Tag Archives: opening a bar

Good Days, Bad Days

My IndieGoGo campaign has been live for almost a full week. It has inspired over $8,000 of excitement in my friends. This is staggering and has brought me more joy than I ever imagined possible. I’ve been astounded by the far-reaching support of my extended community.

This process, however, will have its ups and downs. The weeks and weeks and WEEKS I waited for the lawyers to do their lawyerly thing were excruciating. I wasted hundreds of hours trying to distract myself with Sudoku and Set (and OKCupid and Tinder). I’m currently waiting for the SLA to approve me. My architect is still working on the plans, which are only for cosmetic changes, but will need to be approved by the Department of Buildings. I’ve shelled out checks to so many people for amorphous jobs like “expediting” and “consulting” and even for just disconnecting the beer gas lines. ($500. Cash.) I gotta say, by the time this bar is open I will be swingin’ some balls of tungsten steel. Seriously.

The other day I was so elated by the cash coming into the campaign that receiving the news that my AC/Heating would cost almost three times what I’d budgeted barely even registered on my panic meter. But yesterday, between seeing the state of the mysterious hole in the floor and witnessing my architect’s sober adhesion to strict guidelines, I almost lost it. I am doing my best to be zen. And it is requiring more intestinal fortitude than I’ve ever mustered in my life. I am tapping into strength I never knew I possessed. Past me would’ve dissolved into a puddle of tears upon hearing some of this shit. She would’ve folded her cards and stepped away from the table. But present me doesn’t have that option. All I can do is soldier on. The belief in my project — and in me — is helping me make the success of the bar a self-fulfilling prophecy. If so many people believe in Lucky, I’d better too! Onward!

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Feeling Incredibly Buoyed

The past few days have been humbling. I’ve wept with gratitude. And marveled at the depth and breadth of support I have from my community.

Tuesday night at 8:55 EDT I launched my IndieGoGo campaign for Lucky. Since then, 114 people have “backed” my beautiful bar vision and deposited almost $7,000 into the kitty. A good chunk of that is money people have donated with no request for a “perk.” I cannot express just how incredible this is. Of course, I am super excited about this project. I am even more excited that so many other people seem equally excited! Some of whom are total strangers! And I am sincerely humbled by the level of belief people have in me and the future success of my bar. Truly. It is so surprising.

I have a crystal clear vision of what I want this bar to be and a keen understanding of why “my people” need this bar, now. So many people feel displaced in the East Village these days, but people also feel displaced in New York City and, more broadly, in America. It goes deeper than drinking. The current climate feels very “us vs. them” and it is so disheartening. I hope to create a place where people who’ve felt “other” elsewhere feel comfortable and at home.

Friday night I was photographed in the semi-demolished space by Stacie Joy. The shots will accompany an article about the bar coming out sometime this coming week. I am bracing myself for the hate because, well, haters gonna hate. And I know what while I have the support of my community, there are no doubt others who won’t be quite as supportive. There are people who hate bars in principle. And there are certainly people who don’t particularly care for me. I’ve never been someone who people were jealous of and realize that I am now in a position for that to happen. Sure, it’s easy to hate on my cautiously optimistic and unbridled joy or side-eye it with cynicism. I’ve experienced that same shallow “screw you and your giant smile” myself. It’s a dark side of the human condition, I suppose, and one we all try to suppress. One particular person went so far as to “unfriend” me, an aggressive move that could’ve more easily been an “unfollow” if they found my effusiveness offensive. Whatevs.

Back to the happy stuff! The momentum is thrilling. I’m madly keeping track of who wants which perk, recording t-shirt sizes and email addresses and ordering the stuff so I can pop it all into the mail. Fulfillment is gonna be sooooooo fulfilling! WOOT! I hope everyone will be patient with me because I’m a one woman operation here!

Anyway, here’s the link for the campaign: “I’m Opening a Bar! What’ll It Be?”

Keep an eye on it! I’ll be updating it with different videos (all silly gems, I assure you) and fabulous new perks as my awesome artist friends make their wares available! MWAH!

