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.

New York: Top 10 Places to Get Devoured by a Cougar

Growing up, my friends had very traditional pets: dogs, cats, Tamagotchis. My family, being the eccentrics that they are (re: immigrants) made sure that my brother and I had something a little more fierce to play with. Our pet cougar loved us for ten passionate years before his unfortunate death at the hands of a demented hunter. My mother, saint that she is, told her distraught sons that our dead cougar was going to “cougar heaven,” a place where “cougars roamed free and never went hungry.” Little did I know she was talking about New York City.

Stone Rose Lounge (Midtown West) – NY’s reigning cougar sanctuary, where newbie Time Warner suits come to get served. Owner’s wife is Cougar Ultima Cindy Crawford. And the fact that I just referred to Cindy Crawford as a cougar makes me feel pruney. ● Nikki Beach A cougar oasis, if you will. No small coincidence that the first cougar I tamed was also named Nikki Beach (she was an amateur porn star). This is where you go to get your tiki torched. ● Geisha (Upper East Side) – Gogougar describes a geisha as a “subservient breed of cougar, and, as a result, a species that doesn’t totally subscribe to the whole Cougar ethic. She’s more interested in pleasing you, than she is in pleasing herself.” We describe it as a posh Japanese restaurant on the Upper East Side in which to get picked up by cougars. ● Bemelmans (Upper East Side) – The great thing about this Carlyle hideaway is that only the rich drink here. The great thing about cougars is that money is irrelevant to them. The great thing about divorces is that they breed cougars. You do the math. ● Cabanas at the Maritime (Meatpacking District) – Cougars love meat and they travel in packs, so the fact that you’ll find them in the Meatpacking District is self-explanatory. And the fact that this island-themed bar resides in a hotel is just lucky. ● 123 Burger Shot Beer (Midtown West) – The opposite of fancy, and that includes the women. Anyone who’s been here knows this place should be renamed 1234 Burger Shot Beer Cougar. ● STK (Meatpacking District) – From Yelp: “The bartenders were nice, and as I was facing them while stuffing my face, we were able to exchange knowing looks when the cougar beside me would lift her breasts and heave them onto the bar while the light reflected on her almost-plastic brown skin as she ordered a dirty, dirty martini.” So yeah. ● Plunge (Meatpacking District) – In the penthouse of the Hotel Gansevoort, Plunge has been code-named “Cougar Central” by, well, me. It’s not very creative, I know, but in terms of accuracy, it can’t be beat. Helpful hint: The pool is off-limits unless you or your cougar are guests. ● Rodeo Bar (Kips Bay) – Question: What is the only thing more cougar than Texas? Answer: A vaguely Texas-themed bar in New York. ● Schiller’s (Lower East Side) – A cougar’s weakness is your strength — it’s called cheap red wine, and this place bleeds it.

See also: Miami cougar dens.
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New York: Top 10 Free Bar Snacks

imageIn a time when even airlines have scrapped free peanut service, a few righteous New York institutions are keeping their patrons in gratis bar snacks that are a far cry from stale Chex Mix. Almost makes the rising martini costs worth it.

10. Buffalo wings and nachos @ Rodeo Bar (Kips Bay) – Any place where the bar’s made out of a repurposed horse trailer knows the value of free. The kitschy hangout offers wings and nachos during happy hour, Monday through Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. 9. Truffled popcorn @ Desnuda (East Village) – The tiny ceviche bar has no kitchen, so the chef prepares seafood dishes right behind the bar. The view would be positively torturous without the bottomless paper cone of popcorn to nosh from, seasoned with just enough truffle salt. 8. Tater tots @ Trash (Williamsburg) – The Brooklyn dive is the sort of place that wouldn’t card you as a teenager — so it’s only fitting that they offer the cafeteria classic. Who knew tots complimented two-dollar PBR so well?

7. Antipasti @ Il Mulino (Greenwich Village) – Leaves no customer unstuffed, starting with free helpings of antipasti circulated through the restaurant and bar areas. 6. Soft pretzels and roasted almonds @ Blaue Gans (Tribeca) – The cozy German restaurant boasts one of New York’s most perfect pretzels, served to bar patrons upon request along with buttery almonds that’ll make it tough to ever go back to beer nuts. 5. Pizza @ Alligator Lounge (Williamsburg) and Crocodile Lounge (East Village) – The bi-borough bars have made their respective presences known by offering a free personal pizza with every drink, making each a great place to start or end a casual night out. 4. Panini @ Vero Midtown (Midtown East) – Every Monday night, the wine bar serves its crispy, cheesy panini with every drink order. 3. Cheese spread @ Blind Tiger Ale House (West Village) – The after-work appeal of Blind Tiger skyrockets during Wednesday’s happy hour (starting at 5 p.m.), when free cheese from neighborhood institution Murray’s is offered to patrons. 2. Free appetizers @ dell’anima (West Village) – From 4 to 6 p.m. on weekends, the acclaimed trattoria serves a variety of small Italian plates. 1. Curried popcorn @ Tailor (Soho): Serious drinkers swear by Tailor’s curry-dusted popcorn, which holds its own next to the mixologist-approved cocktail menu.