Pubs, Cocktails & Restaurants – Adventures in NYC

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

 

 

Mixing It Up With – Whisk(e)y, Wine, English Ale, Mixology, Chefs and National Hospitality Providers

Mixing It Up With – Whisk(e)y, Wine, English Ale, Mixology, Chefs and National Hospitality Providers

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Every once in a while, I take a step back and recognize just how cool this industry is and what a privilege those of us in the food, beverage and hospitality world have. This is not to say all of you in other industries are not cool or that ours is so much better. It is simply a fact that this one is a lot of fun.

I spent the past week mixing it up with celebrity mixologists, chefs and a whole bunch of smart industry people who are making their mark in their own ways. The Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, CA did a fantastic job of hosting our group.   A special thanks to Director of Food & Beverage, Jocelyn Kraus and Executive Chef Carissa Giacalone.  Aside from the amazing food and beverage we experienced, one thing that struck me from these industry leaders is the appreciation of history and those who came before us.

In his excellent presentation on his journey in mixology, Tony Abou-Ganim “THE MODERN MIXOLOGIST” offered his insights on the industry as a whole, both past and present and how the industry evolved right before his eyes. I loved his personal stories of getting started bartending and his open appreciation for the individuals who helped him along the way. That’s really what makes the hospitality industry special. The people are what make great service and experience. The people who come before you and help you along the way, are the foundation for everything that you get to do and be.

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Tony gave thanks to the legendary Dale DeGroff “THE COCKTAIL KING” who gave him an early appreciation for loving what you do and taking pride in it. It was not so long ago that everyone bartending or waiting tables was doing it to get the next “real” job. Today, there are a whole generation of young people who are pursuing their passion with the explicit goal of being an excellent mixologist, brewer, wine maker, hospitality professional. Dale also recommended Tony for the newly created Director of Beverage role at the newly opened Bellagio way back when, that changed his life forever. Dale gave us a true appreciation for the great mixologists of the 1800s and pre-Prohibition era. His entertaining and spirited history of bitters was fascinating to experience, as we tasted 6 different modern bitters.

Craft of the cocktail by DeGroff Dale Degroff  IMG_5101

Tim Kirkland “THE RENEGADE SERVER” gave us incredible insights into the simple nuances of what separates truly exceptional hospitality service operations from merely good ones. His observations on customer service have direct application to training and inspiring front line crews to sell more and serve better. Michael “Bumby” Bombard “Straight Up Solutions” shared his learnings in cocktail menu development and presentation including a valuable discussion on glassware, ice and a drill down into garnishes. Its all about the presentation.

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We had the opportunity to share some of the finest beers in the world with my industry friends. Anyone who has visited an English pub would recognize Old Speckled Hen, the #1 English Ale.

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It was fun to introduce this quirky English brand to the hospitality folks in attendance. Judging from the response, there will be some Hen coming to a restaurant near you soon.

Chef Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen and Master Mixologist & Chain Accounts Manager for Beam Suntory Philip Raimondo shared a fun presentation of “Bar Redux” – in which they discussed new ways to train hospitality operator staff, jazz up your drink program and bring your bar layout up to date. Of course, Phil also served as lead pianist and singer for the groups late night escapades, all legendary, none reportable.

IMG_5111 D'Lish Eggs by Kathy Casey

In Whisk(e)y “Boot Camp” we took a tour around the world from Scotland to Ireland to Canada and the US and back to Scotland. Led by the knowledgeable William Grant & Son’s Whisky Team, this fun survey of different styles of whisk(e)y was enjoyable and informative. Interesting facts – top Scotch whisky export markets 1. USA 569$, 2. FR 330$, 3. Singapore 288$, 4. Germany 138$ 5. Spain, 6. Taiwan. Among my favorites were the Glenfiddich 15 Solera and The Glenfiddich 18, but there were many other excellent ones including The Balvenie 21 and Irish Tullamore Dew. Monkey’s Shoulder was interesting too.

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After the whisk(e)y tasting, several chefs joined me to taste some Scotch along side some BELHAVEN beer, Scotland’s #1. The BELHAVEN BLACK was particularly popular among the culinary set as an accompaniment to the fine sipping Scotches. We all decided this would be an excellent way in which to offer guests an enjoyable and true Scottish experience.

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Celebrity Chef Rick Moonen (rm seafood at Mandalay Bay) shared inspiration at the final dinner as he gave us a fireside chat tracing his culinary roots to the great NY French restaurants and today with his focus on sustainably and seafood. Rick shared his great successes as well as some of the tough times he experienced during the downturn and how he had to be resilient and reinvent himself and his restaurants to survive. I love what he is doing with mixology and cannot wait to go check out his newest iteration in Vegas (RX Boiler Room)! We played a tasting game, whereby we all tasted different ice cream creations of his and had to guess the flavors. It was quite difficult but enjoyable. Apparently he does this regularly with a group of sommeliers in Vegas but instead of 3 types, he gives them 16 types to guess. Yikes!

IMG_5113 rm ice cream creations RX Boiler Room

As always, “The DUTCHESS”, Jen Robinson was the hostess with the mostess and kept everyone moving and staying on track at the Executive Hospitality Exchange West #HEEWEST. Thanks Jen for an enjoyable experience once again and I look forward to our next adventure together!

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There are many other great stories, but alas, not for this post (not mentioning any names Mike Tolley “Beverage By Design”). It was great spending time with some of the leading hospitality accounts and learning how they are thinking about their businesses and how to compete and differentiate. There may be no more competitive environment than that of the restaurant and bar business. Many of the most successful in today’s environment are differentiating on service and their unique offerings. In many cases, the beverage side of the house offers the best opportunity to achieve this. I look forward to further discussions on this front with savvy operators and brands that want to activate their business.  My next such opportunity will be at the YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable in February where I have the privilege of being Co-Champion for the event. We expect 60+ F&B CEOs for an educational and enjoyable week hosted by Disney.

As Jack says… all work and no play, makes Smoke a dull boy …

 

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