How repurposing a space can lead to an exquisite dining experience

When restaurateur Alex Sgourdos approached consultant Michael Whiteman for advice on whether he should transform an underground bank vault into a restaurant, Whiteman’s answer was an absolute yes.

What’s now known as Butcher & Banker was formerly a 1930s bank. The bank closed in 1980 and the vault was used for storage.

Whiteman said the appeal of the old, underground space was twofold: History, charm, and character; the option to easily connect to an existing exhaust system for the kitchen in Sgourdos’ adjacent restaurant, Tick Tock.

“There was an opportunity we couldn’t resist,” Whiteman said of the structural synchronicity. In taking cues from the space itself, Whiteman said the restaurant would best lend itself to a dining style that would appeal to visitors staying in the New Yorker Hotel’s 1,000 rooms above. Enter the New York steakhouse, or as Butcher & Banker calls itself, a “steak-easy.”

Deep underground, with plush red tones and moody lighting, the restaurant gives off a distinct speak-easy vibe. In the vault that formerly held safety deposit boxes during the Great Depression is a private dining room that seats 38 people. Hanging from the mirrored ceiling in the vault is a large, combined crystal chandelier made from five smaller chandeliers originally hanging in one of the hotel’s ballrooms.

“We married them all together and hung them from a mirrored ceiling so it looks like this chandelier reaches up into infinity,” says Whiteman, who is president of the firm Baum + Whiteman. “And then we hired a great chef, which helps.”

Butcher & Banker worked with chef Scott Campbell on the restaurant’s menu development. Campbell has worked in other historic dining settings, including Le Cirque, The Oak Room at the Plaza, and Windows on the World—the restaurant complex at the top of the World Trade Center, which Whiteman also consulted on.

“The menu doesn’t look like a steakhouse menu,” he says. “If we took all the steaks from the menu and just left everything else, you would think you were eating in something like an Americanized version of a French restaurant. And it works.”

Feature, Restaurant Design