Fashion Week Brings Alacran Mezcal, a Willyburg band, and the Cocktail Bodega

With every Tom, Dick, and Harry meeting up with every Betty, Veronica, and Sally to attend Fashion Week events in every club, bar, lounge, restaurant, or alley – the city is in a frenzy. Cabs are impossible to get, and fashion victims seeking out lattes have overrun my favorite coffee shops. I tried watching the Democratic convention for escapist purposes, as I decided long ago who I was voting for. My friend DJ Cassidy is DJing it. Now that’s a big gig. I saw him just a minute ago at Noah Tepperberg’s birthday bash and noticed that somehow his head can still fit into his trademark, seasonal boater (that’s a hat). The Democratic convention is some gig. I can’t complain, as my agency 4AM has me all over the place spewing out my brand of rock and roll. Tomorrow I will DJ at Empire Hotel Rooftop and next week at door-God/actor Wass Steven’s birthday at Avenue, and lots more. It’s so much fun.

They had me out at The Montauk Beach House for the Labor Day Weekend Monday pool party. I played classic surf music and end-of-summer fare while my friends sunbathed by the glorious pool. TMBH is wonderful. We stayed over and the rooms were luscious. I want back.

I attended the super hush-hush private performance by Gary Clark Jr. at The Electric Room. Nur Khan always delivers superb surprises for Fashion Week. Gary is a big deal and Nur was gushing all about him. I love The Electric Room and will attend again real soon for the super, hush-hush performance by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club which is coming up but I can’t tell you about. The Electric Room holds a couple hundred people, and seeing this kind of talent in such an intimate setting is amazing.

Obligations took me far away from the opening of Lil Charlie’s, the sweet spot underneath Ken & Cook. Artan and Karim gave me the $2-dollar tour last week and I was so impressed. They made the place more comfortable than its Travertine incarnation. It looks great and seems to be larger somehow than before. Little Charlie’s Clam Bar was for years the home of the locals of Little Italy. The gentrified neighborhood has lost its charms and has been replaced with high-end boutiques, salons, and restaurants. The use of the name in this context raised my eyebrow, but there isn’t anybody around anymore to understand why. So be it. I think the place is going to be a big hit and I’m going back next week.

I also missed the opening/friends and family of Cocktail Bodega on the corner of Stanton and Chrystie. This opening needs a lot of ink and I’m running out of room today, so I will revisit. I’ll just say it adds considerable light and charm to what was a very dark corner. That little area is becoming hot with The Box sill going strong, and Bantam and other venues developing their brands; I think we all will be spending more time nearby.

I will be at the Alacran Mezcal launch party at the Hotel Americano tonight. Alacran is all over Fashion Week and behind the events at The Out. In a very short time, Arty Dozortov and his team has established the Alacran brand. As avid readers know, I don’t drink…well, I do drink about twice a year, whenever I have sex, and nowadays I’ve forsaken the jamo for Alacran. It’s delicious.

Sunday I will check out Chris Anthony’s shindig at The Grand Victory. Chris was prominent in the nightlife world before he grew up. He has formed a small record label, Jump Ramp Records, and his first project is The Boogie Rock Boy’s, a Willyburg rock/blues/funk act. He has just wrapped their debut LP, a three-track album coming out in vinyl and digital, and this Sunday, in  live audio. The album release will be celebrated along with a couple of other noted local sounds…Delano Groove, Jawaad and Kiva, and DJ Prince Polo.  There’s going to be a BBQ and I’m going to be there. 

A Moment Of Silence: Cocktail Bodega Is Closed

Most New York bars, sex shops, laundromats, and restaurants close for two reasons: no one likes them and/or their rent is too high. But in the case of Cocktail Bodega – the LES purveyor of healthy and potent alcoholic smoothies and secret Jameson Ginger Beer Floats – none of this happened. Instead, like a scene out of Armageddon or something, the plumbing system is a congested mess and needs to be completely redone, thus requiring the gutting of the ground-level Underground club and the main, first-floor area for kimchee reuben-and-waffle-fries consumption.

I just want to take a moment of silence for this New York casualty that has, for seven months, made legions of New Yorkers (like myself) feel good for two reasons: 1. for downing a Birthday Cake Smoothie with antixiodant-rich banana, mango, and Malibu Red and 2. for getting us tipsy and stuffed with chicken satay. So here we go.

*moment of silence*

But in other news, Cocktail Bodega is not completely done for. Here’s what owner Matt Levine – who’s behind such hotspots as Sons of Essex and the coming-soon The Rowhouse Inn – told us about Bodega’s future:

“It’s unfortunate that it’s closed for building upgrades. But we’ll be hosting pop-ups until the re-opening.”

And thank heavens they’re waiting till the plumbing is fixed, because with cocktails stuffed with beet and celery juice and pineapple wedges, they need some spic-n-span, superhuman pipes.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

The Jameson Ginger Beer Float: Cocktail Bodega’s Secret Drink

It has come to my attention that Cocktail Bodega – Lower East Side’s purveyor of healthy & potent alcoholic smoothies – has a lethal little, off-the-menu secret on its hands. One involving Jameson Irish Whiskey, cinnamon, and scoops of fresh coffee ice cream. One that is only orderable upon spoken request. The drink: The Jameson Ginger Beer Float.

At a place owned by Matt Levine and known for their Jameson Brown Sugar Banana Smoothie and their fluffy, whipped Birthday Cake Smoothie – it’s almost offensive, borderline deplorable, that this exclusive Jameson Ginger Beer Float hasn’t been announced to the masses until today.

