The Mercer Kitchen’s closing in December, after nearly 25 years inside the downtown staple The Mercer hotel, left a big hole in the SoHo dining space. The Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant has been a celebrity magnet, known both for its food and for its cool, downtown energy that has kept it buzzing for more than two decades.
Now, the iconic space has a new resident. Opening Thursday is Sartiano’s, an Italian American joint that aims to fill the shoes it occupies.
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The project is the most personal one yet for proprietor Scott Sartiano, who is behind members-only social club Zero Bond as well as clubs 1Oak and Up & Down and the restaurant Butter. Walking through the restaurant, Sartiano explains that he and his team wanted to respect the existing space while bringing their own spin to it.
“It’s such an iconic space, right — it worked and people liked it. So you want to try and figure out and extract the part of the DNA that made it successful and makes it comfortable for people to come back to,” he says. “They feel like they’re still coming back to a familiar place, while also making enough changes to tell the story that I want to tell. And something for the next 25 years as opposed to you coming from the last 25 and building something new for the next 25.
The story he is telling is one of his family and his Italian heritage: both of their roots in Italy and the more modern ones in Brooklyn and the Carolinas, where Sartiano grew up.
“The truth of it is that this is a concept I’ve wanted to do for 10 years,” he says. “I don’t have the desire to open 20 restaurants, to be the next huge restaurant. I wanted to open this restaurant and I just waited for the right space and opportunity for a long time.”
He says taking over The Mercer hotel space was about as ideal as it could get.
“Basement spaces are hard. As a restaurateur, you never want to really take a basement space. But obviously at The Mercer, this space is different,” Sartiano said. “It’s like the epicenter of downtown New York, Prince and Mercer. It’s kind of survived time. I mean, it’s the iconic crown jewel hotel of downtown New York in my opinion, and it’s been that for 25 years and has never stopped. And you’ve seen New York change and SoHo change…this corner has remained the center of gravity of SoHo and really, downtown.”
He’s opened up some of the original space, added roughly 10 to 15 more seats, and has brought in some of the upstairs light via skylights and light textures. The menu is his take on modern Italian.
“It has some classic red sauce dishes, but I want it to be lighter. I want you to feel like you can come here for lunch or come here for dinner and not go home to bed. I want it to be fine dining. We’re on Prince and Mercer, right? So I want something for the most elevated foodie in New York to come and feel like it’s an amazing experience. I want to keep it democratic enough for the tourists from Paris walking by saying ‘What is this place?’ And walking in and feeling comfortable,” he says. That means while upscale, “I’m not trying to bang people over the head with the price.”
The staff will also be dressed in custom uniforms by Michael Andrews, a tailor located in the alley of Zero Bond, who does all of Mr. Sartiano’s clothing. The sommeliers have unique jackets, and the bartenders have their own look as do the servers.
While Sartiano is known for hot spots and buzz, he’s hoping that Sartiano’s is around in The Mercer hotel for as long as its previous tenant.
“Obviously the people who were here before did an incredible job, so it’s kind of like passing the torch. I’ve got to make sure that I do as good of a job as they did which it’s big shoes to fill, right?” he says. “So I just hope I can do as good a job as they did.”
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