Step into Gilded Age New York at Fotografiska’s new restaurant Verōnika

Picture this: a beyond-beautiful restaurant inside the 19th-century walls of a spectacular new photography museum.

Stephen Starr’s Verōnika, on the second floor of the Stockholm-based Fotografiska, gorgeously evokes Gilded Age New York. It might be the finest transformation of a historic, private space into a venue for public consumption — namely, food consumption — since Grand Central Terminal’s Campbell Apartment two decades ago.

Just a few years ago, the Park Avenue South building where the restaurant and museum opened last week was the vacant, former home of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies — a funky, five-story pygmy amid monotonous high-rise office towers.

Although the century-old facade was landmarked, the interior — a weird warren full of archways, odd cornices, hidden nooks and grimy stained-glass details — was not.
The people behind Fotografiska made the space new while preserving its old bones. Through noble arched and gabled windows, the 1890s Renaissance Revival-style building glows like a Christmas tree after dark. And the brightest glow pours from its restaurant.

As designed by the studio Roman and Williams, Verōnika fits seamlessly into its 19th-century skin. Beneath original, vaulted, 20-foot-high ceilings are brass chandeliers and luxurious upholstery. An adjoining Chapel Bar might be the sexiest new lounge in town.

Executive chef Robert Aikens’ Eastern European-tinted menu, described as an “homage to the White Russians in Escoffier-era France,” is off to a promising start. I had dreamy liverwurst pâté ($19), soulful lamb goulash ($32) and crisp-battered wiener schnitzel ($32).

But although it’s too early to judge the food, it might be too late to check out the scene if you don’t move fast. Verōnika’s 155 seats are on their way to being the toughest reservation in the city.

Verōnika, 281 Park Avenue South, 646-993-6993; VeronikaNYC.com

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