The New Sidewalk Cafe is ‘Just Keeping Up With the Times’

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR. Photos: Lauren Carol Smith

After closing for renovations in March, the venerable Sidewalk Café reopened its bar yesterday. Tomorrow, its dining room reopens with the spiffy new look that you see here. Helah Kehati, who officially joined the family business in March, can be credited with some of the changes. Her father Amnon Kehati opened the “anti-folk” music fixture in 1985, the year after she was born. “I’ve been pushing him and begging him to revamp it for the last two or three years,” she said today. “I wanted a space that was cleaned up and caught up with the times. It was my dad who made the decision that if we’re going to do this, it has to be done the right way.”

That meant a complete gut renovation that might leave appreciators of shabby chic bristling. But Ms. Kehati is resolved. “I’ve seen drastic changes in the neighborhood,” she said. “The faces are different, for better or worse. You’re getting a lot of college students, younger crowds, higher rents. We’re not trying to change what we’re good at — we’re just trying to evolve with our neighborhood.”

Ms. Kehati said that the Sidewalk had always been known as a comfortable place. “Back in 1985 we were only one of three restaurants in the area that was considered safe to go to, just because of Tompkins Square Park and all the craziness of the Avenue.” She hoped that the renovations, including walls lined with reclaimed upstate barn-wood, encouraged a “social vibe”: “People can still feel like it’s an extension of their living room. It still has that cozy, stay-as-long-as-you-want vibe, but just keeping up with the times and a little more modern.”

The original pressed tin ceiling, for one thing, remains intact, and a few nostalgic pieces have been brought back. The neon sign that used to face the sidewalk is now the centerpiece of the inside stage area (it won’t be turned on, said Ms. Kehati, because “it would probably give someone skin cancer.”) A dozen of the fifty-or-so instruments that hung on the walls will return after being refurbished.

Also staying is the Monday open-mic night, which Ms. Kehati said has been active since the mid-nineties (during renovations, it moved to a nearby venue so as to preserve its status as the city’s longest running open-mic night). Booker Ben Krieger is still on board and looking for the next Regina Spektor (who famously got her start at the Sidewalk). He now has an upgraded sound system to offer.

The food options have also been upgraded. Consulting chef Felipe Donnelly of the pop-up series Worth Kitchen created a menu of American food with Latin influences. He kept the open-face tuna melt and a version of the Israeli-style schnitzel, but eliminated some of the fried items.

“People expect more from their food these days,” said Ms. Kehati. “Your average 18-year-old college student or musician used to have very limited options. Now you have places like Luke’s Lobster and Caracas and all these great places that provide good product for reasonable prices.”

So will an alfresco brunch still be affordable? Ms. Kehati says that when it launches in the coming weeks, entrees (including the new crème brulee French toast) are likely to be in the $10 to $13 range, and will include a free bloody Mary, mimosa, or glass of wine.

In the meantime, here’s the dinner menu.

Sidewalk Menu Food

Sidewalk Menu Drinks