Are Toronto’s Chefs Biting New York’s Style?

Last year, when slick New York restaurateur Scott Conant brought his flagship eatery Scarpetta to The Thompson Hotel’s Toronto outpost, he did so with the typical bravado of a celebrity chef from Manhattan. Just prior to Scarpetta’s opening, Conant posted an “Open Letter To Toronto” on The Huffington Post, in which the James Beard award-winner introduced himself, his restaurants, and Miami, to Torontonians. “Miami is really beautiful, T-Dot. You should check it out sometime,” he wrote, urging his new friends to visit a city that is (gasp!) a whole three-hour plane ride away. It was just one of many perceived slights that Toronto’s food critics and bloggers accused Conant of. To his credit, the letter wasn’t all condescension and bragadoccio.

Conant praised the “local bounty” of the Niagara Peninsula, and the importance placed on locally-sourced ingredients throughout the region. He also marveled at the lightning-quick flight between cities, saying that it was “shorter than most crosstown cab rides I’ve been on.” But despite Conant’s effusive praise, the damage had been done. Toronto–always the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to major North American cities (and especially New York)–was once again left to lick its wounds, and wallow in its own sense of inferiority.

The fact is, Toronto has always been looked at as a vanilla version of New York City. It’s almost impossible not to compare the two metropolises, given their geographical proximity, and their reputations as the centre of all thing media, fashion, business, art, and food in their respective countries. In the 1970’s, Toronto even promoted itself as a cleaner, safer, more livable version of New York. It wasn’t long before Hollywood clued in, and began using Hogtown’s streets as facsimiles of New York’s own grand avenues and tree-lined streets (to this day, prop NYPD squad cars and yellow cabs can be spotted with a film crew not far behind). Toronto continued to encourage its self-appointed title as “The New York of The North,” until Rudy Guiliani arrived and made Gotham safe again. Suddenly, Toronto wasn’t much cleaner or safer at all. Just smaller. Or as Steve Martin flatly put it on a recent episode of 30 Rock: “Toronto is like New York, but without all the stuff.”

It’s been nearly six months since Scarpetta opened its doors, and so far, so good. Despite some initial lukewarm reviews (including a particularly scathing rant courtesy of the Toronto Star’s Amy Pataki, who clearly felt dissed by Conant’s letter), his trattoria has hit its stride, with tables usually booked weeks in advance. It’s a level of success that eluded Susur Lee–Toronto’s marquee culinary star–when he brought his inventive pan-Asian cuisine to Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Shang, almost two years ago (also in The Thompson Hotel). The restaurant received a frosty welcome from New Yorkers, which Lee blamed on the limp economy and their xenophobic taste buds. “People won’t go for chicken feet no matter how many truffles you stuff in there,” he once said. The folks at New York Magazine’s foodie blog, Grub Street, took offense to his remarks, and facetiously invited the chef to Flushing for pig’s blood and intestine soup. We’re guessing he declined, because, like, ew.

Though Shang remains open today (Lee insists that business has improved), the once-invincible restaurateur has returned to Toronto with his trademark ponytail between his legs. Susur’s new den, Lee Lounge, opened this month in the city’s burgeoning King West area (or Toronto’s version of the Meatpacking District according to Thompson co-founder Jason Pomeranc), and figures to perform much better than Shang, because despite a reverence for everything New York, Torontonian’s like to take care of their own. They’re also fascinated by their most celebrated chef’s failure in The Big Apple. There’s a permeating feeling that well, “If he can’t make it there, who can?” In a recent interview with Eye Weekly, Lee was again asked about the New York debacle, and again he blamed the economy, instead of his own food. He was also asked whether or not Toronto tends to copy New York when it comes to food trends. “I wouldn’t say copying, more like inspired by, like in fashion or art,” he told the magazine. But a handful of recent openings in Toronto might suggest otherwise.

Pictured top: Toronto’s Porchetta & Co.

At the end of last year, Porchetta and Co. opened in Toronto’s increasingly with-it Dundas West area, and has taken the city by storm. The sandwich shop specializes in that succulent brand of Italian slow-roasted pork, much like the similarly-named Porchetta, in Manhattan’s East Village. But the parallels between the two don’t end there. Both menus feature porchetta as their star, with greens, beans, potatoes, and soups available as accompaniments. That Porchetta opened over two years ago however, may raise a few eyebrows. “I was going to call my shop Porchetta, and started doing research to see if such a concept existed in Toronto,” said Porchetta & Co.’s owner Nick auf der Mauer, a former cook at Toronto’s foodie pinnacle, Canoe. “Upon further research, I learned about Porchetta NYC. I did take a step back to ask myself if I should keep going through with the concept. I looked more at Porchetta NYC as a window into the future, to see how I thought people would respond to my concept.”

