Archive | September, 2009

For gluten intolerant, happy hour is getting happier

For gluten intolerant, happy hour is getting happier

The Dive Bar in Manhattan's Morningside Heights (Courtesy: Dive Bar)

The Dive Bar in Manhattan's Morningside Heights. (Photo: Dive Bar)

By ANDREW TOBIN

Andrue Kahn, a 25 year-old master’s student at Jewish Theological Seminary, had digestive and health issues for most of his life.  At 17 he was told that he had celiac disease.

People with this condition cannot tolerate gluten, a protein that exists in wheat, rye, and barley, as well as in many medications and processed foods.  Their immune systems react to it by damaging their small intestine so that it cannot absorb certain nutrients.

Since his diagnosis, Kahn has observed a relatively strict gluten-free diet.  His health has improved, but he misses many of his favorite foods, like pizza, sandwiches and especially, beer.

Kahn could find gluten-free beers in certain specialty stores in Portland and Seattle, where he divided his time, but was unable to drink beer in pubs.  Being publicly relegated to wine, ciders, and certain liquors made him feel excluded from bar culture.

He said, “It really sucks when I’m sitting around with a few people, and everyone’s buying pitchers and stuff, and I just cannot participate.”

But after moving to Manhattan in August, he found that dozens of bars in the city proffer gluten-free beers, albeit none on tap.

“It’s been life changing,” he said.

Scott Kowalski, the district manager at Merchant Du Vin, has been importing Green’s, a line of gluten-free Belgian beers, for about a year and a half.

He said, “My sales in New York and New Jersey are up 20-25 percent over last year.”

Green’s, like other gluten-free beers, is produced in the same way as regular beers, except that it contains some combination of sorghum, millet, buckwheat and brown rice, as opposed to glutinous grains like wheat and barley.

Kahn said, “Gluten-free beer isn’t as good as real beer, it’s usually a little too sweet.  But when you need a beer, it’s better than nothing.”

Ben Dillon is an area sales manger for Union Beer Distributors, a local wholesaler and one of Kowalski’s clients.

He said, “Awareness and quality have certainly gone up in the last two years, and sales have reflected it. “

This may be because an increasing number of Americans have celiac disease.  A recent Mayo Clinic study shows that it is over four times more common that it was 50 years ago.  Doctors believe that it remains undiagnosed, but public awareness is growing.

Dillon supplies regular and gluten-free beer to the Dive Bar, which has two locations in Morningside Heights.  Lee Seinfeld, the owner, ensures that both sites honor their name with unpretentious and nautically themed décor.

He has an affinity for experimentation, which, in the past, has manifested itself in organic wines, Spam burgers, and meatless Mondays.  After briefly carrying gluten-free beers about three years ago, he stopped because there was minimal demand.

Eighteen months ago he began carrying it again in response, he said, to an inquiry from an attractive female.  Since then sales have been steady.  Several customers regularly order the beers, and he estimates that he goes through two cases a month at his location on 96th Street at Amsterdam Avenue.

This is a lot less than the glutinous beers he sells.  As far he knows, no one without celiac disease has ever ordered one.  Still, he believes that there is more demand than there is awareness.

He said, “Sometimes people ask for it, but even now most people just don’t expect to find it in a bar.”

Seinfeld plans to continue offering gluten-free options to his customers, including food specials like macaroni and cheese and cupcakes.

Heathers, a funky dive bar in the Lower East Side, has been serving regular and gluten-free beers to local hipsters for about four years.

Heather Millstone opened the bar shortly after discovering that her numerous health problems were symptoms of celiac disease.  So she adapted her vision of the perfect pub to include gluten-free libations.

She said, “I want to have a great establishment, and to be gluten-free without having to pat myself on the back.”

Several times a year, Millstone hosts celiac disease meet-up groups, for which gluten-free pastries are provided.

Although few bars are as conscious of celiac disease as Heathers, many of them are becoming more aware.  The Ginger Man, a classy artisanal beer lounge that serves the Wall Street crowd, and The Room, a dark New York University bar, both reported consistent sales since they began offering gluten-free beers earlier this year.

