When The Four Horsemen opened in the summer of 2015, its team of founders — led by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy — decided they wanted to “under promise and over deliver.” Marketing themselves primarily as a wine bar, they thought, would allow the food to speak for itself. Eight years and one Michelin star later, The Four Horsemen has solidified its reputation for being a serious destination for food and wine, and New Yorkers still clamor to get a table.
Why? Perhaps it has to do with the meticulous care and thought put forth by executive chef Nick Curtola and his team. Or maybe it’s the 700-bottle list of natural and biodynamic wines, curated by Justin Chearno. And then, of course, there’s the genuine warm welcome extended to each guest.
So, how to get in? In this latest installment of The One Who Keeps The Books, general manager Amanda McMillan reveals all.
Note: This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
How to Get In
Resy: When do reservations drop?
McMillan: A month in advance at 6 a.m. People always write to us saying that they’re setting alarms in like Australia to book, which is crazy.
How quickly do you guys book up?
Honestly, it’s pretty quick. Once the reservations go live, the prime-time slots fill up right away. There’s potentially some wiggle room at 5:30 and 10:30 for two-tops, but we only have four four-tops in the entire restaurant. Those fill up as soon as we go live.
Do you hold any seats for walk-ins?
The bar and the seats in the front window are open for walk-ins all night long. We seat the bar, it’s not a seat-yourself situation. You talk to the host and put your name down, and a lot of people line up outside for that. I’d say it’s a good strategy to show up right when we open because half of our seating is available at that time.
Do you have any tips or tricks for getting a table?
Wait at the door!
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop a month in advance at 6 a.m. Set your alarms!
The Layout: The Four Horsemen seats just 40 guests at a time. There are four four-tops, 10 seats around the bar, and the rest are two-tops.
Pro Tip: Sit at the bar. It’s reserved all night for walk-ins. Also, consider coming in for lunch.
Walk On In: Line up at 5 p.m. when the restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m.; half of the seating is open to walk-ins.
Must-Orders: The dinner menu changes every couple of weeks, and the lunch menu can change from day to day. But do look for any breads, pastas, and sausages, all of which are made in house from scratch. “I find the bread to be euphoric,” general manager Amanda McMillan says.
What to Expect While You’re There
What’s it like to dine at The Four Horsemen?
When I came on, I very quickly understood the vision that the founders were trying to create. They took inspiration from the hospitality that they’d experienced in London, Japan, Copenhagen, and France, and wanted to replicate those experiences here. They didn’t feel there was anything quite like it in New York, where you maybe just came in for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and ended up staying all day. We wanted to create a space that was so comfortable and inviting that, even if you were just going to drop in, you end up staying for hours, making friends. That’s where London was really a culture of reference. It’s also that feeling of hygge, which is very common to experience in Copenhagen; that’s a quality that really inspires our atmosphere. And then there’s a level of attentiveness, attention to detail, and effusive hospitality in Japan that was referenced early on. Finally there’s that jovial, kind of boisterous party atmosphere that you find in French wine bars, where things are a little rough around the edges, where everyone is sharing bottles, so we really wanted to emphasize that as well.
The restaurant is known for its extensive natural wine list. Can you tell me a bit about that?
When we first started out, people didn’t know much about natural wines. I used to joke that you could wake me up from the middle of a dead sleep and ask me, “What is orange wine?” and I would be ready to go because we were answering that question every night over and over. We have gotten to the point where most of our guests are foodies who know a fair amount about the wines.
At the same time, we’re also trying to debunk this myth that natural wine has to taste like it was made in a garage or something like that. Our wines are actually very classic in style, and we work with winemakers who aren’t making it this way because it’s trendy; they’re making wine this way because they’re meticulous farmers and that’s what they’ve always done. I think when some people say, “I’m going to try natural wine!” they think they’re doing, like, psychedelic drugs for the first time. Really, it’s just a very beautiful and expressive agricultural product. The wine makers we support are methodical and meticulous and it shows in the wine. So with us, you’re not necessarily going to get those wild — and I hate using the word “funky” — but funkier types of wines. We have some of that, but it’s not really what we champion the most. We serve really well-made wine.
Do you have a sommelier?
