Will new Midtown 'cocktail den' idea succeed?

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Will new Midtown 'cocktail den' idea succeed?

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Owner solicits your advice on his proposed Midtown "cocktail den."

Midtown resident, Steve West, wants What Now Atlanta readers' opinion on his idea for a "1920's speakeasy cocktail den" in the heart of Midtown.

He's ready to sign on the dotted line, but before he secures a lease and takes the plunge, West wants to share the concept in detail with you.

West, an Atlanta native, moved to NYC for six years before moving back, and comes from  Investment Banking. His business partner owns and operates a hotel in Costa Rica.

"Although the cocktail culture has reached Atlanta, my cocktail concept will provide a unique extension to this growing trend by existing solely for drink and the production involved," West said in explaining the need for his concept in Atlanta.

West's concept is below, but of course, we've got to put our two cents in.

We'd love to see a concept like West's cocktail den succeed in our "sophisticated" Midtown. However, considering all that works are Taco Macs and wall-to-wall television mounted Hudson Grilles, we recommend West open a Chicken Wing Stand.

With out further ado, for your review, here's West's concept:

Our concept transforms a small space in the heart of Midtown, into a cocktail den reminiscent of a 1920's speakeasy. The design will be aesthetically reflective of the period, yet chic (think exposed brick, Edison bulbs, period finishes, etc.).

The exterior is unobtrusive, hiding in plain site. The ambiance of the space is intended to be intimate and indulgent. The crowd we intend to market to are the urbane and discerning, the types that appreciate the work and craft of custom cocktails, good design, good conversation, and the privacy to imbibe without the annoyance of obnoxious drunks and inattentive bartenders.

The space will not have T.V's, operate as a restaurant, or allow smoking.

Entry into our space will be by reservation, or by a buzzer allowing our staff to limit the number of guests to the seats available, providing more attentive service.

Our cocktails will be moderately priced ($9-$10) and we'll have a small selection of artisan beers/wine and provide small bites (free of charge) from local chefs/markets.

There you have it! Now, tell us: will this succeed in Midtown, or be a flop like Atlanta Hawks' Zaza Pachulia's 5th Street Cafe (closed after 78 days)?

Leave your opinion in the comment section below.

Caleb J. Spivak
Caleb Spivak

Caleb J. Spivak (CJS) is the Founder of What Now Atlanta (WNA). He was featured in The New York Times, Creative Loafing's "20 People to Watch," named "Lifestyle Blogger You Need To Know" by Rolling Out Magazine and highlighted as Atlanta's Metropolitan Male in fashion magazine, 944. WNA has been named "Best of Atlanta" by Creative Loafing, and Atlanta and Jezebel Magazines.

50 responses to “Will new Midtown 'cocktail den' idea succeed?

  1. I like the idea but not the location. Midtown isn't working out for a lot of businesses. I could see it in a Buckhead location like Beluga or where Sambuca used to be or the Brookhaven area.

  2. Please please please sign the line! I miss the great drinks at Beleza and this sounds like it could fill that void. Conceptually, it may need to be modified to fit the Southern crowd. Reservations/buzzer could work and I know there's a demographic that would love it, but it could come off as too pretentious for the folks here. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

    Overall, I'm down with it and I know I'd probably be there often. Midtown definitely needs better drinks. Too many bartenders seem like they learned to pour from this guy:

  3. I would definitely love some place like this. It would be great to have a place in Midtown that's not trying as hard as, say, Whiskey Park, but isn't the frat-tastic free-for-all that is Crescent Ave.

    I lived in Philadelphia for a while, and used to frequent a very similar type of place. I absolutely loved it, and if you can get the ambience right, not let it get too crowded, and even provide some good period music (live band preferred), this place could be huge.

  4. I love the idea. Especially since we are very well versed in designing in the "Bordello Chic-Speakeasy Sexy" style.
    My fear is that Atlanta is not ready for a concept like this. if the Drinkshop was booming a bit more, and the seams were bursting at Holeman Finch's bar...I would say YES. hmmmmm..Is Prohibition in Buckhead doing well? Havent been yet...but love their concept. (which is very similar)

    But in order to be profitable and survive, you need to have at least 100+ covers per night.
    Which means you need around 1400-1600sq ft. to serve comfortably.

    An offbeat location would also work for this concept. Imagine it in back of a trucking terminal, or loading dock...

    They key to this place would be the "wow factor" of the design, and the music. It must be spot on. Hip, Edgy, Progressive. Things Atlanta needs more of.

  5. Ummm...I know of several places in Midtown Atlanta I could go to in order to get drinks, and for far cheaper. They're called BARS.

