Ultimate Football: The Rise of the Swanky Sports Bar

Recently there has been a change in the way sports bars are run. The old model of sports bar was essentially a man-cave with a liquor license. Neon beer signs and frat boys and old farts screaming at the TV. A burly bartender who maybe took a little book served up commonplace swill and defrosted burgers. There are still plenty of those joints to watch the game, but the new model of sports bar separates the men from the metrosexuals.

The new sports bar embraces women and is run more like a regular restaurant/club. The food is well thought out and good…and pricey. The drinks are made by mixologists or hot bartenders. The prices keep some serving as a sort of door policy against the old guard coming in wearing their team’s smelly jerseys. On a big game day reservations are a must.

The busy season of sports is upon us. Pro and college football bring all the boys to the bars, and these days, the girls too. Monday Night Football packs them in and nowadays, with good food, speciality drinks and bottle service, the steady revenue streams have made this a bigger business. I feel like saying "Duh, why didn’t we think of this before?"

One of the most successful of these new sports bars is Bounce Sporting Club, with two location: one in the Flatiron District and another on the Upper East Side. As their website proudly announces, it is "reinventing the NYC sports bar."

The hospitality business evolves and once one guy or gal shows us the way, the bandwagon gets very big. Tonight, Bounce will celebrate two years of booming business. I caught up with proprietor Cole Bernard, who used to own, operate and promote regular clubs around town, and asked him a few question about Bounce and the new world order for sports bars.

How would you describe Bounce Sporting Club?

It’s a hybrid concept that caters to all different types of customers, ranging from corporate to the young general market crowd.

How dependent is the biz on actual events? Do pro and college football make for a busier season?

For most businesses in the hospitality, food and beverage world, the fall season is definitely one of the busiest times of year. Everyone is excited to have football back and it makes for a great atmosphere where customers come to watch the games and have a good time. Football season is definitely one of the busiest seasons at Bounce followed by March Madness for NCAA Basketball.

What’s different this year from last year at Bounce?

In year two, you can expect a lot of new elements that you didn’t see in year one, ranging from an updated roster of DJ’s to special performances to unique presentations. We will also be updating the menu and adding some new and different items. For example, on Sundays this season, our DJ lineup is ready to kick off. The season features some phenomenal talent, including MOS, Reach, Ross One, Mick Boogie, Sinatra and Dalton. I like to describe it as the "ultimate way to watch football."

Do you miss the "regular" club life?

Even though it’s a different environment, I still get a lot of that same energy from Bounce. Since we cater to such a wide variety of clientele, you will see many table clients that you would see at the most popular nightclubs at Bounce on a Saturday or Sunday for one of our day parties. We are definitely different from most sports bars. From the minute customers enter the venue, to the minute they leave, we want them to feel comfortable and excited about joining us no matter what day of the week or time of day.

image: Bounce Sporting Club

Industry Insiders: Cole Bernard, Time to Bounce

Cole Bernard is out to change what you think a sports bar should be. As co-owner, along with partners Yosi Benvenisti and Benny Silman, of the new Bounce Sporting Club in New York’s Flatiron district, he refuses to compromise on food and drink, even if his competitors rarely go beyond beer and cheese fries. 

"We’re a high-end sports bar with a high-end menu, so we bring together the best of both worlds," he says. At Bounce, fans can catch every moment of the action on one of the 30 high-def TVs placed throughout the venue. But the excitement isn’t limited to the screens, as chef Sean Olnowich’s menu features upscale dishes such as the au cheval burger, sloppy duck leg confit, and truffle mac and cheese. 

Naturally, there’s a generous selection of draft and bottled beers, but those looking for more sophisticated sips will delight in mixologist Charlotte Voisey’s signature cocktails, homemade sangria, and top shelf spirits. There’s even a DJ who spins records during breaks in the action, just the keep the energy level high. 

"The difference between us and other sports bars is we have great food and beverage, and we incorporate a party atmosphere," says Bernard. 

Bounce Sporting Club’s Cole Bernard on Gaming Season

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.

CB: 100%.

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.

Industry Insiders: Cole Bernard & Jason Lawrence, Cupcake Clubsters

The guys who brought you the beer-swilling sporty, fratty funhouse Porky’s, as well as the posh and exclusive Eldridge, are on the precipice of adding two more haunts to Manhattan’s repertoire. Amidst a year where the deafening sound of local shops and staple nightspots permanently closing their doors was heard citywide, Cole Bernard and Jason Lawrence of Status Nightlife have been working tirelessly and ambitiously, to open not one, but two new doors. Jason just made Gotham magazine’s list of 100 Hottest Eligible Bachelors, so the ladies have the opportunity to check him out whilst sinking their teeth into some liquor-laced cupcakes at new spot, Red Velvet; but not without stopping by The Yard first to watch the boys at the bar watching the boys on the field on giant flatscreens.

What’s up with your new spots? Cole Bernard: We have two new spaces. One’s in the Flatiron District, opening Halloween weekend. It’s called The Yard. It’s the former Porky’s space. The other is called Red Velvet, which will open at the end of the month as well. It’s on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Jason Lawrence: The Yard is an evolution of a New York high-energy, spirited, fun nightlife party bar. We brought a well-known artist in to do some interior cosmetic work. We’ll focus on a lot of happy hour stuff and then lead into nightlife. CB: We have a great lineup for Halloween weekend to launch the space. It’ll be decorated in multiple murals done by Darren Boerckel. Also designing is Steve Lewis, and he’s amazing.

