Libertine opens on May 25. All photos by Evan Sung, courtesy of Libertine

The RundownNew York

Say Bonjour to Libertine, New York’s Newest French Bistro


As we’ve noted before, New York has a serious love affair with French restaurants and that commitment is only getting stronger with the May 25th opening of Libertine in the West Village. Here’s everything you need to know about this new French bistro from Anfora’s general manager and beverage director Cody Pruitt, the partner and founder of this new spot.

New York's Love Affair with French Restaurants


Why Is New York So Obsessed with French Restaurants?

The scene at the bar at The Four Horsemen


The Resy Guide to Drinking Great French Wine in New York


The Resy Guide for When You’re Craving French Food in New York

Cafe Rue Dix owners Nilea Alexander and Lamine Diagne

The Rundown

The Story of Crown Heights’ Beloved Cafe Rue Dix

The Rundown

Say Hello to Margot, Fort Greene’s Newest French Restaurant

Dish By Dish

How Koloman Deftly Combines Austrian, French, and New York Sensibilities, in Five Dishes

The Rundown

All About Le Rock, the Newest Restaurant From the Team Behind Frenchette

1. This isn’t your typical New York-style French bistro.

“The bistro is a very clear, archetypal kind restaurant in France,” says Pruitt, a native New Yorker who grew up traveling regularly to the French countryside every summer. He’s quick to note that bistro food isn’t limited to typical French dishes like steak frites or salade niçoise. “We’re not serving fries,” he adds. “You can get fries anywhere.”

Pruitt believes most Americans think of a bistro simply as a “restaurant without tablecloths,” especially since the term is used so loosely. With Libertine, his desire is to focus on what a bistro is like in the small villages of France that he grew up visiting. “There would be only one bistro and one fancy restaurant in town,” he explains. “At the bistro, it was kind of like ‘Cheers.’”

To call Pruitt a Francophile would be an understatement — his love for the French countryside, French greenmarket cuisine, bistro culture, and French wine and spirits is on a cellular level. Every aspect of Libertine’s menu, beverage program, and design is therefore steeped in a deep respect for French culture, along with the knowledge and familiarity to back it up. Together with executive chef and partner Max Mackinnon, he hopes Libertine encourages New Yorkers to adopt a richer understanding and appreciation of French cuisine and culture.

Cody Pruitt.
Max Mackinnon.

2. So what’s on the menu? We’re glad you asked.

“We’re serving French food in a way that we like eating in France that isn’t really available here,” says Pruitt. That means unique dishes that celebrate local farmers, customs, and tastes. “For us, this is more about highlighting lesser-known dishes, or whimsical riffs on regional specialties,” or essentially “elevated French grandma food,” he adds.

The opening menu includes snacks and hor d’oeuvres such as oeufs mayo with trout roe — something akin to inside-out deviled eggs — broiled scallops with seaweed butter and leeks, and a lobster and fish mousse-stuffed cabbage, among others. Main dishes include monkfish with a cream and Calvados sauce, housemade pork sausage, and a chicken with wild mushrooms and vin jaune. Steak and duck preparations for two evoke the sort of meat-rich dining one encounters at nearly every bistro in France.

Libertine’s cuisine du marché, or greenmarket approach, means the menu will undergo seasonal changes with different regional influences. “If it’s a colder month, we’re thinking about Normandy and Alsace for inspiration,” says Pruitt, “but then in the summer, it’s more Auvergne cuisine, Jura cuisine, and elements of Burgundy and Lyon.”

Charcuterie is also a star player. “We’re looking through the deck of the past 200 years of French charcuterie techniques,” says Pruitt. The provenance of every ingredient is also central: “Max and I are both very obsessive in terms of sourcing and process. We weren’t going to do a chicken dish just for the sake of having chicken on the menu until we found this particular, amazing chicken,” he says, which inspired a preparation from the Jura with wild mushrooms and the local wine.

