Bistrot Bagatelle in New York City’s Meatpacking District is a Parisian restaurant where chic crowds flock to enjoy a lively brunch with friends on a weekend afternoon. Owners Aymeric Clemente and Remi Laba offer customers a French Mediterranean experience through the atmosphere, cuisine and notorious “champagne brunch.” Similar to a Parisian bistro with classic architecture, vibrant art, dangling chandeliers, and lively music, Bagatelle offers the perfect setting for a lunchtime fête.
The experience begins at the door, where women in casual-chic dresses adorn the arms of men in trendy but well-tailored suits. Guests are escorted to tables in the crisp white interior and are presented with the menu – which to Clemente and Laba, is the most important aspect of Bagatelle. Dishes include traditional French meals such as Le Croque Monsieur, filet mignon béarnaise and ratatouille along with twists on conventional French dishes like fois gras with fig marmalade and tuna tartar with citrus avocado salad. Mid-brunch, the celebration escalates as the DJ cranks the music louder while waiters retrieve magnum carafes of rosé and Dom Perignon from the wine cellar. Before you know it, everyone is dancing and visitors feel as if they have stepped into a venue with great company, fine wine and dine, and the aura of a European vacation.
So why confine this unique restaurant-celebratory experience to only one city? Bagatelle America and The One Group have recently partnered to expand the once New York-based brand, in size and location. The joint venture will initiate the expansion of Bagatelle both nationwide and overseas. By the end of 2012, Bagatelle will have seven locations – New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Barts and Sao Paolo. So bring your flair, appetite for punch bowls and exquisite French food to Bagatelle, where Laba says, “people will, eat, drink, and become merry, and then they’re the ones taking the party to the next level.”
How is this Bagatelle different from your previous projects?
Remi Laba: One big change includes our nationwide partnership with the One Group. We created a joint venture between One Group and Bagatelle America. Another major difference is the size and the location of the space. As far as spirit and décor, you’re really looking at a Bagatelle 2.0, with the same philosophy and vibe as at the first one. We still have our white walls, moldings, vibrant art, oversized flowers, chandeliers, wine cellar and oversized bar. It’s the grown up version of Bagatelle. It’s more comfortable— with more space for guests to dine, as well as a private dining room with its own private bar, which for us is a big improvement. Another major difference is that at Bagatelle, we had two co-ed bathrooms, so we always had the very long line. In the new space, we have a women’s bathroom and a men’s bathroom, and both have many stalls so there’s no waiting in line for hours to get to the bathroom.
Aymeric Clemente: The One Group is bringing us a very strong backbone. We are more focused on everything in the front of the house: the customer to employee relationship and the marketing aspect.
RL: Most importantly, our partnership is one of growth. Bagatelle was previously a New York brand, but by the end of 2012, Bagatelle will have seven locations. Our most recent opening was St. Barts in October 2011. We will also open locations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas (August), Miami, Seattle and Sao Paulo (August). This would not be possible without our strong partnership with One Group which promotes structure and growth.
I took a glance at the menu and it seems like a French-y food type of vibe. Can we highlight some of your favorites and what people should expect as far as the menu goes?
AC: Bagatelle has always been about the French flair, you know? Obviously it’s a new bistro, so we like to put a spin on classic dishes. For example, the tuna tartar is made with soy sauce and guacamole. We will always have classic staples on the menu like the truffle roasted chicken and the Bagatelle salad, made with an old school French vinaigrette. We also have the filet mignon béarnaise, a very French dish. Another French dish with a little twist are our escargots with tomato confit.
When you were searching for the space, what were you looking for?
RL: Well, we didn’t even look for space at all. The space found itself. Jonathan and the One Group had a venue there as a placeholder until they knew what they would do. When the lease was renewed, we finally got our brand back. You know, it was always the intent of doing something here: it’s just a perfect corner. It’s probably one of the best corners in New York City. It’s the convergence of all the Meatpacking—Gansevoort Street, Greenwich, West 12th—all great things meet at that corner.
AC: And at 2pm, you get the sun all afternoon, which is amazing.
RL: We are expecting our sidewalk café in the next 15 days to 3 weeks with 50 seats. For us, the location makes perfect sense, and it’s the same neighborhood, so we’re very, very close, with much bigger visibility. And that location will allow us to start a true lunch business. Previously, Bagatelle was only open for dinner and brunch, and here we plan on opening for brunch, lunch and dinner, and perhaps offer breakfast a bit later.
