A Tale of Two Boutique Eat Shops

No divorce is pretty, and some are less unpretty than others. The split over control of Far Western Manhattan establishment Boutique Eat Shop, or B.E.S., seems destined to get downright ugly. Venom behind the scenes has reached the lawyeristic level, and remaining management and the departing discontented both claim they each are the rightful owner of the B.E.S. name and logo.

B.E.S. has a history of trouble, dating from its life as Opus 22 and then Mr. West, and it would be easy to blame the location (most do when speaking ill of the joint). More recently, showrunner Patrick Duffy has exited the business in a cloud of ill will, much to the apparent relief of remaining boss Edward Lee.

Thinking ahead, Duffy filed a trademark claim on the B.E.S. name and sigil back in November 2010. After the breakup, his lawyer informed his ex-colleagues that they had until May 31 to cease using the name and mark on the current B.E.S. business; they have declined. Lee and his partners plan to contest the trademark filing, claiming the B.E.S. name and marks are their property. While they have yet to offer documentation to support their counter-claim, they characterize Duffy’s trademark filing as “fraudulent.”

For his part, Duffy has already moved on, taking a new job as creative director at Albert Trummer’s Theater Bar. When asked if he planned to open up his own version of B.E.S., he responded cagily, “I believe that I own the mark and that I am proceeding accordingly. I will act lawfully in all circumstances.”

Edward Lee: B.E.S. Not Closing, Not Dying

Love and business affairs often end badly. The perfect stranger or lifelong friend can become a person that you never want to talk to again. Such is life. The pressures of club/restaurant world are often too much to endure, and the perfect arrangement becomes imperfect. The other day, Patrick Duffy called me to tell me about the end of his era at B.E.S., a restaurant he fronted, hawked, and curated quite publicly. I wrote about it under the incorrect assumption that Patrick’s departure meant the end of B.E.S. His era, it turns out, is not the end of B.E.S. His old pal and partner Edward Lee tells me that B.E.S. will be just fine, thank you very much. Eddie and I go way back, and I have always found him to be a professional, honest, and a reliable friend. I asked him a few questions about life after Mr. Duffy.

So the rumors of the demise of B.E.S. are greatly exaggerated. Patrick Duffy has left, but you’re still open. Correct. We are very much still open and managing sold-out brunches and dinners, and we have a fantastic new lunch menu. We have begun delivery service which caters to many of the galleries, local businesses, and surrounding neighborhood. Business has never been better.

What will Patrick’s departure mean? The staff morale, kitchen efficiency, quality of food and service, and the overall atmosphere of B.E.S. has never been better than it is today. 95% of the ownership is the same as the day we opened.

What changes will be made? We continue to rotate local artists and present their work. Currently we are showcasing Kevin Fey, who was a graduate of Cooper Union. The burlesque shows that were once presented at B.E.S. will no longer be, and we will present entertainment such as a jazz trio from the Manhattan School of Music at certain seatings. We also will be showcasing Broadway stars such as Tony nominees Chad Kimball, Isabel Keating, Alison Fraser, and others. We will also continue our reading series; next up is Marlo Thomas. All dates TBA. Watch our website!

Will the name remain? Absolutely. We are B.E.S. We are Boutique Eat Shop. We have no intention of changing our name.

Will someone new come in to be the face of the place? We strive to provide excellent food and service in a pleasing environment. One person does not make a dining experience successful. It takes a team, and at B.E.S. we now have the collective intelligence to make this a reality.

Is the location as negative as I painted it, or are there advantages to being off the beaten path? What have you learned from this experience? Our clientele speaks for itself. We remain very busy with regulars, which we love, and gallery foot traffic as well as walk-ins from the High Line and Chelsea Piers. Those who know us, love us. Those who find us are happy they did. And what have we learned? With organization and a dedicated team, dinner can be served.

Patrick Duffy’s Troubled B.E.S. on the Ropes

The dream that was B.E.S., Patrick Duffy’s uber-fabulous restaurant and playground, has become a nightmare. After receiving a mass email sent to some “close” friends, I called Duffy to find out what was up. He told me of impossible hurdles and partners with different visions, and problems lurking underneath all those other problems. These are all the things people say when a place isn’t making money. The great Arthur Weinstein taught me that when a joint is making money, even partners that despise one another get along just fine.