Respond they did, and as to whether or not Toronto chefs tend to copy what their colleagues in New York are doing, auf der Mauer thinks it’s only natural. “It doesn’t bother me that people think Toronto mimics New York, and to a certain extent we do. It will probably always be perceived that way.” He continues, “It makes perfect sense to, as you say, ‘borrow’ ideas from New York. You can save a lot of time and money seeing if certain things have won or lost in New York, but it doesn’t mean that it will play out the same way in Toronto. You still have to take the risk, stick your neck out, and see what happens. I don’t feel that I borrowed the idea, but it did help to see what had already been done in New York. It is impossible to deny the obvious similarities of the two sandwich shops.”

auf der Mauer isn’t the only Toronto restaurateur reaping the benefits of great ideas hatched south of the border. Since opening last summer, The Burger’s Priest in Toronto’s East End has quickly become a destination spot for burger fanatics. Its classic take on the American burger–never-frozen, fresh ground beef cooked on a flat-top grill–is nothing new for most New Yorkers, yet The Priest is the only place of any regard in Toronto that prepares their burgers this way. But it’s the Burger’s Priest’s vegetarian option–slyly called “The Option”–that most mirrors New York City’s burger benchmark, Shake Shack. The patty, constructed out of two portobello mushroom caps, stuffed with cheese, then deep-fried, is a Shake Shack staple, and The Priest’s owner has taken full advantage. To his credit, the native Californian and former seminary student doesn’t hide the fact that he spent considerable time in New York studying the art of the burger, which would explain the shop’s striking similarities to Shake Shack. When asked if The Option was based on Shake Shack’s portobello burger, he simply replied, “I don’t really remember.”

Is it a big deal that Toronto chefs are trying to cash in on New York’s culinary success stories instead of trying to forge their own? Probably not. After all, a Toronto band is only cool after they’ve sold out a show a Williamsburg, and Jeremy Laing–the city’s most famous fashion export–was only a local icon after he showed at New York Fashion Week. When it comes to food, Nick auf der Mauerr probably puts it best: “Specializing in one thing and doing it well is something that every major city in the world can learn from New York. I think as chefs, we look at places like New York for inspiration, and as an amazing place to see what could be the future of food in their home town.” Now if only someone had told that to Susur Lee.

Itinerary: Halloween Parties Begin Tonight

Technically, Halloween festivities fired up as early as last week, but New Yorkers really get down to business tonight, extending their weekend via The Bunker Club, or The Gutter, and rolling through the weekend with 1Oak, the Boom Boom Room, and the Hudson Hotel, with some lovely Brooklyn markets and parade options thrown in the mix. Enjoy one of the best weekends in NYC, and remember: next year, Halloween will fall on a Monday.


Tonight Yelloween Location: The Bunker Club Time: 9pm Veuve Clicquot is hosting their “Yelloween” Halloween party this Thursday night at one of our favorites in the MePa.

Launch Party for the Renaissance Hotel’s RLife LIVE Location: Renaissance Hotel Time: 9pm The Renaissance Hotel is launching a new entertainment/cultural program called RLife LIVE and will feature performances from various RLife LIVE artists including Robin Thicke, Sam Ronson and Solange Knowles. It’s a free national program created for hotel guests and patrons in cities across the country, which allows them to experience the music industry on a more intimate level on site at Renaissance properties.

Scott Sartiano’s Birthday Party Location: 1Oak Time: The usual time parties at clubs start. DJs Jus-Ske and Harley&Cassie help Scott celebrate.

Friday HallowMeme Costume Party Location: The Gutter Time: 8:00pm-2:00am Join Know Your Meme & Urlesque for the 2nd Annual HallowMeme Costume Party. Dress like your favorite meme, viral video subject or other Internet phenomenon. There’ll be free drinks, live performances, giveaways, a photobooth, and awesome prizes for the best costumes.

Saints & Sinners Location: De Santos Time: 10:00pm-2:00am Mandatory costumes with $40 open bar.

Saturday House of Horrors at Santos Location: Santos Party House Time: 9pm Guests include DJ Cobra Starship and Taryn Manning and Eddie the Gun.

Kinda Scary Halloween Party Location: Thompson LES, Shang Time: 9pm Rex Sortgatz hosts a costume party in which guests come as terrifying or spooky media and tech personalities. Prizes awarded for best costume.