  6. I totally agree with John. I live in Midtown and would frequent a fine drink establishment. Serve quality beverages and a limited, unique "bar" menu and I think he would fill a hole in the market.

  7. Sounds as if the concept is modeled after PDT (Please Don't Tell) in Manhatten. What demographic is he shooting for? Is he going to rely on word of mouth for marketing? Where in Midtown and what's the parking situation? If he can afford to take a risk then I say go for it.

  8. The idea does sound nice, but if you want something like this that's not near "the annoyance of obnoxious drunks and inattentive bartenders", why put it in Midtown? I mean, there's already a Taco Mac....

  9. Chester Copperpot ain't too bright. He couldn't even get past my first booby trap. I think it's a great idea! Arrrrrgh!

  10. How many $8 to $10 cocktails do you need to sell every week to pay the rent? Are there that many people in Midtown that can suppoprt that? I wouldn't expect too many people from the suburbs to frequent a place in Midtown that they have a hard time finding (not to mention difficult parking). Will it be close to the Marta Rail? Will the people that get turned away because there isn't enough room, take a chance on returning? Have you looked into what it takes to get a liquor license for an establishment that doesn't sell food? Will the Midtown Alliance Approve?

    If you do decide to sign on the bottom line, you can use my website to help you get open (it's free)

    Carl Muth

  11. I'm a native of Atlanta, and a Midtown resident since 2005. I hate that I live within walking distance of the craptastic popped collar, flip flop, fraternity scene that is Crescent. When I first moved into town, this wasn't the case.

    There are plenty of 30-somethings here in Midtown that 1. Have $ 2. Go out for drinks and 3. Would love to be able to walk to places like Ormsby's, H&F etc.

    My suggestion for food options: keep the local chefs and locally sourced munchie idea, but take it up another level. It could be in the form of special nights that have a more extended menu, a guest chef on a certain night, or both.

    Your biggest challenge as a new business, creating your "regulars" and making sure your bartenders are good at this executing this concept.

    Bravo for non-smoking. Never been to Prohibition (even though I love the concept), due to hearing about the smoke issues there.

    I don't know about the "buzzer" option, I think a smart phone app, reservations via an app, social media, or a traditional phone call would be a good direction. Looking forward to hearing more!

  12. Yes please! I live in Midtown and I'd love to be able to walk to places like that. However, I'd suggest having a decent craft beer selection as well as custom cocktails. I think nightlife in Atlanta is heading in this direction. We need more people with confidence in Atlanta instead of all the debbie downer's on this city/blog.

  13. Yes please! I live in Midtown and I'd love to be able to walk to places like that. However, I'd suggest having a decent craft beer selection as well as custom cocktails. I think nightlife in Atlanta is heading in this direction. We need more people with confidence in Atlanta instead of all the debbie downer's in this city/blog.

  14. hope you have a game plan to keep folks coming back after the initial honeymoon period(if you are fortunate enough to get one)

    if not folks will move on to the next "great" idea, if they don't just move on for other reasons(kids, burbs, job, etc.)


  15. Taco Mac and Hudson Grill are NOT the only places that work. Vortex, Tap, Empire State South, Tamarind Seed, Bakeshop, Gilbert's, The Nook are all examples of places that work that are nothing like Taco Mac and Hudson Grill.

    You people complain about Atlanta not having places like what Steve West wants to open then when someone wants to open one you say it won't work and if it does open you probably won't even go and then complain about it closing and the cycle starts all over.

    Listen Steve, the demographics in Midtown are HERE. Just make sure you pick a good spot, do some marketing so people know about it, and uphold a quality experience for all. Midtown NEEDS more places to go to. I want to walk to more places - that is why I chose to live in Midtown. I say DO IT!

  16. This reminds of an episode of "Frasier" where the brothers wanted to open an exclusive restaurant. So exclusive that they didn't have a listed phone number; so exclusive they wouldn't put a sign out front. A place where you would have to know someone to get a table.

    Martin, the boys' father, chimed in, "Why don't you just hire a sniper sit on the roof and pick off people as they try to walk in the place."

    Sorry, guys, but I think this is a dumb idea. The people that would frequent a pretentious, overpriced place like this would be insufferable. This place would be cold, miserable and boring.

    Rip all you want on places like Taco Mac, Hudson Grill, et al. But try to get a seat at either of the restaurants any night of the week. They're supply a product/service that people want.

  17. Well said Kevin. You turn people away because you don't want to be over crowded, you won't create regulars in the area who keep coming back. People will be turned off of the establishment if they are turned away to keep an intimate space. This isn't a club setting people will wait to get in. The crowd you are targeting, intimate, speak easy, could drink at home. The crazy, interesting cocktails of Beliza didn't keep people all night or buying more than a drink or two before they left. You will end up with an empty bar by midnight. Love the idea, hate the exclusivity.

