Filmore East, affectionately known as ‘The Cathedral of Rock & Roll,’ would be packed at 11 pm every Saturday during the late 60s in New York. The venue featured headline performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and even The Grateful Dead. Students from New York University would count their quarters outside on the streets of East Village in hopes of getting a seat or standing room while dive bars prepared for the after-concert crowd.
East Village has been cleaned up. Filmore East is long gone, and dive bars are now trendy, gluten-free, vegan, fusion ethnic restaurants. Many great musicians have graduated from stadiums. The irreverent spirit of those Saturday nights is now being revived at Moxy East Village by New York developer Lightstone. Mitchell Hochberg, President of Lightstone Group, explains that there is a lot of history in the East Village. The East Village was the first settlement in New York City. Rock’ n’ Roll started here. The LGBT community began in the East Village. And so many artists, like Basquiat, flourished in these streets. “We looked at this history and made a vertical timeline, with different floors representing various eras.”
East Village’s anchor F&B restaurant goes underground. It occupies an enormous double-story space on the basement level of the building. The New York restaurant design giant Rockwell Group helped create the venue’s story. It is named Cathedrale in honor of Filmore East’s nickname. Greg Keffer, Rockwell Group Partner, explains that the volume of space lends to the idea of a grand hall. The idea was to create a ghost of an old building with plastered wall coverings and show posters.
The culinary layer placed upon the irreverent underground punk-rock music venue-turned-restaurant is counterintuitive. You might expect a New American-style take, but French Mediterranean differs from what you think. “We don’t want to be a burger joint and steak place, as is expected in the East Village,” says Ralph Scamardella, Chef and Partner. Cathedrale offers hearth-baked dates with Roquefort, Marcona almonds, and house-made epi-baguette dipped into generously salted rotisserie drippings. The mains include a classic bouillabaisse, a hearty chicken rotisserie, and the steak frites. Chefs can also throw vegetables onto the spit for the many vegan East Village residents. A cocktail menu with French flair includes classics like a Fitzgerald with herbs de Provence. There’s also Beverage Manager Eric Walters’s favorite cocktail, Lemmy Caution, made with tobacco nectar, house barrel-aged Dickel Rye Whiskey and Xocolatl Mole. Walters proudly boasts that his bar is the first nationwide to use this ingredient. He says it’s perfect for an East Village rainy evening. Cathedrale’s high-low formula fits perfectly with the East Village, a once gritty but now gentrified mix of high-end cuisine and low-tech.
Keffer calls it a root cellar. A few are invited to the Little Sister subcellar bar at Moxy East Village after hours. He says that “there is beauty in imperfections.” The cork vaulted ceilings, and the series of decanters with cut-crystal are lit by a bronze light to create a chandelier. The intimate seating niches have custom-commissioned murals that combine pastoral scenes from the East Village’s farming roots with Ramones posters, drippings in gold paint, and a jewel-toned Banquette to add an air of sophistication. A cocktail menu is available that pays homage to popular song titles. There’s Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (a tribute to the iconic Rage Against the Machine track), a Martini with blue-cheese stuffed olives, and Mules on Parade, which takes the Moscow Mule on the other side.
The hotel’s lobby lounge and bar are named after the East Village’s eclectic hub, Alphabet City. The colorful carpet is inspired by remnants from an old street art installation that can be seen in Tompkins Square Park – Alphabet City’s bohemian epicenter. Here, modular furniture sits on top of a colorful carpet. Apex, a graffiti artist based in San Francisco, has tagged a montage of vintage mirrors while a bookshelf displays 80s memorabilia such as cassette players and tapes. The alphabetical cocktail menu features drinks like The Pineapple made with Real McCoy Rum, caramelized pineapples, cinnamon, and a hint of pine. This hotel offers a variety of snacks that are made in-house, unlike most grab-and-go. The hotel’s Executive chef Jason Hall, explains that most people order their food online but want to make everything themselves. Highlights include Parisian café flatbreads, three varieties of Croque Monsieur, and an assortment of sandwiches served on pretzel buns.
A rooftop bar is set to be added this spring at Moxy East Village. This venue, which has yet to be named, will not take its guests on a journey through time as Little Sister and Cathedrale do. Instead, it will focus on the present and future. Details still need to be available, but there’s talk of stadium seating, a beer pong communal table, and a milk crate back bar. This is the kind of whimsicality one expects from the East Village.