Basil Pizza and Wine Bar
The New York Times Magazine had a very interesting article about the new restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Has anyone been? Any reviews? Looking forward to trying it..
What I meant is that the article points to many points of halacha and plays up how difficult they make running a restaurant that is trying to appeal to a "mixed" crowd.
Here are just some examples (some in my own language, some just cut from the article):
---the description of the manager: "In her agitation and dread she more closely resembled a criminal on the lam" because the mashgiach expressed concern not about the food but about inappropriate attire and immoral behavior at the bar. Someone had apparently called to complain. Perez said that the rabbi was also requesting access, from this point forward, to Basil’s internal surveillance cameras." It goes on to describe her continued agitation "as she questioned what right and what cause he had to imply that the couples at the bar, who had behaved unremarkably and kept to themselves, were somehow morally wanting."
---It goes on to point out that the waitresses can't sing "Happy Birthday" to customers and the fact that you can hear male singers over the speakers, but not female (Sinatra, but not Fitzgerald).
---The negativity of the section of the article that mentions "Posts about the restaurant’s opening on Web sites popular with Lubavitchers drew dozens of anonymous comments, many jubilant about the promise of better dining in Crown Heights but some suspicious of Basil’s ambition and potential impact. “Who needs a restaurant with goyim?” one person asked. “Why encourage them to come eat with us?” Others expressed concern about alcohol consumption and the dress of non-Jewish customers," making it clear how prejudiced Jews can be about non-Jews.
---The description about the "dozen conservative yeshiva students [who] staged a protest of sorts in front of the restaurant. Perez says that they yelled at her for not having her ankles covered, called one of the black waitresses a “slut” and demanded that Basil be shut down."
---She engineers an end to behavior by customers that would go unchallenged and maybe even unnoticed in restaurants outside Crown Heights. One night, she recalls, a young woman repeatedly kissed and nibbled on a male companion’s neck. When Perez asked her to stop, she responded by defiantly planting a kiss on the lips of another young woman in the group. Perez says she then forcefully escorted her to the back of the dining room, pointed to a picture of the Lubavitch spiritual leader that hangs there and admonished her: “You’re in their backyard. You have to respect their ways.”
---The section decribing the mashgiach almost makes him sound like he's attempting to
"strongarm" the place by threats: "But he also said his kosher-certification agency had a contractual right and responsibility to monitor a restaurant’s entertainment — no crude comedians, no female singers — and to make sure, for example, that young men and women at Basil weren’t socializing “other than for matrimonial purposes.” . . . “If it became a hangout like that,” he said, referring to Basil, “not only would I take off the certification if needed, no one would go into it. They would shun it. Basil doesn’t want that.” He said that his request to see surveillance video was standard, and that similar requests have been readily met by other kosher restaurants under his watch."
I am not here to debate these halachot, and whether they are all straight-line halacha or chumrot. I am also not debating whether behavior like the yeshiva boys calling a waitress a "slut" is proper (OF COURSE IT IS NOT). My point was simply that the Times goes on, page after page, pointing out all the difficulties this particular place is having in sucessfully running the restaurant, detailing all the demands the mashgiach and the Jewish community is putting on the place. It seems to me, which is no surprise to those who know the typical slant of the Times, to belittle the restrictions of halacha beyond kashrut ( tzniut, kol isha, etc.).
In truth, I would love to see a place like this succeed, but Crown Heights doesn't seem the best spot for it. You simply can't expect to attract a mixed crowd if you attempt to so severely limit the everyday behavior of the non-frum customers. The non-frum crowd thinks nothing at all about women wearing sleeveless blouses and short skirts, or kissing in public, and to expect only one side to "give in" is a recipe for a failing restaurant.
The description of the place reminds me of a far more successful experiment of a similar ilk: Maple Grill in Vancouver. I had three great meals there this past summer, which I've been meaning to post about for two months now, but haven't gotten around to it. I hope to do that soon.