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.

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

This Week’s NYC Happenings: Open Market, Film Feast, The Big Cheesy

MONDAY: Meat & Greet At The Meatpacking Fundraiser
Diane von Furstenberg and Theory’s Andrew Rosen are among the boldface names coming out tonight for the Meatpacking District Improvement Association’s inaugural fundraiser. Highline Stages will host, with the whole neighborhood on hand for sampling. The Misshapes and Nancy of LCD Soundsystem are on DJ duty. Food and booze will be provided by the likes of Catch, Bagatelle, and Serafina. Joie, Jay Godfrey and, of course, VF highlight the sample sales.

Open Market at Highline Stages (440 W. 15th St., the Meatpacking District) starts 8pm, Monday the 18th. General admission tickets are $150. To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

TUESDAY: A Reel Cool Time At Nitehawk
Nitehawk Cinema takes dinner and a movie to a new level as part of their Tuesday night series known as “Film Feast.” Chef Sarah Nguyen of Marc Forgione lays out five courses of French cuisine while you enjoy the Parisian flair of Amélie. Absinthe will be paired, d‘accord.

Film Feast’s Améliescreening is at Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg) at 7:30pm, Tuesday the 19th. Tickets are $95. To learn more about the cinema, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SATURDAY: Say Cheese
Pop-up competition The Big Cheesy returns with seven melt masters squaring off at Openhouse Gallery. Returning champs Melt Shop will defend their grilled cheese crown against the likes of Murray’s Cheese Bar, ’wichcraft, and Sons of Essex.

The Big Cheesy at Openhouse (201 Mulberry St., Nolita) runs from noon–7pm on Saturday the 23rd and Sunday the 24th. Tickets are $25. To learn more about the gallery and event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Be the first to know about the latest openings & events in NYC by signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email.

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: Courtney & Carter Reum, Founders and Owners of VeeV Açaí Spirit

Business ideas can come from anywhere. In the case of brothers Courtney Reum (left) and Carter Reum (right), it all started with a surfing trip to Brazil, where they happened upon a tasty and healthy fruit known as açaí. “It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007,” says Courtney. “Now we’re introducing Veev VitaFrute Cocktails, a line of organic and all-natural cocktails.” VeeV is available at such bars as Sons of Essex in New York and The Fat Cow in Los Angeles. We chatted with the duo to find out what led them to create their innovative elixir.

Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?

Courtney Reum: I was born and raised in Chicago and I’m the oldest of three – my brother Carter, with whom I co-founded VeeV, is the middle child, and our youngest sister Halle used to work in our Events and Sponsorship Department. My hobbies are the same as when I was younger. I’ve always been into outdoor sports, especially soccer, and I love to travel. We took some amazing family trips throughout the years I have fond memories of.

What kinds of jobs did you have prior to launching VeeV, and how did they prepare you for the challenges you faced?

Courtney: I had several odd jobs throughout college, but my most impactful job that prepared and inspired me to launch VeeV was my job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York City and Sydney, Australia. There I worked on consumer products and beverage clients such as Procter & Gamble, Under Armor, and glaceau’s vitaminwater. I was also a part of the Pernod Ricard / Allied Domecq merger in the spring of 2005, which served as the catalyst for developing VeeV. Working with spirits brands helped me recognize there was a lack of alcoholic beverages with “better for you” ingredients that embody healthier qualities.

Carter Reum: My experience that best prepared me to start our company was with Champ Ventures in Sydney. It was there where I worked with several entrepreneurial start-ups and really understood the hard work, dedication, and tireless energy necessary to get a company off the ground. I helped to execute their investments and watched as so many grew to healthy, profitable companies. Being involved in the development of those companies helped to pave the way for our work on VeeV and how best to do the job.

How did you come up with the idea for VeeV? What about it made you think açaí would make a good ingredient for a spirit? What was it like coming up with the recipe?

Courtney: My brother and I first experienced the açaí berry during a surfing trip to Brazil, where it’s known as “purple gold” because of its superfruit health properties. We hadn’t heard of it before but being it is the staple food of Brazil we quickly became familiar with it (and fell in love with it) while we were on our trip. It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007, before the açaí trend emerged stateside. We left our investment banking careers to create VeeV and five years later we’re introducing VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails, our first line of organic and all-natural cocktails made with VeeV.

How difficult was it to launch your company? The spirits market is very competitive, was it hard to get noticed in a crowded field?

Courtney: It was very difficult for a number of reasons. Our only experience in the liquor category was through our work at Goldman Sachs, so in order to learn the ropes quickly we asked a lot of industry professionals for guidance. Then there was the fundraising part. Our brand story, who we are as a company, and the taste and quality of VeeV makes us stand out among competitors. We helped bring a form of açaí to the U.S. with the launch of VeeV and were at the forefront of the trend before it became a phenomenon. In addition to being the world’s first açaí spirit, VeeV is also the world’s first carbon neutral spirit.