The Bowery Hotel Presents Ghosts of New York Location: The 2nd floor of the Bowery Hotel When: 11pm Celebrating Halloween and the world premiere of Nigh Home, a film by Gary Breslin. Join hosts Johnny Christ, Laura Cooper Brown, Brooke Geahan, Gary Breslin, and Brian DeGraw.

Day & Night present Seven Deadly Sins Time: 12pm-4pm Location: The Oak Room at the Plaza Start celebrating early with brunch at The Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel with the Koch twins.

2nd Annual Haunted Candyland Halloween Location: Le Poisson Rouge Time:10:30pm-3am The Sky Group pairs specialty cocktails with specialty candy and a whole lot of crazy.

Heaven or Hell Party Location: RdV Time: 11pm-3am Jamie-Lynn Sigler hosts this good/evil bash.

GrandLife Halloween Party Location: Tribeca Grand Time: 10pm-4am Hosted by Timo Weiland, Carol Han, Steven Rojas and DJ sets by The Misshapes, Harley&Cassie, and matt + maia.

The Hudson Hotel Presents DJs Jus Ske & Jesse Marco Where: Hudson Hotel Time: 10pm Hosted by 4AM in Hudson Hall.

Library Bar Presents the Tequila Avion Lounge Location: Library Bar at Hudson Time: 10pm-2am Our very own Steve Lewis DJs with Paul Sevigny.

La Roux at Hudson Bar Location: Hudson Time: 10pm-12am 2 hour DJ set by La Roux.

Veuve Clicquot’s Nightmare on 13th St. Location: Bagatelle Time: 8pm Veuve Clicquot throws a their Halloween bash to start off the night right.

image Sunday Halloween Market at Kings County General Store Location: Kings County General Store (125 Fifth Ave. in Brooklyn) Time: 12pm-5pm The local market has drink specials and free admission to the afternoon fall festivities.

Angels and Devils party at The Standard Location: Boom Boom Room Andre Balazs, Andre Saraiva, Olivier Zahm host your good and your bad side at the party of the evening.

Not Your Standard Bingo Location: The Standard Grill Costumes, prizes pre-Boom Boom Room.

Village Halloween Parade Location: Spring Street at Sixth Ave running up to 21st on Sixth Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm The classic parade at dusk in the Village.

BlackBook Staff Picks: Dining, Drinking, Shopping, & Staying

Here at BlackBook, we pay a lot of attention to where cool customers go out — bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, hotels, you name it. So why not flip the frame and let you see where we go out? Here’s a periodically updated, exhaustive list of hotspots currently favored by everyone at BlackBook, from the mighty bosses down to the humble interns, from the charming local lounges around the corner to the jet-setting temples of luxe living. ● Creative Director – Jason Daniels, The Odeon (NYC) -American Psychos down salmon and steak frites, but the real scene’s on the sidewalk. ● Vice President, Content – Chris Mohney, Agua Dulce (NYC) – Festive outpost feels like Miami, F-L-A.

EDITORIAL ● Senior Editor – Nick Haramis, Motor City Bar (NYC) – Front like you remember how to drive and these 8 Milers might let you hang. ● Features Editor – Willa Paskin, Mayahuel (NYC) – Tequila temple where patrons pay homage to the goddess of agave. ● Writer-at-Large – Alison Powell, Peppermill (Las Vegas) – Vegas institution pushes diner food in front and romantic cocktails in the back. ● Nightlife Correspondent – Steve Lewis, Serpentine (NYC) – Patrick Duffy’s legendary scene uncoils in west Chelsea. ● Assistant Editors – Ben Barna, Jupiter Room (Montreal) – Drink your face off for cheap and dance ’til it aches. Cayte Grieve, Blackstones (NYC) – Foster Ethan Kamer, Joseph Leonard (NYC) – Elegantly distressed Village charmer serving up three solid meals a day. Eiseley Tauginas, Barrow Street Ale House (NYC) – College sports fans and West Village regulars cram into cozy confines. ● Copy Editor – Michèle Filon, Back Forty (NYC) – Manure-free urban farm sates virtuous, albeit rare, healthy food cravings. ● Editorial Interns – Molly Gunn, PDT (NYC) – Somebody told, but still a nice sophisto surprise behind the grunge of Crif. Megan LaBruna, Mercury Lounge (NYC) – Catch a future indie rock god at this rite of musical passage. Toren Curtis, The Vagabond (Miami) – Great indie scene. Even better music. Ashley Simpson, SPiN New York (NYC) – Marginally-more-athletic alternative to beer pong gets its own private club. Averie Timm, Downtown Cipriani (NYC) – Über-scene congregation of A-list supermodels, art stars, and financiers. Food, too. If you care. Annie Werner, Antone’s (Austin) – This revered blues club’s namesake did more for black-white relations than the Oreo cookie. Hillary Weston, The Four-Faced Liar (NYC) – Greenwich Village-proper pub is something out of Middle Earth, or Docklands. Either way: the real deal.

