Thursday, October 9, 2008


Although Hell's Kitchen has more restaurants than Howard Johnson has ice cream flavors, (28 if you are wondering), Chelsea Grill has carved a solid niche in a neighborhood teeming with good places.

Co-owner James Barker has created his dream place, a 1940's New York style restaurant/bar, which he opened with Phil Alotta, in 2003. "I wanted a place where people can hang out, enjoy good food and drinks in a relaxed, upbeat atmosphere," Barker said.

His formula has worked. Chelsea Grill has a strong neighborhood following and reflects the diversity of Hell’s Kitchen. It draws actors from Broadway and Off-Broadway. When asked to name some celebrity customers, Barker smiled and refused to divulge house secrets.

"I can be on Page 6 often,” he said referring to the New York Post's gossip page. I respect my customers privacy.”
Chelsea is not just a showbiz hangout but popular with theatergoers and the midtown business crowd.

The dining space is comfortable. Tables up front face a garage-style door with large glass windows. Old black and white photographs hang from brick walls. Tiffany chandeliers hover over the bar. The back dining room has two stained glass windows and a gold-framed original painting of a busy restaurant. A brown floral designed fabric covers the banquette. The slate tiled floor has splashes of grey, blue, green, and brown coloring.

Five plasma televisions, positioned around the room that seats 50 plus another sixteen at the mahogany bar, show sports or major events like the Oscars/Tony. On a Friday night the buzz from the crowded bar did not overwhelm the dining room crowd. Great music filtered throughout the room.

Along with places like P.J. Clarke's
and St. Andrew's Chelsea Grill is part of the city's rich tradition where food and drink share equal billing but there are few places where the owner plays as active a role as Barker.

The 35-year-old Long Island native started out as a dishwasher at 14. He has worked as a prep cook, salad, and sandwich maker. While tending bar in college he decided to go into the business. "I learned a lot working in small town North Carolina," he said. "Many customers lived there. If you messed up, you got an earful."

He has applied this experience to Chelsea. "I know many customers by name," he said. "If I do wrong, I expect them to tell me. His reasonably priced menu is American eclectic. Servings are large. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.

His mostly sirloin filled hamburgers are juicy. The Everything Burger has mushrooms, apple wood smoked bacon, sautéed onions, American and cheddar cheese. The bacon wrapped meatloaf served with roasted garlic, sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes draws raves.

On the lighter side, try the coriander crusted tuna salad served with mixed organic greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and orange sesame vinaigrette. The Tuscan grilled vegetable platter with marinated zucchini, squash, eggplant and roasted red peppers is delicious. The Grill has a good selection of wines and beers.

Chelsea Grill is a popular brunch spot. Try the Hungry Man Special: two pancakes, three eggs, bacon and sausage after your weekend workout, or Mary and the Boys, a Bloody Mary with two jumbo shrimps dangling from the glass.

When asked about his formula for success Barker said, “We have great food and excellent service. We treat our customers first-rate.”

Chelsea Grill, 675 Ninth Avenue between 46th & 47th Streets. Kitchen open Sun-Tues until 2a.m. Wed-Sat until 3a.m. For information call 212-974-9002 Photo by Straycat