With football season in full swing and the World Series starting tonight, nightlife people are pondering where to watch the game. Three venues standout as places where women will be comfortable and therefore plentiful: The Ainsworth, Snap, and Bounce are not your dad’s sports bars. More amenities, fewer beer bellies. My marching orders when designing Snap were to make a joint where guys could feel right about taking or making a date.
These places charge more for a drink than the traditional joints and have menus which have strayed far from classic bar menus. Burgers and fries can be had but expect things like truffle oil and words like sliders. If you are of the “real men don’t use truffle oil” variety, then these joints aren’t for you, and you probably aren’t reading this anyway. I caught up with Cole Bernard who, along with Yosi Benvenisti and Benny Silman, owns Bounce Restaurant & Sports Lounge.
SL) This place is a hit. Everybody’s talking about it. How the hell did you get into the sports bar business from what you were doing?
CB: Prior to Bounce I was doing a couple venues. The last couple years, I had this place where Bounce Sporting Club is currently. it was called Porky’s, and I transformed it into The Lot. Seven years ago, this Block — 21st Street between fifth and sixth — was completely different. It was commercial; it was nightlife driven. There wasn’t a lot going on around here before 9 or 10pm. Over the last couple years, as the city changed, a lot of residential came into the neighborhood, a lot of big businesses, so I had to kind of change with the times. Over the last couple years, the city has taken a big step in terms of sport’s bars. They’re becoming extremely popular. This neighborhood was lacking a great sports bar with a good menu for lunch and dinner, so that was one of my main goals, to put one here. After The Lot, I opened a space called The Eldridge, on the Lower East Side, with Matt Levine, and after that, in 2008, as you know, Steve you did a project for me on Rivington between Attorney and Clinton called Red Velvet, which was a small little cocktail lounge on the Lower East Side, and now I’m focusing on this big boy on 21St.
SL: I like the space. As you know I designed the Snap sports bar on 14th St. That was the first sports bar I designed. It has its own set of rules the spacing’s very different in a sports bar than it is in a regular bar or club. You need more distance and more… well you’re dealing with much bigger groups. Sightlines and of course TV locations also dictate the layout. The thing that I did there, and what I see around me here at Bounce, is that this is an extremely woman-friendly sports bar, without being too feminine… I mean, it’s a sports bar, but it’s very woman-friendly. What are the specific things done to make girls like it? To make them feel comfortable here?
CB: The lay out of the room… well, sports bars are known for being packed on Saturdays and Sundays for football, and the layout of the room, it makes it very friendly and comfortable. You know, when you’re eating, it was something that we were going for. The design and the layout, making it very comfortable for when you’re coming in for lunch, dinner, sitting here all day long, for Saturday and Sunday football, the room is not overwhelming, it’s a very soft and comfortable space.
SL: You have a DJ booth.
CB: DJ booth, as well.
SL: Talk to me about that horrible P-word, a word that you will never own up to: promoter. You were actually a promoter.
CB: In my day…
SL: But you did your time, and they let you out. CB: Yep.
SL: But tell me about promoters, is this going to be promoter driven on nights?
CB: Definitely not. It’s going to be geared towards post 10pm, 11 pm. I mean, for the month of September, I went with all 4AM DJs.
SL: I’m a 4AM DJ.
CB: There ya go! Well, big shout-out to Adam Alpert. I gave 4AM the month of September: Brooklyn Don, Theory, Ani Quinn.
SL: How do you know what to play when you have multiple events going on?
CB: That’s always difficult. Example: Sunday football. You always want to play the primetime game. So, if there’s a Jets game going on, or there’s an Eagles game going on, or a Dolphins game going on, primarily we’re always going to be playing a Giants game or a Jets game. We don’t favor really either team, we’re both. We’re both a Jets bar and a Giants bar.
SL: Hmmm, did you actually talk about the place being women-friendly?
CB: No, I didn’t.
SL: How did you make this place woman-friendly?