    Also, if you didn't have the frat boy or the popped collar crowd coming to Cresent, those establishments would close due to lack of business and you would grip about empty lots. You people cant keep every location in midtown open all by yourself. Come one, come all as long as you don't produce crime or are homeless.

  18. I've been bemoaning the lack of a place like this since we moved here from out of state two years ago. As long as it doesn't become pretentious--and it sounds like you're trying to keep the interior design on the elegant but not "slick" side--I think it could work.

    The one part I don't like is the buzzer/reservation system. You'll probably have a hard enough time getting people in; there's no use in trying to keep them out!

  19. The speakeasy thing with the buzzer seems a little forced. You should look at an Izakaya (small Japanese bar with limited food). That would be super fun, hit the high-end cocktail goal, and could be quite unique.

    Also, there's a built in crowd for this type of thing in Virginia Highland. There's two open spots on N. Highland where Knitch used to be (a knitting store I think) and one of the yogurt places closed.

    Love the idea of no televisions. Not a fan of the no smoking, but I do understand.

  20. Yeah, the buzzer thing is really common in Las Vegas. This is due to high crime. Having just moved from there, I don't find it to be all that cool.

  21. Yes, please. I've taken to turning my living room into a bar weekly exactly because the neighborhood lacks such a place. I think the 'buzzer' is a bit much - but something like Boston's Drink would be wonderful. A perfect Manhattan or Gimlet in a setting designed for conversation - who wouldn't love that? And it DOES belong in Midtown - where it can attract a walking crowd.

    Again, yes please.

  22. Yes, please. I'd excitedly attend this party. Please make the res process available online. Hate waiting until a certain hour when hostesses are in, or the uncertainty of leaving a message that's not always returned. To the contrary of other comments, I enjoy Crescent Ave. and think this would give sophisticated variety to that area, if indeed that area's the target.

  23. Blake's and Gilbert's are usually overflowing with people, so much so that I dont want to go! A place that caters to that demographic (gay) would do well. The concept is not easy and does not seem like a place I would grab a couple of drinks with friends. Simplify, simplify, simplify and cater to Midtown's historic identity.

  24. A "secret" speakeasy that the future owner/operator is asking the public if it will work. Baffled. PDT in ManhattAn was something 8 years ago.

    5th Street Cafe = Faux Hawk. Buckhead Bottle Bar is a joke.

  25. I love the idea, and the pricing is more than reasonable, but I can already see a lot of backlash at the idea of "no smoking". I personally can't stand the habit, but without food, customers may be upset that smoking isn't allowed indoors at an Atlanta lounge such as this.

    Best of luck.

  26. Agree with Johnny. If you wanted to give it the "secret speakeasy" vibe, you should have opened it under the radar and done no press, social media etc.

    That being said. Lable it a "cocktail den" and get rid of the exclusive button/list only situation. Simply make it a great cocktail bar. Nearly all of our heady bars (H&F, H. Harper, Sound Table, Drinkshop)sadly reside in non-walkable parts of town. This would kill in an actual neighborhood.

  27. Love Prohibition in Buckhead, but wish it wasn't so far. Would be fantastic to have a similar concept in Midtown so that it was walking distance. Prohibition does the buzzer/secret number thing and they do just fine. It's kind of a fun concept, and not sure why everyone is so against it? Keeps it so its not every tom, dick and douchebag walking in drunk and unruly.

    Point is, would be great to have an option like this in Midtown. But please don't try and sway towards one demographic or another. Would be great if it could just appeal to the masses.

    p.s. Hate when we get on these boards and people come back with the "it doesn't have southern style or appeal". I'm pretty sure there are PLENTY of places that already do. So why don't you just go there, and leave these fabulous concepts to those of us with some worldly taste. I mean does everything really have to be that way? I realize we live in the south, but I thought the point was to elevate Atlanta to a power player among the top cities in the country where it had mass appeal and world class offerings? Not pigeon hole it as the red-headed step child...

  28. There were a lot of good criticisms given above, especially from Midtown Alexander.

    Exclusivity sounds nice in practice, but it's a small step from pretentiousness.
    The decor doesn't thrill me either.
    Will parking be a pain? Any place that offers a free parking option will get more traffic.
    As a minority, I do hope that you welcome a diverse crowd.

  29. I love the idea - especially the part with no TVs.

    If parking is difficult, it could have a dramatically negative impact on business. I think folks will suffer with the parking issues that are part and parcel of intown living - but NOT for a cocktails-only place.

    Please, no craft beers as suggested above. I am so over this beersightedness. It's not a beer den; it's a COCKTAIL den.

