Pubs, Cocktails & Restaurants – Adventures in NYC

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I keep thinking about what Tony Abou-Ganim shared about bartending being a legitimate, sought after profession today, from the transitional job it once was (see my post from January 13). It also made me think about how various hospitality businesses are run and if the ownership/management gets it. As I traveled over the past week, I had the opportunity to experience a wide range of incredible places. Here are some of my observations and thoughts on who “gets it” in New York City:

First an aside re New York itself… I’ve spent a lot of time in the City over the years. As a kid, I lived in Hoboken, NJ and would take the PATH into the City often. Yes that Hoboken, but it was WAY before it was cool or expensive! I remember the City being pretty tough and dirty.

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Wallin family in NYC circa 1980

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NYC circa 1980 taken by JSW

Visiting during my years at Cornell with my Long Island friends and then later in the early 1990s for business and meetings (mostly with Seagram), NYC was rough and dirty but still a blast. These were the Mayor David Dinkins years when NY was not functioning very well. Then came Mayor Giuliani and everything changed. The guys who would spit on your window as you came out of the tunnel were gone, the broken windows where boarded up, the trash was cleaned up. NYC fundamentally became a world-class city and was treating itself with respect. This continued throughout the 2000s under Mayor Bloomberg but toward the end, I thought I noticed some deterioration in the streets, more trash lying around etc. I was staying in the city during the 99% marches on Wall Street “Occupy Wall Street”. They all seemed pretty unfocused and I expected it to last weeks, which it did. I put all of this off to the downturn and not much else.

Fast forward to this past week in NYC… it is interesting and somewhat disturbing. The city is amazing and the hospitality industry, in which I inhabit, incredible as it has been for a long time. The new Freedom tower stands out to me as a symbol of strength and resilience.

Freedom Tower - NYC

Freedom Tower – NYC

However, I couldn’t help but notice how much trash was all over the streets. It also seemed like there 2015-01-20 09.38.03were more “street” people hanging about. I did not feel unsafe, but was wary nonetheless. NYC friends, is this just me or is it much worse than it has been? I can’t help but think the era of Mayor de Blasio is not starting out good for the city for lots of reasons. I do hope it is not a move back to the Dinkins years. That would be bad for everyone there and all of us who like to visit.

I had a series of meetings and a strategy planning session/workshop with a major international drinks client of mine. As part of this, I surveyed a number of accounts (doing my “work”). Here are a few that stood out:

  • The lobby lounge at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Building is one of my favorites for experiencing NYC at the top. Literally, it looks down at Columbus Circle and out to Central Park. There are few better high-rise locations for a cocktail (or tea) and a majestic view. What struck me here was the new towers looking down over the Park., several, since the Iast time I can remember, that look incredible. Clearly the ultra 2015-01-21 12.38.18high-end condo market is thriving. One went recently for $100.5 million, I wonder how much this 2015-01-21 11.46.26is Russian, Chinese and other international buyers? The lounge itself has an air of sophistication and elegance. Even though I spend a lot of time in places like this and I worked at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, it still makes me a little cautious and aware of my dress and my party’s behavior. Service was efficient if not warm. Cocktails and beverages all prepared to perfection. Nothing really to complain about here (prices aside, but if you complain about those, you don’t belong). Along the lines of one of my favorites, the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building, a must stop for anyone wanting elegant, high end NY.
  • Cambell Apartment – Grand Central Station – cool lounge tucked away behind Cipriani’s in Grand Central. I have actually been next to it no less than 50 times and yet never knew it was there. It seems all my friends did, so I’m not sure how they kept it a secret from me. As long as you don’t mind a jam packed bar at 6pm on a Tuesday, a 2015-01-20 18.04.54short wait for a table and a loud atmosphere this is a cool spot with a rich history and an incredible architectural setting.   Service was right on time, even as busy as it was. For more intimate discussions or meetings, better off elsewhere.   As the NYT puts it “Tucked away in Grand Central Station, this classy lounge is the restored private office of early twentieth-century tycoon John W. Campbell…”
  • Whole Foods, Columbus Circle – Ok we have Whole Foods in Indiana and I’ve been to many dozens around the country, but there is something about the NYC version that is just simply awesome. If you are not a foodie, you might become one by visiting this store. It has a incredible presentation of food that makes it feel like a gourmet market, which I guess, it really has become. But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I got to the back of the store and discovered the in-store Pub… yep, a full on British style pub with draft beer and wine and tables. As a colleague said next to me “I’d come to this Pub anytime”. What a great execution of the blending between retail and hospitality. I would say to my friends running bars and restaurants, be aware. This is no joke.   And of course the increasingly ubiquitous ability to fill up a growler of fresh craft beer was prominently being promoted.
Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

