What goes into a night of planning at one of the busiest lounges in Downtown NYC? What’s an alcohol expert’s go-to hangover cure? And just what do both men and women belly up to the bar to order? We needed to consult an expert, so we sat down with Matt Strauss, the Managing Partner of Tao Group/Dream Downtown.
Put together by a team of hospitality aficionados, Tao operates in New York City, Las Vegas, and Sydney. If you’re familiar with the New York City nightlife scene, you’ve probably heard of a Tao-conceived establishment: Avenue, Beauty & Essex, LAVO, Marquee, The Stanton Social, Dream Downtown, and TAO Uptown and Downtown are all on the list.
The nature of being in the nightlife business means you’re surrounded by a lot of drinking. What’s your hanging in on a Tuesday go-to drink vs. your “out-but-working” drink?
For a relaxing Tuesday, wine would be my drink of choice. I am constantly impressed by different regions I previously knew little about, and have developed a great taste for various wines ranging from crisp whites from the Loire Valley, to the elegance of Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, to some dynamic Rieslings from the Finger Lakes and Niagara.
For “out-but-working” – most nights this means actually working – I keep it light and often stick to water. However, when I am with clients, our staff has all been trained to pour me what I call a “1-count.” The normal cocktail has a 4 count of liquor. Instead, the bartenders pour me a 1 count of Dewars and they fill the rest of the glass with club soda. Therefore my drink has 1/4 of the alcohol compared to a normal drink, but still allows me to be social while having a little taste.
You’re hungover. Where’s your remedy?
I find the best cure to be simple – I’m not a believer in “Hair of the Dog” theory -lots of water before bed is the best preventative measure. If the effects still linger in the AM, simply more water, a banana and then forcing myself to work out has always worked best for me.
What’s your favorite NYC dive bar? What about the classiest?
The Subway Inn on 60th, just off Lexington is the NYC Dive that I have the fondest memories of, and sadly it just closed this last summer after 77 years. It was the first bar that I was a regular at, serving me way below the legal age; they had dollar Schlitz on draft (it was the early 90’s), a dark seedy decor like you were caught in a noir movie, a 90-year-old Crypt Keeper look-alike who owned the place and would sit in the back corner all night and a jukebox that oddly had an acoustic version of “Your Love” by the Outfield that I would play five times a night.
As we are planning on opening a stylish cocktail bar at our new venue at Dream Midtown, I’ve been doing a lot of cocktail lounge research. I have to say that Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle is still the top in my book – with the drawing wall paper and leather couches – I am simply overwhelmed with a sophisticated feeling whenever I’m there. On the newer side – I was recently impressed with Lantern’s Keep in the Iroquois Hotel. A small darkly lit room with old world glamour, they have super refined and stylish drinks made by warm bartenders who both mixed and served the cocktails – it is a mixology bar that isn’t trying – it just is.
How much drink planning goes into an average night at the Dream Downtown?
At Dream Downtown, we have a total of nine different venues in the building all providing a unique experience for our guests. This building has it all beverage-wise:a range of bespoke signature cocktails, carefully thought out international wine lists, and world-class bottle service experiences. With such a variety of offerings, the planning and operational attention to the beverage program is joyfully never ending. Every day presents new opportunities to develop and improve upon what our guests are experiencing.
Overall, at any given time, we can have up to 1,000 different items and anywhere from one to several hundred bottles of each product.
What’s the most expensive wine/alcohol that someone has ever purchased at the Dream?
This past December event season – at our rooftop PH-D – the owner of a successful company celebrating his company’s Christmas party bought his entire team a 15 liter bottle of Ace of Spades champagne to congratulate everyone on a banner year. This one bottle served over 80 people and sold for $100,000.00. We currently have in our inventory the 30 Liter of Ace of Spades priced on the menu at $225,000.00 but that has yet to be purchased – but who knows… maybe tonight’s the night!
Do you find it true that women tend to drink vodka cranberries and men drink whiskey?
With both men and women I see a very big trend towards tequila. On the cocktail side in high quality mixed drinks, to the restaurant side pairing well with food, to the nightlife side with the beautiful crowds drinking high-end tequila at over $75 a shot regularly, it is the drink of choice for many at Dream Downtown – with no gender bias.
What’s your favorite of the TAO clubs to drink at?
I am proudest of PH-D with our stylish rooftop overlooking all of New York with a very posh NYC crowd. And I love the Brit-rock mixed with 50’s doo-wop music set that a few of the DJs play in the Electric Room. But since I operate these venues, I can never really relax and enjoy a drink at them. So it would actually be at Avenue New York, our nightclub on 17th Street and 10th Avenue. While Avenue is a raging party throughout the room, the bar is never overly crowded and always has a great scene of familiar faces. And while I was the General Manager of Avenue from 2009-2011, it is now a place that I can come back to and see a lot of my old staff and catch up, all surrounded by a great party vibe. It’s sort of my warped version of Cheers.
Jillian Scheinfeld is a writer and interviewer living in Brooklyn. By day she’s a publicist for a nonprofit and by night you can catch her at a concert or practicing yoga. See past work here and follow her tweets @jillianschein