Look, I hope you won’t be insulted if I keep this short today. I am way too busy to chat or be profound or funny or whatever it is I am doing these days. I got to get to the 17 Stanton space, formerly called The Elsinore, to finish up with the construction so you guys can go oooh and ahh or say …"What in God’s name was he thinking?" According to Scott Solish at Eater yesterday, nobody cares, but sometimes he is a little left of right. I read his take on my column yesterday and noticed just a little error…a right when he should have gone left. He said that Noel Ashman had changed the name. In reality, the name was changed over Noel’s strenuous objections. This will play out, as revelers attend the space and play with tables and bottles and other toys. Seventeen Stanton has a new name, which will be seen and heard sometime in the next few days. The place is almost ready. It feels good-to-go. After this writing and the day-job designing, I’m off to Hotel Chantelle to DJ with Sam Valentine and Michael Tee and a slew of others.. I’ll get home at 6am-ish. I was up at 7am, so it’s a 23-hour day for me. I figure I’ll get all the sleep I need in 20 or 30 years.
So yesterday I wrote an article advocating the passing of the Paid Sick Leave Bill. This resulted in a great many "that a boys" and "well dones " but also a slew of nasty conversations from owner-types trying to protect their bottom line. Two anonymous commenters (naturally) on Eater – which linked to my rant -represented their opposition with these thoughts:
"Steve Lewis is a piece of shit. Nobody should care about anything he has to say. One of the king sleaze balls of NYC nightlife history."
"Hahahaha. Fuck you Steve Lewis, you degenerate fucking felon scum bag."
Despite these incredibly relevant and eloquent statements in opposition to my article, I decided to seek out another person with a dissenting views.
I called Paul Seres,founding trustee and vice president of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, and asked him to tell us why he and his group are trying to sway the City Council to vote nay on the Paid Sick Leave Bill.
Paul is unfortunately not as well-versed as those Eater guys but did give it a try:
"Let me first say this…the hospitality industry of New York would be in favor of a Paid Sick Leave Bill, just not the one that is in front of the New York City Council. We want a bill that would be a bit more fair to all parties involved. The current bill, the responsibility of paying the five days to each employee, is 100% on the business. Every employee has a right to keep their job if they get ill, especially when it is an illness that can spread to other employees and customers. They should never be in jeopardy of losing their job if they do in fact get sick, but this bill is written in such a manner that the proof of illness is not required, effectively making it a Paid Leave Bill. We would love to see a bill that is set up similar to workman’s comp or unemployment insurance, where the state would contribute, the employer would contribute, and the employee would contribute from their paycheck.
Second, other cities such as Washington, DC have carved out tipped employees from the bills they’ve passed, realizing that in the food service industry, most tipped employees who can’t make it to work have to get their shift covered and usually swap with other employees, so as to not lose any shifts.
The last issue we see with this bill is that New York City does not have a department of labor. This bill would fall under the purview of the Department of Health which isn’t really set up to monitor such a program."
I asked him about the small places that may not survive this additional financial burden:"How about a hardship clause for the poorer or less successful joints?"
Paul replied, "That would be a great idea but the way the bill is currently written it doesn’t presently exist.You’d have to get into what qualifies for a hardship place of business."
I am not persuaded by his argumentand still believe that the Bill should pass as is. Minimum wage workers getting five days off over a year to get themselves well and not spread disease sounds like a sound plan to me. The tipped people’s wage won’t burden any owner I know’s income bracket. I think we have to take care of the little guy.
Someone asked if I paid sick leave to my employees.Well, back when I had employees, I don’t remember anyone complaining. My staff made money and we strived to keep them happy. Everyone worked hard and if anyone needed anything we listened and helped. I’m sure there were a few that hated the ground I walked on, and I am extremely happy about that to this day.
Two things I’m pretty annoyed with today: reports that District 36 might be another scummy bottle-centered joint, judging from their Saturday opening, and the fact that bloggers are blowing up those awesome underground boxing matches. I’m reminded of a quote by author/philosopher Eli Khamarov: “The best things in life are unexpected because there were no expectations.” District 36 had been highly anticipated and hotly pursued by househeads and the technorati since the summer. So it’s only natural that some with high expectations—especially since the warehouse-esque space occupies such a niche space in the grand scheme of nightlife—might be disappointed. Reports and Tweets from Saturday’s opening pointed to bad door policy, which shaped the key first impression. Luckily owner Damien Distasio was kind enough to comment on the snafu.
Actually, i am very unhappy and absolutely furious at how the door was run. It was a complete fucking disaster. I had built this place with the vision that it is and always will be a dance club. The door was an absolute disgrace, and the doorman has been fired, the bottle service girl has been fired, and the security personnel will be completely restructured with all new personnel. Inside the venue, where I expected the issues, seemed to go very nicely. People were dancing, drinking, and enjoying themselves, which is what is supposed to happen! The complaints, I am fully aware of and have been addressed. I myself am completely distraught at how people were treated, and what that incompetent fucking idiot of a door person did and said to people is completely UNACCEPTABLE. I even fired the fucking idiot who recommended him to me!!! I assure this will not happen again and i look forward to people having and making some memorable experiences on this dancefloor .
