How Does a Bar Become an Industry Hangout?
When you create a bar or restaurant, you can decide many things. You can't decide to build a place that will become where the rest of the pros hang out. How does a place become an industry hotspot? We caught up with three beloved service industry hangouts (and the industry regulars who frequent them) to find out.
Harry's Bar & Tables, Kansas City, Missouri
Asked to recommend a bartenders' hangout in Kansas City, long-time local bartender and Manifesto co-owner Ryan Maybee has an instant answer: “The answer to this question in KC is without a doubt, Harry's Bar & Tables.” Because bartending is about community, Maybee immediately follows this with an introduction to Jeremy Roth, Harry's GM.
With more than 18 years at Harry's Bar & Tables, Roth has both knowledge and perspective.
Timing, he says, is important. Whatever you're doing, “do it in hours that accommodate the service industry crowd.” A prime example: Harry's Bar & Tables is open until 3 a.m.; food's served until 2 every night.
Give every single patron your best service “and a quality product at a good price.” To tempt industry, you have to offer a genuine welcome — to anyone who walks through the door.
“The best part of Harry's has always been that it's welcoming to everybody. You could be a tattoo artist sitting next to a group of bartenders sitting next to a politician sitting next to a businessman from out of town sitting next to just about anybody while you're in there.”
Another element that draws industry, Roth says, is atmosphere. “It's great going into a place where you know the first fifteen people's names that you run into.”
Then there's the simple pleasure of having a drink with people, — “It doesn't have to be a fancy drink ... having a shot with the bartender, chit-chatting with the server ... It's great to deal with people who deal with what you do.”
It's a space filled with camaraderie. “You can come on your own,” Roth says, “You're never alone.”
Erin Rose, New Orleans
Although it's been under current management for only 15 years, the Erin Rose has longevity and familiarity on its side. Manager and bartender Rhiannon Enlil, has tracked the location's history back to the 1950s. “It's always been an industry hangout,” Enlil says.
Location matters. Erin Rose is in the Upper Quarter. “Most of the major hotels are on this side, most of the major restaurants.” The Erin Rose sits half a block off of Bourbon Street, where NOLA sets many of its have-a-night-out scenes. “We're that kind of nearby reprieve for a lot of service-industry workers” Enlil observes. “They might've just finished their shift, or closing restaurant or the strip club or bar they work at, and we're always there for them.”
There's that timing thing again. “We say we're open twenty-one hours everyday. We only close for a couple of hours in the morning to clean.” That's no exaggeration. During the week, the Erin Rose shuts its doors and breaks out the mops at 6 or 7 a.m.; weekends, it's 8. It reopens at 10, every day. “It fluctuates depending on who's in here at that hour.”
As to what makes the Erin Rose an industry favorite, Enlil says, “I think it's two-fold. Definitely the style of our service. The friendliness of our staff is a really big draw.”
Erin Rose has no uniforms, no pretentiousness, and no elaborate cocktail menu. “What have is our charisma, our personalities, our incredible jukebox and our open-arms attitude toward everyone who comes in.”
It's also a safe space. That's important. “We don't tolerate drama ... There's no conversations about anything illicit. We have pretty tight security, so there's no fights, but it's still rowdy.” Enlil sums it up: “It's controlled chaos. You can let loose and have a good time, but it's still going to be safe.” With the bar keeping guard, visiting bartenders can let theirs down.
The Erin Rose is a respected industry magnet — just ask Annene Kaye-Berry, who describes herself as working at Latitude 29. (She's the co-owner, but, she says firmly and happily,“I actually work there.”) To monitor the start of Tales of the Cocktail, Kaye-Berry keeps an eye on the Erin Rose. “No matter what time it is, you can go in for a frozen Irish coffee, and just feel fine about it. A lot of people will come to town, and they say, 'Let's go to the Erin Rose and have a frozen Irish to start things off.” Kaye-Berry muses for a moment. “I think Simon Ford had a frozen Irish on stage with someone at the Tales Awards. It's that type of an institution.”
But what makes the Erin Rose “it” for local mixologists? Kaye-Berry thinks it through. “It's friendly, but not in a phony way.” It's female-friendly, which is a definite plus.
As to visiting bartenders, Kaye-Berry says, “A lot of people in the industry, when the come to town, want to go to neighborhood bars or dive bars. They make fancy cocktails for a living. When they all want to hang out, they're going to the Alibi or the Erin Rose or even Coyote Ugly.” At the end of their shifts, what bartenders want is complicated or pricey; it's just an easy-going place where they can unwind.
That leads back to the Erin Rose's jukebox, which is not a smartphone under managerial control. Enlil, says, “It's still a real jukebox.” Chosen by staff and management, the 100 CDs slant heavily toward local musicians. “It's upbeat ... It's jovial and fun and funky. That plays a very strong element into the atmosphere of the room.”
Atmosphere matters. “People don't put a lot of credit to lighting and music,” Enlil says. “If you have those dialed up to the spot where you want it to be, then everybody's going to fall into line — even if it's just in the background. It's always going to be there, giving you that feel-good vibe.”
If you play it, pour it and offer it with a smile, they will come.
Basik, Brooklyn, New York
At five-years-old, Basik in Williamsburg has spent more than half of its life as a bartender-hotspot.
Jay Zimmerman owns Basik in Brooklyn and Second Son in Astoria, Queens.
When Zimmerman opened Basik, he didn't set out to create an industry escape. “It's certainly turned into that over the past few years.” Zimmerman wraps the words around a chuckle. “There's been a definite uptick in people in our industry coming in, whether in groups after events, or solo, just to have a drink by themselves.”
Why do they come to Basik? “It kind of offers things in a top-to-bottom, and a backwards way,” Zimmerman observes. Want a classic cocktail, on or off the menu? “We have the capability to do that in a correct way. That said, most people come in for a shot and a beer. ... We offer what a dive bar offers, just a bit cleaner and a little bit put together...”
There's a TV on in the corner, so people can catch the game. There's “not-so-serious bar food.” For Zimmerman, the cornerstone of success is staff. “I don't hire on their merit with cocktails. I hire them on their ability to run a room and have personality ... Having people who are welcoming, people you want to come see again is massively important to me.”
That spirit makes Basik a place to get back to basics: have a good drink, relax and bring the after-shift to an easygoing end.
Even by industry standards, brand reps work under pressure. When Diageo account consultant Alexandra Farrington craves ease and a drink, she goes to Basik. “I call it my local bar — although it's not near my apartment, at all . . . It just feels very comfortable.” The bartenders know what she drinks, and they can sense her mood. “They're really good at reading the room.”
Basik is where Farrington wants to be — but what makes it a perfect industry fit? “Not really a dive bar, but really simple.” She can get a proper daiquiri, a shot, or whatever she's craving, and it'll be fine.
“Oh!” Farrington's voice rises. “A good playlist.” It sets the tone, keeps people lingering, gets a party going, or reminds people that the night is winding down. Enlil would agree.
When industry is coming, details matter. “It's the little things,” Farrington says. “What's jumping out at me right now is that they always have fresh flowers in the bathroom. It's nice and unexpected ... It's not stuffy. Kind of a homey feel. Basik is like going home,” if home is a place where you never wash dishes, and you might find a colleague playing the guitar on stage.
In the end, Kaye-Berry knows exactly what the best industry hangout can be. “It's a sanctuary.”