ART ● Art Director – Amy Steinhauser, Mizu Sushi (NYC) – Popular lunch spot for Flatiron media types needing to bitch. ● Assistant Designer – Serra Semi, Momofuku Ssäm Bar (NYC) – Chef-of-the-minute David Chang fancies up Korean burritos and gets avant-garde after 6pm. ● Photography Assistant – Stephanie Swanicke, Canal Room (NYC) – Jersey hordes in the house, but discreet famous faces still rock all night. ● Freelance Designer – Krista Quick, t.b.d (NYC) – Sleek and chic lounge in the heart of Greenpoint.

FASHION & BEAUTY ● Market Editor – Bryan Levandowski, Shang (NYC) – Toronto-bred Susur Lee takes on nouveau Asian small plates at the Thompson LES. ● Fashion Assistant – Wilson Mathews III, Dylan’s Candy Bar (NYC) – King-sized candy shop hypnotizing children and torturing adult waistlines in the UES.

BLACKBOOK MEDIA CORP ● Chairman – Bob Hoff, Voyeur (LA) – The inspiration is Eyes Wide Shut…so yes, there’s lots of leather. ● CEO – Ari Horowitz, Nikki Beach (St. Barts) – An escape into paradise in the middle of, well, paradise. ● Associate Publisher – Brett Wagner, Barrio Chino (NYC) – Chino Latino tequila bar serving up 50 kinds of that devil stuff. ● Director of Finance and Operations – Joe Friedman, Brooklyn Bowl (NYC) – Rock and bowl will never die. ● Corporate Counsel – Drew Patrick, Tournesol (NYC) – Coq au vin and crème brûlée? Oui! Oui! ● Executive Assistant – Bridgette Bek, Tu Lan (San Francisco) – Word-of-mouth dingy treasure serving good, cheap Vietnamese food in a downright crappy location.

ADVERTISING – ● Senior Account Executive – Dina Matar, Ilili (NYC) – Upscale Lebanese moves miles beyond falafel. ● Account Executive – Brian Kantor, Lillie’s (NYC) – Victorian pub with just enough antiquery to make you feel grand. ● Executive Director, BlackBook Access – Gregg Berger, Indochine (NYC) – French-colonial greets uptown-cum-downtown diners. ● Advertising Director – Michelle Koruda, Shorty’s .32 (NYC) – Josh Eden under-promises and over-delivers at this Soho charmer. ● Detroit Account Executives – Jeff Hannigan, The Lodge (Chicago) -Ye old typical Division Street cheese, but always a shameless good time. Kristen von Bernthal, Hudson Bar at Hudson Hotel (NYC) – Acid-trip décor. Sit on a log and rest your drink on a gnome head. ● Midwest Account Executives – Susan Welter, Hopleaf Bar (Chicago) – Andersonville’s best bar. Belgian beers and food meet in a place that’s too smart to be too cool and vice versa. Andrea Forrester, Coast Sushi (Chicago) – BYOB meets the sea at this high-quality Wicker Park sushi spot. ● Southwest Account Executive – Molly Ballantine, Rustic Canyon (LA) – Leave it to the upper-cresty West-siders to show everyone else up with their moody, fashionable darkwood and cream take on the ubiquitous neighborhood wine bar. ● Northwest Account Executives – Catherine Hurley, Coi (San Francisco) – The apotheosis of both the molecular gastronomy trend and the sustainable food movement: ethereal, futuristic flavors in a serene environment. Shawn O’Meara, Nopalito (San Francisco) – ● Sales Coordinator – Celia Ballou, Pink Pony (NYC) – Pseudo-bohemian bistro that’s better for people watching than, like, eating or whatever.

MARKETING ● Marketing Manager – Julie Fabricant, Bottega Louie (LA) – Proof that Downtown is still gentrifying. ● Partnerships & Promotions Manager – Andrew Berman, K & M (NYC) – Former perogie factor converted to current meat market for the indie-rock set. ● Interns – Cristina Girgis, Barbounia (NYC) – Tony Medi with good bones. Interior is all about the arches. Alexandra Vickers, The Slaughtered Lamb Pub (NYC) – Magical enough to overlook the horror movie gimmick.

