September 1, 2009 / 3:29 PM / 8 years ago

Doyenne of New York bistros awaits her third act

<p>The Exterior of La Goulue, 746 Madison Avenue, New York City, is seen in this handout photo from 2008. REUTERS/Handout</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Work crews are having their way, respectfully, with the innards of the fabled Manhattan restaurant La Goulue.

The brasserie, which has hosted everyone from actress Catherine Deneuve to rocker Bruce Springsteen, closed its doors last week and is being stripped bare of its mirrors, sconces and prized antiques.

But if Jean Denoyer has his way, his beloved bistro will soon again be kicking as high as the can-can dancer that it is named for.

“What I do comes from the heart. It’s a lot of adversity, a lot of work, a lot of money, but we’d like to rebuild,” said Denoyer, who co-owns the restaurant with Regis Marinier.

So he is warehousing the entire interior until he can relocate it.

La Goulue opened in 1972 and moved to its recent address in 1993. Now it’s moving again because the landlord is rebuilding.

“I was very depressed on the first move,” Denoyer said. “On the second I‘m just a little sad. It’s a shame to dismantle a restaurant that’s extremely successful.”

Thirty-six years ago Denoyer combed antique shops and flea markets to create his vision of a turn-of-the-19th century Parisian bistro on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side.

The wall mirrors came from antique shops and Irish bars, the pine wood panels from American forests. The bronze and glass wall sconces, signed by the renowned French designer Louis Majorelle, were another antique store find.

<p>The outdoor cafe at La Goulue, 746 Madison Avenue, New York City, is seen in this handout photo from 2008. REUTERS/Handout</p>

Denoyer vows to re-open in the same luxury neighborhood, despite sky-high rents.

“Landlords here don’t seem to know there’s a recession. They need to start smelling the same coffee I‘m smelling.”

La Goulue was named for Louise Weber, the dancer immortalized on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous 1891 poster for the Moulin Rouge.

<p>The interior of La Goulue, 746 Madison Avenue, New York City, is seen in this handout photo from 2008. REUTERS/Handout</p>

She was called La Goulue, which means glutton, because she liked to down customers’ drinks as she can-caned past their tables.

The restaurant was a celebrity hangout. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had her own table back in the day. Denoyer expects little to change at the new site. The signature dish was, and will remain, the cheese souffle.

“We’re a classic, tasty, quality bistro. We did get the one star and that’s all we want,” he said of the Michelin honor awarded in 2006 and 2007.

And even though Denoyer has launched some 24 restaurants, he admits: “My favorite was La Goulue.”

Sadly, the original La Goulue ended badly: alcoholic, destitute, and selling peanuts in the shadow of the nightclub that had been the scene of her triumph.

Denoyer is sure the years will be kinder to her namesake.

“The Americans haven’t learned how to cook yet,” the Paris native said. “But they certainly learned how to eat.”

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