JohnNovaNYC tweeted live from the line. “District 36. Bottle Service ONLY. 200 people kicked off line. There is hope for NYC nightclub scene.” He also had a positive note that was more substance than procedure, “I have to admit that the light system at district 36 is insane.” jeffgrosse, mind you at 4:59AM tweeted “@District36 u r a joke,” with good reason, noting at 11:33PM that the club confiscated his camera, sharing “@district36 just took my camera away!!” ryanhinkis tattled on the dumb door, announcing: “@District36 your door people need to learn how to work a door. Randomly pulling couples out of line and telling them to leave not cool.” Eater investigated the opening and asked some anons to share their thoughts. One patron wrote: “Ticketed patrons began being turned away 1 hour after opening and the staff looks like the understudies for the cast of the Sopranos. The sound is great, but anyone who bought the bullshit press releases of ‘bringing back the old vibe’ and ‘all about the house music’ and ‘no bottle service’ is a sucker. In short this club makes Pacha look underground.” Yikes.
On the bright side, the lighting and sound system received rave reviews. RichieCuts live tweeted “@leeburridge is dropin some real dirty fukn shit @district36 right now,” and “@district36 your fuckn room knocks wow!!!! #realtalk.” mpAkinheAt agreed, stating: “WOW. The system @District36 is knockin heads offfff.” JohnNovaNYC, despite his previously mentioned negative impression of the event twittered, “I have to admit that the light system at district 36 is insane.”
I seriously hope that the folks behind the new house venue reassess their protocols, and adjust staff if they need to. We have plenty of mediocre clubs around town, and it would be a shame for a place that had already accumulated so much buzz to drop the ball.
In the other corner, we have the intranet’s grand reveal of those underground boxing matches around town. Can we not preserve anything truly good and holy in this town—regardless of our occupation? I mean, we’re all bloggers these days, but do we need to ruin every secret of New York’s sparse underground and have it accompanied by quotes from Fight Club? Now that I’ve finished the rant, I have to admit that these fight clubs are truly cool, and can be found in different locations, run by different groups, all around Manhattan. Though the report recalls a “hipster” atmosphere, others have a predominantly old school scene, filled with fedora-clad old Italians, and blue and white collar fans. It has recently garnered a lot of attention from the youngins around town, which is no doubt the reason why it’s all over the web today. Hopefully, whichever group runs the Lower East Side’s outpost will wisen up and move their location before we read about a police raid, and before their presence ruins it for the rest of the locations. And maybe they should edit their email invite list, paying close attention to those packing heat in BlackBerry form while they’re at it. Okay, fine. I’m just super jellies I didn’t report on this first. You’re good, Billy Gray.
What LES establishment is taking over the old Hope Lounge? It’s rumored that the new Williamsburg spot will sell food and charge a cover, so it could only be from the loins of a select few LES establishments. The management and venue name has yet to be announced, but I’d say Eater guessed right by calling out Libation, the Midtown-esque club and resto on Ludlow. I received a friend suggestion on Facebook today from Stephen C. Maly, a partner at Libation. He suggested I add someone named “Good Co.” Nope, not a website, or an organic movement or Gwyneth’s new GOOP– it’s a new bar under construction at the address of 10 Hope St. Yep, the old Hope Lounge locale. Here are some sneaky peeks of the early stages of Good Co. after the jump.
When entering a field as crowded as food blogging in New York City one needs a great idea. Ben Leventhal thinks he has one. Again. Leventhal’s been struck by such notions before. In 2005, along with blogger-about -town Lockhart Steele, he cofounded Curbed’s Eater.com — and it quickly became the online bible for a certain segment of food-obsessed metropolitans. The buoyant effervescence of the mid-oughts-Gotham-boom dining propelled the duo to national prominence, and Eater spawned West Coast, and then last fall, national, offspring.
It was only a matter of time before the then 30-year-old Leventhal became too big for his blogger britches. By 2010, as a freshly minted New York Post Most Eligible Bachelor, he found himself leading NBC’s local blogging efforts as Managing Editor of Lifestyle for NBC Local Media, and came up with the idea for a new food site called Feast and, more importantly, Feast Rank, the site’s most original contribution to the field.
Besides posts by bloggers, aggregating the usual suspects and posting proprietary video, the site assigns restaurants a Feast Rank, a 1-100 score generated by a wholly automated algorithm and in New York comprising 75 sources — everything from the New York Times restaurant stars to Grub Street stories to Zagat listings to Yelp and Citysearch reviews to local blog and social media chatter, all apparently updating in real-time (a handy “+” or “-” indicating recent point shifts in opinion runs across the top of the page like numbers on a stock ticker, so it seems real official-like).