DIGITAL ● Director of Development – Daniel Murphy, Max’s On Broadway (Baltimore) – Ahhh, good old Max’s I remember you well…well what I can remember anyway. ● Lead Architect – Matt Hackett, Caracas Arepa Bar (NYC) – Arepas, seventeen ways. Venezuela is for carb lovers. ● Developer – Bastian Kuberek, Greenhouse (NYC) – NYC’s first Green club tries to make bottles and models sustainable. ● Developer – Dan Simon, Hudson Terrace (NYC) – Rooftop pleaser for drunk summer afternoons. ● Designer – Matt Strmiska, Uchi (Austin) – Thoroughly inventive and delectable sushi in vibrant environs, compliments of lauded chef Tyson Cole. ● Developer – Sam Withrow, The Knockout (San Francisco) – The vibe is blessedly lawless,prolifically musical and down right hedonistic. Peep tall cans and a sweaty dance floor. ● Quality Assurance Engineer – Sunde Johnson, Melt (NYC) – Brooklyn brunch spot becoming the standard for neighborhood dining. ●Mobile Developer – Otto Toth, Alloro (NYC) – Cacio e Pepe peeps get creative on the Upper East.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Bob Hoff, Voyeur (LA). Ari Horowitz, Nikki Beach (St. Barts). Eric Gertler, Matsuhisa (Aspen) – World-famous Nobu chef brings incredibly tasty, stylish, pricy sushi to Aspen. Joe Landry, SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (LA) – Phillipe Starck and Sam Nazarian mind meld to create a papparazzi-inducing modern luxury hotel in (well, near) BH. Irwin Lieber, Fishtail by David Burke (NYC) – Fresh seafood in the UES by celeb chef David Burke. Dan Pelson, Marea (NYC) – Hopes for a high tide abound at Michael White’s temple to Italian seafood. Barry Rubenstein, Bryant & Cooper (Hamptons) – While it may be trying a little too hard for a classic old-time-y vibe, the steaks are nonetheless quite good. Jack Sullivan, The Raleigh Hotel (Miami) – The local equivalent of LA’s Chateau Marmont.

New York: Top 10 Places to Break Up Before Valentine’s Day

imageBreakin’ up may be hard to do in the best of circumstances, but calling it quits before Valentine’s Day is in a league of discomfort all its own. Avoiding an awkward situation is key, but as matchmaker extraordinaire Amy Laurent points out — “breaking up via email, text message or even over the phone shows cowardice and immaturity.” With that in mind, here’s a list of spots that make breaking up right before Valentine’s Day just a wee bit easier (or at least more survivable).

10. Rick’s Cabaret & Steakhouse (Garment District) – Soothe the blow by offering to buy your ex a lap dance. 9. Bagatelle (Meatpacking District) – So loud no one will notice your yelling match. 8. Go see He’s Just Not That Into You – Blame it on the eye-opening film.

7. Shang (Soho) – Should your ex go bizerk, this LES spot is located in the Thompson LES, which extends from Orchard Street to Allen Street (meaning it has two exits) — so you can excuse yourself and peace out discreetly. 6. Koi (Midtown West) – Break up over cocktails, then head across the street and try your hand at picking up a model at the Bryant Park Fashion Week tents. 5. Dylan’s Candy Bar (Upper East Side) – Even amidst a nauseating amount of heart-shaped candy, nothing helps beat the blues quite like chocolate. 4. China 1 (East Village) – Cheap and tasty — so it’s all good even if your ex storms out, sticking you with the bill. 3. Kefi (Upper West Side) – Those worried about chickening-out can take shots from the city’s only ouzo machine, which cranks-out refreshing liquid courage, before the deed is done. 2. Supper Club – Pass your ex along via the sociable folks at Supper Club who are hosting a dinner where they’re asking each attending member to bring a single whom they deem a potential fit for someone else in attendance. 1. Greenhouse (Soho) – Do the deed, then “accidentally” get lost in the crowd.

New York: “Starving Artists” Menu @ Shang

imageShang restaurant, of the Thompson LES, has a brand new “starving artists” prix fixe menu designed with the current economy in mind. The restaurant’s most popular dishes are strung together for a $35 price tag. The deal is available Mondays and Tuesdays all night long, and on Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 7:30pm. Some menu options include chef Susur Lee’s 19-ingredient Singapore Slaw and braised beef cheek.

Above Allen, a Down-to-Earth New Lounge

Above Allen, or AA, had its soft opening on Friday — but since it’s a terrace where being outside is most important, don’t expect things to completely pop for a couple of months. The first thing that struck me was the couches with their Stephen Sprouse print. I did a triple-take and caught up to my friend Jim Walrod, the designer, and asked him about them. Med Abrous is putting this insanely downtown chic joint on the map. I know Med from the Mark Ronson days of Life, and after an hour of catching up, I asked him a few questions to clarify what’s going to happen here.

