If it's true that we eat with our eyes first, these seven restaurants provide a feast for all of the senses.
The back room at Wallsé
Many years ago, Kurt Gutenbrunner received a call from his friend, artist Julian Schnabel. “He said he felt like painting and that the light was right, so I closed the restaurant and went down to his studio. Now I have this masterpiece,” says the chef, gesturing to the giant portrait of himself that dominates one of the whitewashed brick walls of Wallsé, his West Village restaurant (344 W. 11th St., 212-352-2300). The stunning canvas is in good company, including sketches by Martin Kippenberger, paintings by Albert Oehlen, and photos by Dennis Hopper, all from Schnabel and Gutenbrunner’s personal collections. “People want to be in the company of good art in Manhattan,” says Gutenbrunner, who selected each piece. “It’s just as important as the food.”
Kurt Gutenbrunner in front of his portrait painted by Julian Schnabe
Finding restaurants with art that matches the quality and creativity of their menus is no easy task. “To put great art on the wall, you need to have very good relationships or you need to own it,” says real estate mogul and collector Aby Rosen. “It’s a rare thing for a restaurant to have, and the ones that have it shine.” At CasaLever (390 Park Ave., 212-888-2700), nestled in the first floor of Lever House (owned by Rosen’s RFR Realty), Milanese cuisine is served amid a trove of Andy Warhol celebrity portraits from the collections of Rosen and his friend, art mogul Alberto Mugrabi. “He buys stuff, I buy stuff, and we rotate it to keep it interesting,” adds Rosen.
Warhol portraits at Casa Lever
Both culinary and artistic delights are also on offer at Chelsea’s The Red Cat (227 10th Ave., 212-242-1122) and Tribeca’s The Harrison (355 Greenwich St., 212-274-9310). “I look at the art like I look at the food—it’s funky, whimsical, of-the-moment, and always changing,” says chef and owner Jimmy Bradley, who selects all of the art from his own collection. There are Robert Rauschenbergs at The Harrison, and the walls of The Red Cat are currently home to works by the likes of Donald Sultan, Robert Mangold, and Charlie Hewitt. He once hung a Picasso in The Red Cat’s bathroom and promptly sold it. “Everything I own is for sale, always, no matter what,” Bradley notes.
Collages and Cuisine
On the Upper East Side, Sistina (1555 Second Ave., 212-861-7660) andCaravaggio (23 E. 74th St., 212-288-1004) also benefit from owners—the Bruno brothers—who are passionate about art. Giuseppe Bruno commissioned Donald Baechler to create colorful collage paintings for Sistina and later for Caravaggio, which also has works by Frank Stella, Henri Matisse, and Beatrice Caracciolo.
At RedRooster (310 Lenox Ave., 212-792-9001) and its downstairs supper club, Ginny’s (212-421-3821), art offers one more way to celebrate the neighborhood. “Harlem’s history of great artists and institutions pushed us to look within the community,” says chef and owner Marcus Samuelsson, who showcases works by the likes of Lorna Simpson and Gary Simmons inside Red Rooster. The latest additions are six pieces by Derrick Adams in the private dining space downstairs. Chef’s choice? The brightly colored repurposed quilts of Sanford Biggers. Says Samuelsson, “I love the way they warm the room in a nontraditional way.”