WEST VILLAGE — The longtime owner of Chumley's has brought on Sushi Nakazawa owner Alex Borgognone to finally reopen the famed firefighter watering hole.
Jim Miller, the retired firefighter who has been shepherding the embattled bar through its attempts to reopen since a wall collapse forced it to shutter in 2007, said his phone "started blowing up" after Eater reported Borgognone is taking over Chumley's.
Borgognone's high-end restaurant is a hit in the neighborhood, and he was able to easily get a liquor license from the community board last year for a second eatery, while Miller faced virulent opposition from neighbors who banded together under the name "Bar-Free Bedford."
"Alex has partnered with us to redeliver Chumley’s in a way that this Village will find acceptable," Miller said.
The bar was a favorite among the firefighters of Engine 24, Ladder 5 on Sixth Avenue, several of whom worked there when they were off-duty. In 2009, the street out front was named for firefighter-bartender Bobby Beddia, who was beloved by locals and perished in the 2007 Deutsche Bank building fire.
Miller and his firefighter friends have held off on the official street dedication ceremony for years because they want to hold Beddia's celebration at Chumley's "so we could all have a beer in his name."
Miller has long said his desire is to “duplicate” Chumley’s, but after legal action by the "Bar-Free Bedford" neighbors, who felt the neighborhood was no longer the right place for that kind of bar, repeatedly promised to do it "in a more responsible manner, because the Village has changed.”
Miller said bringing on Borgognone is how he's able to fulfill his promise to the community board, the State Liquor Authority and the neighborhood "that we elevate the operation... to the style the neighborhood wants."
"Alex is a friend and a partner and we're doing this together," he added. "This is about building a team that's going to redeliver Chumley's the proper way."
In particular, Miller said, he trusts Borgognone's "build-out team," several of whom are friends of the firefighters.
"[They're] very talented, in restoring and recreating and bringing Chumley's back," he said.
Sushi Nakazawa offers a 20-course tasting menu at 23 Commerce St., composed of 20 pieces of sushi served one at a time. Diners are only admitted with reservations, and the menu costs $120 in the dining room or $150 at the bar for the exact same meal.
Borgognone received liquor license approval a year ago for another restaurant on Grove Street with the same chef, who was featured in the documentary film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," but that restaurant has yet to open. At the time, Borgognone said the price point would be "similar to Nakazawa," but he wanted to accept walk-ins and be "family-friendly."
Miller said he didn't think the Chumley's menu would be as high-end as Borgognone's other restaurants, but the menu wasn't his purview.
"That wouldn't be my end," Miller said. "Planning out the menu, that'll be for the operations team."
"My end is we gotta get this historically accurate," he added. "A lot of this depends on my memory."
Borgognone did not return a voicemail, but Eater reported the dining room at Chumley's will accommodate 35 guests, and serve just a handful of "well-executed classics," suggesting those could include burgers, wings and steak frites.
Prices would range from $10 to $25, according to Eater, and there will be a "comprehensive cocktail program" with drinks running from $10 to $15.
The bar will also serve beers on tap, and is expected to open in spring.