Summer Nights: Changing of the Guard

A game of musical chairs is being played by most of the major promotional entities as the summer roof season is upon us. While the highly successful 230 Fifth will still dominate this market just as the Empire State Building dominates its incredible view, some places remain unsettled or don’t have a clear opening date due to a myriad of problems. Highbar is getting a quick polish, while the roof at the Stay Hotel is still under construction. Mixed reports come from Cabanas and The Park, and the highly-touted Above Allen will finally get to open its windows amidst hopes that the sound spill doesn’t disturb too many hotel guests and nearby residents. Daemon O’Neil, Rose Bar’s patient, sweet, and very good-looking door guru (not to be confused with Damion Luaiye), is packing his clipboard and heading over to the Bazaar Bar at the upcoming Trump Soho hotel. The economic downturn, a weak dollar, and a laundry list of safety issues make travel abroad a lot less attractive this season. I hear reports that Hamptons summer rentals are sluggish, yet the Surf Lodge in Montauk is riding high.

I caught up with super duper and uber owner/outdoor space promoter Jeffrey Jah of 1Oak and other fabulous places, and he told me he was bringing back the “changing of the guard” at Groovedeck at Hudson Terrace this summer. “With Groovedeck, we’ve assembled an insane team from Bijoux (Dimitry and Francois) to Pavan and the 1Oak team. We’ve booked the Hamptons Magazine summer kick-off party as well as Lydia Hearst hosting the last International Film Premiere event.” I asked Jeffrey how the whole outdoor summer club thing started for him.

It’s pretty simple … the first real outdoor parties were “Groove on the Move,” with Mark Baker and I back in the early 90s, moving from the Central Park Boathouse to Tavern on the Green, and then permanently at Bowery Bar with Eric Goode and Serge Becker. There really were no other outdoor parties; then in 2000, I moved to Pier 59 Studios and created the deck with Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva — that’s where Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente were given their fist taste of club promotions. They were low-level maitre d’s. In 2003, we were forced to move it to BED (the same team), and then they tried to get smart, and Baker, Remi, and Karim sold them on a cheaper deal without the 1Oak crew, but they were done after four weeks. We missed two seasons, and we’re now back at Hudson Terrace.

I asked Jeffrey if the problems with international travel these days, the weak dollar, and pandemic diseases would keep people closer to home. “Yes, the economy will keep people here. New York is the capital of the world. What’s more important is that Europeans will venture more to America with the weak dollar and get more value for the buck. We will see a lot of Euros this summer. New York is resilient, we’ve seen worst times apres 9/11. People want to blow off steam, and if the product is good, they will come again and again. A lot of people are not taking houses in the Hamptons this summer because institutional money and jobs evaporated over the last half of 2008 and first quarter of 2009. Hence I’m betting that we will see a much stronger city summer.”

I also asked Hudson Terrace co-owner Michael Sinensky about the economic impact. “If you can build one of the nicest venues in New York City, people will come out to escape what’s going on in the world. In this economy, you have to really service the customer and think outside the box to keep your patrons entertained, happy, and feeling satisfied enough that they’ll come back. I don’t think it’s all about having the best promoters and DJs and strictest door anymore — I think that’s a formula to stay open 6 to 12 months. Hudson Terrace wasn’t built to follow the models-and-bottles formula and meet their steep table minimums. Instead, we’ve taken pages from our other successful eating and drinking establishments such as the Village Pourhouse, Sidebar, and Vintage Irving, with offerings like pitchers of sangria and margaritas.” They’re pitching a happy hour concept from 5-7 p.m. I’m proud to say that Hudson Terrace was designed by my partner Marc Dizon.

The roof parties and a stop-start economy will get us through the heat of summer. An added value is that outdoor parties are generally blessed with quieter music, as sound travels and Manhattan gets more crowded by the minute. The music played in most clubs theses days — especially the clubs catering to these particular crowds — has stagnated. The isolation of Hudson Terrace and Jeffrey’s commitment to play it a little forward should educate a crowd to new tastes. Steven Greenberg’s 230 Fifth bans hip hop altogether in favor of mostly rock fare. This space is the highest-grossing joint in New York nightlife history. I know only a little about music made in this century, but I do know this: The crowds I DJ to these day are growing, and my CD collection isn’t. I play almost an entirely rock set, and there seem to be a lot more people interested in it than a year ago. Oh, if you want to hear me DJ or toss an egg or discuss clubdom, I’ll be at 38 Howard Street off Broadway tonight; I go on at 12:30 a.m., right after the bands.

