What: Salsiccia Pizza with sausage, tomato, mozzarella, broccoli rabe, chiles & pecorino. Where: Pulino’s, Keith McNally’s rowdy-yet-highbrow pizzeria on The Bowery. Ideal meal: Pre-game for a night out. Because: Typically McNally-esque, Pulino’s pulls off the same charming, eclectic brasserie/bistro vibe here that New Yorkers have previously fallen for at Pastis, Balthazar, Schiller’s, and Minetta. The pizza is tasty, and chef Nate Appleman loves meat items, therefore, anything with sausage is decidedly splendid and cooked with lots of love. Tastes like: Thin crust pizza hits home with this concoction. Sausage, mozzarella, and broccoli rabe is an enticing combo of sweet, salty and slightly bitter. Top with egg for a good time. Bottom line: $17 for a pie, possibly shareable for 3, depending on how ravenous your group might be. Nine slices to go around.
Keith McNally’s the celebrity and buzz-magnetized brain behind New York’s SoHo standby Balthazar, the center of gravity in the Meatpacking District, Pastis, the Lower East Side’s de facto cafeteria of the young and moneyed (Schiller’s), and The Hardest Table in Town of the moment, Minetta Tavern. Every opening of his is an event, and even when a restaurant of his doesn’t blow away the critics, it still packs ’em in nightly (see: Morandi). Problem is, they tend to be just out of the price range of New York’s young and hungry. Until now, or soon, as Pulino — McNally’s pizza place — is coming, and it’s coming downtown, to Bowery below Houston. Today, Pulino chef Nate Appleman twittered that he was hiring. Even better, NBC Local tossed Pulino’s plans on their website. What’s it (maybe) look like?
Per Matt Duckor at NBC:
One of the most prominent features highlighted in the plans is the massive, semi-circle bar adjacent to the kitchen, which should prove useful for neighborhood drop-ins. Other discoveries include: 1) The bathrooms are located in the cellar like they are at McNally’s nearby spot, Schiller’s, though they don’t appear to be unisex. 2) While the restaurant seems to sport a closed kitchen, the plan depicts a completely open pizza station, so crowds can potentially witness live, Appleman dough-tossing magic.
And Appleman dough-tossing magic we’ll await. Nate Appleman’s formerly of A16 in San Fransisco, who he left two months after winning his 2009 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef. He’s only the second chef to open a McNally joint since Jodi Williams at Morandi who isn’t Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, McNally’s kitchen lieutenants at all his other properties, (and we all know how Jodie’s tenure turned out: ugly). Needless to say, the anticipation’s been high, and this just upped it.
Bill Gilroy is one of the industry’s real players. Known as a hardass no-nonsense operator at places like Nell’s, Lucky Strike, and Match, he was one of those people always at the heart of well- run, successful places. His word has always been respected and good — a rarity in a world know for characters who try to get away with anything. Today, Employees Only and the new Macao Trading Co. are predictably making waves, and Bill Gilroy is behind them bringing experience, savvy, and that good word. I caught up to Bill at the Pod Hotel. We sat in his Pod Cafe and enjoyed food from his son Devon, the executive chef.
When did Billy become Bill? I’ve always known you as Billy Gilroy. If somebody asks my name, I say Bill.
I prefer Steven. My closest friends call me Steven, but almost everybody calls me Steve, and that’s because Steve Rubell told me it’s a very familiar name. Bill is a solid name; Billy is familiar — it’s like you’re accessible if you’re a Billy, whereas Bill might be a little more formal. Yeah, and William’s even more formal
Were you ever William? I was only William the first day of school, that’s it, or whenever I’m signing something, obviously.
You’re one of the most important people behind Nell’s, one of New York’s iconic clubs. The big breakout for Nell’s was the night they turned Cher away because she wouldn’t pay the five-dollar cover charge, and everybody paid five dollars at Nell’s. Well, actually, they didn’t recognize her. She had two young Spanish boys on her arms, and as they approached — actually before she even got within 10 feet of the ropes, I think — Thomás Mueller just said “It’s not happening tonight” without even going to the ropes. After that we had Thomás reading People magazine, because he was German and new to the country.
Cher was big news back then; Nell’s was seriously exclusive and serious about that 5 dollar cover. It really gave the club a boost. They turned away Eddie Murphy. He was with 12 people, and it was five dollars to get in, and he was ready to pay, but his entourage was like, “:Eddie Murphy don’t pay!”. So they kind of just got put through the other door. He came back the next night and paid the five dollars
He was at the Tunnel one night — he had a bottle of champagne, and the waitress came to me and said, “Eddie Murphy says that he doesn’t pay.” I didn’t mind him not paying because I would have comped him a bottle of champagne, but I wanted to go over to him — because my attitude was, if I comped a celeb a bottle of champagne, that means I was dropping their name in Page 6 tomorrow. That was the price. So I walked over to him and said, “I don’t mind you not paying, but in the future get a manager … the waitress doesn’t know to comp you if I’m not here.” And he said, “My clothes don’t have any pockets.” He was wearing a leather jumpsuit, and he didn’t have any pockets. You know he hates to get touched; he always had a bunch of people around him, because if you touched him, he really freaked out. Prince used to come to Nell’s quite often too, and he was also someone who he would never order directly — he would order through his bodyguard. He was one of those people — I guess similar to Michael Jackson — who’s so shy, and then they get up on stage and become so dynamic
What about you? You’ve mellowed over the years. I’ve not always been thought of as being the most easygoing,
How have you calmed down? Because I’ve been talking to you now for a few hours, and you’re a calm and collected and peaceful human being. Well, I’m working on my fifth marriage now, so that kind of wears you out. I’d like to think I wouldn’t make the same mistakes or react the same way as I did in my 20s or 30s over certain circumstances, just by virtue of the evolution of your consciousness through experience. Like they say, reincarnation is perfection to experience — it takes a few hundred times for me to get it, but I’ve had time to do it.