CB: That’s a great question…
SL: Let’s ask this anonymous woman sitting near us. Why do you feel more comfortable here than at a typical sports bar
AW: Well, I think with typical sports bars, you loose your attention and get bored of watching the game. At Bounce they place music during commercials, they play music over the game sometimes, and it’s still entertaining. You can sit at a table and talk to someone, and then get up and dance.
SL: Is it less frat boy?
AW: It’s more upscale. It’s less fratty. It’s more sophisticated, but it doubles as a nightclub, so it’s not so boring for girls who aren’t that into sports.
SL: And there’s enough women here so you don’t feel like it’s a male-dominated environment.
AW: Right. It’s a great mix.
SL: It’s not as bottle driven as many of your other ventures. It’s drinks, it’s beer, it’s the pairing of beers with food… CB: 100%.
SL: So the revenue streams are different. You’re also game-dependent to a large degree. Baseball season is certainly not as lucrative as football season.
SL: How have you switched your mentality from promotion to having the patience to deal with a sports bar?
CB: Well, if you come in here on Sunday for football, you kind of see the difference between the Bounce atmosphere and another typical sports bar atmosphere. The bounce concept has a little bit more of a party atmosphere mixed in with the sports, so for example on Sundays, we’re not playing the sound with the game unless it’s a primetime game. I have a DJ going on commercials, half-time.
SL: I’m looking at a menu that would take me about fifteen minutes to read, but it’s a really good menu. You’ve got some of my favorite things here. I mean, deviled eggs trio with lobster jalapeno, bacon, and eggs… that’s pretty hot. It’s not your typical burger/fries sports joint.
CB: Definitely isn’t.
SL: Talk to me about the menu, and how you merged a traditional sports bar menu with the needs of your crowd. You’ve got roasted organic chicken, soup and sandwichs, flatbreads, salads…
CB: The menu was put together by Sean Olnowich, he’s our executive chef. He designed the menu at our sister location, Vero, and he’s the executive chef and partner at The House, which is in Gramercy, on Irving. With this space, we needed to create a menu that was, as you said, woman-friendly and neighborhood friendly. A typical sports bar is known for having fried, greasy foods, so we wanted to stay away from that. There’s a lot of sharing items on the menu.
SL: There’s Matt Shendell over at the Ainsworth, there’s Matt Isaacs at Snap. Do you ever feel that you should change your name to Matt? What I’m really asking is, you’ve got these people that come from clubs, who’ve turned to sports bars, and I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got guys who are traditionally not into this now getting into it and the revenues are… well these places are doing very well. Snap’s packed, Ainsworth slammed, you’re packed. Do you see sports being part of regular clubs and more of the club owner types getting going into this?
CB: 100%. With this space, we wanted to create a hybrid. Number one it’s restaurant, number two sports bar, and number three, nightlife. We wanted to create a space that’s capable of doing multiple things. I do see the city starting to turn towards sports bars. They’re more maintainable, manageable, and everyone loves sports, so they’re easier to cater to.
SL: You’re talking to someone who has never seen a football game.
CB: Really. Can I take you to your first Jets game?
SL: I’ve never desired to. I used to entertain all these guys at my clubs, I’d get free tickets all the time, but I spend my Sundays at flea markets, museums, and antique stores
CB: Well Bounce is gonna have to take you to your first football game.
SL: Eh, I dunno. It’s tough. I just don’t get it. I mean, I understand the game… I actually watch highlights sometimes, but I couldn’t name ten football players. I don’t know who the quarterback of the NY Giants is.
CB: Eli Manning.
SL: See, I did know that. And I know who Mark Sanchez is, because he does a lot of commercials. But after that, I don’ t think I could name another football player in the National Football League, and I’m kind of happy about that. Can a person like me have fun at Bounce?
CB: 100%, for a sports bar. Like I said earlier, it’s not your typical sports bar. There’s more of a party atmosphere going on, and a great menu.