By Kellie Patrick Gates
Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr plans to bring a little Frankfurt to Frankford.
Starr hopes to open a 10,000-square foot, mostly outdoor beer garden at 1210 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, near Johnny Brenda's Tavern, this summer.
“The emphasis is absolutely on beer, in the spirit of German and Austrian beer gardens,” Starr said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. The menu isn't set yet, he said, but the food will be “consistent with that concept,” although there may be a few lighter, healthier options, as well.
The beer garden will have about 250 seats outside and between 80 and 90 inside. The outdoor seating will be enclosed with a wall that already exists at the site. No drawings or plans are ready yet.
The concept is quite different from Starr's other projects, which include the Asian fusion POD in University City, the comfort food with Brady Bunch décor at Jones in Center City, and Tex-Mex with a side of kitch at El Vez, to name just a few. Check out http://www.starr-restaurant.com/
When asked why create a beer-focused venue, Starr said, “I'm always looking for something new to do. I get bored with myself.”
Starr admits that while he has a cold one now and again, he's not even that into beer. “I'm a wine guy,” he said. “Or, if I want a real drink, I have a martini.”
But Starr knows plenty of people have a special place in their hearts for fine beers. “This is a beer city, absolutely,” he said. “There's even a neighborhood called Brewery Town.”
Why plop it down in Fishtown? Starr thinks it's an up-and-coming place. “It has a nice scale to it. It is a true community,” he said. “Fishtown feels right. I can't put my finger on it – I just felt it.”
Starr said Girard Avenue – close to his Frankford location - “is a great avenue that will and needs to be developed. It has good bones.”
The beer garden project won the approval of Fishtowners at a Fishtown Neighbors Association meeting earlier this month, where attendees voted in support of Starr's project, 158-11. Starr also recently got the zoning variance he needs to operate.
Fishtown Neighbors President Neil Brecker is thrilled that Starr is coming. “When you have somebody of the reputation and stature of Stephen Starr, who is known for creating not just restaurants but destinations ... and he decides to put a one-of-a-kind place in your neighborhood, it's a reflection of that neighborhood,” he said.
Brecker also sees an opportunity for the Fishtown-Kensington area to capitalize on beer tourism, what with Starr's project, Johnny Brenda's, Yards on Delaware Avenue and the Philadelphia Brewing Company on Amber Street.
Starr says local brews will definitely be joining German and Austrian imports on the menu. His people are still working on which ones.
FNA and Fishtown FACT are known for their disagreement on one development under construction in the neighborhood: SugarHouse. FNA opposed it. FACT enthusiastically supports it. But FACT co-founder Maggie O'Brien is just as pleased about the beer garden as Brecher is. “I think it's the perfect idea,” said O'Brien, who says she's a big fan of Starr's. And nothing could better complement the growing number of art galleries on Frankford Avenue than a biergarten, she said.
“Frankford Avenue before was a dump, and now it's really being revitalized,” said O'Brien, with compliments to the New Kensington Development Corporation for its work. “I have an art gallery around the corner from my house,” said O'Brien. “Who would have ever thought that?”
O'Brien has lived in Fishtown for 25 years. "Before, when I told people I live in Fishtown, they would say, 'Eww!' People didn't realize what a great place it was," she said. "Now they say, 'I wish I could afford to buy a house in your neighborhood.' Stephen Starr is giving validation to what we've known all along.”
On the issue of SugarHouse, Starr is more closely aligned with FNA than with FACT. When asked what the proximity of SugarHouse, and, further south on Columbus, Foxwoods, would do for his business, Starr said, “I think they do nothing for it. I'm not a big fan of the casino thing.”
The neighbors did have some concerns about Starr's proposed restaurant. The biggest issues were parking and noise, FNA's Brecher said. He said that the Starr team said there will be no live music, which helps with the noise. “The acoustic expert estimated that taking into account the 25-foot high walls, the expected sound levels would be approximately 50 decibels,” Brecher said.
Starr said Monday the acoustics expert is also looking at baffles and other sound-reducing options.
To ease parking concerns, there will be off-street, valet parking in a nearby lot, Starr said. “I normally don't like to do that, but that's what they wanted,” Starr said.
He went into the project thinking it wouldn't be needed, he said. “We want to do a neighborhood-y place. A place that caters to the city, as opposed to the suburbs,” he said.
Starr figured most of his customers would walk to the beer garden, and still expects a lot of foot traffic. But the neighbors at the FNA meeting told him that a lot of people drive to Johnny Brenda's from other parts of the city, and they expect that will happen at his new place, too.
