12ozProphet Exclusive Interview: Matt Levine on the Lower East Side as Muse

By - Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

{image-1} Before conceiving of the #LESbeat pop-up parties, Matt Levine established a name for himself opening The Eldridge, Sons of Essex, and most recently Cocktail Bodega all in the Lower East Side. In anticipation of the second #LESbeat party popping off tomorrow night, 12ozProphet connected with Matt to talk about his experience in the hospitality industry and his connection to the historic neighborhood that inspired each of his ventures. Where did you grow up and how did you get involved in the hospitality industry? I was born in Brooklyn, grew up close to JFK, 5 towns area – through out High School I was throwing parties in the city-sneaking into clubs, and then bar backed some downtown bars on the weekends, which eventually lead to bartending summer times and through out college. Always had a passion for the hospitality business, and moved to the Lower East Side about 8-9 years ago, which then led to opening up my first spot – The Eldridge (247 Eldridge), now Cocktail Bodega (19 Stanton) and Sons of Essex (133 Essex), and currently building out The Rowhouse Inn at 61 Gansevoort Street. The Eldridge put you on the map as a nightlife impresario. It was your first venture in the industry and was largely ambitious (and controversial) with aspirations of being “more exclusive and luxurious than anything currently out there.” What did you learn from The Eldridge and how has that given you direction moving forward? The Eldridge was an intimate spot, we never implied or meant to be “exclusive or luxurious” – it was certainly never our intention, our capacity and size dictated our capabilities, but we were always focused around dope events, good music (breaking & giving DJ’s an opportunity to do their thing), and just bringing something different to the block and L.E.S. The Eldridge was a learning experience, it’s intimacy lead it to be margin driven, rather than Cocktail Bodega and Sons of Essex – which is more volume based, which in return – let’s us get creative. The direction for Cocktail Bodega and Sons of Essex was to cater and serve the neighborhood, which is how we launched Sons of Essex, with this “The Lower East Side is…” video posted below (with cameos by Asher Roth, Mel Cole/Village Slum, The Knocks, Padma Lakshmi, Jeremy Piven, K’naan, Bryan Greenberg, Victor Rasuk, Gabe Saporta, Taryn Manning, DJ Mia Moretti, and peeps from the area including muralist Chico and photographer Clayton Patterson.) Your restaurant, Sons of Essex has established a loyal following, to what do you credit the success? I credit the loyal following to the Lower East Side, no where else in New York City is there such a sense of community, entrepenurial spirit, and neighborhood support system. Along with it’s edge, and grit the L.E.S. is all about creativity and it’s culture, from the art galleries to the tattoo parlors, from the barber shops to the live music venues – and our atmosphere, decor, vibe and our amazing staff (of whom mostly live in the East Village & L.E.S. as well) all lend towards being a homebase to that. In fact, you should check out “Day in the Life” of some of our L.E.S. regulars, such as tattoo artist Luke Wessman, and skateboarder Danny Supa (also, all of our videos are shot and editted by our staff). Also, the Sons of Essex menu is a reflection of the diverse melting pot of cultures that have helped develope the Lower East Side’s rich history-which I think can also be credited to our loyal following and neighborhood regulars. The old school vibe has been described as ‘Bowery Boys’ atmosphere meets ‘Gangs of New York’- paying homage to the history of the Lower East Side, along with the pictures all over the walls of past tenement residents. We fuse traditional American comfort food with the spices of Lower East Side immigrants past and use local ingredients and Essex Street Market fruits and vegetables. {image-2} Where did the concept for Cocktail Bodega come from and how does it differ from everything else that’s out there? A love for fresh juice and smoothies, farmers markets and a passion for creative cocktail programs, and the hospitality business. Beyond fresh fruit and vegetables, Bodega’s represent a strong sense of community in the Lower East Side, combined with our cocktail program, Cocktail Bodega was born. You can even learn how to make some of our cocktails at home, such as our Jameson Brown Sugar Banana Smoothie. {image-3} The #LESbeat parties have been very successful at generating a lot of buzz and excitement. How did they come about and how do you approach them differently from your other ventures? We wanted to bring night life back to the basics. There are so many talented DJ’s and performers out there, but nightlife has become so “headliner” and “program” driven, and with #LESbeat, the buzz and hype is created without knowing who the DJ’s or performances are, but you know you’re gonna leave having a great night with great peeps, with the music hopefully exceeding any expectations you set. That level of anticipation, along with the tickets being distributed (not sold) via “L.E.S. connects” adds to the buzz and excitement as well. What should people expect to find at the #LESbeat party at the Seaport this Thursday? Expect to rock out, the DJ’s are surprises, the performances are unexpected, the location is secret, the alcohol will be flowing, the redbull will be chilled, and food will be served… This is what went down last time…

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