UPPER WEST SIDE — Café Tallulah opened its doors this week with a large crowd and a spontaneous a capella performance by a Metropolitan Opera singer during Monday night's "soft opening."
The upstairs restaurant and downstairs lounge at at 240 Columbus Ave., owned and conceived by Greg Hunt, who's known for creating Amsterdam Billiards Club in Union Square, seeks to be both edgy and welcoming.
"The Upper West Side runs through my veins," said Hunt, who said he grew up here and is raising his own family here now. "[The neighborhood] has been lacking a go-to place with edginess, great food, great cocktails and a sexy ambience."
The French menu and bistro design draw inspiration from Balthazar, Hunt said. But unlike downtown restaurants, Hunt said, he wants "zero attitude" at Cafe Tallulah. Instead, he's trying to create an atmosphere where "the A-list celebrity" and the everyday customer are treated with the same level of hospitality.
"It's the old 'Cheers' philosophy — you want to know where everyone knows your name," he said."I want it to be fun and casual. The Upper West Side is all about neighborhood."
Still, it was important to Hunt that Tallulah offer something fresh, namely what he described as "an amazingly sexy cocktail lounge downstairs."
The lounge area, which fits 100 people, has a working fireplace, billiards table, and hip cocktails designed by Dushan Zaric of Employees Only fame, is aimed to draw people in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings to stay from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. The lounge furniture is vintage, sourced from around the city, including the Brooklyn Flea. Black and white photos of legends such as Mick Jagger and Brigitte Bardot line the walls.
"The goal is dinner up here [on the ground floor], and then stick around and have an after dinner drink downstairs," Hunt said.
A self-described Francophile, Hunt said the menu is made up of French classics with a twist. He recruited Roxanna Spruance, who has cooked at wd-50 and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as the head chef.
Though Spruance won't be applying any molecular gastronomy in her new kitchen, Hunt said she will draw from her educations at both Blue Hill and wd-50 in the freshness and inventiveness of her menu.
The beef bourgignon with Imperial Wagyu beef and the poulet roti and duck fat fries are standout dishes, according to Hunt.
Hunt named the restaurant after his 12-year-old daughter, Tallulah, but he said dinners are not really kid-friendly. "It's more of a grown-up place," he said. But was quick to add that as of Feb. 1, the restaurant will offer family brunches on the weekends.
Hunt first envisioned having the restaurant on 25 Central Park West but ended up in a legal battle with residents. He found the space on Columbus and 71st Street and began construction a year and a half ago.
His gut renovation of the two-floor 5,000-square-foot space also encountered construction delays. He simultaneously found himself in a fight with neighborhood preservationists and residents concerned about saving a historic mural depicting a Cuban sugarcane field at the restaurant's entrance. Hunt said he eventually came to like the mural that he initially felt clashed with the restaurant's vibe.
"We decided to keep [the mural] so we restored it. Having restored it, it looks better now."
Hunt said he didn't anticipate the 2 a.m. closing time of the downstairs lounge causing any complaints in the neighborhood.
"We're not going to be an [early] 20-something place. We don't want it to be a kiddie bar," he said.
"College kids can go to Amsterdam Avenue."