King of Clubs: Taavo Somer Opens Peels

By

Published August 23, 2010

 

PHOTO BY JACK SIEGEL

 

“I used to think of restaurants as being cinematic,” Taavo Somer says. “Like you were creating a setting. But now I think of them more like characters or people. When you sit down to have a meal with someone, the restaurant is the third participant in that interaction.” We’re sitting at the bar of Gemma, the Italian restaurant Somer designed for the ground floor of the Bowery Hotel. Just down the block is Peels, his much-anticipated follow-up to Freemans, the go-to restaurant that defined an era, and a neighborhood.

Asked about the relationship between Peels and his original creation, Somer half-joking suggests that “They’re dating,” although the real romance here is Somer’s classic love affair with New York. While Freeman’s end-of-alley location and taxidermy-filled interior makes it feel like a clubby retreat from the city, Peels’s location at the busy corner of Bowery and 2nd Street inspired Somer to create a more “feminine” persona. Large windows open the cream-colored space to the street, while a to-go counter and diner-style seating creates an easy-going, deliberately democratic accessibility. Somer hopes that Peels will serve as a functional meeting place—a hybrid of the McNally brunch-and-beers bistro Balthazar and the late-night Polish diner Veselka—the kind of multi-purpose New York institution where a varied crowd will comfortably mix, and customers might stop by multiple times throughout the day. Since the restaurant is scheduled to be open from 7:30 am until 3am, that won’t be hard.

The menu of Southern-inflected comfort food by chef Preston Madson has also inspired Somer’s work on the Freemans Sporting Club clothing line. FSC’s recently opened shop on Bleecker and Christopher Streets in the West Village prominently displays a sign announcing that all of the apparel was produced within a 1.5-mile radius. “Everybody talks about being a locavor,” Somer observes, “But then they don’t think twice about wearing a shirt made in a sweatshop in China.” Sipping on a bottle of Peroni, with marble dust covering his T-shirt, Somer looks like a man ready to get back to work.