There must be many a guest of Freeman’s restaurant who gets out of the taxi and think they’ve been dropped off at the wrong address. Situated at the far end of an alley of the same name in the rather down-at-heel Bowery district, from the kerb you can only just make out a string of coloured lights behind some bins. It looks more like the location of a crack den than one of New York’s most charming eateries. However, be brave, do what you are always told NOT to do and wander down that ill-lit alley – it’s worth it.
The restaurant has a sort of gastro-pub-on-acid look with room after room of dark walls, old paintings and a veritable safari-park of stuffed animals. There are no reservations for groups of less than six and every time we’ve been we’ve been told that there will be a wait of about 45 minutes for a table. I don’t think we’ve ever had to wait that long but if you are a couple, do what we do and when they say you can wait at the bar, make your way to the one at the back of the restaurant and usually by the time you’ve ordered your gin and tonic, a couple of places at the counter have been freed up and you can eat there. Bar service is one of the greatest American inventions (I presume it started there) – you can do it on your own without looking like you’ve been stood up and in the best cases you end up being entertained – and your wine topped up – by the bar staff. At Freeman’s, the bar tender at the back bar is a rather serious looking lady who juggles cocktail shaking with waiting on up to ten diners, all without breaking a sweat. We are in awe of her (if a little scared too).
The food is classic comfort food but cooked to a very high standard. Think slow-roast pork, lamb stew and trout with sides of brussell sprouts or mashed potato. The signature starter is artichoke dip which probably has your weekly calorific intake in just one bowl but is awesome. One between two is more then enough otherwise you’ll never have room for the half roast chicken main course. I’ve never managed a pudding in this place – usually going for a liquid dessert of another glass of wine as I can’t bring myself to leave either. The crowd is typical of the area – creatives, some fashionistas, lots of facial hair and bowties with plaid shirts – but also it attracts the occasional celebrity (we saw Maggie Gyllenhaal there once and some friends sat next to Gerard Butler). It’s always cosy, friendly and very down-town – a far cry from the glitz of Times Square and all the better for it.
Incidentally, if you come here for lunch, call in at the Freemans Sporting Club store at the start of the alley. It’s owned by the same people as the restaurant and, despite the name, is basically a fantastic modern twist on a mens outfitters – all tweed jackets and corduroy but with a hipster twist. You can even have your hair cut at the barbers at the back.
End of Freeman’s Alley
Off Rivington between The Bowery and Christie
Tel +1 212 420 0012