Why, Bodega? Why is this only available until the end of March? That gives us only two more weeks to grasp the frothy float in our hands and revel in the dance of fresh coffee, crisp whiskey, and refreshing Ginger ale upon our tongues. This kind of sensory experience is not one to hasten. It’s not.

So perhaps the only thing left for us to do is just go to Bodega, even though we know the end is imminent since the float will be gone in (16) days.

Is it a risk? Definitely. But perhaps it’s better to have experienced it for a moment, than not at all.  

Learn more about Cocktail Bodega & follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

Industry Insiders: Matt Levine, Native Son

New York entrepreneur Matt Levine is busier than ever these days. Not only is Sons of Essex, the upscale American restaurant he co-owns with Michael Shah, one of the hottest tables on the Lower East Side, he’s also staying on top of the duo’s just-opened drink spot, Cocktail Bodega. We caught up with Levine to ask him about his background, his hospitality ideas, his favorite hangouts, and what exactly goes into a “Gin Hulk” cocktail. 

Where are you from and how did you get into the hospitality business?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, then grew up right by the JFK airport, in the Five Towns area. You could say I grew up in the hospitality business, bar-backing and serving while in high school and then bartending during college, and eventually bartending in the city every summer.  From my later teen years and early twenties, I started throwing parties and special events throughout the city. Working within the fashion and nightlife world, I started a clothing line in 2004.  Besides giving me an opportunity to travel, the clothing line gave me a creative outlet and the resources to eventually invest in my real passion-hospitality. At the age of 26 I opened The Eldridge.
 
What was the Eldridge like?
The Eldridge provided another creative outlet, and in that 1,000 square foot space, we did some amazing things.  The Eldridge had a great run, was a learning experience from an operational standpoint, and gave me the opportunity to operate F & B on a hotel level, as well as open up satellite locations and management deals. And then when 133 Essex Street came into discussion, I had an asset with The Eldridge, and an opportunity to sell the liquor license and the lease for 247 Eldridge Street, so I did so, and started building out what is now Sons of Essex.
 
What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
I generally wake up at 7:00 am every morning, check emails, watch a little ESPN, walk my extremely lazy and stubborn English bulldog, Boss, and get to my office by 8:30 am.  I’ll head to Sons of Essex in the afternoon for meetings, and to our new project-Cocktail Bodega.  I generally get home around 8:00 pm, walk Boss again (or should I say he walks me) – then head back to Sons of Essex for dinner with friends and then … it starts all over the next day. Exciting, right?
 
What’s the greatest challenge of running a successful restaurant?
The greatest challenge is keeping consistency levels to the standards we expect. It’s always someone’s first experience at Sons of Essex, always someone’s first Asian calamari salad, someone’s first truffle mushroom pizza and so on – so it’s important to have the customer service and quality of product perfected. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
 
What kind of place is Sons of Essex? Where did the name come from?
We named the restaurant after the Sons of Liberty, who were a movement of shopkeepers, artisans, workers, and tradesmen who held down places like the Lower East Side when the British tried to take it over.  The Sons of Liberty were the voice of the people, the voice of the streets (organizing the Boston Tea Party, taking down the Stamp Act) and with us being located on Essex Street, we wanted to pay homage to those who looked out for our rights, the people’s rights. Sons of Liberty + Essex Street = Sons of Essex
 
What’s the menu like?
The Sons of Essex menu is a reflection of the diverse melting pot of cultures that have helped develop the Lower East Side to what we know of it today.  The old-school scene has been described as a Bowery Boys atmosphere and Gangs of New York vibe that pays homage to the history of the Lower East Side. We fuse a traditional American comfort food menu with the spices of Lower East Side immigrants and the use of local ingredients and Essex Street Market fruits and vegetables.
 
Tell me about Cocktail Bodega. 
Cocktail Bodega serves liquor-blended smoothies and spiked fresh-squeezed juices, with a creative and innovative take on traditional street food by my dude, Chef Roblé.
 
Where does the Bodega part come in?
Bodegas represent a strong sense of community within the Lower East Side, and with the use of fresh fruits and fresh vegetables in the cocktail program at Cocktail Bodega, the name Bodega seemed like a natural fit.
 
Will cocktail bodega specialize in any particular spirits or cocktails?
Throw a little vodka into your strawberry-mango smoothie, or have some rum with fresh vegetable juice, that’s what Cocktail Bodega is all about.
 
What’s your favorite cocktail to get there?
My favorite cocktail is the Gin Hulk: Hendrick’s Gin, freshly juiced apple, freshly juiced cucumber, freshly juiced spinach, lemon squeeze, and a cucumber garnish.
 
Other than your own venues, where do you like to go out in New York?
When not at Sons of Essex, I have my Lower East Side comfort zone. Barrio Chino, Les Enfants Terribles, Fat Radish for dinner, 169 Bar, Epstein’s, and Motor City for cocktails.  Throw me anywhere with my friends, a beer, and I am good.
 
To what do you attribute your success? Any secrets you can share?
I think it’s important to put your staff and team first, and lead by example.  When you walk into Sons of Essex, you aren’t coming because of the owners, you are coming because of the atmosphere and vibe, the customer service, and of course, most important – the food itself. All of this is a shared vision. I laid out the foundation and the operations, but the staff executes all the deliverables for the customer experience.
 
What do you like to do in your spare time to relax and recharge?
Bikram yoga is my relax & recharge time, checking out Hester Street Fair on Saturdays for good grub, hanging at Tompkins Square Park to chill, checking out an indie film at the Angelica or Sunshine … all help me balance the work week.
 
[Photo: The Lo-Down]