My First Week at the Office

I know! It’s been a while! In the days (and days and days) since I got home from the desert I hooked up with Tower Brokerage, who helped me find the space I decided on. They recommended a lawyer and…more days went by. Even though I’d decided on the space before I left for Christmas in Paris, the lawyers dragged things along. And even longer. My lawyer brought on his colleague and they dragged things along together. Then the first guy got his panties in a wad because the seller’s real estate broker was being “too aggressive.” He threatened to “walk away.” I kinda couldn’t believe a professional would actually whine about taking his marbles and going home. Fortunately, my broker talked him back from the brink and things progressed along…and longer still. But, finally, a week ago tonight, I sat down with the seller, the landlady and the brokers (and not one lawyer, harrumph!) and we signed a bunch of papers. I’m not a bar owner quite yet; my ownership is contingent upon SLA approval, as is my 10-year lease. But papers have been signed. And I HAVE KEYS!

I’ve been posting about it on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. Here’s a bit of the photographic evidence, with the accompanying captions:

12742834_10153243276456364_4576727347032405359_nMy big smile of excitement and abject horror. — at Tower Brokerage.

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My first day at the office!

12779114_10153250387326364_3713099626223968893_o.jpgWarming up the space and finishing up all the booze!

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Cleaning out the basement with Nick & Andy.

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Found a fossilized rat and his very alive descendent.

So, having finally signed the (preliminary) papers, I’ve was able to get to work! Andy and Nick helped me clean out the basement. What a disaster. I met with my architect and contractor and hung out with a friend who did such a great job designing his bar that I’m hoping he’ll help me with mine. I’ve been on the phone with all the previous owner’s vendors: bar and liquor distributors, ice machine and cable providers, soda and gas line people, all of them.

I even had my first “crisis”: I’d gone to the bank and had the teller transfer money from one account to another so I could write checks to my new landlady at that big paperwork signing. On an almost-midnight trip out to buy stuff to make bitters (more on that in another post) my debit card didn’t work. I called customer service and found out I was thousands of dollars in the red; the teller had transferred the money into the wrong account. Gulp. That meant the checks I’d written to the landlady would be bouncing. I screamed on the phone for a while and then dragged my ass out of bed at 9am the next morning to take care of it at the local bank branch. There were four people helping me, along with the woman I had on the phone from customer service, and together they managed to fix it. Phew, that was a close one!

I also had a bunch of friends come by to hang out and “warm up” the space. And consume the leftover alcohol. It was an unofficial pre-demolition party. And it was wonderful! I haven’t been sleeping much because I’m so excited and nervous and wish it could all happen at once! All my friends have been so supportive! And curious! I’ve been telling everyone that there will be more news coming up as it happens. Heather asked if I’d be blogging about it all and, well, here I am. Every day posts are probably unrealistic but I’ll update you at least once a week. Keep an eye out here for more fun stuff!

Taking Advice

EDIT (I spaced on two important people!)

In my days — and weeks — of waiting and what felt like inaction, I’ve been pretty stressed out. I’ve been obsessing, as my previous post explained, because it’s all I’ve been able to do. I received quite a bit of unsolicited advice as a result of that post. I’ll admit, most of my life I’ve been quite the know-it-all. Even in circumstances where I know less than I should. But in this situation I have seriously stepped outside myself. I’ve evaluated my flaws, one of which is not being comfortable asking for assistance, which leads to that know-it-all-ism. And I’ve overcome it. I have been soliciting advice from everyone I meet and the vast number of people I know who are experienced in this business. I have been humbly admitting all the things I know nothing about and seeking those who know everything.

This process began in earnest last March when a friend told me about a place that was secretly for sale. I wound up asking Molly if she’d sell me one of her two bars, since, although I was tempted by the secret space, my dream has always been to own a dive bar. Molly wasn’t ready to sell but she did express interest in helping me with whatever other space I wound up with. The machinations that took place before I eventually left for the desert were a little nuts; I may eventually post about them because they influenced where I am today. Molly is a neighborhood fixture and her bars are among my (few) favorites. I hope she’ll continue to be an advisor and supporter.

