In NYC, a good name can get you a long way. Dropping the right one can help you gain entry to an exclusive bar; but more importantly, if you do things right in this town, a great name defines your legacy. In a city that places so much emphasis on names, it's no surprise that restaurant owners give a lot of thought to their monikers before selecting them; and the final choices often belie a longer, more intricate personal history or inspiration. Here are NYC restaurants and bars with stories behind the signs on their doors.
The epithet for this LES restaurant, opened by veterans of Blanca and Mas (farmhouse), doesn’t sound like it would be an ambitious restaurant. It is. And the honorific expresses its locavore ethos in multiple ways. Lowlife is the title of both the Luc Sante book about Downtown New York and a post-punk album by New Order.
178 Stanton St.; 212-257-0509
Known for milling locally sourced grains on-site for his excellent pastas, porridge and bread, most people think chef/co-owner Kevin Adey dubbed his celebrated Bushwick eatery after the Italian grain, farro. They’re wrong. Faro actually means “lighthouse” in Italian and is meant to reflect the restaurant’s concept, a beacon for culinary excellence.
436 Jefferson St., Brooklyn; 718-381-8201
When Terroir first opened, chef Marco Canora would tell guests to walk “fifty paces” from Hearth to reach it. So when he decided to reinvent the concept to lower-key version its sister restaurant, he opted for a laid-back (and literal) name. Hence, Fifty Paces was born.
Back in the early 1900s, NYC was filled with gangsters. This early 20th-century-inspired cocktail bar is titled after the leader of the Marginal Gang and part-owner of the infamous Cotton Club, Tanner Smith. Smith eventually went straight, becoming a local businessman and opening a neighborhood club to help keep the next generation away from trouble. Here, they honor his legend.
204 W. 55th St.; 646-590-2034
This West Harlem Pan-Caribbean gastropub gets its name from the extraordinary odyssey of 18th-century native-born enslaved African Venture Smith. Smith purchased his own freedom as well as that of his family’s, before becoming a successful landowner and entrepreneur. Solomon and Kuff were Smith’s sons. The motto, “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, ” was directly inspired by Smith’s autobiography.
In the words of executive chef-partner Jonathan Wu’s grandfather, fung tu refers to “hometown cooking culture.” Really, it directly translates to “wind” and “soil.” The New York–born, Connecticut-raised son of a traditional Chinese family, Wu thought the term perfectly represented his fare, which ties his family heritage with his American upbringing.
22 Orchard St.; 212-219-8785
When Recette chef-owner Jesse Schenker’s son was born, both he and his wife started calling the kid “Goose.” So when the couple were trying to figure out names for their second concept, the idiom, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” sprang to Schenker’s mind. In this case, it appears to be true.
15 W. 18th St.; 212-229-9500
There are dozens of restaurants named after the chef’s mom or grandma. But this East Village Mexican hot spot from chef Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman actually gets its title from Meyer and Freeman’s favorite longtime employee from their Chelsea spot, Cookshop. When Freeman broke the news to Rosie, everyone broke down in tears.
29 E. Second St.; 212-353-0114
This Harlem Cal-Mex spot sounds more like a strip club than a restaurant. Sexy Taco doesn’t mean much, but Dirty Cash, referring to the bar side of the space, gets its moniker from author Claude McKay’s Harlem renaissance novel, “Home to Harlem,” referring to the “dirty cash” used for "adult entertainment."
161 Malcolm X Blvd.; 212-280-4700
People frequently name restaurants after their offspring, and dog owners often compare their four-legged companions to kids. This Williamsburg pub gets its moniker from partner Danny Minch’s bulldog, Walter.
253 Grand St., Brooklyn; 718-387-8783