B.E.S. has many problems, including location, location, location. The oldest cliché in business is that location makes the biggest statement, but it can be overcome if everything else clicks. The place didn’t click. Well, sometimes it did, but when you are located a million miles from life as we know it, it’s hard. I told Patrick that he had done everything humanly possible, but that it was uphill from the start. The place is beautiful, the crowd fun and relevant, but alas, the things that were not in his control — old debt, food, and at in the beginning, service — may doom the place. All were inconsistent.

I made waves once when I described some blueberry pancakes as tasting like an old bra with warm jelly on it. I have some experience with old bras, blueberries, and pancakes — separately and mixed together — and I stuck to my description. That didn’t endear me to some. Oh well. The place was too far away to gamble on a good meal. When I did go, it was for Patrick and Jordan Fox, and it was always worth the trip. Unless I was hungry. In fairness, sometimes I got a great meal, especially when it seemed that Patrick was in control of the kitchen. I am sure fingers and tongues will be pointed, but from what I could see and from what I heard from insiders, my man couldn’t stop the bleeding, as inexperience and attitude all around prevented him from making it work.

Patrick apparently has something lined up right across the street, and will of course be doing fabulous things very soon. I won’t worry about him. He said in his mass e-mail:

But have no fear, I am working on some very exciting new projects with an incredible team of collaborators. Every moment in life happens for a reason and I am extremely thankful and blessed for all I have received. 

I will keep you posted on the new ventures and all the wonderful things in OUR future! 

See you in the SUN!

Mr Patrick Duffy”

I’m curious to see what happens to the space if B.E.S. goes down the tubes. The previous incarnations were all awful (Mr. West the worst), but alas, with its location at 559 west 22nd street, I just can’t imagine anything working. Another few steps and you’re swimming with the fishes.

UPDATE: A previous version of this post referred to B.E.S. as closing; manager Edward Lee weighs in to the effect that this is far from the case.

Revisiting B.E.S. After the Transformation

Second chances in nightlife are very difficult to pull off, especially when first chances are often not realized. There are hundreds of bars, restaurants, lounges, and clubs that never open because they don’t get financed or approved by authorities, landlords, or community boards. The stress of opening sees many a partnership dissolve. Even after all that, some say getting open is the easy part.

Someone long out of the business once said, “Its not just a nightclub, but a way of life.” The business, even for the best, is all-consuming. My own relationships understand that they never really have “all of me.” Operators are all poly-amorous, and the flesh-and-blood partner is usually the “other person” in the relationship.

I revisited B.E.S. after a long hiatus. Although my deep affections for Patrick Duffy had me singing his praises and beating the drums for him early on, the restaurant just didn’t live up to my expectations as time went by. Soon it faded from my conscious. The last time I went I decided to tell him and his management team what I felt was wrong, and that always creates discomfort. It’s like telling parents that their children are idiots. Most don’t appreciate constructive criticism.

The laundry list of things that I didn’t like at B.E.S. started with some of the food. I privately described to Patrick a blueberry pancake as having the texture and taste of an old ladies bra with warm jelly on it. Needless to say, things got strained between me and them. I had heard that B.E.S. struggled sometimes. A place on 22nd and the river better be marvelous all the time, considering it’s a 6 dollar cab ride from the Chelsea Hotel, and nobody was walking this winter. B.E.S survived, and Patrick, at first content with being the handsome face of the place, got his hands dirty with the back of the house.

The transformation is stunning. I arrived expecting the same-old, but was thrilled with the new. The new décor featured Helmut Newton-inspired images and gobs of new art everywhere reinvigorating the space. The restaurant has always been beautiful, and the staff was always fabulous and efficient, but the vibe was always off. Vibe is a weird word. Yes, you feel it when you walk in a joint, but there are few who understand it. The great ones understand it well. Designing vibe is my day job. I’m pretty good at it, but if one busboy is pissed off or a bartender is in the middle of breaking up with his boyfriend, or a manager’s girl told him off, then the vibe of a place can go sour. It could be the lights, or the music, or clamoring of plates—it can be a thousand little things, or just one big one. Either way, customers feel it when they walk in the room. The great operators have so much love for their projects that the vibe in the room is always alluring. Patrick loves B.E.S. enough to tell investors and operators to step back while he tries to run the whole affair. The results are undeniable. Maybe it was the hovering black suits that chipped at the vibe before and flustered the kitchen. Whatever it was that had dampened the spirit it’s all good now. B.E.S. was all that this Friday. The food was just great, and I sampled 8 different appetizers and entrées, and wanted more, more, more. The staff was attentive and engaging, and were people I wanted to meet. Amanda Lepore and her entourage were spirited at the table next door, and people got up to dance at the drop of a hat. The music was perfect for dining and conversation, and an occasional “get up and shake it.” One of my companions, the straightest person ever, found it wonderful. Someone yelled at someone “You look Shelicious” and I was completely won over. Patrick told me of serious new projects just ahead, and I felt he was really ready to go forth and conquer.

