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Harlem in the Seventies in the W. Twenties

“It’s not a theme restaurant.”


Coming this week to Chelsea: Harlem! Or at least a blaxploitation-flavored, seventies-fantasy version by Lesly Bernard, who, with Keith McNally, opened the Cold War–themed bar Pravda soon after the end of the Cold War and followed that with the celebrity-studded Clementine. Tillman’s, Bernard’s super-fly new lounge on West 26th Street, comes complete with beaded curtains, tufted leather booths lined with speakers, and sepia-toned photos of old men blowing smoke from their nostrils or playing brass instruments on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. It’s located blocks from hip-hop nests like Diddy’s Justin’s, Shadow, and Groovedeck. But Harlem—if not the seventies facsimile of it—is only a short subway ride away. Why create Tillman’s when the real thing is so accessible? “Nothing is more American than 1970s Harlem,” explains Bernard, who quickly adds, “It’s not a theme restaurant.” But is it authentic? Blaxploitation-era author Darius James, a.k.a. Dr. Snakeskin, asks, “Is it going to have a free fried-chicken buffet? That would be authentic.” There will not be a buffet.

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