Hot Chef: Mackenzie Hilton goes underground with The Tavern

Mackenzie Hilton is cooking at The Tavern, underneath Tavern on Camac.  Credit: Provided Mackenzie Hilton is cooking at The Tavern, underneath Tavern on Camac.
Credit: Provided

We were ecstatic to learn that earlier this season former Mercato chef Mackenzie Hilton was returning to Philadelphia after a stint out west. Get ready to dig into late-night fare at her new joint, The Tavern, on narrow Camac Street in Washington Square West. When we say this place is underground, we mean subterranean. Just below Tavern on Camac, one of the city’s oldest gay bars, Hilton’s restaurant offers a cozy post-drinking spot when you want something friendlier — and tastier — than an after-hours cheesesteak window.

Welcome back. You took a hiatus from Philly for a bit.
I grew up spending my summers out in Sonoma, in wine country. My parents now spend half their time there, and that’s one of the reasons I was out there. I wanted to be closer to them. And I just wanted to shake things up and do something different. I’d been at Mercato for six and a half years. It felt like I needed to move forward and grow a little bit more.

Now you’re doing a late-night place, which is a completely different beast.
Totally! Yeah, it was all my idea, so I kick myself every once in a while when I’m here at 4 o’clock in the morning. But they have a good bar crowd upstairs and I wanted to tap into that. So I thought, we’re a tavern, let’s make pub food but make it really high-end and really fresh.

And then on the same note, you’re not going to have much of a day crowd when you’re in this little basement. There are so many amazing restaurants in the neighborhood now. From my experience, you get done work at 11 or 12 o’clock every night, you’re hungry and you want options. You want a place that you know is open and you don’t have to race over before they have last call for food.

Tavern is closed only on Tuesdays. What do you do when you’re not working?
I recently went to Vernick [Food & Drink] and loved it, I would go back. I have a lot of good friends that are at Twelve Steps Down, so I end up there sometimes. It’s one of my favorite hangouts.

Do you do karaoke there?
Not anymore. I don’t think I’ve gotten up to perform in quite a while. But I was there last night.

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