Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lifestyle: Weekend FT, $10 for a Cocktail? No Thanks

By Julie Earle-Levine
Weekend FT, Jul 02, 2004

In New York City, where money and luxury know no bounds, high-profile restaurateurs and bar owners have finally realised that less wealthy, value-conscious patrons can be lucrative too.

Several upscale venues have recently launched downmarket - but still stylish - offshoots, while others are simply adding less expensive options to their traditional menus.

The reason, according to some owners, is "a backlash against luxury". Sasha Petraske, owner of Milk & Honey on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and its sister bar by the same name in London, explains: "Even people who can afford it don't want to pay $10 for a cocktail any more. It's not cool."

Cocktails at many high-end Manhattan bars cost $12 to $14 each - a price some well-off customers are suddenly shirking. Last month Petraske opened another downtown bar called the East Side Company Bar, where cocktails cost $7 and $8. Petraske's establishments to date have been rather exclusive.

At New York's Milk & Honey, patrons must call ahead to reserve a space in the dark bar with leather booths. They need to know the phone number, and how to find it. There is no name on the door.

But the location of Petraske's new bar - 49 Essex Street - will not be secret. The owner also plans to offer "the least expensive oysters" in the city - about $9 for half-a-dozen, $16 a dozen.
The lower prices do not mean less quality, he says. For cocktails, staff squeeze apples, pineapple and ginger roots by hand to make fresh juice, and the ice production is labour-intensive - hand-chipped the old fashioned way.

Other bar owners have not gone so far as to open new, less expensive venues. But they are experimenting with lower-priced offerings. At the World Bar in Trump World Tower, where condominiums cost up to $13.5m, owner Mark Grossich introduced a $5 drink called the "Bear" late last year, supplementing a $50 concoction named the "Bull", which has long been on offer. The Bull is a delicious blend of Veuve Clicquot, Pineau des Charentes, freshly squeezed grape and lemon juice, topped with a dollop of liquefied 23-carat gold; the Bear is a more mundane blend of mango and melon liqueurs, light rum and orange juice. But on a recent night, there wasn't a Bull in sight.

Grossich, who owns several other posh cocktail spots including the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station, calls the Bear "economic punch" and says he expects to keep it on the menu for some time. "It is a great-tasting drink, and it's very good value," he says.

The backlash against sky-high pricing has also extended to larger Manhattan eating establishments.

At the recently opened Schiller's Liquor Bar, on the Lower East Side, owned by restaurateur Keith McNally, no dish costs more than $15, and wine is listed as "cheap", "decent" or "good".

Schiller's is packed from brunch to late night with a chic downtown crowd. McNally is well-known for opening Balthazar in SoHo and Pastis in the Meatpacking District, but the less expensive Schiller's is also a fine place and a lot easier on the wallet.

Tom Colicchio is another New York restaurateur embracing the move toward more casual restaurants. After opening Craft, a high-end restaurant in the Gramercy area, he located Craftbar, which offers an Italian-accented, lower priced, six-entrée menu, right next door.

Another newcomer is Sumile, in Greenwich Village. Owned by a Japanese pop singer and run by chef Josh DeChellis, it offers elaborate Franco-Japanese creations for no more than $14 a dish. Bouillon of lobster and matsutake with aka miso are delicious value.

At the nearby Vento Trattoria, a tri-level restaurant in the Meatpacking District, restaurateur Stephen Hanson has opened a cheaper version of his upmarket Italian restaurant Fiamma, in SoHo. Vento has been crowded since it opened in April.

Diners are lining up for a casual take on executive chef Michael White's regional Italian cuisine, with dishes such as whole grilled sardines with watercress and lemon oil for $9 and grilled rosemary/orange and garlic prawns for $12. Patrons get a bird's eye view of the exclusive Soho House across the street.

Even the most talked about hamburgers in town (at db Bistro Moderne in west Midtown where a burger stuffed with braised short ribs, fresh black truffle and foie gras is $59) have new competition.

New York burger fans have long turned to inexpensive places downtown, such as Corner Bistro, for a quick dinner, but business-lunchers in Midtown now have a similar option: Burger Joint, in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien. A hamburger there costs $4.50 (including tax) as an alternative to the hotel's own $20 room-service burger. "Why pay 50 bucks for a burger when you can get a great one for $5, and beer in a plastic cup too?" said one young banker.

DETAILS
East Side Company Bar, 49 Essex Street, Manhattan
World Bar, 645 United Nations Plaza, in the Trump WorldTower, 212 935 9361
Schiller's Liquor Bar, 131 Rivington Street at NorfolkStreet, Lower East Side, 212 260 4555
Sumile, 154 W13thStreet, 212 989 7699
Vento Trattoria, 675 Hudson Street, between ninth Ave and 14th St,212 699 2400
Cheap burgers: Look for the neon burger sign inthe lobby at Le Parker Meridien, 119 West 56th Street
Copyright © Financial Times group