Industry Insiders: Mitch Pollak, Running the Rodeo

Sustaining New York City’s longest running honky tonk has been Rodeo Bar owner Mitch Pollak’s purview for well over a decade. The locale not only brings good eats and good beats to the otherwise “cool spot-free” neighborhood, but has also provided a backdrop for everything from Italian Vogue photo shoots to the cover of a Ludacris album. Despite economic downfalls and local haunts closing up shop all over town, customers keep coming back for the Tex/Mex grub, rockin’ live music and spattering of peanut shells crunching beneath their feet.

On getting his start: I had been in the music business in college as a promoter. Then, after school I became an agent for lot of new wave British bands. I always had a connection to music. I also love not just food, but feeding people. I started with a seafood restaurant called One Fish Two Fish on the Upper East Side in 1986. Then we opened a place called Coldwater’s. Getting involved with the Rodeo Bar was a perfect combination of my love for both food and music. I bought Rodeo from Arc Restaurants in 1996. Wow, it’s been 14 years.

On choosing a Tex/Mex themed music venue: I love barbeque, always did. I wanted a place with a really good vibe. It’s laid back with music and peanuts on the ground. It just felt like me.

On the acts that come through Rodeo Bar: The coolest thing about the music is you can come in on any given night and always see great music. Joan Osborne got her start here. She used to perform every Monday. We have Fred Eaglesmith coming up next month. You are guaranteed to discover a great new band here on any night of the week, and for free.

On the type of music he likes: Americana, Bluegrass, Roots, Blues and Country Swing.

On sustaining the business for so long: A lot of the other places that had music went out of business like the Bottom Line and Coney Island High. It’s really tough to produce live music, especially with no cover. I think the food side subsidizes the music side. Music doesn’t really make money, especially over the past few years, which have been really tough. There used to be a lot of clubs that had free music in New York. Now I think we are one of the last ones. There are clubs in Austin that have great music and they don’t charge a cover. You can see the greatest acts down there just by walking down the strip—that’s what we wanted to do here.

On the demise of local music venues in NYC: I feel like we should change our name to The Alamo because we’re like the last man standing. It’s really been terrible. A lot of places have moved to Brooklyn but it’s not the same. I really want to make a stand and stay true to what we are and not sell out and become a sports bar or something. I’m doing best to keep it real.

What’s next? Putting my three kids through school. And once the economic climate changes I’ll open something new. Next I want to open a music venue/restaurant/skateboard park.

Guilty pleasure? Sleeping in.

Go-to places? Anywhere with good thin crust pizza like Al Forno. Matsuri at the Maritime, Patsy’s and Soho House.

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At Lucky magazine’s Lucky Shops:

● KATRINA BOWDEN – “I love Café Mogador in the East Village. It’s Moroccan, and they have these great fish and chicken kebabs and really cool dishes and olives and bread. It’s really good. And they have this fish soup that’s amazing, on special sometimes.”

● ANA ORTIZ – “I’m a very local person right now because I don’t have a lot of time away. So there’s this really groovy little place across the street from me called the Speak Low bar and it’s in Dumbo in Brooklyn, and it’s just underneath Rice. It’s a really funky, hip little bar. And they have the most delicious cocktails. As soon as I was able to drink after giving birth, I went down there. They have the best martini I ever had!”

At The Fantastic Mr. Fox press day:

● WES ANDERSON – “There’s a place in Los Angeles called Nishimura that’s a sushi place. That’s a great place. I would recommend that one.”

At launch party for Yoga Wii by Dreamcatcher Interactive Inc.:

● ANJA RUBIK – “Right now — it changes, of course — right now, I’m addicted to Matsuri. It’s a Japanese restaurant in the Maritime Hotel. I just love the food there. It’s incredible and the atmosphere they create there is so beautiful. I love it there. I love the Cipriani’s uptown. I love it. The food is so great. And it also has an incredible atmosphere. Da Silvano is great. Bar Pitti is amazing. It has Italian food, which is fantastic. I love Gobo. It’s all this organic food, vegetarian. It’s on Sixth Avenue near Eighth Street or Seventh Street.”

At Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars:

● SIMON DOONAN – “I love Il Cantinori. It’s around the corner from my house. The risotto primavera is killer!”

