Food & Drink New York

The Four Horsemen Rides On

By Finlay Renwick

Apr 12, 2024

The Four Horsemen Rides On

It was a bad idea… at least that’s what they were told. A tiny restaurant with a focus on natural wine, before everyone and their dog knew about native yeasts and volatile acidity, with a European-leaning menu in a corner of Williamsburg that, as chef Nick Curtola recalls, was “weird back then.” 

“Everyone we talked to, who had a restaurant, said that the reason there isn’t a natural wine bar and restaurant here is because it doesn’t work and you’re dumb,” says wine director and co-founder Justin Chearno. “Don’t build it, you’ll lose everything.”

“We did it anyway.”

Opened in 2015, Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen is now nine years and a Michelin Star into being a restaurant that is anything but a failure. It initially gained attention due to its connection to LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy who, along with his wife Christina Topsøe, friend and entrepreneur Randy Moon, and wine director Justin Chearno, comprise the restaurant’s ‘four horsemen.’ Head chef Curtola has been there since the beginning, a rare distinction in the fickle and often-brutal world of New York restaurants.

There were early pop-ups with the likes of Margot Henderson of London’s Rochelle Canteen and Thomas Keller of Napa Valley’s legendary The French Laundry. "It feels like a lot of hard work has paid off," says Curtola.

“We caught lightning in a bottle,” says Chearno, showing us around the restaurant’s stacked wine cellar on a frigid Monday morning back in November. “There’s a high attention to detail with the wine, the food, the service. It’s also a space that doesn’t have a lot of pretence. Where the wine world was 10 years ago. it was a small scene, and people found it daunting.” 

“The same goes for the food,” adds Curtola, leaning against the dark wood bar. "We never wanted it to be an egotistical ‘chef style’ menu. We wanted you to understand what you were getting coming in, and then sprinkle in some surprises along the way. We change things a lot, which is why people come back to us. We have a lot of regulars, so we’re not like a bistro with a burger and steak frites. People want to try new ingredients and dishes.”

"We’re busier now than we’ve ever been,” adds Curtola. After nine years, it still surprises us.”  

On a drizzly early evening in March, a queue has already formed outside the restaurant’s black facade. As with all things in New York, securing a desirable  reservation is a full contact sport. Couples in expensive trousers whisper expectantly, hoping to secure a coveted 5.30PM walk-in table. Six months after our last visit, a pristine, empty room is now a bustling centre of the universe. At a push it can fit 40 people, and by 5.35PM every seat, corner and counter is spoken for.

“We have a sneaky staff,” Chearno told us during our first meeting. “There are formal touches, the way that things are done, but there’s a casual vernacular, and they look like someone you know. It’s comfortable place to be. At nighttime it feels super cozy. When people get in, they want to stay.”

Sat by the window, the steady rain and gloomy sky reminding us of London, we order homemade bread, fried skate wing, tuna in sesame, sweetbread skewers and a Berkshire pork loin the size of a toddler’s head. The menu feels clever without being smug. It’s a special occasion place… but there are also friends stood in the corner catching up over glasses of pét-nat and a few starters.

Restaurants love calling themselves a ‘neighbourhood’ spot, but at The Four Horsemen, the moniker feels deserved. You might not come here every week, but it would be great to have it at the end of your road.

“People like it because it’s small,” says Chearno. “We’ll eventually do a different place, but I think The Four Horsemen is the jewel box, and where we’ll always keep pushing.”

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