The club business is so rewarding — when it is rewarding — that you can fulfill a lot of your fantasies and your goals within it. You don’t necessarily have to prove yourself anymore after a certain point; you can look back and say. “I’ve done this body of work, I don’t have to answer to anybody, I may be a saloon-keeper — as Rick said in Casablanca — but that’s what I want to be.” And you are a saloon-keeper. Absolutely. You know, I serve soup and sandwich. That’s the common denominator here. I serve it to all types of people, whether they’re in fashion, the arts, Wall Street, or whatever. And for me it’s always been about networking, but networking in a way that the people who come get to meet people in fields perhaps opposite of what they’re into. For example, actors don’t necessarily want to meet other actors; they want to meet other people who live their lives differently.
Where did you get your start? I started at La Gamelle. I don’t know if you remember La Gamelle — it was on Grand Street, where Lucky Strike is now. I worked there with Florent Morellet, who opened Florent. He was the waiter, and I was the bartender, and there was a guy name Alex, little crazy Alex … He was the owner, an Algerian guy. I was there for the first five years. And then I went form there to the Water Club with Buzzie O’Keefe, and then I went to Café Luxembourg — that was Keith McNally. And then I went to Nell’s, and I was the maître ’d at Odeon.
And Keith was at Nell’s also, right? Yeah. Then I opened Lucky Strike with Keith, then went to Match from there, and then Match uptown, and then Match Hamptons, and then now most recently, Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.
We ate at Odeon yesterday, and my assistant Mary is sitting with us, and she’d never been there. I don’t know how many years old it is … 15, 20, 25? Almost 30 years old.
So now when you talk about training a staff — this is a three-week process with Keith McNally, and it’s really heavy — and it shows. You went through the Keith McNally system — Absolutely, he was definitely my mentor.
What does “service” mean to you? Everybody uses this word — we’re going to provide the best service there is, etc. So what does that mean? For me, great service is when it exceeds your expectations. If you go to a restaurant, you expect to be served, you expect the food to be decent, you expect that atmosphere to be nice … but when it exceeds that expectation, sometimes you can’t put your finger on it exactly. It’s important that the people I hire bring more to the table than just your basics, so I often prefer artists or people aspiring to be something else — they’re not career waiters. I’ve always felt like in traditional French or Italian restaurants, where they’re working those double shifts — those French shifts — and they’re subservient, and they’re standing off to the side … they almost look like they’ve been beaten down, and they’re not supposed to interact with the table. I’ve never enjoyed it personally, being served like that. When I am hiring people, it’s people who can interact with the table, they have a certain way about them … nice personalities and nice people.
I always hated it when they’re an actor, and after four years, they’re still bartending for me. I wanted them to get out and do well. Of course. And they bring that to the job — the fact hat they have some depth to them, another side, they can talk to the table. I’ve said many times the staff I have is more interesting than the clientele.
“I’m a product of the city. I learned this business and hopefully I’m going to stay here until I retire,” says Murat Akninci, manager and maître d’ of Keith McNally’s Pastis and Morandi restaurants. The hospitality pro has worked in venues all around New York, starting when he arrived from Istanbul in his college years. With this experience under his belt, he has high expectations for the forecast of the business. “There was an inflation of restaurants that just opened up without smart planning. We’re seeing them actually disappear from the scene, opening up space and opportunities. In the next year and a half to two years, there’s going to be a new generation of restaurateurs in New York City.”
What’s your position with Morandi? I do managing of the dining room and also maître d’. These are two different positions. One of them is accommodating guests upon their arrival and finding them the best fit in the restaurants with tables and service, and the other is managing the whole dining room.
What about at Pastis? There, I’m mostly managing the dining room and making sure that service runs well. Making sure that the connection between the kitchen and the dining room is ever-flowing. It’s a very busy place, and that’s what makes everything go round. Once the guest sits down, we have to make sure that they’re taken care of.
What do you enjoy more, being at Morandi or Pastis? Since I’m in the restaurant business, I like all aspects of it. I’m just lucky enough to be on different ends of the management. One of them, being at the door, is more hospitality-oriented; the other one is more operations management, seeing the overall service. So it allows me to be versatile.
How’d you get started? I started working with Keith about a year and a half ago but I’d known him for a while. I came to the U.S. for college from Istanbul, and I started working in restaurants to support myself. College expenses are … well, you know. I studied economics, and instead of doing that, I stuck with the restaurant business.
