The unlikely story behind your new favorite restaurant.
Current Mood is a series dedicated to all our favorite things right now. First up, the funky new restaurant that captured our founders, Jess and Amy’s hearts: a Midwestern Mid-Century supper club in Bushwick called Turk’s Inn.
Yep, you read that right. Wisconsin natives, Varun Kataria and Tyler Erickson, resurrected the supper club of their youth — a red velvet, psychedelic, Middle Eastern dream world, nestled in the unlikely woods of Northern Wisconsin. The original Turk’s Inn entertained dignitaries, politicians, triple platinum musicians, road-tripping nomads, and everyone in between. On any given night, you could spot JFK tucked into a booth, and local duck hunters in waders slinging shots at the bar.
When the original location shuttered after 80 years, the estate was auctioned off. There was no next of kin. There was no one to even collect the proceeds from the sale. Varun and Tyler flew home for the auction and bought up every single original piece of Turk’s they could get their hands on.
Several years later, they opened their doors to the new Turk’s Inn, a love letter to the original, right smack dab in the heart of Bushwick.
We sat down for an interview with Varun, who shared with us the wild, wacky story of how he built the coolest new restaurant in Brooklyn.
Q: What did one even do before opening a place like Turk’s Inn?
Varun: No easy answer. Technically? A lawyer. I was actually in law school when the auction took place. In fact, I left class to go to the airport and fly to Wisconsin. I’m also a musician and a dilettante. I owned a recording studio with Tyler. I lived in New Orleans. It didn’t really make any career sense until a project like Turk’s came around.
Q: How would you describe the Turk’s Inn design aesthetic?
Varun: The style of Turk’s is very psychedelic, and in a certain sense, passé. It’s not that new Scandinavian, sophisticated style. We’re young and we’re the avant-garde. It’s not about purity, it’s about pastiche.
Q: Tell us about that epic cat portrait?
Varun: Ah yes, the Cat Room. I found that cat painting many years ago in a garage sale back home for three dollars. It came to New York with me by pure chance. I just happened to have extra room in my truck and threw it in. So it was in my apartment before Turk’s, and now it’s this iconic moment in the restaurant.
Q: Why was Bushwick perfect for this?
Varun: Supper clubs are rarely on the main drag. They’re usually on the outskirts of town, ensconced in trees or nature — a destination. That’s obviously not possible in New York, but the Bushwick warehouses and stacks of shipping containers make it feel more on the fringe of it all than in the center of it.
Q: Have patrons of the original Turk’s visited the new Turk’s Inn?
Varun: Very many! Someone from the original Turk’s comes in at least once a week. It’s a testament to the strength of the original Turk’s and what they built. So many people were enchanted with this space.
Q: A noteworthy dish for newcomers?
Varun: We have a dish called the green bean falafel. Have you ever had a green bean casserole? It’s a pretty Midwestern, Middle-American preparation. We took that flavor profile and made a falafel dish out of it. The falafels are made of green beans. It has the nostalgia of the familiar, but presented in a new and interesting way.
Q: What’s the best way for a first-timer to experience Turk’s?
Varun: Come in and have a drink at the bar. Start with a martini or an old-fashioned. We do a brandy old-fashioned in the traditional style of Wisconsin.
Sit for dinner and take your time. Eat your way around the menu, although there’s too much to really make a dent.
If it’s summer, you can sit on the rooftop under the stars and have a cold drink. Right now, we have our winterized rooftop called the Bubble Cabin. We inflated a Swiss chalet-themed bounce house on the rooftop. You can enjoy a hot drink.
Then go to the Sultan Room and enjoy a music show. Do some dancing, grab a midnight kebab. There are tons of familiar faces at Turk’s. If they’re not familiar to you yet, they will be. People are friendly in the space. It’s a vibe.
Q: The essence of Turk’s in five words?
Varun: A place familiar and strange.