November 11-17, 2004

food

Laying the Cornerstone

H-BOMB: Avram Hornik, (with Jeremy Duclut, back) 
juggles Noche, Bar Noir and Amedeo.
H-BOMB: Avram Hornik, (with Jeremy Duclut, back)
juggles Noche, Bar Noir and Amedeo.

Two forays into new cuisine and a surprise purchase help build the house of Hornik.

The phones are ringing off the hook at Four Corners Management, the umbrella organization which oversees Avram Hornik’s grouping of lounges and restaurants.

Hornik, 31, is in the middle of expanding his dining dynasty well beyond the muffins of Quarry Street Café, the wraps of Lucy’s Hat Shop and the Old City area they’ve nestled in since the mid-1990s.

With executive chef Jeremy Duclut’s French-inspired Loie already a success within the Rittenhouse area higher-dining plane, Hornik and Duclut are now readying Noche, an Argentinean-themed lounge at 19th and Chestnut streets, for its opening this weekend. Further into the future, there’s Amedeo, their take on Mediterranean kosher fare, for the beginning of 2005.

But that isn’t why the beeps and bleeps are coming fast and furious on this rainy afternoon.

It’s about Bar Noir.

Square in the middle of preparing Noche and Amedeo, Hornik and operations director Mark Fichera have taken on additional responsibility, buying David Carroll’s 18th Street salon. For someone as methodical in his proprietorship as Hornik has been, grabbing the quirky Noir seemed like a sudden move.

“The timing wasn’t as convenient as I’d like it to be,” says Hornik, muffling a laugh. “But we’d been discussing this with David for months. The final opportunity came a little quicker than we expected. It’s a perfect club in an area with such a great future.”

Sizing up the future of spaces and neighborhoods, studying the bones of a building — these activities make Hornik tick. He’s like a city planner with a refined palate.

“He studies what people want, why they do what they do and go where they go,” says Duclut, 29, his rich French accent intact after a decade of living in Philly. “He wants what he does to be good — to be right– for any given area.”

Quick to credit the strength and swiftness of his team of managers, Hornik treats the addition of Bar Noir into his family (SoMa, Lucy’s, Drinker’s Tavern) with a calm that’s seen him through the dinosaur days of Old City in its formative stages.

He may have ruffled the feathers of the Old City Civic Association at first. But Hornik is proud of helping to open Old City up to crowds of Del-Vall-ies, for better or worse. “Rather than be a city entertainment center alone, Old City’s a regional entertainment center.” The question is, will Hornik’s gut sense — which helped him to push the liquor-license rush beyond the boundaries of Market Street — work as well in other parts of town? He doesn’t expect to replicate it. “Rittenhouse Square will never have quite the density of liquor licenses or outsiders Old City has.”

The insular beauty of Rittenhouse is perfect for Amedeo (formerly an Indian restaurant) and Noche, a second-floor walkup whose dark art deco environs — floor-to-ceiling windows, smoked-glass doors and maple floors — give it the countenance of a noirish detective office.

“That atmosphere makes up for the fact that it’s on a second floor,” says Hornik, who designed the space himself to include tin ceilings and hanging fans, a long mahogany bar bought from Circa and a suede, terra cotta color scheme that screams Argentina. The two tall, boxy floors of Amedeo, a high-end, Halal-certified restaurant, will feature a garage-doorlike front, open to the sidewalk, with colored and patterned glass throughout, a 40-foot high mezzanine and warm purplish hues in league with the paintings of Modigliani. Hornik sighs. These could be his masterpieces.

As serious as he is about design, Hornik and Duclut share a rare delirium for food.

Deciding the concepts and guiding the menus for Loie, Noche and Amedeo would seem a huge task for Duclut, if he wasn’t as cool and collected as Hornik. A native of Burgundy, France, Duclut likes food simple and unfettered. “Though I like to experiment, I don’t want a lot of spices,” he says of Argentine-inspired empanadas, pizzas and the rest of Noche’s menu. “I want you to be able to taste the chorizo and andouille, the hearts of palm, the fresh tomato, the dried goat cheese from Argentina. If you make tuna and you use too much wasabi, all you taste is wasabi. I won’t do that.”

For Duclut, each taste, each element is clear, a purity he promises to carry into the sparseness of Amedeo’s kosher menu of vegetarian, pasta and grilled fish fare.

“The lack of pretentiousness, over-spicing and the quality of the food in the Mediterranean countries — Tunisia, Greece, Spain — is quite spectacular,” says Hornik, who plans to visit Argentina in December. “That’s the sort of thing Jeremy and I will talk about for hours. It really does annoy our friends.”

Hornik’s History: A Timeline

  • Sept. 1994: Opens Quarry Street Café (147 N. Third St.), a groovy coffee-and-muffin hangout, with Doron Kutnick for $6,000.
  • Aug. 1996: Opens Custom House Café (103 S. Second St.), a tinier, less quirky take on Quarry.
  • March 1998: Sells Quarry Street Café and Customs House Café
  • Jan. 1998: Opens Lucy’s Hat Shop (247 Market St.), a lounge with big couches, a backroom jukebox and pool table, serving wraps, sandwiches and oversized salads.
  • Sept. 1999-June 1999: Opens Arden Theater kiosk.
  • March 2000: Opens Butter (125 S. Second St.), a low-ceilinged dance club underneath a parking lot.
  • Sept. 2001: Opens SoMa Lounge (33 S. Third St.), a dimly lit house-music haven.
  • January 2001: Closes Butter and re-opens it as Proto Lounge.
  • June 2002: Sells Proto Lounge.
  • Aug. 2002: Opens Tom Drinker’s Tavern (124 Market St.), a two-floor, old-mannish pub environment with food from Lucy’s.
  • Feb. 2003: Opens Loie Brasserie & Bar (128 S. 19th St.), a Parisian theater art-inspired lounge.

Noche Lounge, 1901 Chestnut St., second floor, 215-568-0551. Amedeo, 1903 Chestnut St., opening Feb. 2005.


—Respond to this article in our Forums—click to jump there