Is Tequila the New Vodka? Steve Investigates

A late night trip to the local diner had me looking at their liquor display. I noticed that there was actually the same amount of tequila being sold as vodka. Grey Goose, the longstanding staple of model/bottle tables around town, may have found that its greatest competition isn’t coming from another vodka brand, but from one of the high-end tequilas that are being promoted around town. A party I attended at Provocateur for Auténtico Tequila Alacrán had me sipping the stuff. As everyone knows, I only get drunk 2 or 3 times a year (whenever I have sex) but I made an “I’m over 21 almost 3 times over, and there’s a party for the stuff” exception.

It wasn’t like any tequila I’ve ever met before. It was clean, smooth, and had a subtle taste. I had never liked the stuff, and more importantly, it never liked me. As memory serves me, it was at a Russian-style tequila-drinking contest at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in LaLa land that I lost my wife to gentleman Joe Strummer. I do remember the swill that night came in a unflattering bottle and tasted like motor oil. I felt like a million pesos when I finally woke up, and I never asked if he collected on the wife bet, by the way. I lost fair and square, and I too am a gentleman.

The back of the menu at my favorite restaurant (which will also be opening by my home in Brooklyn) La Esquina boasts over 200 tequilas. High-end agave swill is nothing new. The question is: will it become a staple at the tables of the jet set? I caught up with my old pal, Arty Dozortsev, and asked him if tequila is the new vodka.

I know you were in the vodka business for 10 years. Why Tequila now? I jumped into the vodka trend with Kremly when Stoli and Absolute were the only market leaders. We were all trying to get a piece of that action. 10 years later, there’s an opportunity to get into the tequila industry, so I’m now with Alacrán.

What is the difference between a tequila head and a vodka head? On tequila you definitely get a buzz faster. The feeling is more fun and energetic. I think its definitely a more fun drink. People are tired of vodkas—it’s boring already. People are looking for something new and fun, and its all about trends and setting them. This is the year of tequila.

Tequila is traditionally associated with bad hangovers and wild times. What is the difference with these higher-end tequilas? The higher end tequila brands are distilled better, which costs more money to make but you don’t have that heavy head the next day.

Will the A-listers move off vodka to tequila? I think the A-list crowd is already swaying from vodka. Vodka has become so generic and unoriginal. No matter how high-end it is, the flavor seems to be pretty much the same. With this tequila especially, you can actually sip it and enjoy the flavor. You don’t need to take that shot and make that funny face anymore. How do they make the tequila so smooth? This is the only tequila using the single column distillation process. It’s the same process used in premium vodka, which is meant to adjust the amount of water you let in, and it’s how smoothness is achieved. It’s a premium 100% Weber Agave.

Where did it originate, and what is it about Alacran that separates it from the competitors? How did you get involved? The family of Ernesto Iberra Henkel and his wife, Lilian Sada, started this in their hometown of Mexico City as a personal venture among friends, just over a year ago. They were tired of the classic taste and aroma of tequila, and created an unconventional, smooth taste. They spent a lot of money on this unique distillation process, and on the sexiest packaging around. In my humble opinion, it’s best tasting tequila out there. It’s so smooth and enjoyable that it practically tastes like sake. Not only is the taste amazing, look at the bottle: it’s so sexy, I had to get on board. My family is in the importing and distribution business, and an importer approached me a few months ago with Alacran, I saw the sexy black matte bottle, then I tasted it, and I wanted to get involved instantly. I said to myself, going forward, I don’t have to force anyone to take tequila shots with me anymore.

What have you done to market it so far? We threw our party at Provocateur—the most exclusive lounge in New York City. It was crazy, and the guest list was off the charts. We had a great mix of people; Mexico City’s elite flew in just for the event, as well as NYC’s nightlife heavy hitters, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, and young trendsetters. Donald Trump Jr. and Amanda Hearst were among some notable attendees. My marketing team, VIEvents, organized the entire event. They branded the Provocateur café top to bottom in Alacran. People were so amazed by the taste—it definitely got the party started, and no one wanted to leave! VIEvents is also marketing Sant Arturo Wine, with a series of dinner parties. The dinners are meant to bring back socializing and connecting with others on a different level, aside from the usual dark night club/drunk experience where you can’t hear each other speak over the loud music. Our last three dinners were held at Cipriani, MPD, and Casa La Femme, and they were all a huge success.

