Hospitality Holdings Inc. and its chief executive officer, Mark Grossich, own and operate the one of the country’s most prestigious cocktail-lounge portfolios, including New York City's World Bar in The Trump World Tower, The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Terminal and Empire Room in the iconic Empire State Building. Consistent with its long-standing tagline, “New York’s Most Refreshingly Civilized Places to Meet,” Hospitality Holdings has been praised as an industry trailblazer, reviving the classic cocktail lounge, elevating the specialty cocktail and opening the country's first cigar bar. Now the company has reopened The Campbell Terrace in Grand Central Terminal, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Grossich.
Mix: With such a diverse set of bar-focused operations, how do you manage to keep the beverage programs distinct and different?
Mark Grossich: It’s very important that we stay true to our mantra: classic cocktail lounges that have been enjoyed for years and are synonymous with sophisticated places to socialize and enjoy a great cocktail. We avoid trendiness and instead have always created a classic ambiance that encourages people to return.
Mix: These high-profile settings attract a broad mix of customers as well: international travelers, commuters and cocktail fans. How does that play into your planning?
Grossich: Hospitality Holdings has a strong New York presence. We’ve been around for a while, so we’ve really grown to know our customer. I think our menu accommodates to just about every kind of client that visits, from wine cocktails, vintage cocktails and even housemade sodas.
Mix: What are the challenges of operating bars in such iconic New York landmarks?
Grossich: Hospitality businesses in New York and across the country are always faced with the challenge to sustain the life of a bar or lounge because the industry is an extremely competitive market. We have been very fortunate to operate in what have become timeless hospitality landmarks. We continue to work diligently to meet our customers' expectations of quality and service.
Mix: Keeping fresh is a major issue for New York bars. How do you manage that for, say, The Campbell Apartment, which has been going strong for a New York City lifetime — eight or 10 years?
Grossich: We just introduced a new menu at The Campbell Apartment, which we do every so often at our spaces. Additionally, Madison & Vine just opened its outdoor seating space for the spring and summer months, and our customers really enjoy that. It’s an incredibly business-oriented area (41st and Madison), and we notice that business men and women are once again starting to enjoy a cocktail or two while sitting outside during lunch hours, so we’re happy that we’re helping to encourage that resurgence.
Mix: The newly opened Campbell Terrace is the return of something you tried once before. How is it different this time?
Grossich: The Campbell Terrace, which is the only outdoor lounge at Grand Central Terminal, is unique in that it targets both New York City dwellers and commuters, so we enjoy adding new cocktails to the menu, such as the Marmalade Sour (Ketel One Orange, orange marmalade and fresh lemon juice), the Elderflower Grape (St-Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh muddled grapes and a dash of bitters topped with sparkling wine) and the Polo Match (bourbon, muddled cucumber, vanilla syrup and fresh lime juice).
Mix: In terms of bartenders, what are the three most important skills you look for when hiring?
Grossich: Obviously, they must have a vast knowledge of cocktails and spirits and a passion for it, and another important skill is familiarity with mixology. However, the third and one of the most important qualifications is a good personality. Our bartenders are representations of our establishments, and a friendly and reliable bartender is one of the keys to our success over the years.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Grossich: It changes, but currently, I really enjoy one of The Empire Room’s Housemade Sodas, Pineapple Mint, which is fresh mint, pineapple, and fresh lime juice, Demerara syrup, topped with club soda. It’s very refreshing for the summer.