If the beer garden does open this summer, it will be just months behind another new Starr restaurant that will open at 20th and Chestnut on April 20th. Starr says he's turning an old “divey-diner” into a 90-seat, authentic – not-Americanized – Mexican restaurant. A connected, but thematically separate space will hold a 35-seat cocktail lounge. Starr hired the owner of Milk and Honey (http://www.mlkhny.com/newyork/newyork.php), located in New York's east side – to develop the cocktail menu.
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LAS VEGAS--Tropicana Las Vegas, Inc. has appointed Joni Peru as vp/sales.
She is responsible for convention sales and services, catering and audio visual for Tropicana Las Vegas.
Peru previously was director of sales and national sales manager for The Mirage Casino Hotel where she worked for six years. She also held the positions of assistant director of sales, sales manager and senior convention services manager at New York-New York.
The Tropicana Las Vegas is currently undergoing a major renovation that is scheduled for completion in the fall, and includes the redesign of every hotel room and suite, the casino, the convention center and exhibit hall, the pool area, several new restaurants, bars, a new poker room, and a new race and sports book.
JAMAICA--Secrets Resorts and Spas has opened its first property in Jamaica, the Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay.
The new all-suites resort will be joined next month by the Secrets St. James Montego Bay. To date, the two-resort, $180 million project has infused $100 million into the local Jamaican economy and created 1,500 jobs during construction with an additional 950 jobs created for resort operations by the end of 2010.
The resort features 350 suites with in-room amenities that include four-poster beds, full entertainment systems with LCD flat-screen televisions and CD/DVD players, a Jacuzzi for two, private furnished balconies and 24-hour room service. Other features include eight dining options; seven bars and lounges, including a swim-up bar; free-form swimming pools and beachfront Jacuzzi; a 15,000-square-foot spa featuring indoor and outdoor spa facilities and hydrotherapy circuit; The Promenade, a main plaza shared by the two resorts offering a host of activities, boutiques, entertainment and dining options; the Seawind Beach Club with couples cabanas, palapas and a gourmet restaurants; on-site sports, including tennis, beach volleyball, basketball, soccer and non-motorized water sports, and daily yoga, aerobics, and introductory SCUBA classes; and more than 16,000 square feet of meeting space for business conventions and weddings.
Guests of Secrets Wild Orchid will be invited to enjoy many offerings of the Secrets St. James resort and vice versa. These benefits include access to restaurants, lounges, spas, open-air theater and other amenities.
Secrets Resorts and Spas currently has three resorts in Mexico’s Riviera Maya region, one in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, and is slated to open additional properties in Huatulco and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the Caribbean by the end of 2012. It also has plans to enter the Aruba market. Secrets is a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.
LOS ANGELES, CA—Korean Air is pressing city government to approve plans for its $1 billion project to replace the 60-year-old Wilshire Grand Hotel it owns with a new 560-room property.
The redevelopment also includes construction of a 65-story office building on the existing Wilshire Grand site.
The current hotel has 385 rooms.
NEW YORK—Extell Development has acquired the 161-room Carlton House Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for $170 million.
The seller was the estate of real estate owner and developer Harry Helmsley, whose holdings at one time included the Empire State Building.
Extell's financial partner in the deal was private equity firm Angelo, Gordon.
CHICAGO—The 42-room Wrigleyville Hotel has scheduled a late-summer opening here.
The hotel bears the name of the Chicago neighborhood that is the long-time home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, Wrigley Field.
The adaptive reuse project, which was formerly three historic commercial buildings, cost an estimated $12 million.
Local businessman Tim Collins is the developer.
News of the project was first reported in the Chicago Sun Times.
SILVER SPRING, MD—The undisclosed owner of 260-room Hilton Washington, DC/Silver Spring here has obtained $26 million in non-recourse financing for the property. PMZ Realty Capital’s hotel finance group arranged the debt.
According to PMZ, the undisclosed non-recourse lender that provided the permanent financing was attracted to the consistent performance and experienced long-term ownership of the property.
In the course of searching for new financing, the ownership was unable to obtain acceptable financing from its previous financing relationships.
The hotel’s owner will now use the financing to pay off existing debt and renovate the hotel.
The hotel offers 20,000 square feet of meeting space and full-service dining options.
SAN FRANCISCO--Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, with 50 hotels in 22 major metropolitan cities, is looking to become the first lifestyle boutique hotel company in the U.S. to attain 100% Green Seal certification at the Silver level.