I hear the tequila is not even available yet. I understand it’s on some boat now? Well, the tequila is on its way, we are anticipating its arrival to the US any day now. Just three weeks ago we had to personally airship cases of Alacran as a special request from the rapper and producer Swizz Beatz for a birthday party he was throwing for his wife, Alicia Keys. So the buzz has begun before it hits the US market. Once product arrives, we are distributing to top restaurants and nightlife venues in New York, and we are going to kill it!

Are people calling you Turtle? When is it launching for real? You can call me Turtle. We are launching March 1st, for real!

Today’s Pop-Up Perk: Half Off Egyptian Eats & Belly Dancing At Casa la Femme

If your private jet ran low on fuel just as you were about to skip out on the cold weather, well, sorry about that. As an alternative, might we suggest you hop a cab to the West Village, where you can indulge in a night of Egyptian decadence at exotic Casa la Femme. Today’s Pop-Up Perk will get you $50 worth of regional cuisine, artfully crafted cocktails, and belly dancing – all for only $25. Make sure you grab a private table to take in all of the sights. Time’s a wastin’!

Arthur Dozortsev Reflects on a Lifetime in the Alcohol Biz

To the thousands who have laughed and smiled with him, Arthur Dozortsev is Arty. He sells booze and is one of those thousands of people who make a living off the nightlife industry even though they don’t actually work at a club, bar, or restaurant. When the city or state changes a law a little, or a joint gets closed or isn’t allowed to open, there is a ripple effect to our local economy. Arty is on that second ripple. He rolls deep, showing up at clubs with herds of models and players. He’s the kind of guy that smiles even when he is mad or hurt. When he was throwing big soirees back in his Kremly vodka days, they were packed with all the right sorts. I had coffee with my friend at Prince Street Catering, and asked him what he’s up to.

You have been around quite a while, but burst onto the scene hard with your product Kremly Vodka. Tell me about that experience. I have been in New York for over 35 years, and yes, Kremly Vodka was an amazing experience. I was basically doing marketing, sales, PR, product placement, you name it. It was great because I met the best people from all over the world. I was working with every hot club and restaurant in New York, Florida, California and a lot of places all around the world, so that gave me the ability to be around really great people from all industries.

Is it hard to launch a vodka? It is always hard to launch a liquor brand. Back in the day, when we launched, we really didn’t have as much premium vodkas as today, but it was an uphill battle from the start. It was a lot of tastings, a lot of events, a lot of word of mouth, a lot of hard work. It was very difficult for us, because we were a private company with limited resources going against giants like Absolut and Stoli, but we made a stand in the industry.

You were born in the Ukraine. Tell me about your transition to the “American” way of life. Yes, I was born in the Ukraine, but I dont remember much cause my family left when I was 2. It was very difficult for my family. My dad didn’t speak English and had no money. But working hard in the country and being honest and loyal, my dad became very successful in the food and caviar business, which led us to get into the liquor business, so I guess as far as I can remember, I was more of an American then a Ukrainian .

Tell me about Forever Young. Forever Young is a joint venture between my good friend Seth Greenberg and my company, in creating a new line of wines called Forever Young. Both Seth and I have a great infrastructure, and we both decided it would be a great idea to launch a great line of wines with a fun approach behind it .

You sell product to some of the hottest places in NY. Name some of them and tell me what you are selling. We work with places like Tao, Sparks Steak House, Rue 57, Serafina, Casa la Femme, 1Oak, Juliet, Provocateur, STK, Dos Caminos, Mari Vanna and many more. Most of these places carry our wines by the glass, which we import mainly from Spain, Chile, Italy, Argentina and Germany. As far as the products they are mostly the common wines people drink.