What was the first restaurant you ever worked? The first restaurant I worked at in the city was the Garage on 7th Avenue South. My most important job was on the corner of Bleecker St. and LaGuardia, a little place called the Village Grill. That’s where I met Richard Emolo, who is the general manager of Barolo and all Paolo Secondo restaurants. He mentored me on what to do, and I took him as an example because he’s an old-school New York City restaurant buff and still going hard. I changed jobs, and I ran some of Keith McNally’s restaurants for a while. I bartended and managed back and forth. I worked at Sushi Samba. I managed the Park Avenue South and 7th Avenue locations, and after that I worked with Simon Oren at L’Express, and I ran French Roast as general manager for about four years. I worked with him in managerial capacity, in and out, for about seven years.
When Morandi first opened, there was a lot of criticism on the location. How do you feel about that? When Keith was working on this project, he brought me in and showed me around. He was very excited, telling me how different things were going to be from some of the other places that he had. When he asked me what I thought about the location, I said, “Keith, you make the locations. Locations don’t make your restaurants.” What it turned out to be is a low-key restaurant, not in a high-turnover neighborhood, with an excellent quality of food and service. I think that Keith is diversifying his clientele. If we’re here, we get a lot of neighborhood people, a lot of returning guests, in a very nice setting that is not actually very busy like the SoHo location or the Meatpacking District location. I think it’s wonderful culinary-wise as well.
Where else do you go out in New York? I work all the time, but I really like Korean food. And of course I like Turkish food. Some of my friends own Turkish restaurants. I go to Zeytin’s Restaurant on Christopher and Columbus, owned by a really good friend of mine. Sometimes a culinary experience for me is going to a taco truck in the city. I specifically go to them before or after work, just to be able to get some flavor that’s off the grid. I like Super Tacos on 96th and Broadway. I go to Pera, which is a Turkish restaurant on Madison Avenue. It’s a new take on Turkish cuisine. From time to time, I do like to go to Sushi of Gari. I like classical types of sushi. And with my wife, I go to Casa Adela on Avenue C. It’s a Puerto Rican restaurant; some good home cooking there.
What about bars? I go to Brass Monkey in the Meatpacking District, which is right around the corner from Pastis. It’s where some of the staff hangs out. In Brooklyn, I go to Union Hall in my neighborhood in Park Slope. It’s an old-style pub, but it’s very well done, and has some good beers on tap. I like one place in the East Village called Decibel with a sake bar.
Any trends you’ve noticed in hospitality? I’m just blessed with working in Keith McNally’s restaurants, because we went on really strong for the last year and a half since I’ve started with this company. Not every place was so fortunate. On a positive note, it was good to see the reaction of established and successful restaurants to hard times. How they’ll change and transform themselves to their desirable destinations and show great examples of accommodation to guests in need. The guest has become the paramount of the restaurant business, and the demands of the guest. This has always been the case with his restaurants. Consumers and guests recognize that, and that’s why they’re flooding into his locations more than ever at this time.
What’s your dream spot for a venue? If I were to open a place, I’d probably open a little restaurant at the beach in the Caribbean somewhere, on the sand, with plastic forks and knives. I’d just sit back and enjoy the view. If any customers come over, I’ll sit down and have a drink or food with them. That’s what I’d like to do.
I hear Morandi does a great breakfast. Better than Balthazar? We don’t get many tourists or people who are transiting. We do get people here because we are a destination for them to come and have breakfast. So, a lot of neighborhood people come in, some business people from the hospital, a lot of people from the institutions in this neighborhood. From the breads, to the hospitality when they come in and see the same people providing them service in an upbeat and positive manner, it attracts the guests here and at other Keith McNally restaurants.
The bread comes from Balthazar Bakery? Yes, all of our bread comes form Balthazar Bakery daily. That’s what I think about when I think of breakfast — bread, coffee, eggs, jam.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Larry Poston officially opened the West Village resto Hotel Griffou with business partner Johnny Swet on July 1. Poston made his name in New York restaurant circles as a manager at Pastis and the Waverly Inn, and Swet gained his hospitality know-how at Balthazar and Freemans. Most recently occupying the 9th Street space was notorious speakeasy Marylou’s, but the name of the new joint is after the original, French 1870s occupants. The modern dining rooms are themed as a salon, library, and artist’s studio with a French-inspired classic cuisine menu. Poston gives us an inside look at the new spot.
What are you focusing on now that you’re open for business? My business partner Johnny and I are really priding ourselves on great food and great service. That’s what we know. We’ve learned from Keith McNally that no matter all the fanfare and no matter what comes in, great food and great service are the only things that keep them coming back ten years down the road.
How did you first meet Keith McNally? I started waiting tables at Pastis in 2000, so I interviewed with Keith. He hired me, and I worked there for six months and then moved out to LA with dreams of being an actor. I was a pool boy at the Chateau Marmont for four months. So that was my West Coast experience. I hated LA. I came back and started waiting tables again at Pastis. They promoted me to manager on the floor, and I worked at Pastis for six years.
Most important thing you learned from McNally? Keith had been a maître d’ when he first started out. He taught me a lot as far as what to look for with people, and he would say, don’t just seat the people in front of you with the suits and the flashy money, because they always get a table. Look behind them and see the nervous couple or the little old couple or the funky-looking group that doesn’t always get a table, and seat them. That adds to the room and also keeps that eclectic mix of New York going. You don’t always want suits, you don’t always want fashion people, you don’t want all of any one thing. I would love to have Mick Jagger over here, some drag queens over there with a rock band and then some Wall Street guys. That’s what keeps it interesting. That’s New York to me.
