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.

OMG, It’s Ida Maria!

Scandinavian punk princess Ida Maria (pronounced eeh-dah) has a message for all you men out there: She likes you so much better when you’re naked, so get ready to drop trou. Hailing from Nesna, Norway (and subsequently managing her own record label of the same name), this 24-year old blue-eyed beauty just finished rocking SXSW and will soon to be shredding up at Coachella to promote her new album Fortress Round My Heart. You may recognize her hit single “Oh My God” from Gossip Girl promos. I sat down with Ida to discuss what a nice guy Perez Hilton is, what it’s like to be diagnosed with synesthesia (a neurological condition that allows her to “hear colors” and “see music”), and the number of guys she would like to see naked (pretty much all of them).

What was your SXSW experience like? Because of all these new rules and stuff, we had some trouble to get in to the country because we didn’t have all the papers ready. So I unfortunately had to cancel two shows. It was pretty stupid. I came the last day, on Saturday, so I had like, 16 interviews in one day, and then no sleep for 3 days. It was just crazy. And then we went on stage at 3 o’clock in the morning. Kanye West came up and stole my spot. I was so ready, and they pushed it, and they pushed it. It was a drag, it was like, three hours late. And I didn’t even get to watch Kanye behind the curtains, so I was very depressed that night.

Did you get to the Perez Hilton party? Yeah, that was the place that I played after Kanye, but I was very tired. Perez was very nice as a person. He’s a bit like me — revenge of the nerds.

Was it fun to meet all the celebrities there? You know what? I’m terrified of celebrities. I met Kate Moss today, and I just blushed and ran to the elevator. I’ve met her boyfriend, though, and he’s nice. I just enjoy to hang out with farmers and fishermen, and people who know how to kill a cod.

You have a song called “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” — did you write that about someone specifically? Yea, it’s the single here right now, isn’t it? Well, what can I say about it? It’s just because I have seen a couple of naked men in my life, and I really enjoy it. And I have to add that I like guys with a bit of a belly and hair on their chest, I like guys with no hair on their chest, I like guys with muscles, or with really thin, skinny arms. I like guys with curly hair, blond hair, brown hair. Boys in general — get your clothes off.

Can you talk to me about your synesthesia? It’s like sensory dyslexia. Instead of getting a sound, I get a color of the sound. And it took me a long time in my life to come to terms with it. I think I was 19, so I had a big confusion in my life. It was actually acknowledged as a psychological condition in 1999. My mum’s got exactly the same thing, so she was kind of telling me when I grew up, you know, there’s nothing with you, you’re just a bit overloaded.

You have a very rambunctious stage persona. Are you like that in your everyday life? It’s just very hard to talk about it. I just play the music, and whatever happens, happens. I enjoy it very much and I feel very much from it, because it’s definitely something I love to do. But, I guess when we played in Boston I was very shy, I just wanted to hide behind the amps all the time, and I think the audience noticed. I think the shows we do are very different. Sometimes they are absolutely crazy, and wacky, and people walk like, 10 meters back from the stage, and other times, I don’t know. It’s like life, you know? It’s never the same, it changes all the time.

Are you looking forward to playing at Coachella? That’s huge. Yeah, I heard, everybody just says that it’s big. I’m looking forward to it.

Are you looking forward to seeing anyone in particular when you’re there? Oh, there’s so many good bands playing there. There’s a lot of cool girls. I heard Maya — M.I.A — just confirmed that she’s going to play, and you know, she’s been pregnant. She’s like, my biggest hero. And who else? Lyyke Li, from Sweden, she’s also very good. God bless her, I hope she doesn’t drink too much. I know I’ve got like, really pale skin and stuff, but I’ve got like, 50 sunscreen. I really do. As you can see, I’ve never got any sun on my body, really. I need the sun.

Where do you like to go out in New York, or any other cities? Pianos — it’s in the Lower East Side. I like Patsy’s, the Italian place, because you can see these old mafia guys. And this really good Mexican place in Brooklyn, but I forgot the name. And, if you ever go to Manchester, Big Hands — it’s this tiny, tiny little pub, and it’s really narrow, and they play the best music, and you have the best nights.

Lydia Hearst: Intern at Large

Yesterday, supermodel/heiress Lydia Hearst served as BlackBook intern, laboring on a variety of in-office and extramural activities. We had her review restaurants, shops, and bars for the BlackBook guides, but that was just the beginning. Lydia stuffed holiday gift boxes with guidebooks, then delivered them to friends and colleagues around the city via taxi and subway. We had to remind her to return the loaner Metrocard, as oddly enough, she didn’t have her own! Lydia even delivered a very important envelope to our beloved nightlife columnist Steve Lewis at Webster Hall, where he was recovering following an arduous redesign of the historic club. The envelope was actually empty, but we figured we’d reward Uncle Steve with some supermodel eye-candy after all the hard work he’s done for us this year (apparently he has a thing for youthful model types).