The SLA has banned a great deal of the promotional money distributors and liquor companies used to be able to give for events. Tell me about the laws for this, and how it affects you. The SLA is always trying to enforce tougher laws which in a way I think is sometimes good. It keeps the industry honest, or at least tries to. We are not really affected by it because we really don’t give away promotional money. As importers and distributors in NY, we are able to offer the best prices in town, so I guess that’s our niche in the business, great wines at great prices

Is the climate for business in NYC getting better or worse? The climate for us as a company is great and very upbeat. There are over ten thousand liquor licenses in the city and we only work with 10 percent of them, so we have a very big opportunity to grow. Personally, I think the climate is a bit stale. Being in the city for so long and going through some of the best times the city has been through, I feel we need to step it up a bit.

Where do you hang these days? 1Oak is great, and Provocateur is a lot of fun but, but there is nothing to compare to the days of Tunnel, Limelight, Mars, or even some as early as Life on Tuesdays. I guess I am spoiled. My favorite place right now is Provocateur in the Gansevoort Hotel. Other wise I am at 1Oak, Juliet, Soho House during the day, and I love this new restaurant BES in Chelsea , amazing food. And u can always catch me at Ciprianis.

New York City: Top 10 Places For a Girl’s Night Out

We girls sometimes have this strange, perennial urge to get dressed to the nines, smell like cupcakes and flowers, strap on our sky-high Manolo’s and use them to transport us to buzzing, overstimulated bars, where we can teeter around, sipping colorful cocktails, ignoring the opposite sex, and secretly fantasizing we’re characters in our own girly HBO series. Sometimes we want Disney-sized mansions of excess; other times we’ll take chic cosmopolitan standbys, perhaps with some college watering holes thrown in for good measure. We’re women, we’re allowed to change our minds. As if to further stereotype ourselves, these things are for certain, we want a backdrop that looks as good as we do, in a place that makes us feel forever 21, with enough stamina to handle our girl’s night out.

Lucky Chengs (East Village) – A place to truly let it all hang out while the girl-boy trannies try to keep it all in, and tied up, and hidden. The queens, who happen to be the wait staff, act bitchy while belting out “It’s Raining Men.” ● Elizabeth (Tribeca) – A place to really get off on yourself, vibe is dark and sexy- reminiscent of a Kiki De Montparnasse, with more blood sucking. Gather the girls to set the tone of the evening; Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire. ● STK (Meatpacking District) – To be totally vile and cliche, this steak place is very girl friendly. So girl friendly, the slickness is attributed to Sex and the City’s special brand of trendy- with a dash of Buck Rogers. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire; many ‘Ladies Night’ celebrations take place- many gentlemen read smoke signals. ● Greenhouse (Soho) – Glitters like a Radiant cut diamond, sparkles like a Manhattan nightclub should. Sometimes, a girl has to dance, and dance you will, in environmentally conscious surrounds. Pretty pastel LED lights, vines, moss, and a Louboutin conscious bamboo dance floor. ● Sweetiepie (West Village) – More diner than dinner; but this place is far too novel to leave out. Marie Antoinette styling, pink and gold trimmings, completely trivial options like caviar-topped omelets. Grossly luxe, pint sized plush shop was made for an indulgent evening. ● Bubble Lounge (Tribeca) – Good times are poppin’ along with the Veuve. Nothing beats a fizzy champagne buzz, except treating yourself to the VIP wine cellar. Inner diva is brought out, along with the Visa- poppin’ is pricey. ● Butter (Noho) – When you are with a pack, it’s practical to practice pack-mentality. Go with your natural instinct and opt for a venue that has withstood the test of time. Dancing, music, mini skirts, feel good vibes from the confused foreign models and promoters, Richie Akiva knows a woman’s habitat. ● Casa la Femme (West Village) – Grab a tent for you and your harem, er entourage, and sip signature sweet cocktails while entertaining the belly dancers. Guys go to strip clubs. Why can’t we have the same fun? ● The Standard Beer Garden (Meatpacking District) – Attractive crowds have been magnetized to the Standard since it opened, therefore, people watching is never at a lull. Ideal for the pre-dinner meeting spot to take in the view, enjoy a tasty micro brew and instill camaraderie in your girlfriends during a game of ping pong. ● Automatic Slim’s (West Village) – The ratio always sways towards attractive guys, and the type of guys who will buy you a drink but then leave you alone to dance with your girlfriends. Dancing on the bar always encouraged and after a few feel good tunes, you’ll be into the idea.

