To enter the Waverly Inn, which occupies the street level of a 19th-century town house at 16 Bank Street in New York City’s West Village, you must pass through a gate, step down onto a stone patio, swiftly pivot to the right, duck under an archway beneath the town house’s stoop, swiftly pivot left, and finally walk through the front door. It’s not the ideal setup for ingress and egress, but the fact that the restaurant is celebrating its centennial this month is a testament to this enduring fact: Whatever’s going on in there, people want to be part of it.
The restaurant opened as Ye Waverly Inn & Garden in 1920. Back then, Greenwich Village abounded with subterranean tearooms filled with would-be John Reeds and Emma Goldmans staking out their Bolshevik or Menshevik positions. Ye Waverly Inn was itself technically a tearoom, but from the beginning it was more genteel than the student-y places along West Eighth Street. Its succession of homey, low-ceilinged rooms with fireplaces was designed by Paul Piel, a distinguished sculptor and a scion of the Piels Beer family, who also created the red sign that still hangs above the entryway, a silhouette of two benches facing each other, railcar-style, with a table between them topped by a huge serving tureen. The southernmost room was actually a semi-enclosed garden, facing Waverly Place, that expanded the restaurant’s capacity in the summer months.