Industry Insiders: Michael Sinensky & Sean McGarr, Terrace Twins

Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Sinensky and the ageless Sean McGarr juggle the ownership of SideBar, Vintage Irving, The Big Easy, Hudson Terrace, and the Village Pourhouse, along with Michael’s personal projects: corporate event management, “disco sushi,” and the NewYearsEve.com. The much-anticipated opening of Hudson Terrace is slated for May 5, so the hospitality and nightlife pros gave us a glimpse at the new joint and the forces behind the machine.

How would you describe yourself? Michael Sinensky: Sean takes his two daughters to school every day, and I clean my baby’s diapers. He handles the sponsorship acquisition. The goal with operating numerous places is buying power on Sean’s part. I deal with day-to-day operations. Sean McGarr: Michael is definitely the brains behind the operation, and I’m just looking to retire.

How did you get your start together? SM: I owned Webster Hall for ten years and last December sold my interest back to my partners, the Ballingers. I met Michael eight years ago when he had his event marketing companies and two successful bars in New York, the Big Easy and Proof. He would come to me for time to time for special events, and through all of my years, Michael was the only one who consistently under-promised, and over-delivered. We developed a friendship first, and respect for the work. When it came to opening our first Pourhouse location, we joyfully did that together. We both brought so much to the table. I had experience with buying power because of my clout at Webster Hall, and Michael could run anything. We both owned our own marketing and advertising agencies, so we put together a powerhouse saloon across the street from Webster Hall, and we signed and delivered the deal in 12 weeks.

What inspired Hudson Terrace? SM: Hudson Terrace is really a place from conception — the building was custom built for us. Everything put into it screams luxury, and from all of our favorite places, our place was born. When Marquee opened, we loved the service and the way the servers handled their customers, and like that, we incorporated this into ours. We constantly came across Lee Blumer of Crobar and then Mansion. We wanted her to come and work with us. She’s one of the best event planners in the city, so rather than hear about one of the best planners going elsewhere, we incorporated her into our business. MS: That’s our secret to success — taking other people’s secrets of success and doing it just a little bit better. Suede Lounge was one of my favorites in the city. Every single time you went there, you had a good time. They took something that could be considered snooty and turned it into a bar atmosphere where everybody remembered your name whether you spent $10 or $10,000. We made sure that customer service was our #1 priority. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel; you just make it with better wheels.

Who do you look up to in the industry? MS: I’ll say Frank Steo. While I was going to all of these events with Sean, he was the first to nurture me, teach me right from wrong, and he put me in the right direction. I learned that you don’t cut back, make your employees happy, don’t’ fire to make the business more money, and you create loyalty. From there I opened two places with him, and that’s how I met Sean. SM: I would have to say the Ballinger brothers at Webster Hall who gave me the opportunity to get to where I am today. We were the Kings of the Nerds. We made a business out of going after the average person. Everyone who came to Webster Hall had a mom and dad who loved them.

Any bad hospitality trends that you took into consideration when preparing Hudson Terrace? SM: There’s so much on the negative. We’d have to say really good plastic cups. Hudson Terrace would have benefited from bottle service, but what’s so positive about the nightlife business? We battled for 18 months to get our liquor license. Every time someone said we did something wrong, we had to hire a lawyer to prove them wrong, and we’re rather sour on the nightlife business now. It’s just very slow in New York City. MS: The “going away” from the bottle business. But Sean’s right, it’s actually a negative thing because of the economy. The payoff isn’t that good. We’re just opening more businesses to lower costs to make some money. Every aspect of every business — it’s getting harder and harder. The city and state are making it more difficult with licenses and permits. It should take days, not a year and a half. Most people go under. We were just lucky to have an open-minded landlord.

Positive trends you’re happier about? SM: If you’re the best, you can do very well, and that’s the fate of Hudson Terrace. We will make money. Michael and I will always end up on the winning side of things. This year, our companies will create 150 new jobs. MS: The positive spin on this horrible economy is that the people who are left standing are at the top of their game. Hospitality is the one industry that is hiring now. We need good people on many different levels to help us become more efficient, and to make it. As an entrepreneur, you can hire more people and do more events for charities.

Something that people might not know about you? MS: I’m 29, a father, and married. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and throwing events in high school. What nobody knows about Sean is that he grew up in a trailer park and he had nothing — forget middle class, lower class. His is a great success story. SM: I also have two little girls: Hannah and Lily. Michael and I are living a dream — we’re able to have this exciting owner’s life.

Something you love? SM: My favorite thing is having no boundaries, no limits, no roof. Living in this country, you could do as much as you wanted, be whoever you want to be. It’s just really hard work. MS: Peking duck wrap at Peking Duck House. Sean thinks they’re too fatty. And going to my parents’ house in Queens, shutting off my phone, and sleeping the whole day. It only happens once a year.