In the fall, after returning from the desert, I met with a friend of my sister’s who owns a large bar in San Francisco’s Marina district. He started with a small neighborhood joint, leveled up to a big bar/restaurant and then decided a nightclubby type bar was more manageable. His place is pretty fancy and definitely not a place I’d hang out. But he had some valuable advice. He suggested a specific “signature cocktail,” which I initially cringed at. But after some thought, I realized that even Double Down has a “signature cocktail” aka their house shot, “Ass Juice.” (Actually, Double Down even has an “infused vodka,” though it’s infused with bacon and not very highbrow!) So there will be a “signature cocktail” at my bar, the one he suggested, in fact, though I may not actually use the words “signature cocktail” to describe it!

My friend Scott sometimes has me join him at Perdition as a guest bartender. His boss, Jessica, sat down with me to share her years-won wisdom with me, including recommendations of accountants, insurance brokers, payroll companies and more. Probably the most valuable piece of advice she offered was to hang on tight and ride out all the bullshit, though I don’t believe she used those exact words.

Frannie is a fellow burner who has graciously offered the burner Happy Hour open bars at her old place on Rivington. She still owns half of the Manhattan Welcome to the Johnson’s but spends most of her time at her new place, the Bushwhack branch of WttJs. I’ve spent hours talking to her about the bar business; she has been very generous with her time. The one piece of advice she gave me that I’ll be incorporating into my place is the concept of creating intimate, separate spaces for people, even in a small bar. Her place on Rivington was pretty tiny — and slightly subterranean — but it had four different “conversation areas”: the bar (barstools), two-top high tables (also with barstools), a handful of low tables with two or four chairs and a back area with couches/banquettes and a low table. I’d guess that, although the feng shui is decidedly different in my space, both bars are about the same amount of square feet. So I will have almost the exact same seating options: the barstools at the bar, one or two high-tops, a couch with a low table and as many square tables with two chairs that will fit. Frannie gave me many other great tips that I’ve already internalized. She was actually the first person I sat down with about this, even before things were quite as close to becoming a reality.

Donald is the manager of Double Down and I took him out for lunch the other day to pick his brain. I asked him about a million questions and he provided me with answers, as well as phone numbers for pretty much every person, service or company necessary to keep a bar business up and running. He told me that 10 years ago a friend had done the same for him and he was happy to be able to “pay it forward.” I am now armed with the info to handle just about every imaginable crisis.

On Tuesday I ventured out into Brooklyn to meet Rosie Schaap, a barmaid Gaz Regan recommended I speak with. She writes a cocktail column for the New York Times, has published a book, “Drinking with Men,” and she works the noon to 9pm shift at South. The bar was great, I loved the jukebox, the regulars were warm and friendly and Rosie was a font of information. She even came up with an elegant solution to my desire to learn more about all the boozy things I don’t know without enrolling in the a-bit-too-basic bartending schools: attend classes at Astor Wine & Spirits. Perfect! I’ve already mentioned that I’m registered for Gaz’s Cocktails in the Country course, so I’m looking forward to tapping into his vast wisdom.

Last night the Burning Man Happy Hour was held at Sugarburg, a fairly new neighborhood bar and restaurant in Williamsburg. It also happens to be owned by a friend and fellow burner and his two brothers. I spent quite a while chatting with them about their purchase process, their buildout and what it’s been like since their opening day. The offer was made to talk again any time I need more advice and I’m sure I’ll be taking them up on that! I’ll add that the bar is pretty amazing. Everyone loved the wide assortment of craft beers, the delicious snacks and the convenient location. I, personally, had a deep appreciation for the decor and many architectural details. I know that nothing wound up on their walls without a lot of consideration. It was nice to know that they continue to make improvements and add to the eclectic collection of art.

In my recent travels, researching bars and bartenders, drinks and drink prices, competition and whatnot, I’ve spoken at length with every person on either side of the bar. I’ve asked bartenders what they do and don’t like, patrons what they want and don’t want, and everything else I can think of. I haven’t shut up about opening this bar and everyone I meet is excited to visit it.

The woman who has been helping me as my commercial real estate agent is also who I’ll be hiring to hold my hand as I learn the process of running a bar business. She owned a bar/club in my neighborhood for a decade and served on the local community board for seven years. She has a wealth of information and experience and she will literally be on my payroll. The rest of the staff at her real estate agency is uber-experienced as well, with a grand total of over 100 years in bars and restaurants between them all, most especially the man running the whole operation, who I met back in November at the Rosie O’Donnell event. He is, in my parents’ vernacular, a wheel. I feel confident that I am in capable hands.

