Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Antique Garage

Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Jools

In a way, this place is what the old SoHo used to be about ... back in the 1970s when the city was looking to raze the area, artists pointed out that the castiron buildings were unique in all the US, and the whole district received landmark status. For a while, the artists who'd moved into the abandoned sweatshops with their great skylights and cheap rent were lucky and content, but then the yuppies and gentry came and rent went up. The struggling artists were forced to go elsewhere but the yuppies perversely kept the best of the history, including the cracked sidewalkes, cobblestones, and the general funkiness. But it has been cleaned up, the bums are no longer in residence, the crackdens moved out for want of space or regular takers, and there seem to be no experimental art galleries anywhere (for the same reasons the crackdens had to move out).

Mercer Street is one block behind Broadway, but you could be in a spacewarp. The Antique Garage is on the other end of the block that contains the Gourmet Garage, Cendrillon, Babes in Toyland, and the Mercer Gallery. Most of these places close at about 7pm or so, and Cendrillon is a pretty quiet eatery most times. In contrast, the Antique Garage is hopping, giving lie to the saying about "location, location, location."

It's literally an old car service garage, and the restaurant owners decided to keep that ambiance, but they decorate with Victorian era furniture and fittings. They did re-fit the garage door opener, and in warmer weather, the whole front wall swings up for al fresco dining. We first walked by it in the rain, and the idea of eating in a semi-outdoor situation with the garage door providing overhead covering was very appealing.

But tonight, it was cold, so the door was down. People came in and packed the place. As the evening wore on, people would abandon their tables and stand around, effectively making the place a club, with food on tables that people would come by and nibble at.

The food is Turkish/mediterranean and originally, the offerings were mezzes -- these are like tapas, little appetizer dishes to share. We got the marinated octopus, a smokey eggplant dip, hummus, olives, and the sausage and cheese platter. All of it was tasty, though seeing the kalamari at other tables, I wish we'd ordered that over the octopus. The sausage and cheese platter is one of the best we'd ever had and it was really beautiful. The fried pita strips embedded in the hummus were really wonderful -- slightly salty and very dry and crunchy. The eggplant was a smokey smooth paste and there was simply too little to do it justice.

The wine list is short and a bit pricy, but the wines are good. The flowerpot shaped tumblers were a bit weird, but perhaps it was a way of allowing people to feel they were being more casual and comfortable. We had some drinks and a bottle of cabernet, which was a good medium-dry.

For dessert, we opted for baklava, a lemon torte, and something called "apricot" which was a dried apricot stuffed with cheese and an almond. Everything was sprinkled over with chopped pistachios and were all very good, and not at all too sweet or syrupy, which baklava can be. The lemon torte was a lemon curd stuffed into a spongecake and covered in a creme -- almost crunchy and refreshing. Turkish coffee was not really that, but maybe it was a double espresso?

During dinner, a jazz quartet set up and played several sets. They were good, more like Japanese easy-listening versions of Jazz; in fact the band featured Japanese keyboard and bass players and Russian drummer and saxophone player. The decibel level of the place rose when they played in the rather snug space, but it was excellent music and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

All the antiques you are eating at, sitting on, being lit by, eating off of, etc. are all for sale! One of us described it as "Turkish brothel meets SoHo loft meets ebay.com." Seeing painting and crystal chandeliers hanging off the 100+ year old brickworks did work rather well. We especially liked the 1920s eera chandelier that would look at home in a Chinese banquet hall, and the check for the meal comes in a decorated tin box. Funny, it arrived in a flat Anheuser-Busch box that looked like it held thin cigars at one time, and the credit card slip to sign came back in the tea box pictured!

Alas, as the night wore on, and we stood at the bar to keep the night going (our table was being waited for -- the place really was packed -- so we couldn't linger as much as we would have liked). The bar backs onto the tiny galley kitchen -- in fact, the wall between them is shelving for the bottels of alcohol and for the food "pass." We assume the real cooking is done downstairs? Though we didn't see evidence of stairs ...

The staff was pleasant, though in the packed place, they could hardly move. There is only one unisex bathroom there, and as nice as it is, it isn't enough when you have that many people packed in an old garage and mezannine. In fact, I started getting a bit overheated and went outside for some air. And when I felt the call of nature, rather than going back in, I ran next door to Cendrillon and bought a drink at the bar and used their bathroom instead ...

It's a very nice, atmospheric, romantic place to dine, so come earlier, or perhaps for lunch or brunch. Alas, they don't have a website, so it's hard to find any information on them before you get there. Wonder why that is?

It's certainly very hot and trendy now, if that sort of thing is important to you. They have no cover charge even though they have a good band on Friday night, and no drink minimum even though it becomes a club later in the evening rather than a restaurant. Oh, and by the way, they are next door to a lesbian sex toy store which gives seminars which invite people of all orientations and genders ....

Some thing in SoHo are still the same! Hoorah!

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