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Whole Foods Columbus Circle

  • I surveyed numerous stand-alone pubs including St. Andrews (Scottish) and The Beer Authority (vast craft selection). These were both well done. St. Andrews is definitely ground zero for NYC Scottish Pubs. They carry and fantastic Scotch selection as well as my favorite Scottish beers from Belhaven Brewery (at least 6 on tap). Some of the other ones I visited were pretty standard pub feel with nothing really to write about or bring me back other than convenience, if I was on that particular block in need of a pint. One cool place was the
    St. Andrews Pub

    St. Andrews Pub

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    St. Andrews Pub

    William (as in William Shakespeare). This is a boutique hotel, lounge and downstairs is a British Pub. We held some meetings on site and enjoyed uniquely crafted cocktails in the upstairs lounge. This lounge has an exclusive yet strangely warm feel. If you are looking for a great place to meet up with a small group of friends for well crafted drinks in seclusion, this is your place!

  • I had a terrific lunch in Raffles restaurant at the Lexington Hotel. An upscale diner, it hit the spot with high quality food. Also the rooms are perfectly fine at this 4-star hotel that had a great sale going on during my visit. I would stay again (at the <$200 price point).
  • Keen’s Steakhouse for dinner was as expected, a solid steak and sides. Service was normal and the place was packed on a Tuesday night. Apparently in 2013, Zagats gave it a food rating of 26, and rated it the # 2 restaurant in the Garment District, and the 7th-best steakhouse in New York City. I don’t know about that but it’s a solid choice for traditional USDA prime steak in midtown.
  • Biggest surprise in NYC was in Brooklyn. Now I’m admittedly one of those visitors who rarely venture outside of Manhattan. So it was a completely new experience for me to take an UBER over to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg and experience such a delightful spot as Radegast Hall & Biergarten. A German beer hall, R&B had two large rooms, great beer selection and incredible cocktails served by delightful wait staff, bar tenders and management.   I tried the cheese beer soup. What’s not to like? It was great, but definitely a share dish. There are two options for food, one in the back room – a grill where you build your own brat or burger and the other from the main kitchen. I ordered the Grilled Smoked Pork Chop with Sautéed Tuscan Kale, Parmesan served with a Spiced Apple & Pear Chutney from the main kitchen along with several sides for the table including brussel sprouts, cabbage and mashed potatoes. All were fantastic. The Pork chop was a 10/10. Kudos to Executive Chef Eric Francou “who draws upon his culinary training in France, London, Belgium and his Italian ancestry to bring new ideas and flavors to his patrons at Radegast Hall & Biergarten”.  The place has live music 7 nights a week and does not take reservations. A special shout out to new manager (and a sommelier) James Herman, who has such positive disposition to life that it’s infectious! I really liked your take on moving from the sommelier world to beer and cocktails. James is a great example of the next generation of professional in the hospitality industry. James, thanks for the creative cocktail using the Belhaven and Scotch. Did we settle on a name?

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

Next up my review of Vegas – Casinos, Restaurants, Nightlife and Fun

 

 

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