What are you doing tonight? MS: I have a meeting at the Nets game with a potential client, then I have to rush home and change diapers. SM: Michael still wears diapers. I’ll be in countless meetings at the New Jersey location, with contractors, floor people, an attorney, and I won’t be at the Nets game eating and drinking. I’ll be eating cold soup and wearing flannel.
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New York: Top 10 Absinthe Dens

imageOver a year ago, the first legal absinthe since before Prohibition made its way to New York. Now, its omnipresence — whether of the variety that’s true to the original or not — has inspired plenty of noteworthy concoctions. As to the supposed hallucinogenic properties of the liquor, those remain a hotly debated topic, but head to any of these spots and, at the very least, you can try and blame any unruly behavior on your legal drug use.

10. Bookmarks in the Library Hotel (Midtown East) – An absinthe cocktail named after famed author and absinthe-lover Oscar Wilde is great. Blitzes of Midtowners looking for their after-work alcohol fix? Not so much. With that in mind, head to Bookmarks on the later side for some cozy digs and a fireside Oscar Wilde. 9. Employees Only (West Village) – Party like it’s 1920 as you sip on your Martinez — made with gin, maraschino liqueur, bianco vermouth, and dashes of absinthe bitters — at the perpetually packed Prohibition era-inspired spot. 8. The Eldridge (Lower East Side) – Who needs Rose Armand de Brignac Champagne when you can have tableside absinthe service? All you need now is a way in and someone to foot the exorbitant bill.

7. Death & Co (East Village) – Not for nothing will you face a pain-in-the-ass wait to get into this diminutive no-reservation spot. Intricately prepared, Death & Co’s absinthe-based cocktails even have perfectly sized ice cubes. 6. Vintage Irving (Union Square) – For a laid-back spot with a neighborhood feel, the absinthe bar at Vintage Irving delivers. Plus, what could be better than Death in the Afternoon (Lucid, sugar cube, and champagne), on a lazy Sunday? 5. Sweetiepie (West Village) – Best for the uber-girly or those looking to punish a misbehaving boyfriend, you can pair your absinthe with milk & cookies at this Alice in Wonderland-esque spot. 4. Tailor (Soho) – Because while traditional Gummy Bears are good, absinthe ones are better. 3. PDT (East Village) – Sure, the gimmicky twist of going through Crif Dogs’ phone booth gets old, but there’s no denying that the folks at this faux-speakeasy take their absinthe — served in small pours or in absinthe-based cocktails — very seriously. 2. White Star (Lower East Side) – Until recently, this popular LES spot was devoid of fancy cocktails. But they definitely concentrate fully on absinthe. Watch as mixologist extraordinaire Sasha Petraske prepares it the old fashion way — from experience. And when speaking with the master, it’s best not to bring up preparing absinthe using fire. 1. Apothéke (Chinatown) – You’ll feel like you landed on some sketchy movie set when you approach the oddball stretch Apothéke is located on, but make your way past the crank façade and marvel at the 19th-century-inspired spot where apothéker Albert Trummer serves up his own homemade absinthe.

Short Stack: Openings

New YorkClo, a grand version of a wine-filled vending machine housed in a giant glowing white box on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, is pay per swig. Get sniffing and swirling with prepaid ATM-style cards you can buy on the spot. Bonus: Minority Report-ish menu accessed by waving your hands in the air, like you just don’t care and whatnot. ● Officially opened in the Flatiron yesterday, Pita Joe takes Middle Eastern chow to table with organic falafels and dairy-free brownies. ● Another tapas + wine joint opens in Union Square. This one, Vintage Irving, will be hosting celebuchef demos, starting with he of Top Chef fame, Sam Talbot.

● The East Village welcomes Apiary. Furnished by Ligne Roset and captained by Chef Neil Manacle (disciple of Bobby Flay), look for good food and an extensive wine and beer menu. ● Allegretti opens in the old Arezzo spot in Flatiron. Look for French-inspired fare in a yacht-like setting. ● Il Porto opens in Wallabout (BK) featuring brick ovens and an Italian menu. ● Over in the LES, D’espresso opens to mixed reviews.

Los AngelesJoss Cuisine reopens in Beverly Hills, still with a menu full of health-conscious Chinese food. ● Pinkberry and Pink’s, move over — Millions of Milkshakes has finally opened. With literally 75 million choices, get ready for all the boys in the yard to get in line and get wacky with macaroons, lychees and chili powder.

San Francisco ● Mediterranean gastropub Urban Tavern opens on O’Farrell and Mason.