The Commerce Inn is a West Village Tavern inspired by the Shakers

We explore the simple pleasures of The Commerce Inn, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams’ perfectly crafted, Shaker-inspired West Village tavern

interior of The Commerce Inn, West Village
The custom-made bar is lined with seating inspired by lift stools. Their metal bases were cast at City Foundry in Brooklyn
(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

American cuisine might be first associated with the indulgent heartiness of, let’s say, a juicy burger slathered in cheese, and then next perhaps with the newfangled inventiveness that comes with that burger’s plant-based, lab-developed sibling. But if we were to delve back into the true origins of American food, the menu at The Commerce Inn, an early American tavern located in New York City’s West Village, is more likely to be a closer match.

The Commerce Inn food

Smoked cod cakes with tartare sauce, and pickled Wellfleet oysters with oyster crackers

(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

Opened at the end of 2021 by chefs Rita Sodi and Jody Williams (featured in the Wallpaper* USA 300), the well-loved couple behind Manhattan stalwarts Via Carota and Bar Pisellino, all located in arm’s reach of one another, The Commerce Inn isa moody, wood-panelled restaurant inspired by the heirloom recipes, craftsmanship and design heritage of the Shakers, a Protestant sect that settled in the upstate New York region around the 1770s.

The Commerce Inn waiter

A staff member with crates of oyster shells in the restaurant’s entrance, featuring stoolsby Sawyer Made and a traditional maple peg rail

(Image credit: Ethan Herrrington)

Located down a charmingly quiet lane and next to the historic Cherry Lane Theatre, the irregularly shaped restaurant is an aesthete’s fantasy with its curved plaster walls, richly toned millwork, spindle-back chairs and wraparound benches and, of course, recognisable peg rails that trace the space’s circumference. The restaurant’s bar is a statuesque presence encompassing a hammered zinc bartop, custom-made cabinetry with mysterious drawers, glowing brass hardware, and rows of glasses and frosty beer mugs along with the odd block of ice that bartenders chip away at when making heritage-tinged cocktails and signature milk punches. 

‘Rita and I have been interested in Shaker history, and collecting old cookbooks and manuscripts, so we were really intrigued by this idea of lost recipes,’ says Williams. ‘For about a decade, we had an idea to do a place, like an old New York tavern with lots of Shaker influences in the design and menu, while [also nodding to] farm-to- table and the history of New York. It all came together with this location. It had the history, it had the bones, and we set out to create a dining room and menu that we thought was missing. We were very interested in challenging ourselves to do something new.’

Interior of The Commerce Inn West Village

The dining room, with bespoke spindle-back seating built by Sawyer Made, a second- generation Vermont chairmaker

(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

‘When people hear Shaker, many don’t understand what that is. Part of the attraction to delve into this early American tradition was to shake off the excess and be free of all the clichés – it was so refreshing tous,’ she continues. ‘We are so interested as chefs, restaurateurs, designers to find old things and make them new again. So a block of ice that you’re going to chisel ice from behind the bar, and you’re going to pick up that 25lb block of ice with antique ice tongs that still work, you can’t substitute for them.’

bar and ice at The Commerce Inn

A block of ice on the hammered zinc bartop is chipped away with antique tools to create unique cocktails, such as a sugar snap daiquiri

(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

The duo, who are as hands-on inside and out of the kitchen, developed the design of the space with their in-house team, modelling the bar stools ‘after an elevator stool that we raised a little bit,’ Williams reveals, and finding second-generation Vermont chairmakers to make the benches. ‘It was not to just do something beautiful, but to do something that’s pure in function. The two ideas, design and food, side by side, really resonates with us and reflect themselves in the mirror. Less is more – you can put a lot of things on a plate, but you can also take away and leave things even stronger. The same thing in the dining room.’

dish of food at The Commerce Inn

Roasted bone marrow with mushrooms and homemade sourdough

(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

Set against such evocative environs, The Commerce Inn’s menu of marrow roasted with mushrooms and garlic, braised tongue served with shaved cabbage, and a salad of leafy greens dressed in buttermilk, captures the restrained spirit of generations past while remaining inviting and delectable for contemporary palates. From a home-smoked and cured kippered Hudson Valley trout to Welsh rarebit made from juicy beefsteaks underneath melted cheddar cheese with dashes of salt and Worcestershire sauce, and more seasonal fare like fried green tomatoes, the menu pulls from simple old recipes while adding a touch of flair.

The Commerce Inn food

Strawberry shortcake

(Image credit: Ethan Herrrington)

‘Recipes were just a few sentences,’ Williams says of the source material. ‘The language was almost like poetry, like sweet carrot pudding. It just resonated with us: how could we make this, would we want to eat this. It’s not so locked in that it’s a formula, it’s more of a point of inspiration to grow, so if I wanted to do a shrimp Louie or something crazy, this is the place where we get to do those things; strawberry shortcake, spoon bread. We really enjoy doing it. We’re self-taught chefs so this gives us the opportunity to continue learning and create something that could become a place, while not losing sight that it’s just breakfast, lunch and dinner. We are really doing it ourselves.’

This article appears in the August 2023 issue of Wallpaper* – a guide to creative America – available in print from 6 July, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

meal on table at The Commerce Inn

Roasted chicken with fried potatoes, pickled beets and buttermilk greens

(Image credit: Ethan Herrington)

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.