At present, 46 of 50 hotels have completed the application process for Green Seal certification, which includes an on-site audit. According to the company, half of those already have received certification. The rest are anticipated to be awarded certification within the next 90 days. The remaining four, including two opening this spring, will begin the certification process this year, the company said.
Kimpton hotels that have already achieved Green Seal certification include: The Morrison House (Alexandria, VA); Hotel Monaco (Alexandria, VA); Nine Zero (Boston); Hotel Marlowe (Cambridge, MA); Hotel Allegro (Chicago, IL); Hotel Burnham (Chicago, IL); Hotel Monaco (Chicago, IL); the Cypress Hotel (Cupertino, CA); EPIC Hotel (Miami); Hotel Monaco (Portland, OR); Vintage Plaza Hotel (Porland, OR); Argonaut Hotel (San Francisco, CA); Harbor Court Hotel (San Francisco, CA); Serrano Hotel (San Francisco, CA); Hotel Monaco (San Francisco, CA); Sir Francis Drake (San Francisco, CA); Prescott Hotel (San Francisco, CA); Hotel Monaco (Salt Lake City, UT); FireSky Resort & Spa (Scottsdale, AZ); Hotel Vintage Park (Seattle); Hotel Monaco (Seattle); Hotel Monaco (Washington, DC); Hotel Palomar (Washington, DC); Hotel George (Washington, DC); Hotel Rouge (Washington, DC); Topaz Hotel (Washington, DC); and Hotel Madera (Washington, DC).
Since it was first published in 1999, the Green Seal Environmental Standard for Lodging Properties, GS-33, has focused on waste minimization, energy conservation and management, management of fresh water resources, waste-water management, pollution prevention, and organizational commitment such as environmentally sensitive purchasing.
Golden Gate Capital has reached an agreement with Brinker International for the On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina chain.
A Golden Gate affiliate called OTB Acquisitions LLC will take control of On the Border 's 160 restaurants in the U.S. and internationally. Brinker will continue to provide support services to On the Border through the end of fiscal 2011.
Brinker said that On the Border saw same store sales drop 4.7 percent in the second quarter, which ended Dec. 23, 2009. The deal is expected to close by the end of the fiscal year.
Brinker, based in Dallas, is the parent company to Chili's Bar & Grill.
Neither company disclosed the purchase price.
San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital purchased Romano's Macaroni Grill from Brinker in December 2008. Other prominent brands in Golden Gate's portfolio include J. Jill, Eddie Bauer and Express.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - What's the value of a pint of beer? Let the market decide, says a new restaurant in Manhattan, where prices for food and beverages will fluctuate like stock prices in increments according to demand.
The Exchange Bar & Grill, set amid the bustling shops and pubs of the Grammercy Park neighborhood, is replete with a ticker tape flashing menu prices in red lettering as demand forces them to fluctuate.
Customers can move prices for all beverages and bar snacks such as hot wings ($7 for 6 pieces) or fried calamari ($9). The prices will fluctuate in $.25 cent increments, but will most likely plateau at a $2 change in either direction.
A glass of Guinness starts at $6 but could be pushed to a high of $8 or a low of $4, depending on popularity.
So if one drink is in heavy demand, its price will rise, causing the cost of other equivalent drinks to drop. A rush on a particular beer would increase its price, and cause other beers to drop.
Owners Levent Cakar and Damon Bae admit the stock exchange theme is a gimmick but hope a good deal on drinks and their hamburger's tastiness will win over customers.
"Its definitely something a little bit different," said Bae. "There is a little bit of a twist."
Bae, 35, who has an MBA from Georgetown University and Cakar, a veteran restaurant hand, combined forces to open the airy lounge, which serves up to 60 people.
The Exchange Bar & Grill has a long bar facing the ticker tape -- and flat screen televisions -- as well as a few tables in the back where patrons can eat in greater comfort.
Restaurants in New York and across America have had a tough year because consumers have slashed discretionary spending in a tough economic climate. New York has about 23,000 restaurants, with about 4,400 opening each year according to the city's Department of Health, which tracks establishment licenses.
The number of sit-down restaurants in New York dropped 9 percent from the fall of 2008 to 2009, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Good prices and a good location should be enough to make their project work, Bae said. And, Cakar added, put in a dash of speculation and you've got a winning recipe.
"Why couldn't we play with the prices like a stock market?" said Cakar, who explained that when he mentioned the bar's concept to his liquor distributors, they laughed at him.
"One day you are all going to come to me to put your drinks on my ticker tape," he told them.
The restaurant opens April 1.
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