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.