Farewell to Three Respected BarsOctober 2, 2012 By: Jack Robertiello
“Nobody knows anything.”
That infamous explanation of the odd ways Hollywood works came to mind recently as word reached me of three bars that had or were about to close. Well-planned, perfectly executed, on theme and with lots to recommend them, the three places succumbed for different reasons. At least I think so – post-mortems on bars don’t necessarily resolve any issues or make planning the next operation any easier, and answering probing questions about what went wrong isn’t exactly at the top of the list for any publican looking to close the doors for the last time.
Adam Kanter’s Rumbar in Philadelphia set the bar high for its range of sugar cane spirits in a state where getting a broad range of products is difficult. It also was one of the outposts for the Tiki resurgence, one that showed the modern tippler that there was something interesting and worth sampling among the palm fronds, Hawaiian shirts and plastic leis. Kantor lost his lease, and says he’ll be back, but in the meantime, Philly drinkers have one less great rum bar to call home.
So, too, will New Yorkers, although Julie Reiner’s Lani Kai wasn’t strictly a Tiki palace, more of an homage to her Hawaiian roots. The tropical and otherwise themed drinks were uniformly outstanding, many of the city’s best bartenders grabbed shifts there, and wandering pirate Brian Miller established a weekly Tikifest there that joined aficionado interest and industry support at the grass roots level. The location presented difficulties, and while another tenant was ready to take over right away, not a surprise in real estate-hot lower Manhattan, that location has already buried two well-known and respected ventures, and without a secret formula, the space may have become one of those jinxed NYC addresses.
Another great bar was jinxed but in a different way, so say goodbye to the Steve Olson-Andy Seymour-Leo DeGroff all-things-agave venture Viktor & Spoils. Located at the current nightlife core of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, V&S gathered not only a nicely curated tequila list, but took seriously the notion that mezcals from different regions in Mexico, made with different species of agave, deserved attention and respect. Not that this was a study hall – the cocktails amazed and rewarded, staff knowledge was remarkably high and the place buzzed. But a summer flood and operational issues with space owner the Hotel on Rivington combined to end the relationship – whatever happens, V&S or whatever follows will proceed without the trio’s attention to detail, so it’s unlikely to be the same.
Three great bars undone by – what? Raised rent, slow traffic, acts of God, the rotation of the planet, swamp gas, whatever. These things have all been overcome before, but unfortunately not in these instances. As I hinted at the beginning, nobody really knows why a bar closes, anymore than they know exactly why one succeeds. Estimates, approximations, best guesses, what-ifs – all irrelevant when the fruits of hard labor are not to be savored. Still, all three deserve thanks from us all for raising the metaphorical bar, and an assurance that when their next venture opens, we’ll be there.