  30. A drink-only venue (no food for purchase) is a great idea, but I have a few caveats. The post says this will be located in "the heart of Midtown". Okay, EVERYONE thinks they're in the heart of Midtown. So where will this be, exactly? The key to something succeeding is location, location, location.

    People who live in Midtown that say they can't walk to bar similar to Drinkshop, H&F, SoundTable, or Prohibition are forgetting about our wonderful newer addition to the neighborhood: Empire State South. They make quality cocktails just like all of these other places. ESS is actually located at what I believe to be the "heart of Midtown": 10th & Peacthree.

    I don't know how I feel about the buzzer/reservation idea. The Fred is hidden and has a buzzer and seems to work out fine, but I've never heard of someone getting turned away. I think being hidden in plain view will be enough to keep out the crowds.

  31. Sounds like a fantastic idea! as long as it isn't too bougie and he stays true to the moderate pricing and no smoking idea...Prohibition was a great idea but my friends and I never go because of the stench you leave with. and 5th Street Cafe was lovely, I loved the vibe and service was great, the fact that it was across the street from my house was even better! the problem was Midtown needs a cool, casual spot we could walk to and have a drink and apps and not have to worry about dropping $50 when you leave, if 5th Street Cafe had better prices I really think it would have been more of a success, I was a big supporter of them.

  32. This sounds a lot like prohibition meets Aurum.... Which has been thriving on 8th street in midtown for over a year. Glad to hear that like Aurum this new space will be smoke free and able to make great cocktails!

  33. Hey - I love this idea. Reminds me of the Edison Bar in LA which is one of the BEST bars I've been to ever. It has that prohibition/speakeasy feel to it. I agree with some of the other posters, maybe Midtown is not the best place...possibly the WestSide - Howell Mill area or East Atlanta might be a better location. That spot on Moreland would have been great but a great beer brewery is going there....There is another abandoned place further down Moreland, but that may be too far. Check out the Edison Bar in LA.....that concept could work here if done right and in the right location. I know every time I go to LA I have to get my Edison Bar fix. To have something similar here would be great. I haven't checked out Prohibition...but from what I hear, I still don't think this is quite like Edison Bar.

  34. Sounds just like this place in Chicago - that's in Wicker Park (similar to East Atlanta) and a neat trick they have (this would only work in a walkable neighborhood) is that if there's a wait - you put your name in and the number of people - and they'll call/text you on your phone when you can get in. You have something like 15 minutes to show up and you walk right in. It's great for big groups and you're not stuck standing outside. The other aspect is they only allow enough people that they have seats for - so it's not cramped. All drinks are the same price ($11) but are similar to Drinkshop in quality/fresh ingredients. And you always get a sidecar (so basically getting two drinks). Be great to have a place like this here.

  35. Brett H - yea I'm wondering if the proposer of this venue is aware of Aurum or if the many commenters here are aware of Aurum.

  36. I think a good cocktail spot is needed. I went to Beleza frequently just for the drinks - the food was sub-par. I think this concept is different enough from all the above mentioned places to thrive. Yes, Aurum is a similar idea but it is packed and the bartenders are hit or miss. Plus the music can be overbearing when they crank it beyond necessity. And why do they need the frantic masses that will inevitably be arriving with their new ScoutMob coupon. While I do enjoy my fully stocked home bar, it came about from my frustration in being able to get a variety of consistently good cocktails anywhere in Midtown. I can name a good drink or two at several restaurants and bars but I don't go there for the drinks because they aren't set up for that. I'm sick of the bartender hoovering while drinking my first cocktail and pushing the crappy bar food or the only cocktail "special" that he can make - a cosmo. I would love a place that can mix a true cocktail and relaxed environment to enjoy it.

  37. Sounds like a place for real sh**bags to hangout. Thumbs down! $9 to $10 drinks? NO! A buzzer and reservations only...UGH. No thanks.

  38. Do let me get this straight - you are a sh*tbag if you hang out at a place that makes an excellent and unique cocktail and then charges you for that experience? You're also a sh*tbag, because you hang out somewhere that wants to provide it's patrons with a positive experience, and requires reservations to ensure the customers dot have to deal with overcrowding? It's amazing how simple minded some people are - particularly in Atlanta. Such a large number of people in this city would rather live 30 miles away, in a $300k+ mass-produced home with 3 empty bedrooms, spend obscene amounts of money on gas to commute in and out of the city, but don't want to spring for a $9 cocktail! I mean, honestly Atlanta, what the hell is wrong with you? Would you really rather drink the same shitty beer, or eat the same shitty food, or hang out in your over-sized, over-leveraged, largely empty home, rather than socialize in a unique environment? Unreal...

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