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Inside NYC’s Most Irresistible French Bistro

Inside NYC’s Most Irresistible French Bistro
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Working in kitchens from Italy to Japan to stateside, Jody Williams opened Buvette (which she dubs a “gastrothèque”) in 2011 on a tree-lined block in New York’s West Village. Since then critics, neighbors, and fellow chefs have been hailing it as one of their faves. With decor as authentic and delicious as the coq au vin, we asked how it all came together so that we could take home a little Buvette charm for ourselves.

The bar is open. Everything in the space is accessible, making it feel more like an elegant grandmother’s kitchen than a bustling New York restaurant.

The bar is open. Everything in the space is accessible, making it feel more like an elegant grandmother’s kitchen than a bustling New York restaurant.

How did you approach the look of Buvette?

“All the things that come into the restaurant besides food and wine but are artful are a pleasure for a chef. I come across things for the restaurant that are off the beaten path… Hand-lettered signs, weathered dog-eared wood: That’s inspiring to me.”

Williams has a thing for Shaker design. She’s shopped flea markets and even stopped roadside to score some of the classic American furniture.

Williams has a thing for Shaker design. She’s shopped flea markets and even stopped roadside to score some of the classic American furniture.

What’s the number-one priority when decorating a restaurant?

“The most important ingredient is allowing that human touch to be there. It cannot be perfect. It’s the idea of wabi-sabi.”

Federalist-period decor fascinates Williams. “This place is pure Americana,” she says.

Federalist-period decor fascinates Williams. “This place is pure Americana,” she says.

Not able to afford new hotel silver, Williams ransacked her own apartment and found more at fleas.

Not able to afford new hotel silver, Williams ransacked her own apartment and found more at fleas.

This is a very old building. Did you ever consider newer construction?

“There is a patina here that I couldn’t make or build. Then we layered things out of my own house or things I love. I couldn’t afford new hotel silver, so I hit the flea markets and found pieces.”

Even the staff’s aprons are covetable.

Even the staff’s aprons are covetable.

Would you describe Buvette as a classic French bistro?

“It’s a French name, a French menu, and a French wine list, but everything else is all-American. Brooklyn tin ceilings. Pennsylvania Shaker tables. Marble from Vermont.”

The bistro’s collection of antique mirrors highlights the tin ceilings.

The bistro’s collection of antique mirrors highlights the tin ceilings.

Everything here is effortless. What advice would you give to someone who wants to emulate that look?

“I follow what I love, what I enjoy. If there is one piece you want on your table, it doesn’t need to make sense. You’ll be gratified just seeing it.”

The dining room is bustling from breakfast through late night.

The dining room is bustling from breakfast through late night.

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Spode plates and a stuffed pheasant share a wall with George and Abe.

Spode plates and a stuffed pheasant share a wall with George and Abe.

How important was decor when you started to design the space?

“I see everything in my mind, from the front door to the back door. I see how it’s used. Use is important. It must function. Nothing is gratuitous. I really try to make every corner here, wherever you turn your head, attractive, functional, and interesting.”

These beauties will undoubtedly end up in Buvette’s famous scrambled eggs, steamed with the arm of an espresso maker.

These beauties will undoubtedly end up in Buvette’s famous scrambled eggs, steamed with the arm of an espresso maker.

Buvette feels as warm as being in someone’s kitchen. Was that by design or just a happy accident?

“I like the ingredients to be exposed. Oranges in bowls and eggs in wire baskets tell you we’re open in the morning. It’s beautiful… a subtle nod to the food.”

Williams deemed these ready after a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Williams deemed these ready after a light dusting of powdered sugar.

The shelving around Buvette is not just for show. Everything at some point will be pulled down and used.

The shelving around Buvette is not just for show. Everything at some point will be pulled down and used.

Finish the sentence: You can never have too many…

“You can never have too many baskets, trays, plates, and pans. Oh, and aprons and wooden benches.“

Even the coasters are collectible. Williams loves working with artisans on all aspects of her restaurant, from letterpress to silk screen.

Even the coasters are collectible. Williams loves working with artisans on all aspects of her restaurant, from letterpress to silk screen.

Williams appreciates the “haphazardness” of hooks. They aren’t just for coats.

Williams appreciates the “haphazardness” of hooks. They aren’t just for coats.

What’s your go-to accessory?

“I like hooks. Most people do shelving to display. But I love the haphazardness of hanging items from hooks.”

No matchy-matchy here. Tables are seldom set the same, and unexpected additions, like this egg tree, are de rigueur.

No matchy-matchy here. Tables are seldom set the same, and unexpected additions, like this egg tree, are de rigueur.

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Any personal mementos around the restaurant?

“I have my grandmother’s plates and her piggy bank. And I love presidential pieces. My younger sister, Fern, was born on Lincoln’s birthday. Everything here has a story.”

An oversize champagne bucket has a place of prominence on the bar.

An oversize champagne bucket has a place of prominence on the bar.

Okay, last question: What is a “gastrothèque”?

“It’s about the pleasure of food and drink. And that’s what we do. The community here is very important that comes with that.”

A cheery red sign welcomes the neighborhood regulars.

A cheery red sign welcomes the neighborhood regulars.

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