An Ambitious Williamsburger Closes, But Plots a Comeback

photo(80)Daniel Maurer

If you often jump on the L to check out Williamsburg’s increasingly exciting dining scene, you can cross one off your to-try list: Bellwether, the restaurant that Josh Cohen opened in the former Royal Oak space a little over a year ago, has quietly closed – at least, for the moment.

Mr. Cohen, the budding impresario behind Anella and Calyer in Greenpoint, is no longer involved in the project, according to Matt Zalla, the designer who gave the space its sleek mid-century modern look. Mr. Zalla said that he’s currently in talks with a new partner who could help relaunch the restaurant, in some form, around mid-February.

“There was a need for somebody with a little bit more of an active role at the helm,” Mr. Zalla said of parting ways with Mr. Cohen. “He has a few other restaurants and we figured – he among us – that we needed to bring someone in with some more energy – and more money, frankly – to continue to fund the operation.”

Once the potential new partner is on board (Mr. Zalla declined to give a name because negotiations are ongoing, but revealed it was “somebody who’s well known”), the new team will likely open the dining room up to the street by installing new doors and windows.

The new menu, once it’s composed, will probably offer “more modest price points and better serving sizes,” said Mr. Zalla. The previous one — which offered a plate of roasted squash with polenta, kale, a soft-boiled egg and Parmesan for $17 — had failed to gel with both the neighborhood’s young comfort-food seekers and the fine-diners who flock to places like the ambitious Nordic newcomer, Aska.

“Anybody’s wrong to try to split up the neighborhood’s demographic too much,” he told The Local. “I think this is something we fell prey to a little ourselves: we said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of expensive housing around here – maybe we can do something more ambitious and find a ready market for it.’ I’m sure you can do that if you have a little bit more of an inherent draw — like a well-known chef, or some bit of P.R. machinery behind it — but ultimately you need to look pretty closely at your most direct neighbors and those are the ones that’ll be your bread and butter.”

Williamsburg, he opined, might not have the “food tourism capacity” of Manhattan, with a few notable exceptions. “You can be a Gwynnett St. and go in an opposite direction, but of course they were properly knighted by the food gods to do what they do and so they’ll be able to do it.”

Whatever its menu and identity, one thing is certain about the next restaurant at 594 Union Avenue: the vinyl collection and vintage sound system that caught the attention of The Times will remain. In the meantime, the space is hosting occasional events: depending on construction, Phil South’s excellent roving dance party, No Ordinary Monkey, may celebrate its 10th anniversary there next month.