B.E.S. is what it always should have been with Jordan Fox orchestrating the evening, and Patrick bustling about. The menu is as eclectic and tasty as it always should have been, and the staff is visibly having fun while getting you hooked up. I told Patrick that if you have a place on the edge of the island then you had better be edgy and professional enough to be worth the trip. He is doing just that. The food has to always be as enlightening as this experience, and the vibe just right. B.E.S deserves its second chance—maybe even earned a T at the end of its name.

Industry Night at Highbar

Industry Night at Highbar has gotten my attention. Tonight, they’ll screen the Rolling Stones movie In The Park, which shows the return of the Stones to concert making after a couple-year hiatus. The concert took place under a cloud of grief, just a few days after the death of ex-Stones guitarist and founder Brian Jones. Jones left the band just a short while before filming began under confusing circumstances. Some say he quit; while others say Mick Jagger and Keith Richards pushed him out because he’d become a drug-addled waste of space left in the dust, musically. He was perceived as a liability. He was found drowned in his own swimming pool. Was it a suicide or accident?

There was another movie that explored this. That movie, Stoned, paints an awful picture of the events preceding Jones’ demise. A reported 1993 deathbed confession by an assistant, Frank Thorogood, says it was murder. A gig held in London’s Hyde Park in July 1969 quickly became a memorial for the fallen rocker. Mick Taylor was debuted as the new lead guitarist. A quarter million people reportedly saw this concert, which also featured King Crimson and a slew of others. Accounts tell of an uncharacteristically disorganized Stones concert with few highlights. A little over a month later, Woodstock would happen and a half a million would show and everyone would play… except for the Stones. In response, they put together a gig that December at the Altamont Racetrack in California which was supposed to be a sort of West Coast Woodstock. It didn’t turn out real well. That concert, with its murder and chaos, was featured in another flick, Gimme Shelter, by the Maysles brothers, who also gave us Grey Gardens. The year 1969 is ancient history for most, even for me. It’ll be interesting to see this moment in time when the world’s greatest rock band was redefining itself into the act we’re familiar with. Mick Jagger was born on this date, July 26th 1943. He’s celebrating his 67th birthday. Happy birthday, Mick!

Tonight off-work club employees are to bring their employee ID or pay stubs for drink discounts at Highbar. Tommy James will DJ. Next week the movie will be Snatch, the week after Clockwork Orange followed by The Wizard of Oz. You get the idea. If they serve popcorn, I’ll be there every week. Doors open at 5pm and the movie starts at 9. I ate at Aspen Social Club (ASC), and proprietor Greg Brier joined me the other night. Yes, for those who ask me to disclose, my firm designed it. I found it to be delightful; the food and service better than ever. Greg recently sold Amalia/D’or and closed the original Aspen on 22nd street. Highbar and Aspen Social are doing very well, and that makes me happy as he’s one of the industry’s good guys. His bringing downtown sensibility to midtown twirl has found a niche at Highbar and ASC.

Speaking of good guys, I spent Sunday brunch with bon-vivant-turned-restaurateur Patrick Duffy, who continues to amaze me at B.E.S. If you haven’t been, you should, as the scene is fabulous, the food to die for, and the design breathtaking. And no, I didn’t do it. The brunch attracts all the unusual suspects, the movers the shakers, the creatives and some moneymakers. The salmon eggs benedict is transcendent. I also like Tuesday nights there. All the swells come for dinner pre-Patrick’s weekly party at The Box.

