The Most Hated and Loved Man’s Birthday & The Vinatta Project Gossip

All the unusual suspects will gather for DJ-club god Michael T’s birthday. I have never loved or hated someone as much as Michael, and that’s in the first 10 minutes every time I meet him. He can be oh-so-sweet and oh-so-sour, but his heart is always in the right place. There was this one time — I’m going to stop there, as we all have stories. He remains my favorite DJ who isn’t named Paul Sevigny. How can someone so ageless have so many birthdays? He’s celebrating two on one day…tonight.

The first of Michael’s birthday parties, according to the invite, is from 8pm till 1am at La Bottega at Maritime Hotel, 363 W. 16th St. The second runs from 11pm till 4am at Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St. There seems to be an overlap, and I suspect that the wily Mr. T is employing one of those Tupac hologram thingys or something like that. I’m always confused if it"s Michael Tee or "T.” In either case I will show up at one of these soirees to celebrate my friend’s fabulousness – probably at Beauty Bar so I can dine at IHOP right after. Michael is so thoughtful like that.

Everybody I know (from some circles) is off to Sundance to overpopulate the tiny hamlet of Park City, Utah. I spent a year there one night. I am being inundated with invites, but everyone knows I gave up the snow years ago. I’ve actually never gone to Sundance, as ski slopes and roller coasters and jumping from airplanes are for my next incarnation. I do love a good film though, and I hear they’re showing some in between, before and after all those parties. Noah and his Strategic Group have taken over some underground garage facility, decorated it, and snazzed it up, and are ready to show all how it is done. I would love to check out Park City Live, the newly renovated hot spot that always books national acts. My pal Kathryn Burns is living her dreams there.

Monday (after BINGO) I will attend the Benefit Concert for Animals hosted by Wesly Wang, Geri Gongora, Dava She Wolf, and sponsored by Alacran Tequila and Forever Young wine at Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan St.  The Bashers – featuring musicians from Guns N’Roses, Soul Asylum, X-Pensive Winos, Uptown Horns – and others will lead the way. The Planets will also perform. Bands start at 9:30pm and they’re asking for a minimum of $10 at the door.

On Sunday the rockers will descend on Manitoba’s for the 14th annual anniversary extravaganza. It’s billed as the first great party of ’13 – and I’m a believer (unless someone actually plays that track). It’s running from 1pm to 4am, and is a "15-hour rock and roll party at 100MPH.” There will be munchies and drink specials, and the football games will be shown. Handsome Dick Manitoba and his lovely wife Zoe Hanson will host.

The other day, a reliable source whispered to my always open, rather large and sometimes naive ears that the building where The Vinatta Project thrives was bought by Matt Levine. It simply isn’t true. Matt reports: "I have no involvement at 69 Gansevoort at this time. Let me get The Rowhouse Inn open first before myself and Michael start opening up more spaces in the Meatpacking, haha."

Well, at least my boy got that Rowhouse part right. Rael Petit, a friend of mine and partner and manager over at Vinatta, 69 Gansevoort, asked me to clarify. He’s at Sundance doing diners for his Mulberry Project and Vinatta. I caught up with him before he jetted off. He told me Fridays and Saturdays are slammed at Vinatta with a great crowd listening to resident DJ Mok. He tells me the Tuesday-through-Thursday crowd are filled with the locals and are for my tastes. I’m summoned to check it next week when he’s back. The official line from them is :

“The Vinatta Project opened its doors in November 2011 in the bustling Meatpacking District. In the constantly evolving restaurant statosphere, The Vinatta Project embodies all of the components of a perfect night out–delicious food, complete beverage program, friendly service an a hip yet inviting atmosphere.  The menu features a selection of Contemporary American dishes including Paella Spring Rolls, made with Shrimp, Chorizo, Jalapeño and Smoked Paprika Aioli, Tuna Tartare with a Crispy Wonton and Wasabi Greens and NY Strip, served with Chimichurri, Polenta Croutons and Pickled Red Onion.

Vinatta also features a robust beverage program, complete with hand-crafted bespoke cocktails created by some of the best mixologists in NYC, and a selection of artisan spirits. Vinatta is open for weekend brunch, special events or even catered parties.”

Yesterday,  my very secret whisper-in-my-ear source, who obviously is right most of the time but not all (the price of being fast and first), says that The Shadow space on W. 28th St. has a new operator. Shadow was owned and operated by the old-school, wonderful Steven Juliano.  He, according to my source, has settled on a buyer which my source says is one of the premier operating  groups. I know who it is, but I’m going to double and triple check before I tell you.

Sons of Essex’s Matt Levine Talks About His New, Yet-To-Open Mysterious Space At 205 Chrystie St.

