Few Old-School French Bistros Remain in Greenwich Village but Bar Six Is Still Worth the Visit
In the closing decades of the last century, diners flocked to Greenwich Village to get a taste of French bistro fare. All told, there were around two dozen of these places, where visitors regaled themselves with outsize platters of steak frites, sloshing bowls of moules marinieres, cool slabs of pate served with cornichons, and croque monsieurs so gooey they had to be eaten with a knife and fork. Then one-by-one, the bistros disappeared, as Tuscan osterias, Irish gastropubs, fancified Mexican taquerias, and pricey sushi parlors replaced them.
But a few remain. Bar Six has been a fixture of Sixth Avenue and 13th Street since 1994, when it was founded by Steve Tzolis and Nicola Kotsoni, who met in Morocco and married. The restaurant assumed the space that had previously been La Gauloise, another French bistro. Named after a cigarette endemic to Gallic cinema of the time, it had been founded in 1978 with Tzolis already a co-owner. During a 16-year life span, it eventually ascended to two stars in the New York Times, and I remember one critic or other describing the yellow walls as looking like they’d been stained by decades of cigarette smoke.
Bar Six retained much of the old decor, and the walls in the dining room in the rear have only become yellower. The fixtures throughout feature well-worn wood; plush red banquettes line the walls; and wine and food suggestions are stenciled on the mirrors. A barroom in front opens to the street, and that’s the best place to sit on warm summer evenings, admiring the Village’s passing parade, and nibbling some of the menu’s more traditional cooling dishes.
A steamed artichoke ($15) the size of a prizefighter’s fist comes with a fluffy aioli, along with a handful of cornichons, cocktail onions, and olives. You know the drill: pull out a leaf and remove the bottom morsel of soft flesh by scraping with your teeth, then eventually dissect the choke. This is a skill every Greenwich Village bistro-goer used to cultivate. The oyster service is exactly what you’d expect, a half-dozen briny East Coast beauties ($18) shucked and laid on a bed of ice, with a choice of three sauces. Be a New Yorker and use the cocktail sauce; be a Parisian and pour on the mignonette; or be a real oyster lover and use a squeeze of lemon, or nothing at all.