Good conversation and wit are the calling cards of P.J. Clarke’s, the New York saloon that’s about to open at the Forum Shops at Caesars next month. Dubbed the “Vatican of saloons,” expect to find plumbers and CEOs alike sharing food, drink and great conversation.
When you order a margarita, expect it to be served on the rocks. Want it frozen? You’ll get directions to a place that serves it from a machine. Energy drinks are coffee here.
This marks the first West Coast location of the venerable New York institution. Enter through a three-story escalator into the 125-year-old saloon.
“There seems to be a trend lately to build stage sets rather than real restaurants. I understand the economics of it, but if I can’t build a bona fide saloon I won’t do it,” explains Phillip Scotti, operating owner, P.J. Clarke’s. “The main bar, acquired from the Rothschild estate in Bordeaux, is made of solid mahogany with intricate carvings and was transported carefully across the country for a total cost of just more than $250,000; the subway tiles adorning the walls are reclaimed from a variety of demolition sites in and around Manhattan and all of the lighting fixtures, which are a mixture of Victorian and ‘40s, are authentic and painstakingly restored. The jukebox pumps out classic Etta James, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett with a dash of the Rolling Stones.
“This place will have real bartenders, not ‘mixologists’ who respect what’s been put in the bottle and understand the holiness of a good Rye. Whether you are a local or a visitor the staff is encouraged to call you by your first name, P.J.’s is authentic and familiar. In Las Vegas or New York the philosophy remains the same: Everyday is a struggle, that’s why we must be kind to one another.’”
While the architecture and amenities establish a tone, it’s the colorful history that lends it character. Established in 1884 in New York, P.J. Clarke’s still features the wives’ beer window. This is the type of place where Johnny Mercer wrote “One For My Baby” and Maria Elena, the widow of Buddy Holly, shared her first kiss on her first date with the legendary musician.
That said, don’t ask about celebrity sightings. For more than 100 years, the policy has always been don’t kiss and tell. The only pictures on the wall are those friends P.J. Clarke’s staff likes to remember, such as George Steinbrenner, a longtime investor.
Once open, expect to find a raw bar with shrimp, lobster, oysters and Long Island clams on the half shell, chicken pot pie, fish and chips, baked macaroni and cheese with peas and bacon and Mile High shrimp sandwiches. The restaurant lands its beef from Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley, its only supplier for its steaks and famous hamburgers.
“Forget about Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. We are the original social networking sites,” says Scotti as he constantly smokes his Marlboro Reds. “When you walk into our joint we automatically assume you are an old friend. Our job is simply to serve you a good meal, make you comfortable and help you and your friends to enjoy yourselves.”
When it opens, P.J. Clarke’s will take up 12,000 square feet, seating 323 people in two dining rooms with 20 stools at the main bar and another dozen at Sidecar, this section of the restaurant you’ll have to discover for yourselves. For intimate dining and special events, set up shop in a private dining room complete with industrial décor, factory-style accents and a separate kitchen available off from the main dining room by French doors and vintage-style pull down shades. Private affairs for up to 200 guests can be accommodated.
In addition to three New York locations, P.J. Clarke’s has outposts in Washington, D.C. and São Paulo, Brazil.
For more information, go to www.pjclarkes.com.