Jason Scott loves America. It’s obvious. His first subterranean bar, Sydney’s Shady Pines Saloon – which he opened in 2010 with his former business partner Anton Forte – mimics a whisky-and-peanut-packed watering hole of the Old West. Their second venue, The Baxter Inn, opened in Sydney’s CBD in 2011, and is the spitting image of a classic East Coast tavern. Dive-y pizza parlor Frankie’s Pizza followed in 2012, inspired by LA’s grunge era.
But he gave it all up, selling his interest in the Swillhouse Group last year (which also operates Restaurant Hubert), because, well, he just really, really loves America.
“Every time I left New York, it felt like I was leaving home,” says Scott from his new basement bar almost 16,000 kilometres from his past projects. “Eventually I just decided the lure was too strong and I thought I’d give it a go over here.”
It was a clever move – his ambitious two-storey corner venue in the buzzing lower Manhattan neighbourhood of Nolita has been embraced by locals and received press from the New York Times and Eater. Scott runs it with his business partner, fellow ex-Sydneysider Robert Marchetti (formerly the executive chef and co-owner at Icebergs and North Bondi Italian Food, among others).
The space operates as two venues: an underground cocktail bar called Peppi’s Cellar (which opened in January), and a street-level restaurant called Gran Tivoli (which opened in February). “I wanted there to be a connection between the two, but still have them feel like very different spaces,” says Scott.
For those who frequented Scott’s Sydney venues, Peppi’s (named after Marchetti’s father) feels somewhat familiar. The experience starts with a nondescript door (located on Cleveland Place), then a descending set of stairs that’s dimly lit by an antique chandelier adorned with bunches of grapes. As patrons make their way down past exposed-brick walls lined with cages of dusty wine bottles, flickering candlelight and old-timey tunes tempt them towards a grand timber bar. A visit to Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn or Restaurant Hubert starts in a similar way.
Like Hubert, Peppi’s has an oak stage flanked by red velvet curtains, which hosts local jazz musicians each week. While there are no deer or buffalo heads mounted on the walls as at Shady Pines, the toleware trinkets, thread paintings and old picture frames scattered throughout the space provide plenty of Americana charm. (Scott and designer Alexia Fisher road-tripped across America via Highway 80 to collect these “grandma antiques,” as Scott calls them, stopping at more than 30 antique stores in four days.) But bringing Americana to America wasn’t exactly Scott’s intention. There’s a little more nuance to it.
“I think Americans define what bars are really,” he says. “I mean, when you think of a bar you think of an American bar. You’ve got English and Irish pubs, you’ve got French cafes, and you’ve got American bars. I don’t feel [Peppi’s] is Americana but, I guess, it is. But to me that’s just what a bar should be.”
A bar must also be well-stocked, according to Scott, which is why more than 400 whiskies sit on Peppi’s tiered shelves, alongside an impressive cognac collection. Cocktails are also a focus, with a short seasonal menu of eight-ish specials, plus all the classics. The Boozy Apple – freshly crushed green-apple juice spiked with whiskey (available at Sydney Swillhouse venues) – is a crowd favourite. The Amaro-Palooza (a house-made amaro blend mixed with lemon, egg white and orange) gives the often-bitter digestif a sweet, sherbet-y twist.
Although the liquors garner a lot of attention, a huge wine barrel is fixed into the wall behind the bar to remind patrons of where they are: a cellar. (In fact, the barrel was the original reason for the road trip – no one would ship it from LA.) Ultimately, that’s what marries the two spaces: wine, and lots of it.
“I wanted [Peppi’s] to feel like the wine cellar from upstairs just got bigger and bigger and eventually took over,” says Scott.
And that’s exactly how it feels, particularly when you’re tucked into one of the private booths backed by walls constructed from empty wine bottles; or when you’re sitting in the private dining room that doubles as a cellar; or when you’re browsing the wine list (curated by Luke Sullivan, the former head sommelier at Sydney hospitality group Merivale), which features more than 150 different options. While there are plenty of bottles from France, Australia and the US, the list tilts towards Italy, which makes plenty of sense once you’re upstairs.
“Gran Tivoli is meant to be our version of a classic Italian bistro,” says Scott, who named it after both the Roman town of Tivoli and The Tivoli theatre in his hometown of Brisbane. “I don’t like to use that word, bistro, cause it’s a real French thing, but I want to it be a comfortable place you can hang out. I want it to feel like old New York, but not of a specific era.”
Dark wooden fixtures, cream leather banquettes, warm pendant globes and more mismatched grandma antiques evoke the old, while a colourful contemporary painting by Stephen Ormandy and playful linocut prints by Sydney’s Allie Webb (who also did work for Swillhouse) represent the new.
The food feels modern, too. It’s coastal Italian – or “Sydney’s version of Italian,” as Scott characterises it – which is light, fresh and seafood-oriented. (The seafood is supplied by Blue Ribbon Fish, one of the East Coast’s best seafood wholesalers.)
Although seafood is the star, there’s also a grilled Colorado lamp chop appetizer. Lamb this good is rare in New York; here it comes with a superb garlic, anchovy and agrodolce (sweet and sour) marinade. Marchetti is flying in Tasmania’s Cape Grim beef for the sirloin and bistecca fiorentina dishes.
In classic New York fashion, there’s a boozy brunch. The menu keeps some Italian flair, with crisp thick-cut mortadella and baked eggs in ragu, but also ventures into familiar breakfast territory with a tropical fruit plate and avocado toast. There are also guided spirit tours at the bar (Scotch whisky, American whiskey or world brandy tasting sessions hosted by an expert), dinner feast events and live music. In other words: there’s a lot going on.
“I’ve got a live music program, I’ve got a cocktail bar, I’ve got a whisky collection, I’ve got a comfortable space to hide away from the world, I’ve got the food I like to eat everyday upstairs … I love this venue,” Scott says.
But continue to watch this space.“I do get bored, so I’m sure something will come along.”
Gran Tivoli & Peppi’s Cellar
406 Broome Street, New York, NY
Brunch: Sat & Sun 12pm–5.30pm
Dinner: Daily 5.30pm–midnight
Sun to Wed 5.30pm–1am
Thu to Sat 5.30pm–2am