Jambon persillé.
Jambon persillé.
Oeufs mayo.
Broiled scallops.
Lobster chou farçi at Libertine. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Libertine
Lobster chou farçi at Libertine. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Libertine

3. All the wines are French … and natural.

Natural wine is one of Pruitt’s many passions, having spent the last several years at Anfora, a natural wine bar also in the neighborhood. But it’s also very much in line with the bistro spirit. “In France, if you go to places and they don’t serve mostly or exclusively natural wines, I would have serious questions about their sourcing of food,” he says. “For me, it means there’s no filtering, there’s no fining [a winemaking step beyond filtering where egg whites or isinglass (fish gelatin) are typically used to clarify the wine], and there are minimal sulfites added.”

Don’t expect these wines to be “funky” or “earthy,” however — a common stigma or misconception about natural wines. Says Pruitt, “Funky winemaking is funky. You can make natural wine that is very classical tasting.” The wine list at Libertine is robust, with 12 selections by the glass, and more than 200 by the bottle, so there’s something for everyone, including traditional Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as deep cuts from France’s lesser-known regions.

Braised lamb à la moutarde.
Braised lamb à la moutarde.

4. The space feels like it’s been there forever.

It was extremely important to Pruitt that Libertine have a lived-in, well-loved feel about it. “We didn’t want anything too shiny.” The dropped ceiling is original, and the hexagonal tile floor was simply patched with concrete for a comfortable, worn-in look. A wall of French doors, (appropriately so) opens up onto Christopher Street, encouraging neighbors to peek inside.

What’s more, Libertine’s location on the corner of Greenwich Street and Christopher Street has a long history of functioning as a gathering place that served the ever-changing needs of the neighborhood. It’s always been a restaurant since being built in the 1870s and has only had a handful of different operators in its 150-year history. “It was a longshoreman’s pub in the 1870s, then it became a cafeteria, and then a speakeasy,” says Pruitt. “Later on, it became a gay bar, and then it was where the Black Power movement within the artist community was centered.” Prior to Libertine, the most recent tenant was Gaetana’s, a beloved Italian restaurant with an 18-year tenure.

5. The décor is French through and through.

Pruitt designed the restaurant himself. Of special significance are several custom enameled tabletops from Ardamez bearing Libertine’s logo. “They make the tables for one of my favorite cafés in Paris,” says Pruitt, “and I never thought in a million years I could afford them, but then the Euro was weak and I actually got them for significantly cheaper than I could even get non-custom enameled tables here, including shipping.” Libertine’s glassware follows a similar story: they consist of Art Deco water glasses and petit wine cups chosen by Pruitt to replicate those at yet another favorite Parisian spot.

Burgundy banquettes, exposed brick, and dark, wooden chairs round out the classic bistro look, with poster-framed artwork that Pruitt curated with similar intention: They include a 1969 French Railway Company-commissioned Salvador Dalí Spanish artist poster, and a Cy Twombly poster from his 2011 exhibition in Avignon, France, among others. A mugshot of Serge Gainsbourg overlooks the largest table in the middle of the room.

6. You can go deep into French spirits, too.

Libertine’s bar program also has a decidedly French point of view; you can check out the back bar for nine different offerings of Chartreuse alone. To start the meal, aperitif-style, classic cocktails are emphasized, with several sparkling or spritz options, and a traditional bistro Fine à l’Eau, essentially a French highball with cognac and soda. “There are enough great and often forgotten classic cocktails,” says Pruitt. “I don’t have the hubris to think that I can make an original one better than some of those options.” Libertine’s giant bar freezer means that many stirred cocktails are pre-batched and pre-chilled for speedy service.

Pastis service is also available, presented with a jug of water for the ritualistic mixing, and dessert wine options lean heavily into mistelles, French fortified wines such as Macvin du Jura and Pineau des Charentes.

Mid-meal, Pruitt encourages a tradition called a trou Normand. “Trou means hole,” explains Pruitt, “it’s a Norman hole: In the middle of a big meal, you do a shot of Calvados to open up a hole in your appetite.” Bon appétit indeed.

Chocolate mousse from Libertine pairs perfectly.
Chocolate mousse from Libertine pairs perfectly.

Libertine is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer, wine and cheese educator, and voice actor based in Astoria, Queens. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.