Note: Columbus Tavern has closed. A. G. Kitchen, from Calle Oche chef Alex Garcia, replaces it.
Columbus Tavern is a cute and mildly diverting Upper West Side neighborhood restaurant. It has gastropub ambitions that it doesn’t quite deliver on.
The cringe-worthy proffer is written in the worst publicistspeak, and printed in large type on the world’s ugliest ca. 1980s website:
Columbus Tavern cunningly straddles the line between a destination and neighborhood restaurant by offering the beloved comfort food that diners secretly crave with a contemporary spin.
The 120-seat restaurant has great legs with its art deco tile floor, burgundy banquettes and gorgeous 100 year old mahogany bar which seats 20.
After posting that nauseating prose, they deserve to have no customers at all.
The folks in charge have the most clever name for their clutch of mediocre restaurants: The Restaurant Group. It’s the same team that failed a short distance away, at Bloomingdale Road (now closed). Their chef, Phil Conlon, brings a resume of no particular distinction, including Broadway East (now closed) and Cafe Cluny, though he turns out to be pretty good.
They aren’t off to a great start here. Although open since February, their web page still says, “Full Site Coming Soon.” The menu posted there is not current: both of our entrées were less expensive than the website shows. The menu is presented in a cheesy laminated sleeve; it obviously doesn’t change daily, so how hard would it be to post a current one online?
The restaurant is obviously cutting prices to attract patronage, but the wine list is barely accessible, with the average bottle of red wine priced at $70 and a number of them in three figures. The Federalist 2008 Zinfandel ($48) was quite enjoyable, but this type of restaurant needs more wines at that price and below.
The food is enjoyable and fairly priced: a rich ricotta ravioli with chestnuts ($18; above left), a supple roast chicken with fingerling potatoes, carrots and escarole ($19; above right). At another table, we saw a half-inch-thick burger that looked terrific.
I was curious to know what the chef would do with duck, but after ordering it the server returned moments later to say they were “out of that.” As it was early in the evening, and the restaurant was not close to full, a more accurate statement might be that they never actually had it. After a while, that server disappeared, and it was difficult to flag down anyone who could bring us a check.
The restaurant occupies one of those ubiquitous Upper West Side avenue storefronts with a covered outdoor patio that can be opened on nice days, but is usable in winter. It is a pleasant place to dine on a summer evening.
I don’t have much confidence that the management can fix what’s wrong and publicize what’s right. The chef knows what he is doing, and at these prices the restaurant is a worthwhile neighborhood place. I hope it’s still around next year.
Columbus Tavern (269 Columbus Ave between 72nd/73rd Streets, Upper West Side)