I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry
dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural
darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…
Allen Ginsberg, Howl
65 Saint Marks Place
New York City, New York 10003
Bar Jules is owned by Georges Forgeois. Forgeois owns a collection of bistros in New York: Cercle Rouge and Cafe Noir in Tribeca (both now closed), Le Singe in Chelsea and Bar Tabac in Brooklyn. These restaurants are his creation of the bistros that he grew up with in France. His believes that bistros should provide comfort, contentment, excitement and warmth.
From the Website:
Having resided in Harlem for many years upon his move to New York, owner Georges Forgeois was inspired to bring the energy of the many jazz venues he frequented down to the Rock ‘n Roll East Village. With Jules, Georges revived the long overlooked jazz era and introduced it to a whole new generation alongside heaping piles of moules frites, bubbling bowls of onion soup gratinée and tender onglet de boeuf. Whether you’re stopping by for a glass of red, settling in for a romantic meal or enjoying the music, Jules Bistro delivers a memorable experience with the reassurance “We’ll always have Paris.”
After our recent experience at Jules Bistro, we can say that he has succeeded in his goal!
Bar Jules is located on St. Mark’s Place. St.Mark’s Place is an important neighborhood in New York. It was the home of the Beats in the 1950’s, the hippies in the 1960’s, the punks and the rockers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the anarchists in the 1980’s, and the skate-punks in the 1990’s.
There were jazz clubs, and poets and painters and musicians and cheap bars and used clothes stores. It was many scenes all mixed together into one loud, dirty, chaotic scene of torn blue-jeans, chains, hair, energy, drugs, drink, loud bars and parties. It has always been a center of the bohemian, the avant-garde, the artist, and the beautiful losers. In those days we were young, and the scene was creative, exciting and dangerous.
Now, gentrification has arrived. St. Marks Bookstore is out of business. We have hipster zombies staring into their identical iPhones and Mac Airs projecting their airs of intense artistic purpose drinking their artisanal single source coffee. We know they are only wasting time and building their brands on Facebook. There has been much local angst over the gentrification of St. Mark’s. The best article I have seen is in the New Yorker; see the Resources if you are interested.
The question here is how far will the charm of a hostess take a restaurant? Answer: very far indeed!
When I arrived I was greeted with great warmth and smiles by a lovely young and French hostess. I was led to a red banquette across from the bar. There are white table cloths, candles, a full compliment of glasses and proper wine glasses. There are small candles on the tables and the light is low and comfortable. The chairs are old and brown and the wood shows the scrapes and age of history. The bar is small but inviting. The atmosphere is relaxed. The talk is quiet and it is a neighborhood crowd.
These people know jazz. I am listening to the Gentle Side of John Coltrane. It is a perfect compliment. The menu says “Jules Is Jazz” since 1993, so they have been in the bistro and jazz scene for a long time.
There are black and white photos on the wall. They are portraits of unknown people. There is an antique poster of “Port Du Desir.”
Port Du Desir is an obscure movie. The translation is “House on the Waterfront” and it was directed by Edmond T. Gréville. In the movie, a captain wants to raise a sunken ship at the entrance to the port of Marseilles, not knowing that it contains the body of a murdered woman. The ship’s owner, a local gangster, plans to sabotage the operation, since he was the man who killed the woman to prevent her from revealing his crooked activities. He bribes a young diver to blow up the wreck with explosives. When the diver discovers the truth, he decides to flee with the dead woman’s sister with whom he has fallen in love. This is classic American film noir as filtered through French sensibility. The critics say that what sets this film apart from other noir-influenced French crime-thrillers of this period is “the brutal realism that is achieved through the use of natural locations, depictions of no holds barred violence and a grittier, almost neo-realist approach to cinematography.”
I wonder how this poster came to be on the wall of Jules Bistro? Does the owner love film noir, was it a gift, was it found on the street, or was it a random purchase from an old poster store?
Jules is unique in that it features live jazz during the week. The music starts at 8:30 and lasts until around 11:30. Its website has the music calendar. We heard the Austin Becker Trio. The music was straight up jazz, well played and not intrusive into the dinner.
Dinner and jazz restaurants often fail. They seem like natural companions but the focus may be on the dining experience and the jazz becomes an afterthought. The music becomes annoying. Or the focus is on the music and the dining experience suffers.