Then you worked with another legend, Graydon Carter. It was just that time, that point of trying something new and spreading your wings and getting out there. And that’s when I met Graydon Carter over at the Waverly Inn. That was a whole other aspect of service and learning people because that’s a man who is like maître d’ to the stars. He’s the epitome of a host. It’s his room, and he knows where everyone should go. I got to know a lot of names at the Waverly Inn, obviously.
What’s the Waverly’s secret for remaining A-list over the years? You have Eric Goode and Sean McPherson who know restaurants, and they also have their own chic clientele of people who they bring to any project they’re involved in. You get that mixed with the energy of Graydon Carter and all these amazing A-listers in there for a great dining experience. You get the mix of a person who knows the people and the people who know how to run a restaurant. Once, I was telling a friend some of the names who went in the place one night, and he was like, “So, what you’re telling me is, if the Waverly was to explode right now, it would be the end of civilization.”
What’d you take from that experience to opening Hotel Griffou? How to deal with certain people. There are a million different personalities here in New York City, and then you have a certain amount of clientele that is …
High maintenance? Well, the great surprise is when the ones you expect to be high maintenance aren’t. It’s just having to deal with personalities. Higher-end personalities have higher expectations. You learn how to coddle egos in a way. I think that’s what the Waverly taught me: how to really deal with egos. That’s a good way to say it.
What came first for Hotel Griffou — the concept or the space? Johnny and I talked about doing this for awhile, and we had a concept. We had this place over in the East Village at one point, because we were thinking of modeling after some of those southern juke joints, speakeasy-type places that have great names like the Playboy Club or the Lizard Lounge. But you have to walk into a space that feels right. Johnny worked at Freemans, and I worked at the Waverly Inn, and both those places are very unique — Freemans is down that alley, and the Waverly Inn is at the bottom of a townhouse. In New York. It has to have a special vibe or a special space, then the bones were here and boom. I was never here for the Marylou’s experience, but I’d heard these amazing stories about what was here before. We’re hoping we can return it to some of its past glory.
You’re obviously alluding to that with the name. Hotel Griffou was what is was in the late 1800s. It was owned by this woman by the name of Madame Marie Griffou. It became this real mecca of ideals, artists, writers, and poets. One of the true stories is that Mae West actually did come here after her indecency trial, which is funny.
How long has this been in the works? From embryo to now — about two years. We initially started construction this past February.
What’s your favorite part of the interior? I can’t really choose. The inspiration Johnny and I talked about was an artist’s town house. There’s something about the feel of the salon, and I like the studio because of the crazy art and all the work that’s been contributed. Johnny spearheaded the design, but it was collaborative, and all the work that was contributed was by artist friends.
How much input did you have in the menu with chef Jason Michael Giordano (of Spice Market)? Johnny and I had ideas of what we wanted on the menu . We wanted those traditional dishes. Classical American cuisine is what we called it, and then we discovered that this place was owned by a French woman, and we had to throw a French nod to the cuisine. We wanted a signature dish, which is the lobster thermidor fondue.
Is that the most popular menu item? Yes, as well as the poutine, which is French fries with duck confit topped with a little buffalo mozzarella. It’s amazing. Also, the fried seafood basket, which is something from home. I love fried food, fried fish, cod, fried shrimp, fried oyster, with chips, we’re calling it Calabash, we’re not going to call it Southern, but yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mix of some rich dishes and some light dishes. We thought that the idea of a great restaurant was that you can go here three or four nights a week and always have a new experience.
True that the pork cutlet recipe was found on the menu from the 1800s here? It’s very true. We have a sautéed pork cutlet recipe that was on the original Madame Marie Griffou menu from 1892. They’re sautéed, lightly breaded with this delicious pork gravy au jus with green beans. They’re delectable.
How was your soft opening? It was great because we invited a lot of industry people that we’d worked for and trusted their opinion. We got really good feedback and notes that we can take with us to keep improving. You get a little anxiety about your peers coming, and knowing you’re going to really hear the truth — which can be unpleasant, but always necessary. The bottom line is that everyone was pleased with the look, the feel, and the vibe of the place, which is important.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Photo: Scott Pasfield
I think it was sometime on the cab ride home from Minetta Tavern that the question hit me, like a velvet rope’s brass clasp to the face: are restaurants the new nightlife? Are clubs — once a standard for much of what simultaneously cultivated, codified, and confirmed what could be considered “culture” in New York — incapable of doing that anymore? And are restaurants doing it in their place?
I felt like I’d just come out of a club, for one thing: my wallet was, stupidly, far lighter than when I’d started out the evening, for one thing. I was plastered, well-fed, and had stumbled out a door and into a car because, after you blow that much cash, who takes the subway? My ears were ringing, it was late, and I’d spent as much time trying to get seated at a table as I did being seated at the table. I was openly ashamed, secretly satisfied, and beyond that, vaguely guilty about being secretly satisfied.
Nightclubs are in a sorry state: the ones that aren’t closing can’t control their doors and have had a primary source of income — bottle service — declared dead twenty times over. Even our own Steve Lewis has admitted it: “The sky is absolutely falling,” the nightlife legend wrote in a headline for a post advertising an event aligning club owners with politicians. Nightlife owners now have to face constituencies of elected officials who aren’t protecting the owners’ industry from being pushed out of New York. Again: club owners asking politicians for help. To say things for New York’s nightlife aren’t looking good would be a vast understatement.