What goes into your Bagatelle brunch and are there any elements that are different from the previous menu?
RL: What really goes into a Bagatelle brunch is one simple thing: authenticity. We will try to bring you the closest, most genuine experience to having a late lunch at St. Tropez in the summer, anywhere in the south of France, and even in the Mediterranean. One big difference between us and other brunches that follow us is that we do not have a minimum standard for dining. It’s all about the food and the atmosphere. When many people imitate the Bagatelle brunch, I’ve referred to what they were doing as a day club. To us, Bagatelle is not a day club.
AC: For some, the most important aspect is of the party. But for us, the important part of the brunch is from elevator to six—it’s the whole thing, it’s not only the party part.
RL: Also, we don’t take any reservations that are not coming here to eat. So the food and the restaurant aspects are extremely important. People who come here come to celebrate life. And celebrating life means coming with a group of people and having a great lunch in the daylight. Our intentions are not to put you in the dark, close the curtains and have you party in the night. We’re here to give you an environment where you can have great food, enjoy convivial drinks, the big carafes of rosé, of course, and also the big punch bowls and cocktails. It’s always fun, it’s all about sharing, and in the end, good music. And with good music, people will, eat, drink, and will become merry, and then after that, they’re the ones taking the party to the next level. And we are here to facilitate that. On another note, we’re also here to tame the party when it goes too wild. We’re not the biggest fans of champagne spray and showers because we believe that people that come to eat here are not coming to get sprayed—they may have somewhere to go at 6pm. We also know they’re putting a lot of effort into dressing up and looking good, so they don’t want to be soaked in champagne in a nice dress or suit. We try to find ways to have a real fun party that can sometimes get wild, but always remain sophisticated. I think that’s what you really find here at Bagatelle: a real meal, real fun, quality and authenticity. And no minimums, which means we really look after our clients.
Where are your favorite places to shop, eat and get away?
RL: If I go on a quick getaway, I think St. Barts is one of my favorite locations because it’s the closest place to home, France, where I can somewhat find our French lifestyle. It’s a beautiful island; it’s small. I’ve been going here for a long time, so I have my habits. I love St. Barts. So, as far as New York is concerned, I love going to The Vinatta Project. I think The Vinatta Project is a great little restaurant. Bar PDT, [the] terrace, it’s a great, great spot. If I have to go uptown, there’s nothing better than lunch at Bilboquet on 63rd street. Sadly, it’s closing but we’re hoping it’s going to reopen very soon. As far as going out for a drink, Gun Bar’s always fun and Avenue is nice. But there are so many places in New York. Going to the Lower East Side and eating at Fat Radish is also one my favorites. Aymeric has a whole other list of locations he loves to go to. He’s the Dim Sum Go Go King.
AC: Dim Sum Go Go! On Sundays. I love like Blue Ribbon Sushi or Bond Street, you know. I love everything Asian. For daytime, I am usually always at work, so I go to Fatty Crab or Bilboquet...I used to work there. When I go away, I mean, I love St. Barts as well, but I like to go back to the south of France, which is where I’m from, so I always go to Marseilles, where my family is, and St. Tropez and see all my friends. I don’t go out much, but last I did I went to Avenue for a friend’s birthday. The Boom Boom Room sometimes, but I’m not that much into following the trend. I like to go where I know people—it’s always good to see faces that you know and trying to see new places. I used to be okay with dealing with door policy and stuff like that, but I don’t do that anymore. I’m 38 now, I’m getting so old.
Especially since you are throwing brunch parties in the summer, what is the dress code for men?
RL: Well, I think it’s always casual chic.
Can you get away with shorts and a blazer?
RL: No way. Well, I mean, in the summer, maybe, yeah. Look, in the end, it’s about flair. My initial answer is no, but usually the combination of shorts and blazers is not necessarily the best, but if you’re able to pull it off and you have flair and the shorts are really cool...I mean, if you have flair in the way you dress, it’s casual chic or trendy and fun. If it adds to the room, then you’ll come in. Obviously nothing sloppy—we try to avoid sneakers and whatnot. And when I say sneakers, I mean running shoes. The trendy sneakers are not completely unacceptable. But it’s really more about the flair: how you carry yourself and how you dress.
AC: The best clothes for the woman are the arms of the man who loves her and then the best dress code for the men here is, uh...
To bring cute girls.
AC: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]