Capturing the Friedman

Such populist underpinnings are removed from the restaurant’s third floor, which opened after Jay-Z helped Mr. Friedman buy the building in August 2005 rather than risk a new, Pig-unfriendly landlord. Mr. Friedman said it’s used by the staff to count money most nights, but it occasionally hosts private dinners and gatherings for regulars or friends, with Ms. Bloomfield manning a separate kitchen (it’s zoned as a residential space, so it can’t just serve as additional seating for the restaurant). Mr. Cook said he recently attended a
birthday party for Joaquin Phoenix there. “It’s like the inner sanctum,” added David Lynch, a regular and longtime Babbo sommelier and General Manager who is now consulting with Mr. Friedman on the Pig’s wine list. “[Ken] really knows how to cater to that crowd. He’s a great example of the force of personality.”

Mr. Friedman himself does not quite project the image of new New York nightlife impresario. On Sunday after brunch (’Inoteca’s owners, more friends, sent over free dessert), he wandered through the Lower East Side in camouflage pants, hoodie sweatshirt and day-old scruff, pointing out food landmarks like Katz’s Deli on Houston Street. “April and I are obsessed with this place,” said Mr. Friedman. “Maybe we’ll do a place like that someday. Can you imagine it with booze? With tattooed bartenders serving all night?” He had less kind words for Chickie Pig’s, a pizza place on Ludlow with a suspiciously familiar-looking large wooden porcine hanging above the door. He wandered into Spitzer’s Corner, a new bar-slash-restaurant on Rivington. “This was my fear, doing a bar with good food—that the bar would be empty,” he said. “Luckily, that’s never been the case.” At the Tuck Shop, a slip of a restaurant near Prune that serves Australian meat pies, he popped in to say hello to the owner, Niall Grant, who was the Pig’s first bartender. “You should do an article on him,” he said. He says this often, each time with renewed enthusiasm, about the various employees and former employees who move in his large orbit.


TWO DAYS EARLIER, on a Friday, Mr. Friedman had been an hour late to meet The Observer at the Pig. “My friends think I started a restaurant to clean out my apartment,” he said, referring to the plentiful pig paraphernalia, much of which was once Mr. Friedman’s own. He sat at a corner table on the second floor, where he tapped a knife restlessly on the table and spoke in half-finished sentences, distracted by friends eating all around him and by Mr. Lynch, who was waiting downstairs to discuss the Pig’s wine list. Several times he hit The Observer’s tape recorder with his bouncing knife, after which he put his mouth up to the microphone and said, “Sorry.”

“We’re more like oysters and Guinness,” he said of the forthcoming John Dory, differentiating his new restaurant from the Balthazar school of seafood, which is more “oysters and champagne.” “That neighborhood [10th Avenue between 15th and 16th streets] has Del Posto, Morimoto, Craftsteak, all these fancy restaurants; there’s no late-night, fun hangout kind of bar-slash-restaurant. So we’ll end up being that.” Having Mr. Batali and his partner Joe Bastianich right next door at Del Posto will help keep the standards high, he said. “They don’t want to let a restaurant right next door, with their name also on it, be a mess. I think the three of them [Mr. Batali, Mr. Bastianich and Ms. Bloomfield] are going to be pushing for it to be more of an elegant fine-dining restaurant, and I’m going to be pushing for it to be more of a pub. Which is kind of what April and I always did.”

The John Dory’s name, Mr. Friedman added, was Mr. Bastianich’s idea. “I wanted to name it after an animal, so I came up with the Striped Marlin. And Mario said, ‘I like it but it sounds a little Key West.’” A sidewalk permit will allow for outdoor seating under the High Line, and Mr. Friedman is also planning a small adjacent wine bar with floor-to-ceiling views of the Hudson, where customers can wait for their tables.

There are other projects in the works, too, like the one with Freeman’s owner Taavo Somer, a friend; Mr. Friedman will not discuss it except to say it has a location, name and a “brand-new idea,” and Mr. Somer will be decorating. (Mr. Friedman is too busy decorating the John Dory, he said. Ms. Bloomfield predicts “fish pitchers and fish plaques.”) Mr. Friedman and Ms. Bloomfield have also recently been offered restaurants in Vegas and in various New York hotels, including, he hinted, the forthcoming Thompson hotel on Allen Street, all of which they’ve turned down. “I’m big-picture. I’m thinking about five years from now, when I wanna have a restaurant here and a restaurant here. [April’s] thinking about this plate,” Mr. Friedman said. That said, “I want to make money. I was always the talented and creative guy who never made any money. And I don’t wanna be that now.” The plan is to grow into an iconic New York brand like the Odeon or the Plaza, he said, by choosing projects carefully. Mr. Friedman would love to collaborate with British chef Fergus Henderson, for whom he recently threw a bash at the Pig, and he entertains fantasies of opening a place in San Diego, where his mother, the Pig’s “unpaid publicist,” lives, or in L.A., where he was born and raised, the oldest of four children (one brother, Doug, currently works at the Pig). What is certain is that all his ventures will involve Ms. Bloomfield, whether or not she is actually in the kitchen. “I’m not going to do any project involving food without April as my partner. It just doesn’t make sense. I want her to be my bullshit detector.” Besides, he said, “it’s much sexier to have Michelin stars.”

After retiring with Mr. Lynch to the second-floor “lounge” to discuss reinvigorating the wine list (“Sometimes people want to come in and have a $22 glass of wine,” said Mr. Friedman), it was up to the mysterious third floor, where tables and chairs were stacked in a corner. “This is Megan; she used to be the personal chef for Jimmy Buffet. And this is Astrid; she’s Brazilian,” said Mr. Friedman, motioning toward two women at computers in a cramped office.

Mr. Friedman’s Blackberry buzzed. Accommodating his pub’s prodigious number of friends, investors, regulars and the people they send over—which a few people, like his mother and Jay-Z, do “almost every day”—is occasionally challenging, but he calls it “good stress.” “It’s like, the guy down the street would love our problem,” said Mr. Friedman.

“When people say, ‘I’m so sorry, but can I have a table tonight?’, I’m like, ‘Sorry for what?’ Someone’s going to sit at that table, and it might as well be someone I know. That’s one of the perks of owning a restaurant. You get to take care of your friends and your mom.”

Capturing the Friedman