichnaya vodka and dried horseradish named after a Malevich painting. Just as the drink is a nod to the restaurant’s artistic context, Meyer’s philosophy is equally respectful of The Modern’s privileged location. “I’m a big believer that restaurants are a lot like art. If MoMA is the frame, what’s the right piece of art to put in it?” With The Modern, it’s clear he’s found the answer.