We don’t. Technically, everyone who works front of house is a sommelier. There are 700 wines on our list and anyone on my staff can tell you about all 700 of them. Our team is incredible at meeting guests where they’re at and being able to talk about wine with anyone. Whether someone just wants a recommendation, or if they want to talk about one vintage compared to another, the team can do both. Many of them have been somms or GMs (general managers) at other restaurants. Justin Chearno is our wine director and he’s the one who’s going to wine fairs all over Paris and the world, making selections for our wine list. It’s his list. He tastes wines constantly, and his sharpness is really something that only comes with that level of experience. He has access in a way that would be difficult to gain for someone starting out now; he’s an incredible asset to the restaurant.
Can you talk a bit about the lunch service and how it differs from the dinner service?
The Notify list works really well for lunch. Our lunch menu is so exciting, and our chef, Nick, works the line or expos during lunch. Our lunch menu can be a little more hyper seasonal and dishes might only be there for a week or two. The quality is the same; our kitchen tests every dish until it’s exactly how they want it. But sometimes they’ll experiment a bit more with the lunch menu or use products that might only be available for a short amount of time. We have regulars who come in for lunch and stay all the way through dinner service.
Obviously, music is important here. Who puts the playlist together?
It’s evolved a lot over the years. When we first opened up, we only played full albums; we never really had playlists. It was a great approach, and we still often play full albums. That database was started by James [Murphy] our musician boss. Over the years, different people on staff have contributed to it. When we opened Nightmoves [the nightclub space next door] we formed DJ relationships. So now we have a community of DJs that we work with, and we have resident DJs. In terms of genres, it’s all over the map.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
We hope that every seat is the best seat. I like the bar, of course, because I can see everything. It feels really social and like you’re witnessing a bit of what goes on behind the scenes. The corner spots on our banquettes are also really nice. I love sitting on the banquettes.
About the One Who Keeps the Books
How long have you been with The Four Horsemen?
Seven-and-a-half years. We’re coming up on our eighth birthday this year. The restaurant opened in June, and I started in October. There was a five-month period that I missed. I’m pretty O.G., but there are people who are more O.G. than I am. We’ve had some team members with us since the very beginning, which is something we’re incredibly thankful for and proud of.
How to Become a Regular
Do you have a lot of regulars?
We sure do. We have so many beloved regulars that we all know so well. We have people who have been coming since the beginning. The whole reason we became known as a wine bar was because, when we opened, we wanted to under promise and over deliver. So, we just said we were a wine bar and then people could come and discover that we have amazing food. But it actually took us a few years to overcome that messaging mistake, because a lot of people thought they couldn’t have dinner here.
Getting our New York Times review and getting our Michelin star definitely solidified our reputation for being a very serious kitchen. But there were a few years where we felt like we were a best-kept secret, and there were a handful of people who were great regulars back then, and they’ve become great friends now.
A lot of the same people, as well as a few new ones, really kept us afloat during the pandemic. There was a period of time before outdoor dining started where we were just selling root beer floats out the window, and wine from our cellar, and T-shirts and merch. Anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor was for sale because we wanted to make sure our team had a job to come back to. There were a handful of people in the neighborhood who stopped by multiple times a week, and bought bottles of wines from us, or came and ate in the rain or the hot sun. It was so hand to mouth that every little sale mattered. I will never forget the regulars who supported us during that time. I will always do whatever I can to move mountains for those people.
How do you become a regular?
Obviously, just come often. We’ve been talking about how difficult it can be to get in, but it’s not actually that difficult if you just come with one other person and are flexible with where and when you’re seated. Get a drink next door at our bar, Nightmoves. We’ll get you in.
What keeps people coming back?
I think it’s a lot of things, and it’s different for different people. Obviously, a lot of people come for our wine list. For sure, the food. The food is so special. I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t deeply proud of what we’re doing. Everything that the kitchen team does is incredibly labor-intensive. We have a 24-hour fermentation process for our bread. We make our own pasta. We make our own sausages. That’s why we have such a good team in the kitchen, they’re all craftsmen.
The energy in the room is amazing. We try to make it a place that has the fine dining touches in the way that we do service, but that doesn’t feel stuffy. A lot of people also engage with our front of house team. They’re all great people who are excellent to talk to, especially if you’re interested in food and wine. A lot of people form connections with them. I think the food, the hospitality, the wine, and the vibe all keep people coming back.
The Four Horsemen is open from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and from 11 to 4 p.m. for lunch Fridays to Sundays.