How’s the business going now? Have people responded well to VeeV? Do they like the cocktails you’ve come up with? What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?

Courtney: Since launching in Los Angeles in 2007, VeeV is now available nationally at major food and liquor retailers and dining chains. It is also served in many of the country’s trendsetting restaurants and hotels such as Disney Properties, W Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, LongHorn Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday, on Virgin America flights, and the open seas of Celebrity Cruises. Sales are strong and continue to grow. We’re proud VeeV was ranked amongst the 250 fastest growing companies and brands in the U.S. by Inc. magazine and was recently profiled by CNBC as a ‘company and brand to watch.’

What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?

Courtney: Believe it or not, my favorite cocktail is simply VeeV on the rocks with some water and a slice of lime. We call it The Brazilian Holy Water.

Carter: My favorite cocktail is one of VeeV’s most beloved, the Superfruit Margarita. It’s a refreshing twist on the classic margarita made with VeeV, tequila, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice, and served as the inspiration for VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails.

What was the idea behind VeeV VitaFrute cocktails?

Courtney: Our most popular VeeV cocktails are the Superfruit Margarita, Açaí Lemonade and Açaí Cosmopolitan. We’d hear from consumers all the time requesting these specific recipes and others.  After conducting research, we realized how popular these cocktails are and decided to bottle them in ready-to-drink form so our fans can enjoy the first organic and all-natural superfruit cocktails at home. We launched VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails in the three popular varieties and stores nationwide. It’s very important to us as a brand and a company that we make products and business decisions that are sustainable and “better.” Our tagline is “a better way to drink” which we believe encompasses who we are.

What’s an average day like for you? Do you work in an office or travel around a lot?

Courtney: Every day is different. Recently I have been spending a lot of time with our distributors to introduce VitaFrute to new markets and retailers. I try to be in the office a few days a week, but right now my office is really the open road or an airplane (so glad they serve VeeV on Virgin America!).

What’s your favorite part of your job, and what are some of the biggest challenges?

Courtney: My favorite part of the job is staying on top of industry trends, learning from them and trying to anticipate what’s next. When we meet with chain retailers we present unique cocktail strategies that are innovative and on-trend before the trend hits. By the same token, it’s extremely important to remain true to our brand’s core and not neglect our loyal consumers, so determining that balance is fun and exciting, yet challenging too.

What’s it like working with your brother? Do you have different roles in the company, different areas of expertise?

Courtney: My brother and I are very close but we have distinct personalities that have shaped the company and the direction we have taken with VeeV. I tend to approach VeeV with grandiose, big picture ideas and Carter is great at making me take a step back to analyze. We have a great working relationship that has brought us closer together as brothers.

Carter: Courtney and I have a great dynamic that has lent to some incredible ideas and work that we’re proud of. We balance each other so that we achieve the big picture thinking within our parameters and budget. We’re never afraid to challenge each other but it also helps we share the same determination for success. We equally embody what VeeV is and have the same vision for the future.

Do you have any secrets to your success that you can share? What advice would you give to a younger person who is interested in following in your footsteps?

Courtney: My advice is to be patient with the evolution process and know everything isn’t going to be right on the first go. As time went on we further defined the brand and learned to more clearly communicate to consumers. Developing a brand from scratch is kind of like developing as a person. You go through all the awkward stages before realizing who you are and how best to present yourself.

Finally, what do you like to do with your time off? Do you have any hobbies or leisure activities that help keep you balanced?

Carter: We have a sustainable garden in the backyard of the house we share in LA which has become a passion of mine. On the weekend, I’ll tend to the herbs and fruit in season which we use to make garden-to-glass cocktails from. We bring some to our LA events as ingredients for VeeV Cocktails. 

Courtney: I’m an outdoors guy and love hiking, biking and really anything that involves exercising outdoors. I also enjoy trying out new restaurants with friends and family. VeeV never strays from my mind though because when I go out, I can’t help but wonder if VeeV is on the back bar or the cocktail menu.

Hurricane Hell: 12 Great NYC Spots to Visit In Your Mind Today

Hurricane Sandy got you housebound? Don’t die of boredom, hit your liquor cabinet, think about all the great bars and restaurants in New York, and take a mental stroll through them all. To get you started, I’ve made a list of a dozen winners that I love. Check them out, agree or disagree, and then dream up a perfect NYC itinerary of your own. When the weather eventually improves, work through your list in real life. It’s like Imagination Christmas, and just as cheap. Continue on to our list of 12 New York Spots I Wish I Could Visit Today Instead of Being Stuck Inside Thanks to Hurricane Sandy

Hey, it beats playing solitaire by candlelight. 

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]