The Thompson LES Hotel looms large over the still-vibrant-in-this-recession Lower East Side with a smart, hip staff and the belief that it will be a part of the neighborhood. Embracing those values instead of being above it all seems to be the right path. There was an old movie called Dead End which starred Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea, a young Humphrey Bogart, and the Dead End Kids (Bernard Punsley, one of the Dead End Kids was a great-great uncle of mine). Anyway, in the movie an incredible new ivory tower looms over the Lower East Side, and all the people in the 1937 Depression-era slums look up at the swells partying like its 1924 above them. I asked Med about the similarities — was this going to be a ritzy place in a hood slipping into economic misery? But he seemed dedicated to embracing the LES and its artistic/hipster side, especially by keeping drink and food prices relatively low. Designer Jim Walrod’s use of the Stephen Sprouse fabric in the décor sends that signal. Jim said, “There was nobody more downtown than Stephen,” and we exchanged personal stories of our interactions with him. All agreed that despite his brilliance, Stephen was always accessible — and so they say, will be AA.

Jim, is this fabric really … JW:… Steven Sprouse? Yes, It’s the last fabric that exists.

This really is the original fabric? JW: Yes, they didn’t even have enough of it to finish the seats, so we reduced the amount of furniture.

So instead of just knocking it off and reprinting, this is the original. Many people still don’t know who Sprouse is, but he’s getting a lot of press now. His work is finally being recognized by huge groups of people. So Jim, what’s the design idea here? JW:The building is on the LES, and there’s nobody I can associate more with the LES than Stephen Sprouse. When I was young, Sprouse sort of stood as the icon of this part of town. When I used to go to clubs, him and Terri Toy would be sitting there, and they were almost unapproachable, until you did finally meet them, and they were the nicest people you could imagine.

Terri Toy was a transgendered friend who broke out and did YSL fashion shows before retiring to Iowa as a housewife — a great LES story. JW: Stephen was always one of those people who represented something. When rockers wanted to look like rockers, they went to Stephen. When Axl Rose wanted to look like a rocker, he went to Stephen, and Stephen designed everything for him. He was also the curator of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. So when I decided to do this room, Stephen Sprouse was very much a part of it.

So it’s not the ghost of Stephen Sprouse, it is the inspiration of his life that is teaching us how we can be. The fact that there’s a commitment to this excellence, to bring this LES icon into this new kind of environment is very important I think. JW: Absolutely, I think what we’re really trying to do here is to keep in line with the Thompson brand, which is a luxury boutique hotel brand, but not take away from the LES and what it is. Marrying the two in such a way that we still have an authentic LES vibe, while maintaining the kind of expectations of great service that the Thompson been known for.

What’s the name of this place? Med Abrous: It’s called Above Allen. So it’s AA, which is a funny name for a bar.

The views are incredible, I see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, and downtown, and the LES stretching before us. MA: Yeah, we’re actually hanging off the seventh floor of the building over Allen Street, and the reason for naming it Above Allen is to be consistent. We’re branding these terraces or bars as above whatever hotel they’re in. A60 is the bar on top of 60 Thompson, and the bar that I’m involved with in the Thompson Beverley Hills has an amazing roof deck called ABH, which means Above Beverly Hills. So it’s trying to incorporate this brand in different properties around the US. One of the things I think the Thompson does well is that each hotel they build is really reflective of the neighborhood. There’s always the consistency of luxury and service, but they really go out of their way to try and make it part of the neighborhood and really create something unique.

When are you opening? MA: In early March. There have been previews, like a little something for New Years’ Eve, but our strategy is not just to do a big grand opening and burn too brightly too quickly.

Well, this is a terrace, and opening a terrace is the winter is kind of strange isn’t it? MA: It is strange … there could definitely be better times to do it, but what we’re trying to do is see how the room moves, make sure the staff is well-trained and that we’re providing great service.

Some people believe that this is a recession-proof neighborhood because these kids have a way of making money — they’re young, they’re hustlers. Do you think you can you make money here? MA: I absolutely think so. What’s great about this neighborhood is that people who come down here and open something are really looking to run a marathon. They’re not looking to be the hottest club on the planet for three months then die out and struggle to keep business alive. I think people come in here with a longsighted vision, and we’re very much of that same thought. I think we’re going to have a very long life and really become a destination place so you always know that you can come to Above Allen and there will always be good people, a great setting and good design. Our goal is to meld all of those things, including great music and great vibe into a harmonious experience always.