“Ben has been interested in that for a while now — this algorithm,” says Serious Eats founder Ed Levine. “It seems like it’s more about utility than Eater was. Which makes sense. If it’s a corporate initiative, utility is going to be driving it, because they think they can quantify utility.”
However, to some, Rank doesn’t deliver. “The base idea is fantastic. It’s experimental, its new, its ownable and represents an interesting and proprietary way to garner interest and create content out of things that are already happening anyway,” says Tom Ajello, Creative Director of Poke, an interactive and design agency in New York. “The problem is,” says Ajello, “The Feast Rank feature is buried, impossible to decipher once you find it, and not iconically or creatively represented in a way that will engage people.” Rank does give food-obsessed New Yorkers one more thing to obsess and argue over — and of course, complain about. And one thing they seem to agree on complaining about is the word chosen to represent the top ranked restaurants: “Epic” — sounding as much like the rallying cry of Psi U as it does a taste discrimination — has been the target of much scorn. Also there are some bugs in the ranking system and apparently kinks to work out in the algorithm that compiles ratings and buzz to generate Feast Rank (though, these things tend to improve over time). Instead of offering a unified voice, the Feast Rank ratings are, at least at this point in the launch, slip-shod and inconsistent. “It seems like a supremely bad idea,” says Jonathan Gold, the former New York critic for Gourmet magazine who went West to LA and on to become the first food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. “Real-time samplings of a thousand half-formed opinions are useful to political pollsters, but not necessarily to somebody trying to figure out whether it’s going to be Motorino or Maialino after the show. It’s hard to see why it would be any more reliable than Yelp or Citysearch, which to me are most useful when it, because you can follow specific commenters, functions most like a regular review.”
But if anyone has the track record to make you believe Feast Rank will work out the kinks, it’s Leventhal. “If you think about it: Eater begot Grub Street, Grub Street begot Feast, and what do all those sites have in common? Ben — who’s really good at this stuff,” says Levine. “He’s the one link — to use a double entendre — between all those sites. There’s clearly a lot of corporate resources behind Feast and it’s too soon to know how it will turn out, but I have a lot of respect for what Ben does. He’s one of the first great minds when it comes to this stuff.”
But in the free-love world of online publishing, where there’s links enough for all (if not enough ad dollars) might there still not be something paradoxical about Leventhal sitting atop the masthead and serving as editor-at-large of Eater, the food blog he founded, while at the same time launching its most serious competition for ads? Feast is set to expand from Miami and New York and roll out to LA and Chicago by the end of the month, and, according to Leventhal and Brian Buchwald, EVP of NBC Local Integrated Media, the plan is to continue the concept in all 10 of NBC Digital’s local markets.
NBC began beating the drum for Feast in January with a faux food truck loaded with celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud making the rounds of Manhattan street corners (an event covered breathlessly in a series of posts on Eater.com). The truck pulled up on 23rd street, Union Square and in Soho, setting up velvet ropes manned by hyper-active clip-board-list toting publicists at each stop. Just like the halal cart. “It’s a clearinghouse of news and information,” says Buchwald, “What we’re trying to do is organize that information for the user, to make it more digestible for them to then go off to a Grub Street or an Eater. We’re going to be a good traffic source for a New York mag, or a New York Times or whomever.” There are no formal relationships between NBC and any of the sources, however. Even Eater. “They’re exactly the same as every other content source,” Leventhal says.
Not much has been said about Leventhal’s professional separation from Eater (though he acknowledged n a post on Eater in October, informing readers that he took the NBC job, that his role had obviously changed there over the previous 10 months). As recently as October, the New York Times interviewed Steele and Leventhal together on the occasion of Eater’s national launch. Rumors of discord within the happy halls of Curbed abound though. Says a writer who’s worked with Levanthal, “He seems to speak to everyone in the condescending overtones of an especially bored and precocious 14-year old.” Says another former Curbed writer when asked about Leventhal, simply, “What an asshole.” “We wish Ben well in all of his endeavors,” says Joshua Albertson, Vice President of Sales and General Manager of Curbed. When asked if the coverage of Feast’s launch on Curbed-owned Eater didn’t seem a little, um, excited (i.e. “all the glorious details have been released”), Albertson counters, “I wouldn’t say excitement is the right word. Of course, we’re interested in what they’re doing. We’ll link to them when they’ve got something good, and I expect that they’ll do the same.”
Well sure, the internet is built on links, right? But isn’t it a tad confusing to have Leventhal commenting on Feast coverage on Eater using an official-looking Eater admin logo and log-in? “Nothing seems paradoxical about this from an ad sales point of view,“ says Albertson. “Feast isn’t the first competitor to Eater in this space and it won’t be the last.”
I have to stand up and applaud Eater, for calling out Nello Summertimes in Southampton, for selling an $18 dollar bottle of water, and a vodka soda for $27. According to them, bottles of beer and low-grade wines are $20 a piece, and a mojito $25. This includes their location on the Upper East Side. Eater calls for a boycott, but as someone who cringes when he spends $8 for a beer, I say we give them a cocktail of our own. A Molotov one.