Jules has found the right balance between a positive dining experience, and respect and appreciation for the musicians.
The menu is traditional bistro. Appetizers include onion soup, tartine de chevre chaud (with goat cheese, tomato confit, bruschetta, baby arugula and honey dressing), escargots, terrine de campagne “mere azeline” (with house-made country pâté with cornichons, cipollini onions, toast and greens), steak tartare and a terrine de foie gras.
What is the difference between a “tartine,” a “terrine” and a “tatin”?
A “tartine” is an open-faced sandwich that is lightly toasted rustic bread. It is topped by French cheese and may have a light spread of mustard, spinach and bacon lardons.
The word “terrine” has two meanings. It is a meat loaf similar to a pate but more coarsely made. Many terrines are made with game meat, like deer and boar. Terrines can be made of seafood or vegetables. The mixture is packed into a rectangular dish (sometimes also called a terrine) and cooked in a bain-marie. Sweet terrines may also be made from fruit. Terrines also refers to the cooking vessel which is an oblong earthenware pan with straight sides.
A “tatin” is an upside down individually made apple pastry. I discuss the history of tatines here:________.
The menu is traditional. The starters are salad nicoise, endives au jambon (steamed endives with boar’s head ham) and pot au feu. The mains are: steamed mussels, grilled wild salmon, grilled hanger steak, roasted chicken, steak frites, a cassoulet and duck breast.
The specials are written on a large chalkboard on the wall to the right as you enter the restaurant. This is an important element of the Archetype and it is being lost in many bistros.
My starter was the asparagus soup of the day and the aile de raie aux capres (pan seared skate wing with capers and garlic butter, and Yukon gold mashed potatoes). My son had the saumon grille (grilled wild salmon over warm lentil salad and basil aioli). We had pommes frites on the side.
The baguette arrived in a straw basket as it should. I inquired about the source of the bread and our hostess said: “From Paris, of course!” I am not sure if she was serious but the bread was a higher quality than I typically see. The crust was dry, and flakey and smelled faintly of nuts, and the crumb had good structure, was slightly chewy and had good balance.
Our wine was the Grenache-Syrah Chateau la Gordonne 2011.It had a deep red color. The nose was intense, with violet, currant and pepper. The finish was full and long. It was a much better wine than the price of $11 would suggest.
The wine menu is balanced. They have wines from the Rhone and the south of France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Loire and Bordeaux. There are more wines by the glass than is customary and they have a selection of champagne and sparkling wines.
The asparagus soup was well prepared. It was light and delicate in flavor and texture. Their was a white island of crème fraîche on top.
The pommes frites were quality. Although they were hot, some of them were soggy and not as crisp and salted as they should be.
Our waitress brought our second glass of wine. I remarked that it was my son’s birthday but it had not gone well because his apartment had flooded just before dinner due to strong winter rains that followed a light snow. She was very sympathetic and poured him an extra portion of wine. She was friendly, charming, personable, beautiful and brought a lightness and an energy to our meal. She spoke beautiful French inflected English and we asked her a number of questions just to hear her talk!
Our mains arrived. My skate was cooked in butter and white wine and came with mashed potatoes. The dish lacked color. It was bland and it lacked clarity of flavor between the fish and the potatoes. Too much whiteness and starchiness. Like a good jazz trio, each food element must have its own space. There must be clarity of texture and color. Each element must mix with the others to create something new yet each must keep its own space.
The salmon and lentils was a stronger dish. The flavors and textures were clear and precise. The salmon was grilled properly. The lentils were over cooked slightly but still acceptable. Over all the food was slightly above average quality.
After we arrived a birthday party was seated next to us. There were balloons and presents and loud arguments about office politics and bosses.
Our waitress brought a small cake and ice cream and a sparkler. She walked toward the birthday party, turned and placed the cake on our table. She knew that my son’s birthday had not gone well and wanted to do something nice for us. This is a rare gesture in a New York restaurant and we appreciated it. Small personal acts build goodwill, make a restaurant memorable and result in repeat customers.
The food at Jules is average but the energy, atmosphere and service were excellent. We enjoyed the jazz. We rate Jules very highly and will be back!
Tartines, Terrines and Tatins
Le Port du Desir
St. Mark’s Place
Ed van Der Elsken