Not far from west Chelsea, in Greenwich Village, Keith McNally’s newest restaurant, Minetta Tavern, is identical to so many like it. Preceding its March opening, it was the subject of an absurd amount of local and national press. For the microcosm that’s the New York restaurant scene, it had the kind of mania surrounding it that, say, a new Harry Potter flick would. And for fans, it’s pure fever–pitch. The metaphor’s more than apt: McNally’s restaurants have proven themselves critic and recession-proof, and it helps that they’re all quality places, giving them the kind of unflappable cred from those in the service industry that certainly can’t be bought (or doesn’t require publicity). They’re also consistently attracting big stars (making it somewhat incidental that McNally was once a filmmaker, way back when). But unlike films, McNally’s restaurants can be, at times, difficult to get into, a little pricey, and the very least, always a scene, vacuum-sealed with celebrities obvious and obscure, many of whom McNally counts as friends.
How bad could it be? It was a Monday night at 9. Sans reservation, I’d never waited longer than half an hour at Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s, or Morandi, and I’d never seen anyone else wait longer, either, but I’m sure it happens. But for a twice-fired employee of his, I get treated fairly well in his restaurants; I can’t speak of a bad experience ever working for him. Maybe McNally, who once got “let go” as a busboy in New York, is empathetic to my cause. Or maybe he doesn’t remember, or doesn’t care. Probably the former. But like the prodigal son I am, I keep going back for more eggs, steak frites, and the like. It’s something I should probably bring up with a professional.
It looked pretty quiet, from the outside. I go to open the door, and it almost slams me in the face: Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg fly out as if ejected by a kinetic force onto Macdougal Street, the IAC chairman looking for his towncar — lost, towed, AWOL, or something — and the fashion designer looking completely confused. They turn south and head down the block after I stand there staring at Diller trying (unsuccessfully) to hail a yellow cab.
We walk in and I try the I’ve-Worked-For-Keith thing again — no shame, because, you know, I’m hungry — this time, with a human face, someone from the company I’ve seen before. She looks at me like one would a helpless cute animal with a broken wing or something. And then gently snaps my neck back into reality, out of the misery of false hope: nothing until 10:30, at least. Can we eat at the bar? I ask.
Sure, she tells me, if you can find a spot. You should see the back room. Kind of insane tonight.
Kind of insane didn’t begin to describe it. It felt inches away from the chattiest production of Lord of the Flies I’d ever seen; people staring over the backs of other people, looking to see who they are, and if they could somehow be lodged out of the way for a seat at the bar. Maybe a slow bloodletting or something. We looked for a seat, which was triple-stocked. I clumsily backed into someone who, mid-sentence, glanced over, barely registered the event (if at all) and kept going full-speed. It was Harvey Keitel. Models and other assorted tall people flanked the bar. I was reminded of Skee-Lo. I was scared. Would I be able to penetrate the barrier, or come even close to the same place where Chelsea Clinton and Sacha Baron Cohen dined two days before? I was going to be persistent.
Hey, I told the hostess. It’s a little crowded in here. We’re gonna step next door for some drinks. She smiled at me empathetically, and as if she’d never see me again, told me to come back at 10:30 and there should be something for me then, and that she was really sorry.
My date was getting hungry. We went next door for drinks. At a bar called The Grisly Pear, a few doors down from Minetta, we sat down on some stools and ordered. The place was empty; hollow, almost. A complete counterpoint to what we’d just experienced. It was the directors-cut scene from Apocalypse Now, where the boat of soldiers stop at the French heroin plantation for dinner in the middle of their mission going up the river. “You want menus?” the bartender asked. We explained that we were having dinner next door, we were fine. “You see anyone?” he asked. I told him about Harvey Keitel. “Yeah, Tim Roth used to be a regular here,” he says of Keitel’s Reservoir Dogs co-star.
Two drinks later, and we tried again. This time, we landed at the bar. It had been an hour now: it was ten. We ordered two rounds at the bar, four different cocktails, all of which: solid. The bartenders, almost sympathetic, did their best to keep things lively; they were engaging, part of the show, the most relaxed out of anyone in the restaurant, there when needed and otherwise amongst themselves unless engaged. In other words, perfect in the great tradition of bartenders. I was worried it was a setup. The Rolling Stones blasted throughout the restaurant, and now we could feel the looks over our shoulders. Finally, we’re called in: our table’s ready.
We being moving past the front to the back room — on the bema, inside the holy ark — and make it through. I checked the time; it was 10:30, exactly. And we were four drinks under, about to be five. The backroom is slathered in celebrities or people who’ve done a great job of impersonating the aura of celebrity, or being prepared for the projection of it (the written note reads: slick pimp/french models next door/giants lineman/hal sparks?! no way/joe francis lookalike). Of course, the most interesting of all: the man himself, Keith McNally, sitting in the corner four-top with two women and a friend. He was playing king of his court that night, as much as he possibly could. A look of recognition registered in his face, but I wasn’t about to say anything; I was hungry and terrified that Roberta — McNally’s longtime lieutenant who’s running things there right now — would smother me in Minetta’s Pat La Frieda meat if I got near him (a fate, I decided, that could be worth the risk). I continued the five feet past his table to mine, which was pulled out of the banquette so my date could be vacuum/table-sealed back in.
