Ken Friedman first dropped the idea of opening a Tin Pan Alley-themed speakeasy in the basement of the Ace Hotel earlier this month in the Flatiron Newsletter. Yesterday, we stood in the subterranean space with Friedman himself, and I can tell you that the project is most definitely a go. The famed restaurateur is riding some kind of hot streak: Locanda Verde is thriving in Tribeca and upstairs at the Ace, The Breslin has effortlessly established itself as one of New York’s buzziest eateries.
After facing resistance from a mosque across the street, Friedman was forced to nix plans of a dive bar in the townhouse next door to the Ace, who then presented him with alternate offer. “They said look, pick another space in the hotel to do your dive bar, we owe you one,” says Friedman. “And so I started poking around the hotel, and I discovered what looks like it must have been an old speakeasy or something. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was like a place where people used to gather once upon a time.”
On our way down, Friedman got lost a few times and had to ask various hotel staff members to remind him where the space was. That’s how hidden it is. The good news is there’s a direct entry that leads downstairs from Broadway. Clearly no one had been there in years before Friedman, but once inside, it was easy to see Friedman’s vision come to life. Brick arches crest the walkways and industrial, exposed beams keep the whole thing standing. The space is structurally dynamic, a catacomb with multiple rooms, nooks and corners hidden about. It’s all very downstairs at La Esquina. And every few minutes or so you can hear the subway rumble by.
On top of the Tin Pan Alley theme first mentioned in the newsletter, Friedman is also eyeing a turn-of-the century boxing motif. “James Breslin was a real boxing nut and used to box at Madison Square Garden, then a few blocks away at Madison Square Park, ” says Friedman of the hotel’s legendary previous owner. “He built a boxing ring in the basement of the hotel, and the longest boxing match in history was in the basement of the Breslin Hotel, so we may honor of that. This guy ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott beat somebody, so I was thinking we could call it Jersey Joe’s.” Construction is already underway, and Friedman is looking at a Spring to early Summer opening. “It already looks the way it should look, so we’re not going to do much.”