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The Odeon: A Brasserie With History

After-hours at the restaurant that defined downtown nightlife in the '80s.

“It was a clubhouse for some of New York's most powerful and creative people, from Andy Warhol and Tom Wolfe to Lorne Michaels and Martin Scorsese, and remains as one to this day.”

It's 9 p.m. on a crisp Saturday night and every seat at the bar of the Odeon has already been filled by the restaurant's well-dressed patrons. For some sitting along the mirrored mahogany bar, it's their first visit to the iconic watering hole opened in 1980 by Keith McNally, his older brother Brian, and then-wife Lynn Wagenknecht. The popular Tabini Martini—a potent mix of vodka, fresh mint, and lime juice—and more classic drinks like the Old Fashioned and the house Cosmopolitan (the Odeon was one of the first restaurants to ever serve them), are unchartered territory waiting to be discovered by these new patrons.

Meanwhile, a few others alongside them can still remember the day it opened and have been frequenting it ever since. For them, the Odeon's neon, glowing sign is a powerful symbol of nostalgia and the new era of nightlife the "luncheonette-via-Cartier" (to borrow the words of Jay McInerney) Deco-style restaurant gave rise to in the '80s. It was a clubhouse for some of New York's most powerful and creative people, from Andy Warhol and Tom Wolfe to Lorne Michaels and Martin Scorsese, and remains as one to this day.
"People constantly tell us their stories about being here the night we opened," says Odeon manager Roya Shanks, who has been working at the restaurant for more than 14 years. "It was hot, hot, hot from Day One. It was a mob scene.

Nights at Odeon are just as bustling, only they are a little tamer than those storied evenings of its raucous past. What draws people back week after week, night after night, is its consistent brasserie food and drinks and comfortable, convivial atmosphere.

"What I love about the Odeon is it's not just one demographic in here. It's just people from so many different walks of life, with ages ranging from like a 6-month-old baby to 80-plus, all hanging out and feeling at home," says Shanks. "The number of people who tell me they had their first date here or met at the bar here is insane. People will sometimes call and request a specific table for their anniversary and tell me that's where they sat on their first date 20 years ago."

The beauty of a restaurant like the Odeon is its ongoing evolution. Today, couples will have their first chance meeting at the bar on a night like this one. Two strangers might start talking over Ginger Martinis and form a lifelong friendship. The next Diane von Furstenberg or Jean-Michel Basquiat might be discovered here, and the Odeon might yet again get a prominent role in a novel like Bright Lights, Big City when another budding writer decides to make it his regular haunt like Jay McInerney once did. Above all, those who have been relying on it for so many decades can continue to return "home" here, and bring newcomers into the Odeon fold, who will thread their own memories into the fabric of the restaurant's ever-growing history.

“It was hot, hot, hot from Day One. It was a mob scene.”
  • kristin tice-studeman words
  • jason schmidt photography & video

THE ODEON

145 West Broadway, New York, 10013

(212) 233-0507; theodeonrestaurant.com

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