We created the Nightclub & Bar Awards to reflect the vibrancy and variety of this great industry, and it certainly shows on these pages. Our 2010 winners were selected from among more than 235 entries in 14 categories — seven nightclub and seven bar — by a panel of judges including the nation’s top nightlife, spirits and mixology, beer, wine and hospitality journalists, writers and consultants. Judges ranked their favorite entries first, second and third for each category judged, and a calculation was used to identify the Finalists and, ultimately, the Winner in each category. While some awards are sponsored, the sponsoring brands had no hand in the judging process. They’re simply showing their support for the talent and enthusiasm found throughout this industry.
So read on to see who was voted best of the best in the 2010 Nightclub & Bar Awards. Then be sure to look for these hot shots at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas and on nightclub.com, and visit their venues whenever you can. Learn from them, be inspired by them and be motivated to make your establishment award-worthy.
A special thank you to all who entered — we at Nightclub & Bar are blown away by the caliber of your work — and to all our judges. And, of course, a toast to our Winners!
Donna Hood Crecca, Publisher & Editorial Director
Bartender of the Year
H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir, San Francisco
By Jack Robertiello
Award sponsored by:
H., the San Francisco bar owner and mixologist known to the taxman as H. Joseph Ehrmann, has taken a more roundabout path to drink celebrity than most. And his receipt of the Nightclub & Bar Bartender of the Year Award is a testament not just to his abundant and well-known mixological skills, but also for the way he’s built a small neighborhood saloon into a thriving San Francisco landmark. Ehrmann earns kudos, too, for his passionate environmentalism, evident in not only the spirit and beer list at his bar, Elixir, but also because he’s made it one of the first 50 enterprises in San Francisco (and the country) to become a Certified Green Business.
Oddly enough, cocktails weren’t part of Ehrmann’s initial plan for Elixir; at first his hands were full just serving shots and beers and trying to get customers through the front door. But as the cocktail revolution ensued, he realized it could be a key component to his saloon’s success.
“I’ve tried to make Elixir the exceptional neighborhood bar, one having everything you would want and expect in a neighborhood bar, and then some, with all the bells and whistles — cocktails being the major bell,” he says.
There were stumbles along the way, including cleaning house and hiring a new staff to build his cocktail program. Today, Ehrmann has established Elixir as a 365-day-a-year “third place,” the all-purpose bar he envisaged as well as a must stop on the international cocktail crawl. It’s a place where regulars drop in on the way home from the airport, catch a big game on flatscreen TVs, play trivia games with local comedians and support area charities on guest bartender nights. It’s all a result of Ehrmann’s original business plan.
“The idea was to be open every day you can and make money every way you could,” he says.
He sees each aspect of Elixir’s appeal — the broad selection of whiskies, organic and agave spirits, green business practices, weekly promotions, cocktail creativity — as contributors to an overall marketing program for the business. In these times, small may be beautiful but so is smart.
Ehrmann started his hospitality career in 1986 in kitchens on the New Jersey shore. Years as a restaurant rat gave way to MBA studies in International Management and several years in Europe, building small- and medium-sized companies as an employee and consultant. But the bar business kept calling, and in late 2003 he restored and reopened the ramshackle saloon (the location has hosted various bars since the Civil War) as Elixir. The place has won numerous local and national accolades for its cocktails, marketing programs and atmosphere.
Ehrmann’s also done his share of consulting, currently as brand ambassador and mixologist for Square One Organic Spirits and consulting with spirits and hospitality companies under the banner “Cocktail Ambassadors.” But he’s especially passionate about developing standard practices for green bar management, urging his colleagues not only to buy green spirits and ingredients when available, but also to consider environmentally sensitive practices when buying napkins, stirrers, even cleaning products. Is this just another part of the marketing plan? Sure, but doing well while doing good is more legitimate today than ever, and making that happen at Elixir is one of the reasons Ehrmann is not only admired but also very well liked by his bartending brethren.
Beer Bar of the Year
Willimantic Brewing Company, Willimantic, Conn.
There is nothing better than turning your passion into a successful business. Just ask David Wollner, who started brewing beer as a hobby 20 years ago in his basement and now brews a bevy of homemade ales as owner of Willimantic Brewing Company.
Housed in a historic former post office built in 1909, Willimantic Brewing Company features 21-foot ceilings and marble terrazzo floors that set the stage for a deep menu of beers on tap. At any given time, there are eight homemade brews as well as 40 other “guest” beers culled from the country’s top microbreweries.
“How can you ignore a place that loves beer so damned much that they not only brew their own — and do a great job at that — but they invite other beers in to share the fun?” quipped one Nightclub & Bar Awards judge. “Willimantic has it all: great beer, immaculate tap system, toothsome menu, awe-inspiring architecture and a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. It’s no wonder people drive 30 miles out of their way to stop in for a brew.”
The restaurant can do up to 800 covers on a typical weekend night; outside is a seasonal patio that fits 50, and inside is a 40-seat bar, a private dining room and a pub and dining room that each hold 100 people. A giant 12-foot projection screen plays all the big games while seven other TVs keep the sports fans content.
But filling all those seats means WBC has to appeal to a wide demographic. Children are always welcome — but not in the bar — and they can enjoy the game room and kids’ menu.
Most important, general manager Kim Sypher explains, is the relationship the staff has with customers. “We have staff here for eight to 12 years who are recognized in the community and take part in customers lives like weddings and baby showers. Our servers go above and beyond. They are our brand,” she says.
