Many New Yorkers, like many Americans, have a love of things French, and in New York City, as elsewhere, we have imported as much of the culture as we can - the food, wine, language, art, film, fashion, style and architecture. Our biggest import of all sits in New York's harbor - the Statue of Liberty.
In many contexts, the very word "French" is virtually synonymous with class or sophistication. Of course the French are also a people that many Americans love to hate, a people who can be trying or difficult. When it comes to food, most are happy to put differences aside. French restaurants and pastry shops abound in New York. Casual French styled bistros or cafés, such as French Roast, however, are not as easy to find.
French Roast has two locations, one located on the Upper West Side, the other, seen in the photo, is in the Village at 78 W. 11th Street. They are open 24/7. One of the most interesting things about French Roast is that it is located on the site of The Old Grapevine Tavern (bottom photo). From the New York Public Library website:
The three story clapboard roadhouse was built in the 18th century and was located on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 6th Avenue. Originally a private home, it eventually became a saloon known as The Hawthorne. The 11th Street side of the building was covered in a gnarled old grapevine and by the early 1800s the establishment was simply known as the Old Grapevine. It quickly became a favorite destination for those wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city (lower Manhattan) and head north towards into the open country (11th Street).
During the Civil War it was a popular hangout of Union officers and Confederate spies. Later, when the Jefferson Market Courthouse was built the local lawyers and politicians would gather there to talk business. Artists and actors also met there. It was the ideal place to get news and information, or in the case of spies and politicians, the ideal place to spread rumors and gossip, leading to the popular phrase “heard it through the grapevine”.
The vine died in 1883 and was cut down. The Old Grapevine Tavern was demolished in July, 1915 to make way for a six story apartment building.
It was missed after its demise. The New York Times ran an article: "Passing Of the Old Grapevine. Quaint Landmark Known to Artists, Actors and Good Fellows Generally is Torn Down."
Reviews of French Roast run the gamut. Whether it is food, decor or service, like France and the French, some love the very things that others hate. I find it a pleasant alternative to the standard diner for breakfast or brunch. From the New York Times:
These two restaurants are both open 24 hours a day, which means you can get bad food and surly service around the clock. Basically, they are diners masquerading as French cafes.
Some question the etymology of the grapevine phrase. Some don't like the French. Others don't like French Roast. I heard it through the grapevine :)