Just a few years ago --pre-THOR, The Box, Freemans, The Eldrige, Death & Co, PDT, and Sasha Petraske’s joints -- the Lower East Side and East Village were home to little more than dingy basement clubs, grungy bars, synagogues and silver shops. Today you'll have to shove your way past loads of hipsters, through the crowds of co-eds, and away from the tourists if you're looking to wine, dine, and party in the lower-stretch of Manhattan. The transformation of the area is in no small part due to the likes of nightlife players Joshua and Jordan Boyd, and Darren Rubell (brother of Steve Rubell of Studio 54 fame).
Back in 2004 Boyd opened his East Village bar Plan B, literally as a Plan B after an unsuccessful attempt at becoming an actor. He still remembers the pre-gentrification days of lower Manhattan, when he was a bartender at BOB on Eldridge Street and at Barrio (now Stanton Social), on Stanton Street. “I talk to people all the time that think it’s a good and a bad thing. It’s a big topic of discussion with the community board, residents and business owners around. I see the good and the bad as we grow. We are doing the good things. The East Village and Lower East Side is where I have made my home for business and living since moving to the city in 1999.” Now Boyd has teamed back-up with Jordan Boyd and Darren Rubell (with whom he opened art gallery cum nightspot Gallery Bar), to open Ella Lounge in an area that the team refers to as the LEV—Lower East Village—first piano bar and cocktail lounge.
“Ella is our spin on Hollywood glamour and the roaring 20s. We want to capture the energy and flair of the time by bringing it back with our music, design and staff”, says Boyd. He consulted with his uncle Carleton Varney, best known for his work on Joan Crawford’s homes and the Waldorf Towers, to recreate the alluring era. As for music in this so-called piano bar, it will range from solo musicians to small bands. Emerging and established pianists and eclectic New York City DJs will host nightly shows in the downstairs space, which Boyd calls the selling point for the nightlife trio: “we fell in love with the piano/performance space with a baby bar. We had been looking around our neighborhood for a year before finding her.” The downstairs room seats 40 people for performances and private events, while the 1700 square-foot cocktail lounge on the top floor will accommodate the bulk of the crowd. Boyd is quick to differentiate Ella from popular LES music lounge Pianos. “When you walk in, you will feel as though you are walking into the 1920s, not a live music venue.”
There are high hopes for the crowds who will stream into the lounge. “I think with our shows downstairs and our cocktail lounge upstairs, Ella will be a very good date spot,” Boyd predicts. As with their other ventures, the dress code is casual-cool, while the staff will done thematic 1920s-inspired outfits.
Of course, with high-profile cocktail joints like Death & Co and PDT nearby, Ella rolls with the big boys, and Boyd takes his cocktails very seriously. Specialty drinks include the Plum Gin Fizz (Muddled sour plum, 2oz Gin, splash of simple syrup, splash of lemon juice, shaken in a Collins glass) alongside $7 beer and $10-20 glasses of wine. For those looking to nosh on some food as they take in the music, a rotating selection of bar snacks such as prosciutto, olives, and Gus' Pickles will quell appetites.
As for what the future holds for Boyd and his team, the nightlife player told us that any other project he’d do in Manhattan would be in the lower-stretch – “I think we are the most neighborhood-driven area in the city and that is what we thrive off of. I’m a bit biased, but NYC is and always will be the epicenter of nightlife, no matter what people say.” He adds vaguely, “We are going to take Gallery Bar on the road when the time is right.” In the meantime, you can catch a drink and some beats at Ella Lounge.
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