What are your price points? MA: Our prices are actually really competitive for the neighborhood. They’re not extravagant at all, although hotels generally are more expensive than other bars. It’s about $11 for a drink, and specialty cocktails are $14, whereas more places it would be $16 or $18.

Is that because of the neighborhood, or is it the neighborhood meeting the recession? MA: I think it’s both. We don’t want to alienate ourselves from people in the neighborhood. It’s an extremely artistic, driven community, and people don’t want to just spend $15 on a drink or $10 on a beer. It’s not that crowd — we’re not trying to bring Cipriani’s to the LES.

What kind of music are you going to play? JW: We’re going to have really eclectic music. It’s not a dance club, so in choosing my DJs, I’m much more interested in track selection rather than turntablist ability. We’re not going to have A-Trak or a real turntablist cutting up. We’re in the process of programming different nights, but anywhere from soul to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, to indie rock, since we’re on the LES.

When can my readers come here to imbibe? MA: We’re going to start off opening about three nights a week, Thursday through Saturday, just to get to operations down smoothly. It’s going to be very friends and family in the beginning. With all our Above properties, we do special membership cards. They don’t cost anything, there’s no membership fee, but if you’re special enough, you’ll receive one in the mail so you can just go right up into the elevator and you’re not dealing with a myriad of door people or security, and that’s kind of the vibe here. But we want it to be a really cool group of people — everyone who’s bringing something to the table vs. just large bank accounts — so we’re also not really planning on doing lots of bottle service up here. We just want to have really great crowds.

What’s the door policy? MA: Well, there will be a doorperson at the bottom of the elevator, and they’ll be keying people up. We’re talking about having a dedicated elevator, but since this is a brand new construction our elevators work damn well. I’m really excited about this property … I think it comes at a difficult time, but we’re all excited about this particular bar, and I think we will have a great time. We have a lot of the right pieces in place.

You’re in a hotel, so is there an amount of money that the hotel requires you to generate? Is there less pressure than a normal bar wouldn’t have to deal with to generate revenue, as the bar also services the hotel guests — do you have a certain rent to cover each month? MA: In operating any venue in a hotel, there are lots of advantages especially that in a hotel most of the revenue is generated by rooms. So, yes, there is a dedicated amount going to rent, but the pressures of being overly profitable are not the same.

Are you serving food here? MA: Yes, we’re going to have a menu with small plates from Shang until 2 a.m. through April. That’s another thing — we’re more interested in the crowd that goes out between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. We don’t want to be a place where people get here at 2 and become that late-night place.

But a place will evolve it’s own identity. If at 2 a.m. you’re packed with a good crowd, you’re not closing the door. MA: Exactly, but really what we’re aiming towards is to have an earlier place where people can come and have cocktails and maybe start their night if they’re going to have a late one — or, just be a destination, like, hey you know what? I’ve got to work tomorrow. I’m going to be done by one or two.

Industry Insiders: Matt Levine, Eldridge Sensation

Matt Levine, the brains behind The Eldridge, on getting thank-you notes, why other clubs shouldn’t focus so much on their custie’s wallets, and the reason nightlife experts pick his joint when they go out.

Where do you go out? La Esquina, great atmosphere, great food, and great concept. Norwood, love the privacy, the different themes, the lobby bar, the restaurant, the lounge, and the quality of service service. Rose Bar, great vibe, great cocktails, and great design.

How would you describe yourself?I don’t really limit myself in terms of an occupation. I’ve done a lot of things in a very short amount of time, and that kind of energy allows me to constantly be looking for new projects while updating current involvements. I am motivated by goals, rather than monetary achievements, and I measure success in accomplishing my goals and bringing my concepts and ideas to life. The Eldridge has allowed me to create an environment and atmosphere that is really a description of myself. It is intimate while boasting a tremendous social scene, great music, great cocktails, great people, and a place to indulge your nightlife senses.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? I have to start off by admiring my general manager, Jason Lawrence. He has created a very laid-back work environment, which demands the respect of our employees. When I walk into other venues, I feel as though you can feel the tension between the management and the staff. At The Eldridge, Jason has created a work atmosphere where we are all one. I also admire what Artan Gjoni of Norwood has done, creating a private members’ club for those in the arts. I admire his vision and what he has created within Norwood, as well as his interaction with his members and his focus on the experience of his guests. What positive trends have you noticed recently in the hospitality industry? I see specialty cocktails becoming more and more common at various establishments. This time last year, there were only a handful of mixologist-created menus. It just shows that club and lounge owners are bringing a level of creativity back to an industry which has been dominated by bottle service.