For Kahn, and the growing number of people that are consciously living with celiac disease, this something to toast to.

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Manhattan nightclub renovates, renames to stay fresh

Manhattan nightclub renovates, renames to stay fresh

A bartender takes a drink order at La Pomme nightclub on Tuesday. It was the club's first weekday open to the public after closing for three weeks for renovations.

A bartender takes a drink order at La Pomme nightclub on Tuesday. It was the club's first weekday open to the public after closing for three weeks for renovations. Photo: Vadim Lavrusik

By VADIM LAVRUSIK

The round columns at ULTRA lounge in Manhattan are gone. So is the hidden DJ booth near the entrance. Even the name ULTRA has been stripped away.

The posh nightclub closed its doors for three weeks, but reopened to the nightlife last Thursday with a new look and a new name: La Pomme – French for The Apple. Those signature columns from ULTRA have been squared-off. The DJ booth is now on the opposite side of the floor on a platform, but a bit cozier to the dancing patrons.

“There’s nothing about it that’s the same,” said Club Owner Tommy Tardie. “Nightlife is about reinvention.”

To stay fresh and competitive in the city, clubs typically have a 3 to 5-year life cycle before having to renovate and rebrand under a new name and theme.

ULTRA had a “solid” 3 years, Tardie said, but decided that it would be strategically wise to reinvent going into the year-end, which is typically when the club made the majority of its money from an increase in nightlife and hosted events.

Even the late-night food menu has changed and the catering menu now offers various meats and fish, vegetarian options, deserts and more. The club tries to stay competitive by offering in-house catering for events, something nightclubs don’t usually offer, Tardie said. And finger food at night may keep customers around through the night, he said.

The price tag for such a reinvention: $250,000, according to Tardie, who kept his staff on payroll during renovations. Nothing in the redesign was left untouched. Structurally, almost everything was shifted: bar, DJ booth, VIP area, etc.

Tardie worked with PR Design Group on the visual styling and incorporated celebrity photographer Fadil Berisha’s work to create photomurals that add to the new black and metallic wallpaper designs that include hints of mischief.

Phil Rossillo said he and his PR Design Group partner Gustavo Penengo aimed to create an intimate space in the club’s 3,500 square feet. One of the ways that is achieved is through the design of hanging circle-ceiling panels, he said, and an overall goal to tie all the elements of the club together. We are halfway through this piece and I still don’t know where it is.

The Group also did the design for predecessor ULTRA, but the needs of the clientele has changed and so the design must also, Rossillo said. For example, he said Tardie was envisioning a club with more adaptability, where a space could easily be transformed. Now the furniture is easily movable.

This adaptability was one of the more noticeable changes for Eva Shure, who recently held a fashion show at La Pomme. Shure said she needed a space that was big, but not too big and still have an intimate atmosphere. She had been to La Pomme when it was ULTRA, and said the space now feels much more suited for events.

“It’s more versatile than ULTRA,” Shure said. “ULTRA was a hard design, the colors were bright, where as this design is much more elegant with the artwork on the walls and could take on any palette you decide for your party.”

Shure described the changes as a “metamorphosis” from a lounge to an event space.

But ultimately, Rossillo echoed the sentiment of Tardie in a nightclub lifeline.

“Nightclubs are much like restaurants. After 3 to 5 years, for the most part, things do change,” Rossillo said.

For each club the reasons are different but are usually financially motivated, said Veronique Perret, founder of Event Premiere, a club promotion company.

Perret said when businesses don’t have enough clientele coming in after about 2 to 3 years they close down, renovate and start over with a new crowd.

So far, Tardie said the club has been slammed with events. The venue hosted private parties during New York Fashion Week before reopening to the public. On Tuesday, its first weekday night being reopened, there was a good showing of 50 people by 11 p.m., a good number for a club at this early in the night.

“We’re excited about the fall,” Tardie said. “So far the response has been good.”

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News organizations seek new revenue in wine clubs

News organizations seek new revenue in wine clubs

People gather to taste various wines at Slate's Wine Tasting at Sotheby's Aulden Cellars in August (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

People at Slate’s Wine Tasting at Sotheby’s Aulden Cellars in August. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

By VADIM LAVRUSIK

USA Today launched a Wine Club earlier this month, joining the list of publications hoping to entice readers to an online community of wine drinkers who buy wines directly from them.

