If I could travel back in time and visit a bygone New York restaurant, one of the names near the top of the list would be The Coach House. Though the Village Landmark limped on for a few years after I arrived in New York in 1988, I never made it inside. Still, I admired the place's charming, insular appearance every time I passed by.
Babbo is there now, and very popular, and deservedly so. It is not a restaurant without a heart, though, as I was happy to learn during a recent visit. The men's bathroom is decorated with framed memories of The Coach House: old advertisements, articles and reviews. It's a very sweet little exhibition.
A little history: Leon Lianides opened The Coach House in an old stables in 1949 and kept it going until 1993. It was a favorite of Craig Claiborne and James Beard, who lived nearby. It served distincly American dishes like crab cakes, pecan pie, chicken pot pie and lamb chops, long before such things were fashionable. It was cozy and clubby, the kind of place you want to find on a quiet Village street like Waverly Place.
P.S.: Here's a chilling note from an old Times article about The Coach House. Babbo owner Mario Batali first intended to name his new restaurant Grillo. Ew.