West Village Italian restaurant Fedora first did business as a speakeasy starting in 1917 under the ownership of Charles Dorato, who, after Prohibition ended, started serving food and called it Charlie's Garden. In 1952, Charles's son Henry and his wife Fedora—who, the Villager reports, is named not for the hat but for the opera by Umberto Giordano—took over and changed the name. At the time, it was one of just two restaurants in the neighborhood that was patronized by heterosexuals but also welcomed same-sex patrons. Popular with local regulars and a small subsection of fashionable artsy types, Fedora stayed under the Dorato family's control until last summer, when Fedora retired at the age of 90. (Her husband Henry passed away in 1997.)
But in a happy turn of events, the spirit of Fedora lives on under new operator Gabriel Stulman, who has enjoyed great success with his charming atavistic West Village establishments Joseph Leonard and Jeffrey’s Grocery. He's kept the original flooring intact, as well as the long, mahogany bar, but has given the rest of the space a face-lift, with leather banquettes, white ceiling tiles, and a mix of new marble and wood tables. Stulman brought in chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly from Montreal to work the kitchen; his menu is faintly French-influenced, and includes such items as Sweetbreads and Octopus with roasted lettuce and red butter ($28); a Cornish Hen & Quail for two that comes with eggplant, panko-egg and arugula salad ($58); and a Warm Beef Sandwich, pomme-paille, horseradish aioli and sriracha ($19).
Joseph Leonard bartender Brian Bartels is rocking the seasonal cocktail menu (seen here); at the moment you can sip such concoctions as a Black Squirrel Old-Fashioned with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Citrus, Maple Wash and House Pecan Bitters. Fedora seats 42 and is open nightly for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a special late night menu until 2 a.m. The restaurant accepts same-day reservations for parties of four or more only.
239 West 4th Street, near Charles Street; (646) 449-9336