Sitting in the private dining room at Dan Kluger’s soon-to-open Loring Place in Greenwich Village on a rainy October afternoon, it’s easy to imagine the space filled with guests. Forks diving into bona fide Kluger dishes like roasted Brussels sprouts with crunchy sunflower seeds, avocado, apples and herbs (see the recipe), and charred broccoli with pistachios, mint and orange. Dishes that excite, prepared by a chef the dining scene has sorely missed since leaving ABC Kitchen two years ago.
In this cozy room, the table, made from long boards of wood that once lined the floors of the mid-1800s building, is set for dinner with crisp white napkins that have never been used and wineglasses that have never been clinked. Bob Dylan croons “Like a Rolling Stone” quietly over the sound system.
When eating at a great restaurant, it’s often easy to forget just how hard it is to open a place like this. “There’s really nothing easy about it,” Kluger says, laughing when asked what the hardest part of opening his first solo restaurant was.
Outside the door in the main dining room, the music is barely heard over the sounds of the construction zone. Painters are touching up walls as contractors are drilling in the barroom, while others work to get the grand staircase and entryway—still covered by paint-spattered drop cloths—ready.
Kluger may have gotten the keys to the space a year and a half ago, but the restaurant has been in the works in his mind for much longer. “I just had the bug,” he says. Kluger knew he needed a space large enough to accommodate a semi-open kitchen, where he could cook with live fire, and wanted something that wouldn’t feel cavernous. He looked at 50 to 70 spaces before settling on 21 West Eighth Street.
But finding the perfect space was just the beginning. “Everything in here I’ve put my hands on and [chosen]. So if I look in a year from now and I don’t like the color of those audio controls, that’s my fault.” Some of those choices include plates from Jono Pandolfi, tables like that long one in the private dining room from NYCitySlab and custom denim aprons from menswear designer Todd Snyder.
Kluger’s been in the industry long enough to know that the small decisions are what add up to an overall outstanding dining experience. “Things that a lot of people take for granted, we thought about how they’re going to impact someone’s experience, impact the hospitality,” he explains. And even under construction, it’s apparent those decisions will pay off. The space is warm and gracious, clean but not sterile. “I wanted it to be simple, muted colors and then the food to be pops of color, the people to be the pops of color,” he adds.
Amid the chaos and the “never-ending compounding feeling of ‘oh my god, this has to get done on cost and time,’” he says he felt he “should have been working on food. Truthfully, I haven’t done menu development until now.”
For a business that hinges on the food, it may seem counterintuitive that Kluger arrived at the space with only “candidates” for the menu.“There were things that worked perfectly in my mind, but as you start to really cook it and you cook it in a restaurant setting, you say, ‘Oh, there’s no way we could keep up with this. Or on the plates that we had custom designed for us, this dish doesn’t work.’”
As the space and menu started to come together this fall, Kluger still had one major decision to make. Until late September, his restaurant was nameless. He and his team went through nearly 100 options. Then, unprompted, a cousin sent him a photo of a yearbook that belonged to Kluger’s father, who grew up in the Bronx and died unexpectedly last year. It said “Arthur Kluger, Loring Place,” the name of the street he grew up on. The name stuck. “Had he not passed away, it probably wouldn’t have happened, and I would still be looking for a name. It’s a nice thing; it’s not a shrine to him,” Kluger says.
Not long after, Kluger received an email to the restaurant’s general inbox. It said, “I grew up at 1850 Loring Place. I look forward to coming in.” Once the drop cloths have been gathered and the doors finally open, we do, too.