I’m hiring a licensed architect to help me draw up the plans for the renovations and she is recommending a licensed engineer to install the new AC unit and ducting. A licensed general contractor will oversee the licensed plumber and electrician, and they will all be filing the proper permits. My liquor license lawyer is the liquor license lawyer. He is a legend. There is an army of people ready to help me realize my vision and an even larger army ready to patronize it.

The last few weeks have been pretty stressful and I anticipate that the next year or two will be equally insane. My friend at Sugarburg told me the first year is extremely tough. I’ve been impatiently waiting, itching to get my hands dirty, and today something clicked into place. The process is gonna speed up now and before I know it, I’ll be behind that bar, ready to say, “What’ll it be?” It won’t be a moment too soon!

Obsessing About the Little Things

Is this what a panic attack feels like? Can a panic attack last for hours? Days? I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is age-related or scared-shitless-starting-a-new-business-related. I do know I’ve never felt anything like it. I wake up in the middle of the night and am wide awake. I can jump out of bad at 8am or sleep all day regardless of what I’ve done the night before. It’s 9:30 right now and I’m ready to go to sleep. I get weird bursts of inexplicable energy and wind up scrubbing cupboards, buying light bulbs, cleaning out the refrigerator or randomly chucking stuff into the trash. I can go all day and not remember if I’ve eaten anything or inhale a bag of peanut M&Ms in one sitting. I can stay in my apartment, online shopping for light fixtures and industrial sinks, or spend hours Photoshopping pointless memes about “patience” or “motivation.”

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I don’t always know what day it is. My Christmas tree is still up. I managed to take the decorations off but…I was enjoying the pine smell. Except now even that has faded. This past week I got to see what happens when three professional men get into a weird pissing contest via emails. Let’s just say that even people who’ve gone to law school are still capable of acting like children. Of sending an email that says, essentially, blah-blah-blah, I’m gonna take my marbles and go home. Thankfully my fairy barmother was able to talk them all back from their respective ledges while I hyperventilated into paper bags and tried not to panic.

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Photo by Sarah Kate Kramer

While waiting for the interminable wheels to churn — and let me tell you, nothing takes as long or is as laced and laden with red tape like opening a fucking bar in New York City — I mire myself in the minutiae of what I can control. I contact more DJs about mix CDs. I email more contractors. And I visited Faerman Cash Register Co. Lemme tell you, this place is like falling into a time warp. The 50-something proprietor introduced me to his 94-year-old father. “Did he start this business?” I asked. Nope, his father did. So I’d bet nothing has changed in this shop since a century ago. At least. Thank goodness they own the building, so they won’t get booted for some high-rise bullshit. But the guy has two daughters, neither of whom are interested in taking over the unnamed.jpgbiz. Maybe some oddball friend of mine might become suddenly intrigued by cash registers? Join this man as an apprentice? Anyway, there wasn’t one new thing in the whole damn place. I ran my fingers lovingly over antique brass machines that sadly wouldn’t work for me because their cash drawers don’t have enough slots for more than one denomination of bills. Such a shame because they are beautiful. I’ll probably be buying one of the Good Boys 1900 models, pictured on the right. If you would like to read more about the unusual shop, there’s a wonderful article here.

I’ve also subscribed to Gaz Regan‘s newsletter and bought his book, The Joy of Mixology. I signed up for his “Cocktails in the Country” weekend seminar-type thing that won’t be happening until “the spring.” I bought a “passbook” to “Winter Tippler,” which gets me 15 fancy cocktails at 15 fancy cocktail bars. I’ve been Googling “best this” and “best that” to gauge drink prices, size up the competition and figure out what’s popular. I’ve been scribbling down ideas for crazy drink specials…or specialty drinks. And during those hours I wind up awake at weird hours, I worry about the millions of things that can go wrong.

So as the opening day is projected further and further into the future, I can only wait. And wait. And continue to obsess about all those little things.