● EMMY ROSSUM – “I really like David Burke Townhouse. I love that lollypop tree that comes out at the end. There’s like a cheesecake lollypop tree. It looks like a lollypop, but it’s a ball of cheesecake on the end of stick and it’s in this holder that makes it look like a tree. I really like eating sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, at like 4am.”

● TOMMY HILFIGER – “Rebecca’s in Greenwich, Connecticut. Incredibly delicious. It’s simple, but it’s really, really high-quality food and always well done — consistent. It’s prepared very well.”

● MARK RONSON – “My favorite restaurant in New York is, probably, Gino’s uptown on 60th and Lex. The angel hair with the secret sauce. They call it that. ‘Cause when you’re a kid, and anyone tells you something’s secret, of course, you like think it’s amazing. In the whole word, I don’t know. I wish — I’m really good at answering these questions, but not on the spot.”

● DITA VON TEESE – “I love going to London to eat. I love China Tang at the Dorchester because I love the Art Deco Chinese interior. I love the Wolseley in London. And I’m not familiar with New York restaurants. It seems like they’re ever changing, so …”

At Purgatorio pop-up club:

● JOSH LUCAS – “Oh, the old school — Raoul’s is one of my all-time favorites. And there’s a place right down in my neighborhood, called Broadway East, which is a really interesting new kind of organic, sexy restaurant I like a lot. Also, down by my place, Les Enfants Terribles, you know that place? A good, little fun one. Those are my three that come to mind immediately.”

● SIMON HAMMERSTEIN – “That’s a hard question. I kind of like the 18th floor of the Standard — the bar on the 18th floor. I think he’s done a really good job with that.”

● CHRISTIAN SIRIANO – “In New York, I love the Cooper Square Hotel. We have dinner there a lot, hang out there — really, really fun. But, like hang out, hang out spots — where do we go? Oh, Bagatelle, very fabulous. I’m pretty low key, so I feel like — my couch, that’s where we go to hang out and have a party.”

At Motorola’s party for Droid phone with Verizon service:

● PATRICK HEUSINGER – “I just went to Delicatessen for the first time. I really enjoyed that. We watch Sunday and Monday football at Brother Jimmy’s on the Upper West Side. Yeah, it’s great. We’ve been going there since I was in college because I went to college here in New York, too. And then, I go to the bar, Niagara, on the Lower East Side a lot. That’s one of my haunts. I probably go there once a week. One of my best friends works there, so — it’s on 7th and Avenue A.

● JUDAH FRIEDLANDER – “I don’t drink or anything. I’m a role model for children. But I do eat. The place I really crave is called Sarajevo. It’s in Astoria — Bosnian owners. It’s basically Yugoslavian food. Awesome. That’s the place I crave more than any place. Cevapcici is the main thing. It’s kind of like ground beef and lamb on skewers, and you serve it in this fresh, homemade bread. And there’s this spread called Kajmak. It’s kind of like a sour-cream spread, except a million times better. And then you put ajvar on it, also, which is a like a tomato, red pepper, eggplant spread. And then you put raw onions on it, and you’re in heaven, baby! And you got power! And you’re ready to kick ass! It’s good stuff. The other thing they have is stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce, which they call sarma. It’s in Astoria. It’s on 34th Avenue and 38th Street. It’s so good. That’s my favorite food. I like all the ethnic, little take-out type places. Those are my favorite places.”

At launch of fashion game Style Savvy for the Nintendo DS and DSi:

● CHARLOTTE RONSON – “I love Bar Pitti on 6th Avenue. It’s nice and easy. You can sit outside when the weather is nice. You always run into someone you know. For movies, the Anjelika is nice. It’s clean. I’m drawn to movies that play there. In London, I love Holland Park, Kensington High Street — great area with lots of good shops and walking distance from my parents’ home. La Famiglia is a great restaurant.”

At launch party for Scupltz shapewear and legwear:

● ROBERT VERDI –Le Singe Vert on 7th Avenue. It means the Green Monkey. I was born in ’68, the year of the monkey. I love it. Novita, on 22nd Street, off of Park Avenue. It feels very insider; the food is fabulous. There’s a scene, but it’s not sceney. Da Silvano, because I feel like a big schmaltz when I go there ’cause I’m treated better than I really am. He’s really sweet. I’m very good friends with his wife, Marisa, who treats me like family. Since I grew up in a restaurant family, it’s a feeling I like to have when I go out to eat.