The national newspaper partnered with My Wines Direct to create a Web site wine club where readers can learn about wines that are selected by a tasting panel. Members can then purchase six bottles quarterly online for $69.99 plus shipping.

Large publications are launching similar wine clubs and attaching their publications’ brands to the clubs as part of their exploration of new revenue to help close the gap from a decline in ad spending.

The New York Times launched its wine club in mid-August and other publications, including Forbes and The San Francisco Chronicle, have started their own clubs as well. The Wall Street Journal has had a wine club since last September, while online publications such as Slate are hosting wine tastings.

USA Today had been considering getting into the wine business for some time, said Christy Hartsell, director of brand licensing at USA Today, in an e-mail. The project was in the works for several months and the paper even held various tasting events before the launch, Hartsell said.

“Seeing other publications entering the same arena just shows that there is active interest in the space,” Hartsell said.

All the publications have been quiet on their revenue projections and levels of membership.

Alice Ting, executive director for brand development at The New York Times, would not disclose revenue from the new club but in an e-mail she said the company is pleased with the response.

“As we all know, all media companies are facing tough challenges with advertising revenues,” Ting said. “Pursuing other revenue streams helps diversify the types of revenues we realize.”

Because both the USA Today Wine Club and The New York Times Wine Club sites launched recently, numbers for Web site visits were unavailable. The Wall Street Journal wine club site peaked in August with 44,000 unique visits, with more than 20,000 in June and July, according to Compete.com statistics. The numbers, however, don’t show how many of the visitors  actually join the clubs.

MyWinesDirect.com, which operates The USA Today Wine Club Web site, received some 57,000 unique visits in August.

USA Today Wine Club

The USA Today Wine Club Web site.

That makes Bryan Dougherty, president and CEO of My Wines Direct, optimistic. The appeal is that the 10 people who make up panels that select the wines for the club consist of regular people, said Dougherty.

“You don’t have to be an expert,” Dougherty said. “It’s not hard to know whether you like the wine or not.”

He said the wine business has always been driven by “expert” opinions, but the panel process gives it more of a consumer opinions focus, which he said people tend to value more. Dougherty gave the example of when he looks for a hotel:  People’s reviews on the site make a big difference on whether he picks the hotel or not, he said.

But even if readers value the opinion of the panels and the name of the publication attached, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are willing to join the club.

At least not Pete Dybdahl, a Long Island wine enthusiast who attended Slate’s wine tasting at Aulden Cellars at Sotheby’s in Manhattan on Aug. 26.

Though the credibility of a wine recommendation and the source of it matters to Dybdahl, a former newspaper reporter, he said he still wouldn’t join a publication’s wine club because clubs aren’t really appealing to him. That doesn’t mean he’s not sympathetic toward a publication “doing what it has to do to stay afloat,” he said.

Slate’s wine tasting was free, which was one of the draws for the roughly 120 people who attended. The magazine’s wine critic, Mike Steinberger, led the tasting of several wines and discussed the opinions of readers in attendance, as well as those tweeting their critiques from home. The event included its own Twitter hashtag and account, allowing readers from across the country to participate in the event by following the feed and offering their own two cents.

Slate group chairman Jacob Weisberg said the event was  aimed at engaging readers.

“A publication is a kind of club and so an event like this creates that idea,” Weisberg said.

The chairman’s assistant, Julia Felsenthal, said the magazine isn’t pursuing a wine club at the moment, but still hopes to host future tasting events.

Weisberg said the magazine didn’t make any money from the event, though attendees were welcome to buy wines from Aulden Cellars, which provided the wines.

Ben Bradford, assistant manager at Aulden Cellars, said that for the size of the event, sales from attendees were “decent,” but would not give specifics. Bradford said Aulden has considered partnering with a publication for a wine club, but said the store is looking to grow more and establish itself.

“I think a publication’s name attached matters,” Bradford said.  “It adds credibility.”

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