What followed was, essentially, the meal we came in for: Balthazar Bakery bread — flaky, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth soft — with a pad of room temperature, spreadable butter and sea salt laid out at the table. It soaked up the booze nicely. We went with three appetizers and an entree, the lobster salad and the tartare trio first, the bone marrow appetizer and a steak frites second. The salad was light, rich, and brilliant: it felt like a series regular from Los Angeles that’d snuck away to find legitimate acting credentials working in New York theater: this lobster had found its artistic renaissance at Minetta. Or it was just a good goddamn salad. Either way, there were huge, orange pieces of lobster reminding you of all the times you actually had to work it out of a claw. The tartare trio — lamb, veal, steak — was fascinating to look at, boring to ear: under-seasoned and unimpressive, considering my high hopes from the peppery, creamy, rich, slightly spicy steak tartare at Balthazar that were thoroughly dashed.
If you’re hungry, the oft-discussed bone marrow appetizer has far more flavor than actual marrow in it. The steak was better than good, and it’s no secret that McNally’s restaurants toss a pile of the best french fries in New York on your plate with your steak. We had a scoop of lemon sorbet for dessert. And that was it. Or so it’d seem.
At one point, the couple next to us got up and left, which meant us having to take our table out of the banquette. It somehow turned into an ordeal, as McNally passed by me, and we both said hello. I’m not sure what was said, exactly — he told me I’d done well to order the bone marrow. I think, while I intended to tell him how much I enjoyed the salad, I actually deciding complimenting him on a salad in a place devoted to steak would be trite, and that saying something about the steak would be cliché, and saying something nice about the tartare would be a lie, so I think I spat out something like “I enjoyed the ice cubes. And the drinks. The drinks are fantastic.” He asked me if I had any trouble getting in, though, I think I absolutely lied and told him “no.” This is what the harsh soft-light of Minetta will do to you … I felt weak-kneed, and full. This is what Keith McNally does to those who begrudge him curses on his reservations systems: gives them a good enough meal to lose or forget the grounds on which some kind of complaint had originated from.
And after drinks, dinner, and a word with the man himself, we were gone as quickly as we left.
So: an extensive wait, a sidelining, celebrity encounters, an expensive menu, almost happily paid for. A packed room, loud music, flowing booze. A carefully curated scene of people. And this isn’t the only one: New York Times food critic Frank Bruni just filed his review on Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar yesterday; he could barely get in to eat there. His Waverly Inn — for which reservations are mostly made through his personal assistant — is constantly swarmed with paparazzi and a careful layout of who goes where in the restaurant (i.e. “Siberia” is for the no-names, while the center of the room goes to celebrities). Sure sounds like a club. So: is this the future of nightlife?
No. They’re ostensibly a part of it, but at the end of the night, restaurants (while they do play favorites) will get you in eventually, as proven. If you have cash, and you’re hungry, they’re proud of their product — they’ll want their famous friends to bite, literally — but past that, they’ll want the hoi polloi to taste it as well and you can still throw Graydon’s mac and cheese in a doggie bag. A restaurant offers a tangible product for which they can be judged. Other than drinks — and most of the time, not serious drinks, or serious food — club offerings are slim to none in this regard. Restaurants are first and foremost a place to eat, and sometimes, people-watch. And if you can’t get a Waverly reservation, there’s almost always a better place out there more than willing to open their doors for you. The product restaurants offer is for everyone. But nightclubs?
The product they offer is entry, mostly. The promise that you’ve been curated by a doorman to be a part of his cast that night. Truth be told, nightclubs are lacking exclusivity and a product worth writing home about, because the candidates for entrance — the social makeup of the club — can buy their way in via high covers and bottle service . The crowds seen in the Meatpacking District and west Chelsea represent less the ancestry of Studio 54 than they do the people who would’ve despised it. Owners are even so ashamed of their sorry state, they’ve come up with lame euphemisms to replace the truth: “bottle service” is “table service” and “nightclubs” are “lounges.” The product sucks, and they can’t compete because of it. The aforementioned Steve Lewis once said something about doormen, that it’s a lost art. I wouldn’t go that far, as it appears some people in New York are revitalizing it. They’re just being far more subtle.
That isn’t to say there aren’t exciting things going on in nightlife right now. Collective Hardware is one of them, a place taking people from all different stripes, and throwing them in a room together. Then again, they still don’t feed you. But at least there’s not a cover. Or bottle service. Or a velvet rope.
Dagny Mendelsohn is the front woman representing the 11 total owners at Macao Trading Company. She hails from the other serious foodie city, San Francisco, once she set foot in New York, she learned the heart of the restaurant business from one of the best, Keith McNally. She embraced the underground hipster scene from being part of APT, as well as gaining an education from the fashionistas (a.k.a. Richie Rich). At Macau, she brings it all together under one roof with dinners for people like Perry Farrell, Mick Rock and Morimoto.
Was San Francisco an influence in your career choices? My parents are very involved in the art and food scene in San Francisco. One of their best friends is the chef, Alice Waters and also Patricia Unterman who is a restaurant critic and owner. San Francisco is dedicated to amazing meals with fresh produce from the garden. It was always in my blood, but I didn’t know I would go forward with it. My family also has a vineyard a hour out of San Francisco, and I grew up surrounded by artists and chefs.
