Mani Dawes, Heather Belz, and Alexandra Raij opened Tia Pol, a 40-seat tapas bar in West Chelsea, New York City, in mid-2004. “It was a runaway hit,” says Dawes. “It has exceeded our expectations.” Raij has since left the restaurant.
Tia Pol Tapas Bar
“When I moved to New York in 2000, I was shocked that there were no tapas bars,” says Dawes, who had lived in Madrid and become enamored with Spanish food. “That was my inspiration, to bring a little of Madrid to New York.”
“It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a sentimental name, after a cat that my friend had in Málaga.”
“The focus is on the bar. We have a beautiful white marble bar that connects to butcher block, in an L shape. We have high, small, uncomfortable tables with uncomfortable stools. I find it hilarious that people wait 1-1/2 hours for a table when seats at the bar might open up, and I feel that the bar is where you really want to be. The look reflects what we want the customer experience to be: a convivial, sharing environment where you might get to know your neighbor over a dish that they’re trying that looks good to you. Everything is very close together. Of course it’s New York, so you have to take advantage of every inch of space you have.”
Tia Pol has nine seats at the bar, plus nine tables. A private dining room accommodates small dinner parties or stand-up cocktail parties.
“Compared to other restaurants, we turn our tables pretty quickly. We can turn the entire restaurant 3-1/2 to 4 times a night, in part because the food comes out quickly. People can hang out and drink, but that’s not the norm.”
“The menu itself does not change. What does change is a list of specials, anywhere from five to nine every night that we write on a chalkboard. [Chef] Alex shops at the Greenmarket, so the specials reflect seasonal changes. The kitchen is a very small electric kitchen. I was fearful of that, but Alex was confident there wouldn’t be a lot of limits to it. We have tried to create a menu with a balance of hot and cold items, and where people could pick from around the menu and come away with a balanced meal.”
View the Tia Pol menu.
“The ones you would expect: patatas bravas (rough-cut potatoes with spicy alioli) and chorizo with sherry. But some things I didn’t think would do well have sold, like squid in ink. People go crazy over the blistered shishito peppers, a special we have at least twice a week.
“New Yorkers are incredibly adventurous. I thought the chorizo with chocolate would be a hard sell, but it’s become a signature dish. It’s two small piecss of bread spread with bittersweet chocolate, then topped with Palacios chorizo, Korean pepper threads and a little sea salt.”
The beverage program:
“Including sherries and cavas (Spanish sparkling wines), we have about 75 wines on the list—all Spanish. Although I have more wines from Priorat and Rioja than other places, I want the more accessible price points to be wines people might not have tried before. It’s more interesting for the customer. People come in and say they want a Rioja but don’t really know what they’re asking for, so we steer them toward other wines. If people ask for a glass of champagne, we explain to them what cava is, and people love it. Sherry is a tougher sell, but we try to encourage that as well. And we sell a lot of sangria.”
One great idea:
“To create a standing bar opposite the main bar, so people can order a few dishes while they wait for a table. That’s when it feels most like a tapas bar, like we could possibly be in Spain.”
Adapting tapas to American ways:
“There is no tapas tradition in the States. Instead, people come in and eat enough tapas to have dinner. In a way, it has been to our advantage because people are not ordering a couple of glasses of inexpensive wine and leaving. The authenticity we strive for is in the details. We have a few porróns, the Catalan drinking vessels. If the table is into it, and maybe celebrating something, we’ll bring it to the table and ask if they want to drink out of the porrón.”
Visit them at: www.tiapol.com
205 20th Avenue, NY, NY t: 212.675.8805
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San Francisco, California