With The Elsinore poised to open up in just a week or so, things on that very strange block Stanton between Bowery and Chrystie are taking yet another step in a new direction. Because it effectively dead-ends on both sides, traffic is very restricted, which has made it a home for those less fortunate who have gathered near the Bowery Mission for eons. The New Museum and a string of art galleries, boutiques, and little restaurants have given a new look to the area. The streets are still a bit dark and the well-heeled walk fast, past the shoeless, as new development gears to bring even more change. Matt Levine and his posse have taken the 205 Chrystie space which has, like much of the people hanging around it these days, …never amounted to anything. There was a run with rock promo icons like Vegas that offered a handful of fun nights. It was a kind of cool dive bar called 6’s and 8’s. There was even a foray by the usually perfect Serge Becker of Miss Lily’s and

La Esquina fame. At 205, he was a little less than perfect. Matt Levine is hot with his Sons of Essex, a smash success. I asked him to tell me what he could tell me at this very early stage. He couldn’t say much as the process of opening is long and rife with obstacles.
 
The block dead-ends on both sides, a very unique situation which traditionally made it very…wonkie. Now there are cool boutiques and The Elsinore about to open, The Box is still wonderfully fun around the corner, and the park across Chrystie is beautiful. So you feel it’s a good time to get in?
My partner Michael Shah has a great eye for real estate, and this block, being a passageway from the Lower East Side to Soho, has always intrigued me.
 
You have been wildly successful at Sons of Essex and you had a great run at The Eldridge. You love the neighborhood. Talk about where it is heading…
We are always randomly bumping into each other on the streets of the LES; the Lower East Side is a true neighborhood in every sense of the word, a community within a community. I see the growth of the LES, beyond "nightlife;" daily foot traffic is increasing during the daytime due to the growth of art galleries, boutiques, cafes, coffee shops, and creative agencies- we all support each others’ entrepenurial spirits.
 
What else fills your days?
Everyday, a new lesson learned.

Actors Playhouse Nightclub Opens & Disappoints

I was invited to the Saturday night opening of Actors Playhouse, a club in what used to be the Actors Playhouse Theatre, 100 7th Ave. South right off of Christopher St. I had first seen the space  a couple of years ago when James Huddleston was considering it. James was hot off being the doorman of hotspot The Jane Hotel when the hip crowd couldn’t get enough of that space. For all the usual reasons, things didn’t pan out, and James found his gold over at Pravda. The Actors space he showed me was ancient wood, and had antique mirrors and a dressing room maze where people could easily get lost and then deliciously  found. At the time I thought it might be a winner. But a new crew has taken over the joint and they’ve paid no mind to the natural beauty of the room, opting to gut it and slick it out. It doesn’t work on any level.

I was told by attendee Joe "Viagra" Vicari that it was designed by Bluarch, which did Greenhouse and Juliet Supper Club. I didn’t much like either of those, but Greenhouse was affective. Juliet looked worn out way too soon. Anyway, design-wise Actors Playhouse looks like a cheap version of those. The biggest design crime was not embracing the assets the space offered; now it’s cold and lit up like a Coney Island attraction, and the flow is just awful. I could go on and on but my mother told me at dinner last night while we were discussing an entirely different matter that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything. So I’m not going to say anything.

I will say that Joe Vicari and I have buried the hatchet after many years of wanting to hit each other with one.

Word comes that Matt Levine has grabbed the old Florent space in the Meatpacking. Florent was the in-place for the in-crowd, when they were still butchering cows where high-end clubs, restaurants, and boutiques now flourish.  Back before all that, it was the scenes last stop or – gasp – if you were real in and desperate you might get a bit of vodka in your coffee at 6am. Every ho, bro, and club employee would head there after all the chores were done for a good meal. Tables  werethisclose, and spying on the celeb and his date –  who were almost in your lap – became an art form. It was grand.

Nothing has worked in the space since Florent closed. Matt will come up with something. I have been told by a guy who should know that Matt snatched up the failed Merkato 55 space as well. Everyone in town is pushing and shoving to get an inch in the Meatpacking, and Matt lands two. He either is the wiliest of operators or paid too much. A combination of both is probably close to the truth, but then again what is too much for the area which has more foot traffic than anywhere, save Times, Herald, or Union Square. The Meatpacking District might soon be named the Cheesepacking District, but there still are outposts of elegance to entertain even a jaded old codger like me.