Though Lydia turned in a solid day of unpaid interning, she declined to come back today — something about a trip to Paris and “not being in town for the next few weeks.” Apparently, supermodels make great interns in the short term only. Even though she forgot extra Splendas for the coffees — fucking amateur! — we’re glad she graced us with her presence for the day. See the accompanying gallery of her internly adventures. And since no one escapes BlackBook’s clutches without adding to our collected wisdom, check out Lydia’s recommendations for having a good time worldwide.

New YorkPop Burger – “Impeccably trendy burger café with dark, retro vibe, private rooms for events, and to-die-for food. Sit with friends, have a bite and dance among the celeb set or get a burger and fries to go any time of day.” ● Patsy’s – “Celeb fave also a hit with discriminating food enthusiasts, been around since 1944.” ● Patricia Field – “Incredible, hip, chic shop packed with a mix of models, celebs and hipsters. A cult and edgy downtown landmark, filled with fresh fashion trends (thus inspiring Sex and the City) plus a salon below. A must-stop shop!” ● F.A.O. Schwartz – “Must see New York City. Famous place has hardly changed since its film debut in Tom Hanks’ classic kid flick Big. Much more than a store; it’s a bona fide attraction stuffed with every toy imaginable in larger than life sizes (or even pocket size). Check out the candy bar on the second floor, or pull up a stool at the milkshake café below with the entire fam.” ● Lil’ Frankies – “Simply irresistible Italian filled with locals, artist and bold names. Every dish from their custom-built brick oven is delectable, creative and reasonably priced. Start with Focaccino: pizza dough sliced in half, filled with creamy cheese and prosciutto, then baked with truffle oil drizzled on top. Trust me! Next, ordering your main course. Perfect place to bring a date or chill with friends without the hassle of reservations. Delivery and take-out if you feel like staying in.” ● Taschen – “One-of-a-kind art, fashion and design books. Famous for having published one of the biggest and most expensive books ever printed (GOAT – A Tribute to Muhammad Ali). Comfy reading chairs in the elegant, sleek Soho store are ideal for perusing a hard-to-find title. What’s on display is not necessarily all they have – ask their knowledgeable, friendly staff to check out more obscure tomes and rare prints.” ● Fisch for the Hip – “Stealth consignment shop that’s a well-kept secret among models, socialites and celebs. I won’t dare reveal their names (since many request special delivery and shopping hours) but this is one of the hottest shops in Manhattan. High quality, vintage, rare and seasonal treasures make it hard to believe the affordable prices. Loaded with upscale designer merchandise like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Nina Ricci and many more. Fret not: their staff is fully versed on the history of every individual piece and whether or not its been previously worn on or off the red-carpet.”

LondonThe Loft – “Incredibly unique shop in London’s Covent Garden. Famous among jet-setting, trendsetting crowd for buying and selling designer clothes and accessories for both men and women. Many of the pieces in the shop are one-of-a-kind and straight from the catwalks.” ● Westbourne House – “One of London’s trendiest places, seems inspired by a Manhattan loft — making New Yorkers feel right at home. Extremely elegant with contemporary, sophisticated vibe. Perfect for kicking-back and lounging with friends over spot-on signature cocktails.” ● The Champagne Bar at St. Pancras – “Must-stop London landmark, also the largest European champagne bar. Spot upper class society hobnobbing with a dram. Great people watching over the finest Champagnes and custom Champagne cocktails.” ● Harrods – “Harrods is enchanting. Whether working with personal shoppers or walking through the many corridors anything and everything can be found to satisfy even the most fickle of shoppers. And, the Egyptian escalator is NOT to be missed.” ● Rococo Chocolates – “Who can resist chocolate? These folks show their appreciation for the Aztec bean with decadent and savory treats like must-try chocolate ravioli.”

ParisKong – “Trendy, cutting edge Philippe Starck-designed stunner with a fabulous view overlooking the river Seine. Sex and the City fanatics will recognize it from the series finale.” ● Barrio Latino – “Four-story bar-resto famous pulsating Latin music. Classically decorated and fun for everyone.” ● Bar du Plaza – “One of the flashiest bars in Paris. Two seductive lounge areas filled with hotel guests, locals and celebs. Fabulous date place but also a choice friend hang out. Don’t miss custom cocktails and American-style jello shots … you’ll be back!”