Locals and longtime regulars rightfully feared the worst when the circa-1880 White Horse Tavern was sold in March, along with the building it is housed in. Although the exterior is landmarked, the interior of the iconic spot is legally fair game, and there's nothing stopping anyone from turning the historic saloon into a trendy new Meatpacking clubstaurant.
The names behind the new White Horse did little to assuage anyone's concerns. The owner, notorious slumlord Steve Croman, did time behind bars for tax and mortgage fraud related to his properties. The tavern's proprietor, Eytan Sugarman, is best known for his bro hangout spots like Hunt and Fish Club. And the chef in charge of revamping the menu, Ed Szymanski, is from the Beatrice Inn, which isn't known for its accessible prices.
So when the White Horse reopened recently after a few weeks of "repairs and upgrades" behind papered-over windows, we went as soon as possible to check out the scene and eat as much as we could from Szymanski's new menu.
The interior design remains largely the same, which is a relief. Sugarman has moved a few things around (a clock that was on one wall is now on a different wall, etc.), but he's also added some things (a vintage neon sign) and gotten rid of a couple of pieces. There's a shelf filled with "fancy" accessories in the bathroom now, too. But so far the basic furnishings and overall layout has not been messed with too severely. It still looks very much like the White Horse, though a new clientele may change the vibe, as old regulars have already relocated to a new spot. So while it looks the same, it is undeniably different... particularly that new menu.
The food is more expensive, no question, but for the most part it's also good. The Scotch Egg is huge, crackling and creamy in all the right places with a nice underlying funk from the ample supply of sausage. The Smoked Mackerel Paté, spread thick on a slab of sweet toasted milk bread, would be a star at any number of those newfangled all-day cafes around town. The pickled onions on top tasted like braised pears, but otherwise, this is an ambitious bar snack that works.
We skipped over the salads and pretended for a minute that we were high rollers, ordering the Grilled Prawns as an appetizer, which come four on a plate for $21 (and they're not huge). Biting off the head didn't quite give that explosion of flavor that these crustaceans often deliver, but the sea meat was tender and tasted fresh and clean, and we didn't regret the splurge. Even more of a baller move was getting the $29 White Horse Prime Rib. This is a big slab of blood-red cow, and if you're craving that very specific soft, tangy meat experience (with horseradish, of course), this dish delivers.
Weirdly, the new White Horse Cheeseburger (this was one item Sugarman mentioned changing early on), gave us the biggest disappointment of the night. For one thing, it's really small, especially for $16. And on this night it was way over-salted, though that's presumably an easy fix. Meanwhile, the pickle was straight-up rotten, and it comes with truffled mayo (no thanks!). Maybe throw in the fries for free, and bring back the old price? (The website's previous menu had the burger at $12, and the new one costs $16.)
As for beverages, beers are sticking to around $7 and $8, and cocktails will cost you $15.
There's plenty of staff hustling around the place inside and out (we had at least five different people carry out some sort of task at our table during the 90-minute meal), a level of service you associate much more with a destination restaurant than any sort of neighborhood spot. But even if the old cadre of daytime regulars wanted to come back, to sip beers and whiskey at the end of the bar and tell the same jokes they've all told a hundred times before, right now the place doesn't even open until 5 p.m., so there's no chance of that happening.
The White Horse Tavern is located at 567 Hudson Street, at the corner of West 11th Street.