New York: Top 10 Bars with the Hottest Staff

Casa la Femme (West Village) – The French Kiss cocktail and Mediterranean fare seem to put you in the mood, but it’s really belly-dancing beauties and equally glamorous staff that produces the allure of the place. Their simple-sweet service and svelte, mannequin-like aura makes the entire experience romantic and outlandish. ● Rose Bar (Gramercy) – Whenever I see Nur Khan, he’s usually with top models like Lily Donaldson. Needless to say, with the one-two punch of Ian Schrager and Julian Schnabel top design, one of the most beautiful bars in the city is staffed by the most beautiful people as well. Bartenders are the pouty, brooding type. Cocktail waitresses are classy in a dangerously sexy way — all seem like James Bond babes, and we always leave shaken and stirred. Wins for a likewise beautiful clientele. ● Baddies (West Village) – The Kingswood Aussies bring their Aussie-ness to the downstairs party. In case you don’t speak Australian, Aussie means sexy, mate. Strapping men with accents and their friends who are just as Aussie, even if they are American. Close quarters in the murky-chic basement means a lot of flirting, trust us.

The Empire Hotel (Upper West Side) – Like finding beauty in far off locations; you’ll have to travel all the way to the UWS to take a gander at the exotic animals inside the Empire Hotel. Literally, Halle Berry works weekend evenings in the main bar. At the Empire Hotel Rooftop, Brazilian beauties makeup for the middle-aged crowd. Boyfriends will stare, with good reason. ● Bond St. (NoHo) – Well, there’s Nick Atkinson. And some wouldn’t need to go farther than that. But roam the sexy lounge and behold a bevy of friendly, neighborhood beauties who can hold a conversation while pouring your hot sake. The girls look sultry in little black dresses, the men are exactly the way a girl could want them; handsome, attentive, with an air of intelligence. ● The Bowery Hotel (East Village) – Sure, some people go to spot celebs in their natural habitat, but some go sit on the benches outside simply to gawk at the beautiful, baby-faced doormen. Inside, the hosting staff and servers have polish, and an artistic flair — which is all the hotter. The bartenders seem like strictly reformed fraternity brothers who know their spirits. No wonder Cameron Diaz has been spotted here, tipsy and flirting with the staff. ● Thom Bar (Soho) – It’s been said that the Thompson Group curates their staff in order to provide the most aesthetically appealing service — and I wouldn’t argue. Former models, ballerinas, and generally sexy people make up the downtown-meets-out-of-town vibe. ● Coffee Shop (Union Square) – Long holding a title for consistently beautiful staff, sometimes you aren’t sure if you’ve stumbled into a taping of The Real World or America’s Next Top Model. Makes sense: actors between jobs and part-time models staff the hot Brazilian diner, offering up their views of NYC to tourists and locals alike. Whether they’re an out-of-work actor or a wide-eyed newbie, they’re still sexy enough to stare at. ● GoldBar (Nolita) – Skulls and chains do something for everyone’s sex appeal, and the whole gold thing does wonders for everyone’s skin. Cocktail servers get close to whisper over the music. Behind the bar, tenders glow and really know what they’re doing with those cocktails, which makes us think they probably know what they’re doing in the … kitchen. Owner Rob McKinley is gorgeous in that disheveled downtown way, which happens to be the way we like it. ● Avenue (Chelsea) – Tough door means beautiful people on the inside, and I’m not talking about their kind hearts. Simple math … if you curate a pretty, interesting crowd, you should probably have an attractive, interesting staff. Luckily the lounge staffs some of New York’s finest. Yoga instructors, bilingual beauties, and Motorcycle and Espresso aficionados are fun to look at and talk to.

