New Orleans Comes to East Ninth Street, Via Exchange Alley

Chef Paul Gerard outside Exchange AlleyMelvin Felix Chef Paul Gerard outside his future restaurant, Exchange Alley.

A touch of the bayou is coming to East Ninth Street, in the space that was briefly home to Zi’Pep. Paul Gerard, formerly chef at SoHo House, will open Exchange Alley in September along with investors John Harris, the acclaimed chef-owner of Lilette in New Orleans, and Billy Gilroy, a partner in West Village hotspot Employees Only. (Peter Herrero, who used to own Cafe Central on Columbus Avenue, is also helping out.) The trio has enlisted Sisha Ortuzar, the executive chef at Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark, to help build an herb and vegetable garden resembling a “ramshackle New Orleans courtyard,” said Mr. Gerard.

The restaurant’s name is taken from a picturesque cobbled lane in New Orleans, where Mr. Gerard lived until Katrina ravaged the city in 2005. The menu, said the 42-year-old chef, would be “New York with a New Orleans flair,” with additional influences from other places he had lived and worked, including South America and Puerto Rico.

The look, he said, will harken back to the bars in the Lower East Side and the East Village where his father took him during his Brooklyn childhood: dark wood, leather and wrought iron, with jazz setting the ambiance and a bartender pouring beer and wine up front.

“We want it to look like it’s always been here, not so much salvaged as it is preserved,” he said, describing the intended result as “a place where Jack Kerouac would sit down and pick a bottle of wine, get drunk and eat good food.” And listen to good music. “We’re going to have a record collection,” said Mr. Gerard. “You can come in and listen to the whole side of a record.”

The chef-owner hopes such touches will make Exchange Alley a place where ideas are, yes, exchanged and where people don’t just sit around staring at laptops (though wifi will be offered during the day, along with coffee and lunch). “There’s a sensibility about New York that’s been going away,” he said. “I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up in the New York that I grew up in, but I think native New Yorkers are much more scarce than they used to be.”

As for why Zi’Pep failed in a space that has held three restaurants in the past three years, Mr. Gerard, who often lunched there with his investors before taking it over, said, “It was good food but the East Village didn’t really need another Italian restaurant.”

Exchange Alley, located at 424 East Ninth Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, joins the forthcoming Ducks Eatery in bringing back some of the deep-south flavor that left the neighborhood when Mara’s Homemade closed.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 6, 2012

An earlier version of this post misidentified Peter Herrero as an investor. He has no financial stake in the restaurant.