Terry Casey — ex-Le Royale — is throwing Tuesday night events at Harem on Laguardia Place. With Terry it’s all about the music, and he likes to mix it up. I asked him to describe Harem. “Harem really feels like a loft space and has a nice relaxed vibe, unlike most spaces I found. It’s Loft Space Meets Hooka Lounge. Me and Alexander are rez DJs and hosts are Rachel Landry (bday Girl), Kelle Calaco, Victor Medina-San Andrés, Jake L, Mike De Guzman and Avery Noyes.” Tomorrow he’ll have the least known of the Ronson/Jones clan, Alexander Dexter Jones, DJ’ing. He’s the brother of Mark Ronson, Samantha and Charlotte Ronson. I’ve never met a Ronson or Jones I didn’t like, and I always appreciate their talent. He’ll be joined by Roxy Cottontail and there’s a live performance by Fire and Reason. It figures to be a good time for those looking for something off the familiar bottle/model path. Harem is at 510 Laguardia Place, just off Bleecker.

Nightlife Try Outs: Intern Alice’s Wide Eyed NYC Itinerary

Name: Alice Urmey Professional Resume: BlackBook intern and NYC newbie.
 One Word to Describe Nightlife in New York City: Fascinating.

City Loves: 
 • Favorite lunch spot: Hampton Chutney Co. in Soho. Cheap, delicious, and a nice alternative to Whole Foods. 
• Favorite dinner spot: DBGB. Fight for a table up front and enjoy upscale burgers and beer with the crowd.

• Favorite nightlife trend: Bars becoming more than just places to drink: Union Hall, Culturefix, Pimps and Pinups, The Blind Barber. • Drink of choice: Sangria is always a summer favorite. And a Belve and Soda. • Meal of choice: John’s of Bleeker: classic New York pizza. 
• Favorite group of people to bump into: Anyone I haven’t seen in a long time and keep forgetting to call.

image Union Hall, Culturefix, Pimps and Pinups, The Blind Barber

City Gripes: 
 • Nightlife trend you loathe: When a good trend goes out of style too quickly. 
 • Drink: Martini, who knew it was just a fancy name for gin?
 • Meal: Raw oysters. Briny and slippery goop. • Group of people to bump into: Crowds on The High Line, tourists in Soho.

image Alice, Left

Her Hotspots: Monday: Fresh pasta at Scarpetta, Little Branch. Tuesday: B.E.S., Avenue. Beautiful art and beautiful people in Chelsea. Wednesday: Bar Pitti, Wilfie & Nell. A low key night with close friends. 
 Thursday: Schiller’s Liquor Bar, free entrance to New Museum after 7pm–great incentive to get my boyfriend to a museum. 
 Friday: Start with a bite in Brooklyn at The Vanderbilt. Hit the East Village for Death & Co. and Mayahuel, where tequila is not only the drink of choice, it’s the only drink. 
 Saturday: Union Square Greenmarket for a loaf of bread and Long Island wine. Light dinner at The Standard Grill, followed by a night of rooftop bars. Sunday: Aroma Espresso Bar, Balthazar. Recover from the weekend with strong coffee and steak frites.

image Smith & Mills

Every night: Smith & Mills. Perfect place to end any night. 
 Wouldn’t be caught dead here: Fratty bars like Wicked Willy’s. If I wanted to play beer pong, I would’ve stayed in the suburbs. 
For special occasions: Celebrate with drinks at The Modern while munching on truffle popcorn. 
Brunch is usually: Pastis. Or Bubby’s if I didn’t eat there in the early hours of the night before.

B.E.S. Is New York’s Best New Joint

Me and mine were told we had to visit the new restaurant/hotspot B.E.S. (Boutique Eat Shop) the other night. Patrick Duffy would take no excuse and I tend to accommodate his demands, as the results are always fabulous fun. I’d walk a million miles for one of his famous smiles and so we went. B.E.S. is located where the forgettable Open was forgotten and the regrettable Mr. West had us all leaning very east. It is an example of how a team with clarity can overcome the ignorance of men and make a perfectly great space that has been mishandled, well, great. Open should never have opened, but Mr. West had potential. It had money behind it and some well-known players both in front of the camera and hidden just below the surface. Yet it was, by all accounts, a disaster. The design was hideous and built to lose loot. It ignored function, lighting, acoustics, sight lines, entrance sequence, and did I say it looked hideous? Well I can’t say it enough. Then “they” staffed it with people who always looked like they wanted to be elsewhere. The triumph of B.E.S. is that it not only purges all that was wrong with it’s predecessors, but takes our nightlife experience to an exciting new level. Everything works. It’s a can’t-miss hit and I can’t wait to go back. Oh, right, that’s tonight for the “Fox in the Box” event.