How do you draw inspiration for a new nightclub? CB: With The Yard space, Darren has been on board with me though the last couple projects. So, I gave him the name and the goals I wanted to reach and said, “Darren, run with it.” He can paint the lights out of any place. JL: With Red Velvet, it was more drawn from us loving the area. We love the Lower East Side. It’s hot; it’s vibrant. It’s very in and yet still very up-and-coming. There are artists and galleries and restaurants and nightlife, and then real estate destroys the area. We thought it was a great area to make our stamp on. That’s what we intended when we opened The Eldridge, and that’s what Red Velvet will capture as well. Conceptually, we had the image of a very sexy, intimate lounge. We wanted high energy, high spirited, but we also wanted to add a little twist. We decided to partner up with Baked By Melissa and Charlotte Voisey, the famous mixologist, to come up with some spirit-inspired cupcakes for the lounge.

How did you two become partners? JL: I owned a PR firm in Miami when we were introduced. CB: Jason and I kind of have the same mindset. We see what the business is all about. We understand that it’s about creating a brand where people can come any day of the week.

Describe the prospective clientele at these new venues. CB: The Yard is going to be a mix of your neighborhood folks to your party bar crowd to your NYC night clubbers. It’s a place where you can go after work to unwind, have a beer and a burger. Then, on Friday and Saturday night, it’s a fun, high-energy bar where you can have a good time and get loose. JL: Bring your birthday group out. Bring your bachelor/bachelorette party out. Get a little wild

What are your door policies? CB: The Eldridge, which we opened in September of 2008, has been a great success. It’s a small space, so we do limit the amount of people that come in. Naeem Delbridge keeps a great flow and runs the door really well. Everyone from your models to your socialites to your downtown hipsters comes. Eldridge is a great space, and that’s why we want to continue the success that we have had on the LES with Red Velvet, which is just a block down. JL: Red Velvet will be far less pretentious. I want it to be more inviting to locals. If there are couples in the area that read about Red Velvet and want to check it out and come down for a cupcake, they’re not going to get stress at the door. I want to share the space and the experience with as many people as we can. The space will dictate. There will be times when it will be a little more difficult to get in because my capacity is 120, and I can’t let everyone in. That being said, I want a lot of people to have the Red Velvet experience. CB: But do expect a stricter door policy on busier nights.

How is it that you’re popping open two new clubs during a recession? JL: Denial helps a lot. CB: My theory on the recession, in any business — especially in nightlife — whether it’s a high-end sports bar, a nightclub, or just a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, you have to give people a reason to come. You have to create a niche product and a brand that gives the customer a reason to want to come out and spend money. Both places are designed and catered to individual customers to give them an experience they’ll remember.

What do you do for fun? JL: Work is fun to me. My lifestyle is fun to me. I try to keep a good balance between the social aspect, the family, and the friends. CB: Opening two spaces at once pretty much took over my life. I’d say, hitting events, going out to dinner and drinks with friends, going to the movies, the usual stuff. Is there a lot of time for that? No, but I try to find time for it.

Are you single? CB: I’m single and mingling. JL: I’m seeing someone.

Does being a club owner make it easier to score with the ladies? CB: Obviously, it’s an advantage. But it’s a lot to handle when you have girls flocking your way. When people ask me what I do in the spaces, sometimes I tell them I’m a bathroom attendant. I don’t like the ownership role. But yes, it does give the single guy an advantage

Long-term goals? JL: I want to expand to other markets and other cities and continue to build the brand. I’d also like to continue to build my relationship with Cole and other people we bring on board. I want to keep creatively coming up with ideas that work and bring longevity. CB: Jason hit it right on the nail. I want to bring Status Nightlife Group to a recognized brand. I want to start a family sometime in my mid-thirties, so that’s in the back of my head.

What does it really take to open and maintain a nightclub in New York? CB: New York’s a tough market. There are so many places. It’s not just, “Hey I’m gonna invest a half a million dollars or a million dollars to open a place and just crush it.” Five years ago? Yes, when the economy was booming. Now there’s so much competition, you really need to bring a concept and bring in operations. You need to bring the whole nine to the table with you. JL: If your ego’s driving you, you’re going to have big problems. This is a business that’s built on relationships, trust, and experience. It takes a lot of different people on your team to make anything successful. Fortunately, I have a good team, and creatively, we click. CB: For The Yard and Status Group, we brought on Amanda Mitchell of Southern Hospitality PR. She focuses on The Yard and on Jason and me personally. Then there’s Matt Hein of East Side PR. JL: Matt used to run BNC and Harrison & Shriftman. He brings a lot of experience and know-how. The bottom line is: we trust these people. They have our best interests at heart.

What are your go-to places in New York? CB: I’m a big fan of La Esquina, Macondo, and Apizz. JL: My good friend Eugene Remm opened Abe and Arthur’s, so I’ve got to give him a plug. I like our spots. The key to our success is that we create environments that we like to participate in and I think that’s crucial. You have to be able to have fun in your own environment.