The Things We Do For Love: New York’s Top Date Spots

To some, love is motivated by how fat one’s pocketbook is. To others, it’s based on where one is able to get a reservation at peak time on a Friday night. Excite your summer love with these unabashedly romantic restaurants — incredibly sexy date spots, dripping with intimacy, dishes that arouse the senses, good lighting, or otherwise just priced to impress. For more inspiration of the culinary sort (inspiration of the other sort may be too, uh, inspirational for this site), check out Restaurants in the guides and choose the Romantic/Date Spot vibe.

Casa la Femme (West Village) – Former downtown romantic gone uptown returns to camp out in the West Vil. The softest of soft lighting, plush seating, and intricately detailed decor set the mood; signature fig martinis and French Kiss cocktails spell romance; the hip-swiveling belly dancers spell something else, but it’s all sexy. ● The Bourgeois Pig (East Village) – A dark, red room that’s a perfect post-dinner spot when things are going well, or a date spot to pull out all the stops. The fondue makes things romantic for him and her, because let’s face it; dip-able things are sexy as hell.

August (West Village) – Raw bar for those that still hang on to those aphrodisiac superstitions; comfort food for a cozy atmosphere. Sweet nothings will have to be whispered quietly, as this place is tiny. Size in this case is just an excuse to get closer. Hold hands in the romantic garden and cherish the moment — September will be here before you know it. ● Babbo (Greenwich Village) – The only dirty talk you’ll need here is “Baby, this is Mario Batali’s place,” and “I pulled strings to get a res here on short notice.” If this isn’t enough to set the mood, then the fact that you’re sandwiched between a former mayor and Gwyneth Paltrow should do the trick. The food, of course, stands on its own as reason enough to bring your summer lover by. ● One If By Land Two If By Sea (West Village) – Whenever I poll the office on where I should take my date for a romantic evening, the unanimous cry is this place. Aaron Burr’s haunted carriage house is true romance: flowers, firelight, and a piano that plays the lilting soundtrack to your dream date. Get engaged here if you think you might need some persuasion. Fall in love here by accident. ● JoJo (Upper East Side) – For those of you buying Vineyard Vines for him, and pearls for her, here is your classic UES date spot. Slightly stuffy but enduring townhouse romancer. Love, Franco-American style. Conclude with infamous warm spicy Valrhona chocolate cake. Sex to follow. ● Capsouto Freres (Tribeca) – Long-running French romantic will get you laid. But it’s not about that, it’s about romance and the presentation — the candles, tablecloths, quiet corners, and booze make the perfect ambiance to get you feeling romantical. The French know romance, and the exceptional desserts and the extensive wine list add to the way you’re looking at your other half. ● barmarché (Nolita) – Relaxing go-to brunch spot. Because honestly, brunch done right is one of the most romantic things. Subdued, rendezvous lighting. Wear his button up belted as a dress and enjoy the Barmarche Cuban Burger. The New Old American cuisine and the sight of you with bed head makes the Saturday brunch rush worth the wait. ● Relish (Williamsburg) – Cute place for young love — perhaps you might not perceive this classic diner as a place where romance blossoms at first sight, but give the outdoor patio five minutes, and suddenly you have found “your” place. But really, nothing says romance like sangria. In pint glasses. ● Dressler (Williamsburg) – Food to die for, and just enough off the beaten path to call it your own. The mirror/light/candle combo works magic, the food is above par and quite impressive for foodies, and the dark and stormys will take care of the details.

Industry Insiders: Sarina Salvo, Casa la Femme Phénoménale

Casa la Femme’s Sarina Salvo on re-opening the sultry Middle Eastern hotspot in the West Village, why they are unique in New York, and partying with camels.