Adam Carolla Hosts A Tasting Of His Very Strong Sangria Tonight

When a comedian with the record-breaking #1 podcast on iTunes accidentally creates a sangria during one tipsy night by his liquor cabinet that’s 20-percent alcohol…you’ve just got to try a glass or four. And tonight, at Sons of Essex at 7pm, you get to do exactly that when Adam Carolla hosts a tasting of his white, red, white peach, and pear-flavored sangria Mangria, alongside confirmed celebrity guests Jimmy Kimmel and Beth Ostrosky-Stern

The samples are free, the celebrity-gawking is free, and so are the bathrooms you’ll certainly need as the night goes on. Win-win, I’d say. Win-win.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here

A Moment Of Silence: Cocktail Bodega Is Closed

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

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

*moment of silence*

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

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

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

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Levine Preps for Rowhouse Inn Opening With #HOOKxNAIL Pop-Up Club

The buzz has been building since autumn about Michael Shah and Matt Levine‘s upcoming Meatpacking District lounge the Rowhouse Inn, which will be opening in the basement of 53 Gansevoort. Not one to let such buzz go to waste, the Sons of Essex and Cocktail Bodega honcho is launching a nearby pop-up nightclub starting this weekend, in a 4,000-square-foot residential loft on the third floor of 61 Gansevoort. The intriguingly named #HOOKxNAIL debuts March 15th with DJs Cougarskin and Jacques Renault, and will happen every Friday and Saturday afterwards for two months.

Levine enthusiastically promises "bean bags, bottle service, disco balls, and a neon house party." And, of course, lots of glamorous people and downtown music types. The space will also operate as an art gallery by day, featuring the work of New York based installation artist Ryan Keeley. Rezzies can only be made at hookxnail@indiefork.com.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for #HOOKxNAIL; Interview with Matt Levine; More by Ken Scrudato; Subscribe to the weekly BlackBook Happenings email newsletter]

Industry Insiders: Matt Levine, Native Son

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

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

Good Party for a Good Cause: ‘How To Make It in America’

In the late afternoon on Friday, Superman Matt Levine came at me faster than a speeding bullet. He had a party that needed a space for a hundred people for Saturday night. They needed it to be private—a word many people don’t really understand. There aren’t a lot of places that haven’t already been completely sold out on a Saturday night; rooms with room to spare on weekends don’t last. The solution was the not-ready for prime-time roof of Hotel Chantelle, which I am readying for an opening in about 2 weeks.

Raw but serviceable, the courageous crew of Chantellers worked day and night for an event that would bring celebrities like Kid Cudi, Yankee pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain, baller Drew Gooden, actors Victor Rasuk and Luis Guzman, and Celebrity Apprentice/Playmate of the Year Hope Dwoceryczk. It was a super-secret surprise party for How To Make It In America birthday boy Bryan Greenberg.

It was an HBO crowd mugging with the usual assortment of models and hipsters that used the secret password “Crisp,” a How to Make It reference. At one point Kid Cudi needed a seat for his entourage, and unknowingly bounced a show producer from his seats. I told the producer to tax his paycheck, and got a surprising “lightbulb went off in his head” reaction to my little joke. Kid Cudi once performed at my birthday. When we asked him what he wanted for the performance, he replied with a couple of cheeseburgers. He’s a great guy, and I hope he gets paid in full. DJ Silver Medallion kept everyone on their toes. Cast, crew and friends had a good time as the room really works. The weather gods cooperated for the first time in 6 months. I can’t wait to finish it. About a zillion flowering vines trellised on ancient iron gates will complete the gig.

More important than all the cake and celebrating was the event that these folks threw at brunch earlier in the day. Le Cirque hosted this affair, which raised 60K for The Olevolos Project. This loot will build a library in Africa. Among the celebrities attending were Gina Gershon, Gabe Saporta, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Lake Bell, Margarita Leiveva as well as Kid Cudi and Luis Guzman. Club icons Danny A., Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum came to support. Matt Levine told me about the Olevolos project:

“The Olevolos Project is a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to develop young leaders in the Olevolos Village using formal schooling, tutoring programs, and extra-curricular activities. A lot of friends came together to support an amazing cause, raise awareness and money for those less fortunate in Africa. 50% of kids from the village don’t make it to 10 years old. No pretenses for yesterday’s birthday party—just good times with friends and family. Cocktails, conversations and laughs with friends (and Silver Medallion killed it with the background music), the late affair was especially gratifying because we all came together earlier in the day for the charity. I really have to thank the staff at Hotel Chantelle for coming together at the last minute, they were extremely accommodating and a pleasure to work with. All pro’s—great service.”

Matt sold his Eldridge space and just got his liquor license approved for a project he is developing in the old Mason Dixon space. He is hoping to open in September, and I’ll tell you more when it’s time to tell you all about it.