B.E.S. boasts a “by artists for artists” slogan that rings very true. The staff are artists doing what NY talent does before things click. Everywhere you look, something wonderful looms. I asked Patrick to tell me all about the art that’s so much a focus of the design:

“Tim Goossens from PS1 is our consulting curator and he is tasked with keeping the art fresh, interesting, and sexy. Other contributing galleries are Peres Projects, Tracy Williams, and many more in the future. We are looking to become a hub for the creative community to come enjoy our space while walking the galleries, High Line, or the new park. The following artists contributed to our design:”

The House – Paul Reynolds Paul is an artist from Barcelona that stayed with me for 4 weeks while he was here building the “Natiloportem,” which is metropolitan backwards. He builds architectural models around antique miniatures. In our case, he turned the kitchen into a live art installation by making the workers and the goings-on in the kitchen a voyeuristic experience. You are connected to the chef through a little window or a tiny door. Its very surreal but fun for diners and a great conversation starter. He completes this breathtaking work of whimsy by creating a basement that will house a valuable 18th century writing set that belonged to French aristocracy. He is tracing the lineage at the moment via Christies in London and it will be installed at a later date.

The Bar – Tom Beale This master wood worker has come up with a very intricate and breathtaking design. The result is a quilted, tufted, custom, one-of-a-kind wood under-bar with hand cast lucite cut outs that are illuminated from behind to make this incredible installation sparkle. Tom created an actual model of our bar in his studio, hand-cut and sanded and pieced every single diamond of reclaimed wood to make something almost impossible to copy or recreate. He uses dyes from coffee, beets, wine, and berries to create the multi-color effect on the wood. Each section of wood is basically eyeballed and “cut to fit.”

The Chandelier – Andrew Poneros. Renowned urban artist Andrew Poneros works in many mediums: graffiti, textile design, glass, and light. In this case he created a beautiful chandelier from gorgeous reclaimed wine jugs and sake bottles. With this signature “serpent” and references from Greek literature and urban folklore in combination with his unique “ship in a bottle” like creative process, he creates scenes inside every single bottle. Each one tells its own story. The effect is mesmerizing. It looks like a harvest moon, the light it throws off makes people radiate and glow from within.

Artwork – Maria Pineres Maria specializes in needlepoint. Her recent body of work focuses on erotic nature art. In our case she created 2 works, one of a male and one of a female to differentiate the men and women bathrooms. She took her work and superimposed it on the door to beyond life-size. The effect is stunning and highly graphic. You don’t realize what you are looking at at first glance but soon the image comes clear and you recognize that it is actually string from a very intricate needle work. The female is a full frontal nude that resembles Brigitte Bardot and the men’s bathroom show the backside of a man from what could be a pulp novel from the 60s or 70s.

As a designer, I appreciate the level of detail employed in this collaborative effort. Patrick told me “The space itself is designed to be intimate but give people space.” Every table in the place was more interesting than the next and came with a story. I asked him about the over-the-top bathroom sinks. He told me they went for 6 grand apiece. They are beautiful. He kept saying “we’re not finished with this yet,” but it is absolutely marvelous as it is, and I got very jealous.

The food by Chef Charles was fantastic but I’ll let others far more qualified rave about it. I told Patrick I wasn’t at all hungry so he brought me everything on the menu. The meal was a revelation. Patrick told me, “we have also created ‘SB’ style dining, which stands for “skinny bitch.'” It’s a lower carbohydrate, lower fat option. Just as much effort (I have been told) went into the cocktails from master mixologist Seth. Patrick’s favorite is the MC ultra, named after B.E.S. partner (along with husband Donald) Mary Catherine Mikula. The crowd was a special mix of fashionable folks with more fashionable folk and some other fashionable types thrown in. It was a mixed crowd of the beautiful and cool, gay and straight, and those in between, above it and below it all. It was smart conversations and table hoping from the “smart set,” recognizable faces and some I’ll never forget. Every member of the staff was friendly and fun. When my special someone went out to smoke a cigarette she was joined by a maitre d’ who went out and entertained her and made her feel un-alone. It was class and chivalry. It was a thousand little things that made my experience to die for. B.E.S. is the best joint to open in a long while. I’ll be there tonight. This time Patrick didn’t have to ask twice.