Anyone in particular? When I was growing up, Richie Rich baby sat me. My mom and Richie were really good friends. So I went to all the gay parties. I was at the Beige Party every Tuesday. I also worked on his first Heatherette show.
How’d you break into the New York scene? I decided to start promoting at a place on Avenue A called Opalene while I was at NYU. It was a good party because I brought the fashion crowd from my internships — at Betsy Johnson, ELLE and VH1 — and older New Yorkers that I met through my family and the men I dated. When I finished NYU, I started modeling. I had a rock ‘n roll look that was starting to be popular, and I signed a 3 year contract with Elite. The whole experience turned me off to fashion.
How’d you meet Keith McNally? I finally called Alice Waters and she set up an interview with Keith McNally. He hired me at the interview and I started working at Pastis. I learned so much from Keith. He is one of the most intelligent businessmen I’ve ever met. We’re still friends. After work, the staff would all go to APT. I became friends with the manager, Ray Percal, and he eventually said, “Since you’re here every night, you should just work here and get paid for it.” But then, Keith called me and offered me to open Schiller’s with him from scratch.
Where’d you go from there? I was the general manager at Bar 11. It was a rock n roll and fashion bar. Then the boys from Employees Only called me. Billy had been the bar manager at Schiller’s. Igor I knew from Pastis days. Dushan, Jay and Akiva had all been bartenders at Schiller’s. We’re all McNally people.
Did you get back into throwing parties? Yes, everywhere. At Hiro for three years. I worked with GBH. I started a Saturday night party at Movida and 205 on Tuesdays. Then I got exhausted. I decided I didn’t want to stay out all night anymore. So I quit all the promoting. Then all the same guys who pulled me for Employees Only asked me to be part of the next project, Macao. This space came from meeting with Patrick Fahey. He was part of this space.
What exactly is your involvement at Macao? I’m a managing owner.
Where do you go when you’re not at work? Commerce, Employees Only, Takahachi, the movies.
Who do you admire in the business? There’s a list of people in the industry who I admire and who have influenced me over the years. Alice Waters, Patricia Unterman, Ray Pirkle, Serge Becker, Riad Nasr, Keith McNally, Stanley Morris and the team behind Employees Only.
What’s something people would be surprised to find out about you? I’m a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do. I’ve always wanted to be a private investigator.
Who’s your favorite artist? Cindy Sherman, Eric Mendelsohn’s sketches…no relation, Eric Orr, John Register.
What’s your favorite city? San Francisco because it will always be home and the most beautiful place in the world. I miss it for the farmer’s markets and the freshest produce, for the restaurants, the gardens, the parks, the art, the music, my family. I could go on forever.
Mark Birnbaum, the man who makes up the other half of Tenjune, speaks to us on the opening of the Chandelier Room at the W Hotel in Hoboken tonight, his icons, and why New York’s Meatpacking District is still the center of clubdom.
What’s the story with the opening event for the Chandelier Room? It’s tonight, 7 till midnight. The full facility will be open for all to see, even though the W has been open and operational for about a month. There will be a full red carpet outside and several live performances. There’s a piano bar in the lobby — very Frank Sinatra. There will be a lounge singer and a woman singing on the piano, like in The Fabulous Baker Boys. DJ Cassidy will be spinning. The Chandelier Room will be open inside, including the ballroom and outside. The Living Room Bar will host our surprise performer.
Describe the décor. It has a large, oversized chandelier. There are very high ceilings, and the windows are huge. As soon as you walk in, we have floor-to-ceiling windows that face Manhattan virtually throughout the entire space. The walls are all windows. It’s beautiful. To the left, you have a fireplace, and behind the fireplace is a private room which you can see into. It’s a small room for about 25 people. That room also has windows overlooking the city and a flatscreen TV. The outdoor space has another bar and clear views overlooking Manhattan. It has a retractable awning in case of rain, and it’s very loungey, with outdoor carpet and another fireplace.
What are the differences in owning and operating a club in New York and New Jersey? For starters, here we have the support of an entire hotel above us. People are coming because they’re excited to see the new W. This isn’t promoter-driven, it’s venue driven. Not to mention, in this area it’s the only game in town. In New York City, you have hundreds of hotels and boutique hotels. There isn’t really competition for us out here. The W appeals to a different demographic in general than Hoboken is used to. If anything, it anchors people to the town, keeps people in Jersey, and gives people a reason to come to Hoboken from surrounding areas. I think it’ll certainly help the businesses around here, like the restaurants and the parking garages, and even the other bars. You have to give people a reason to come out here. There are a ton of Hoboken residents and people who live in surrounding areas who work in Manhattan, and they’re thrilled that now they can stay put and stay local with something of New York City quality. A lot of people in this economy are saving money where they can, and this will save a commute into Manhattan from Hoboken. People can get slightly less expensive drinks, with essentially the same vibe.
Do you have any favorite joints in Hoboken? I like the Nine Bar, near the W, and the restaurant Zylo in the hotel happens to be very good as well. It’s a Tuscan steakhouse.
