All photos courtesy of Joseph Leonard

Letter of RecommendationNew York

Why Joseph Leonard Is The Quintessential Village Restaurant


The landscape of New York City has changed dramatically since I first moved here three decades ago, back when the Twin Towers were an iconic downtown landmark and Hudson Yards served as a parking lot for rail cars. That’s why I take comfort in the unspoiled parts of the city and for me, those pockets seem to be most abundant in Greenwich Village. Whether I want to channel the days of Henry James, beatnik coffeehouses, or the Stonewall uprising, all I have to do is grab a seat at Joseph Leonard and simply gaze out the window.

The entrance of the 14-year-old restaurant sits on the diagonal of an archetypal Village block where the convention of the street grid is broken by angles, and the streets have names instead of numbers. Joseph Leonard looks out to the historic Northern Dispensary, where Grove Street intersects with Waverly Place, defying the urban plan even more. Edgar Allan Poe, who once lived down the block, was treated at that dispensary in 1837. Christopher Park, where The Stonewall National Monument and George Segal sculptures commemorate the uprising that fostered the Gay Liberation movement, comes to a point on the opposite corner.

The building where Joseph Leonard sits actually has two addresses — 170 Waverly Place and 96-98 Grove Street. Known as the James Polhemus House, it took on its current form in 1870. Over the years it has accommodated a rooming house, a Chinese laundry, and a series of restaurants before Joseph Leonard arrived in 2009. The restaurant takes its name from the grandfathers of the proprietor, Gabe Stulman — an installment of his own bit of history.

“My mother’s father is Joseph and my father’s father is Leonard,” he says. “I thought that naming the restaurant after them was an opportunity for me to keep their stories alive.” Photographs of Joseph, Leonard, and their families adorn the walls, adding to the time-capsule vibe of the interior, with a zinc bar at the centerpiece; a pressed tin ceiling framed by wood beams; and whitewashed antique brick walls.

Stulman’s nostalgia for Greenwich Village’s past is reflected on the restaurant’s website, which welcomes visitors with vintage footage of nearby Washington Square Park and its environs. With Joseph Leonard, he has created the ultimate neighborhood bistro: an intimate place that draws a cross-section of locals and visitors alike, from aging bohemians to the young-and-brunchy; it’s a down-to-earth spot with a forward-thinking character.

“I wanted it to be a place that was accessible, open for all meal services, where we take ingredients, food, wine, cocktails, and hospitality seriously, all while wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” Stulman says. It’s the sort of place where you can enjoy a hearty garlic sausage with sunny side eggs and a plate-sized hash brown at breakfast and brunch; where you can tuck into a thick burger, served on an English muffin, or a fried chicken sandwich with buttermilk ranch and pickles at lunch; or linger over a satisfying petite steak with watercress, cherry tomatoes, and blue cheese at dinner. Some dishes, such as a chilled pea soup with spicy wasabi peas, echo the creative spirit the neighborhood has built its reputation on, while the wildly popular Bloody Mary is a nod to Stulman’s Wisconsin roots, served with a beer chaser. While customary in the Badger State, it’s an offbeat novelty in New York, and it represents Stulman’s contribution to the neighborhood melting pot.

The food is good enough to distract from the tableaux of history that has unfolded in the streets outside. But only briefly; it’s easy to conjure the spirits of habitués of the surrounding haunts. Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee hung out at nearby Julius’s, the city’s oldest gay bar; Pulitzer winners frequent the beloved book shop, Three Lives & Co., which sits just one block away; Don Draper’s fictional bachelor pad lies down the street, just off Washington Square.

There’s a film, “Next Stop: Greenwich Village,” a coming-of-age story set in 1953 that chronicles the life of a young actor and the colorful characters he encounters when he moves to the Village. The quirky community at the heart of the film is something that is still palpable at Joseph Leonard; unconventional, of-the-moment, and anchored in an inclusive history. It’s the sort of spot where New Yorkers would say “I know this little place in The Village …” For anyone seeking the Greenwich Village of days gone by, Joseph Leonard should be the first stop.


Joseph Leonard is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner starting at 9 a.m., with brunch served on weekends beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Kathleen Squires is an award-winning food and travel writer and documentary producer based in New York City. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.