What do you do? I basically do everything at Casa la Femme. I don’t have an exact title because I’m really spread out through the whole restaurant. I’ve been with them for 12 years, so I basically can do everything from the event planning for everybody. I’m able to put through all of the parties. Anything people want. If someone decides that they want to have a camel, I would figure out how to have a camel in here, to staffing, to the flow of the restaurant. When we did downtown, I started as a manager there. Uptown when we did the boutique one, we went through the review process and I was just basically there on the floor, 100%, with the staff. In a nutshell, what do I do? I guess I represent them. I represent Casa la Femme. Other than the owners, I guess I am Casa la Femme, in a sense.

What are some restaurants or bars that you like in New York? Favorite restaurant is Peasant. Raoul’s for a good steak. I haven’t been going out since I’ve been working so much.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Probably [Casa la Femme owners] Medhat Ibrahim and Anastasi Hairatidis. I wouldn’t stay with people if they didn’t inspire me and push me. Twelve years working with someone …

What is one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry now? Now? Actual hospitality. Actually being caring with the customers. You know, with everything that’s happening with the whole economy and jobs, I think that people are actually giving what they need to give to the guests, giving them an experience, what they deserve. Now you have to convince people to go out. You have to. You work so hard for your money, and everyone used to go out anyways, and it was a given, so it was taken for granted — from everybody. Now you have to work to be able to get those.

On the other side of that, what’s one negative trend that you’ve been seeing? I mean, obviously, people losing their jobs and things like that. I know so many people in the business that are losing their jobs all throughout. I had interviews the other day, and I had like 140 people showing up. And that’s really scary. I feel bad. I had people who were general managers and managers begging to be servers. And they come from all the hottest restaurants. Anyone. You know, they have experience. So that’s a negative big time. Also, I know so many people in the Morgans Hotel group. You know, Royalton … people getting just laid off. It’s just horrible.

How will this affect Casa la Femme? Since we’re not open, I mean, I really can’t gauge it. But I would assume that we’ll see some negative things out of it. I used to get a tremendous amount of calls, just banging down the door when we’re open, everyone’s really excited, so I can’t gauge it at this point. But I’m assuming that its not going to be every single night. People are more conscious. We’ll see. I’ll approach it in a different way. I’m willing to be able to work with people, I understand that it’s going to be a budget thing and anything can be done to be able to accommodate people. That’s what I want to do. What’s one thing that people might not know about you? I guess maybe that I’m super private. Because people are so used to seeing me as chatty and floating around, but I’m definitely more reserved and quiet. Which is shocking. The total opposite from when people see me dancing on a table with a bottle of champagne.

What are some of your signature drinks going to be? We’ll have vodka-based ones, champagne-based ones. We did have a mango martini that was fresh juices and fresh mango nectar. Someone was just calling the other day about a French Kiss. That hasn’t been done in like nine years. I’m sure once we release them, they’ll be fab.

Who do you think Casa la Femme will be competing with for clientele in the West Village? No one. We won’t have to compete for anybody. We are totally unique. Any type of clientele is not going to be a problem. It’s just because we cross over into so many different types. We can have the models and that type because it’s sexy, it’s hot. We’re known for that. We’ll also have the people from the neighborhood. There’s a million Thai places, there’s a million Italian places, but there’s no Casa la Femme. If anyone has tried to do something like us, they haven’t succeeded on this level. There’s a reason that we’ve been around 15 years.

What’s the vibe at night? The music will switch up in the evening. There will be people sitting with bottles of champagne, relaxing and watching the belly-dancer. We’re going to stick to chill world music, like Hotel Costes type of loungey music. We’ll also have a Middle Eastern influence in the back. If we have a private party, we have a lot of friends, it could go into anything, like Rolling Stones late at night. It depends on what crew is in here. We have a pretty insane sound system. Anastasi is all about the music, so we’ve loaded the space up with lots of speakers and sound-proofed the place.