Do you think that Manhattanites will make the trip to visit the space on a regular basis? We’re not relying on it. There are plenty of people in the area, but I will say yes. Think of how many coworkers people have that are coming in from New Jersey. Now people from New Jersey can say, “Come to my spot for the birthday party or the after-dinner drinks.” Some people will come from Manhattan to hang out with their friends, since there’s a worthy place to hang out. The place is rocking now, filling the lobby from 7 at night to 2 in the morning. And it’s right across the river. For us, it’s a 10 minute commute from Manhattan. My apartment literally stares into the W Hoboken, and I’ve been watching it get built for the last four years. What establishments do you frequent in the city? The Waverly Inn has the best atmosphere and crowd. Hillstone, formerly Houston’s, has the most consistent product — best ribs and best spinach dip. And Acapella has amazing food and service. It’s the full experience of Italian dining
Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Keith McNally, the restaurateur behind Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s. He has vision, confidence, guts, innovative design, and the best atmosphere with everything he does. He is a true pioneer. Andre Balazs, the hotelier behind Chateau Marmont, The Standard, and The Mercer. He has laid out a framework for me to guide my own business strategies.
What positive trends are you seeing in the hospitality industry? With this economy, customers that spend their hard-earned money are expecting the best hospitality and service. We’ve prided ourselves on always taking the best care of our customers, and as a result people stay loyal to us. I’m happy that it’s appreciated, and these days it really shows.
And negative trends? The cost of doing business in our industry makes it very difficult to turn real profits
What is the most-anticipated event you have coming up in 2009? After the Chandelier Room, we have two new New York venues opening in May. A two-story restaurant and a below-ground club located in the old Lotus space on 14th Street. Where’s your dream space for a new venture? I must say, we are in our dream space. Tenjune is smack in the middle of the Meatpacking District, which we feel is the greatest location in the country for the business we are in. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Jeffrey Beers, the creative mind behind Bostonian restaurant tour de force Bond, on his many passions, pacing department stores, and the differences between New York and Dubai.
How would you describe yourself? I’m a passionate and intense artist. I’m an architect by training, but I’m also a glassblower. My interest is in the arts and painting in general. When I was in architecture school at RISD, I met Dale Chihuly, the glass blower. I became a glass blower under him as I was studying architecture. I had exposure to the world of glass art and all sorts of very talented artisans which made a huge difference in my perceptions as an architect. Glass blowing is all about form and balance — being able to balance volumes and explore forms from a strict architectural sense to a fluid sense. So glass blowing allowed me to really explore form and color and things that were impossible to study on paper. The only way to physically draw these things was on paper. It taught me so much.
What are some places you like going to eat and hang out? Well, I enjoy all food. I go everywhere. I go from the Four Seasons to Pastis. I would also like to go to Above Allen. In Monte Carlo, Jimmy’z is one of my favorite clubs in the world. I like the energy and the way the club is designed. It’s extremely stimulating. It’s a fantastic nightclub, very theatrical.
What are some of your favorite spaces you’ve designed yourself? Well, I would probably have to say the Cove. The Cove Hotel at the Atlantis in Nassau in Paradise Island. It’s a hotel project as well as an indoor/outdoor project.
How did you design it? With a bit of Southeastern, South Asian feel. There’s lots of teakwood and French limestone. It’s a very interesting melding of nature and architecture. There are water elements and floral with lots of natural elements that weave in and out of the property. The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach is also one of my favorites. We just opened that last year. It was amazing to be able to work on a project by architect Morris Lapidus.
As an architect, how is your experience different when you’re designing for different countries? It certainly makes a difference because cultures are different. When I design a restaurant or club, I have to very mindful of who the guest is going to be. The guests in New York are very different from the guests in Bombay. I have to pay quite a bit of attention to what part of the world I’m in. I recently opened a very big nightclub in Dubai. There are things I did in Dubai which I wouldn’t do in New York.
For example? Half the club in Dubai is outdoors. There are more private and VIP areas in Dubai than in a club in New York.
Tell me about Bond. How was working on that? Bond turned out beautifully. It’s a grand space. The ceilings are 25 feet high. The room was a very prestigious bank in Boston. I came in with a lot of modern wood work techniques and metal. We brought a certain glamor to it. People want to dress up a bit and primp before you come to Bond. I’m also very happy with the lighting. Everyone looks like they’re a movie star. It’s a major hit in Boston. They’re off the charts. They’ve got 150 people waiting outside every night.
Who do you admire in your industry? I’ve always been a big fan of Ian Schrager. Ian has done really well, starting with Studio 54, back in the seventies, and through the nineties with the Morgan’s hotel properties, the Mandarin, the Delano. I think Ian Schrager’s just been a remarkable person in the hotel business. I think that the owner of the Four Season’s, Izzy Sharp, is another one. He’s just a remarkable leader in the hospitality industry. Keith McNally has done remarkable things with Pastis and Balthazar and Café Luxembourg and The Odeon.
What is something people might not know about you? Probably that I’m a space cadet and I wander Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s for ideas.
Do you get lots of ideas that way? I do … it’s sort of more of a distraction. I wander crowded places like Grand Central Station. It somehow removes me from the present and lets my mind completely wander. I need chaos in order to think.
Any projects in the works right now? We’re busy with the Fontainebleau in Las Vegas. It’s going to open the end of December this year. Then there is this big night club in Morocco called Sanctuary.