How about negative trends? Honestly, I do not think there is much hospitality in the hospitality business. Although in every lounge’s business model, customer service is an emphasis, I don’t think many club and lounge owners really focus and follow that. Instead of customer experience and satisfaction, sales become a number one priority — not necessarily going hand in hand with quality service. It is easy to get a customer come in once, but to have them come back a few times a week, it really shows you are doing something right. At The Eldridge, we receive 10-15 thank-you emails a week complimenting the service and hospitality of our staff. We have created a family of guests, on a daily repeat basis. We understand it is a business, but we are in the business of people, of hospitality, not their wallets. Something that people might not know about you? Besides that I enjoy long walks on the beach — just kidding — I am extremely approachable. Most club owners, lounge owners, and so on sit at their tables up in the VIP. At The Eldridge, most of the time I am at the bar interacting with our guests, connecting people with people, making introductions, et cetera. I like to introduce as many people as possible, build relationships, and create interaction between myself and guests. What are you doing tonight? Grabbing dinner at Shang, the new restaurant in Thompson LES; then we have a private event at The Eldridge. What’s one new spot you haven’t been to but want to check out? I am not even sure what new spots have opened up. If anything, I’ve actually promised DJ Nick Cohen that I would stop by his new UES store in the LES.

What’s the most exclusive place in New York? I’d have to say The Eldridge. Our size lets our door policy be truly selective. We have created an environment of privacy and intimacy for our guests, and our door policy reflects that. Compared to many other venues, we don’t need or do filler, or the use of promoters. Everyone that walks through our door, we know, whether I know them, or an extension of my staff, they are an extension of The Eldridge family.

Why do so many industry people dig The Eldridge? That’s a great question. We have received amazing press and great reviews, but what is most important to me is that industry insiders truly respect and enjoy their time at The Eldridge. After reading through your last four Industry Insider interviews, each Industry Insider had mentioned The Eldridge as either their favorite spot, or where they planned on going the night of their interview. Industry insiders live within this world, they can be the harshest, most fickle, and pay attention to the most details, so when they enjoy their experience — it is truly a compliment. But I cannot take credit for that; my staff has created that environment. My staff has created The Eldridge experience. I am extremely thankful of my staff believing and bringing my concept to life.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Why We Worry

imageI’m designing a couple joints down on Orchard Street; both are restaurants, and both are looking to cater to a high-end clientele that “slum” in the area on the weekends. Both are also gearing up to service a slew of tourists being brought to the area by Jason Pomeranc’s new LES Thompson Hotel (which will also feed the locals who continue to gentrify the LES). So there I was on Allen Street looking for a cab when I get waylaid by my pal Julie Ex of La Esquina. Julie Ex, of everywhere-I-ever-wanted-to-hang-out, standing on the corner with her Cheshire smile. She asked me if I’d seen the new hotel and dragged me kicking and screaming to the Thompson.

Twisted arm aside, I was dying to get a sneak peek at the place. My boy Jim Walrod designed the interiors — Jim and I are neighbors and old friends, and I’m used to seeing him every day, but he’s been so absorbed by this project and his other work for Jason that I haven’t seen him around. For my money, he’s the best hospitality designer in the business — no AvroKos about it, not Rockwell, not Stark, not Jeffrey Beers. Incredible as they all are, none are nearly as hip and now as Jim. If you don’t believe me, just pop by the Thompson LES and check it out. When your jaw gets off the floor, have something to eat (at Shang). I’ve been told that the stunning restaurant serves serious grub.

I shook Jason Pomeranc’s hand and was directed to Jim, who took some of his crunch-time time to give me a tour. He showed me Andy Warhol’s image engraved into the bottom of the pool staring up at me through new water. The place was swarming with models, photogs, stylists, and assistants gathered for a Vogue shoot. Jim showed me another room, and I saw a sad Manhattan in an optimistic light. I’m building. Jason and Jim are building. There are ventures going on out there. I stared down at a city that hasn’t stopped worrying for weeks amidst the wondrously innovative furnishings of the new hotel, and I was able to take a deep, maybe-it-will-be-all-right kind of breath. Jim and I talked about how optimism is becoming so much a part of our design philosophy; modern and inspiring are what the public wants to embrace. At the two little joints I’m building on Orchard Street, color and vibrancy are design intent. Jim and Jason’s achievement towers over my little spots, but they all mean jobs, creative vigor, tourist dollars — and more importantly, they bring “new” to a neighborhood and a downtown overwhelmed and obsessed with making ends meet.