— Glenn Haussman
Cocktail Lounge of the Year
The Drawing Room, Chicago
Award Sponsored by:
Creating the best cocktail possible is the goal for The Drawing Room in Chicago, and it’s a philosophy that’s reinvigorating cocktail culture and turning one-time customers into regulars.
One reason cocktail aficionados and novices alike keep coming back to the 2-year-old bar is to enjoy the high-quality, made-from-scratch cocktails. “We don’t use anything processed or preserved. We make it all ourselves,” explains chief mixologist Charles Joly. House-made ingredients include everything from simple syrup to grenadine to flavor infusions for bitters. For example, the Smoke and Mirrors cocktail involves a cachaca — smoked to absorb the flavor of wood chips — with additional ingredients of cumin, rosemary, red peppers and grilled pineapples. This technique is not nearly as easy as using premade ingredients, but Joly says customers can taste the difference and that’s what keeps them coming back. Plus, with the menu changing seasonally depending on available ingredients, there’s usually something new to try.
All bar staff members are part of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, and some, including Joly, are Master Mixologists. “A drink-focused cocktail lounge, laser focused on quality drinks,” said one judge.
But it’s not just the cocktails that evoke a classic era — The Drawing Room’s décor harkens back to those early 20th century days too, with lots of natural wood, plant life throughout and a low-lit environment. Plus, mixologists often roll a 1930s-style bar cart tableside for patrons who want the full cocktail creation experience but can’t get a spot at the eight-seat bar. While making drinks, the mixologists give guests a full history of the cocktail, show them how to make it and even give them the recipe if they’d like. “Behind every great cocktail is a great story and it’s part of what makes a good cocktail a great cocktail,” Joly says.
Wine Bar of the Year
Flûte Midtown, New York
It’s all about the bubbly at Flûte Bar & Lounge, and owner Hervé Rousseau wouldn’t have it any other way. An ongoing success since its debut in 1997, Rousseau says he’s been winning new customers and keeping regulars happy with a consistent formula: providing a great customer-centric Champagne experience.
Sure, other beverages are available, but it’s the 85 Champagnes and up to 25 additional sparkling wines that are the centerpiece of this venue. Twenty-five are available by the glass or can be experienced through flights, which Rousseau calls the Magic Flute.
Rousseau says the 54th Street location has been so successful he was able to add another in Manhattan and one in Paris, and he’s even launched a franchise program in the U.S. His success, he says, has as much to do with delivering on the rules of exceptional hospitality as with providing great Champagnes, Champagne cocktails and foods like Petrossian caviar. Plus, it’s critical to have happy and engaged servers so guests feel they are having a true experience. “So many lounges fail because they forget this,” he says.
By-the-glass Champagnes and sparkling wines offerings start as low as $10. “Our prices not are about trying to take advantage of people. We really care about people being happy,” Rousseau explains, adding that this value philosophy is one reason people come back again and again. Our judges lauded Flûte for its representation of grand marque and small producers.
As for design, this glamorous yet not ostentatious outlet is modeled somewhere between a 1940s speakeasy — which was originally in this location — and a Roaring ’20s club. It all plays into a formula that keeps this 100-seat outlet constantly filled.
Sports Bar of the Year
Jerome Bettis Grille 36, Pittsburgh
Looking to do nothing less than reinvent the sports bar, Celebrity Ventures created the Jerome Bettis Grille 36. More upscale than the typical neighborhood joint and designed to appeal equally to men, women, the business crowd and die-hard sports fans alike, the company scored a touchdown with this concept. Even foodies can rejoice with a menu that expands beyond typical sports bar fare with items such as edamame, crispy tuna rolls and assorted fresh fish.
Aside from a unique menu appealing to both men and women, Celebrity Ventures’ approach is to give guests a tremendous number of televisions throughout the 8,500-square-foot space — 60 in all. The high-definition TVs run all the relevant games at night. For the lunchtime, business-minded crowd, its CNBC and Bloomberg.
“We try to replicate the stadium experience [without the price]. Going there can be an expensive experience,” says Bob McCarthy, partner and VP of concept development with Celebrity Ventures. “We play high-energy music to keep crowd going, and even have DJs during the commercials for the big games.”
There are about 40 beers on tap and as many in bottles too, ranging from boutique breweries to the major players.
A unique feature is the use of NanaWalls, which can split larger spaces into smaller spaces quickly and easily so some guests can watch tennis while others take in some football, without disturbing each other. “I like a sports bar with real connections to professional sports — check — and truly impressive sports TV setup — again, check. Proper attention to beer and bar food is a must — check,” commented one judge. “Add to this the glass barriers to split up the bar (I hate hearing ball sports when I’m trying to Zen out to the road-whine of Le Mans) and the cocktails and those bathrooms...winner!”
The concept is rolling out in different cities under different names, with Celebrity Ventures naming each venue after a hometown hero.
Hotel Bar of the Year
POV at the W Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Located in and on top of the uber-hip W Washington, D.C., POV and the POV Roof Terrace, owned by Sasha Petraske, immediately became a smashing success when the hotel opened last summer. It’s not just the incredible location with views of the city’s top landmarks that’s winning over fans — it’s the staff’s commitment to freshness.
Every drink is hand crafted from all-natural ingredients and locally grown produce — the bar even has a fruit and vegetable juicing station. One highlight is a 100-pound block of ice where chips, spears, pellets and shaved slices are removed for a cool addition to the cocktails. There are even tapas-style dishes created by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has a deal with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the brain trust behind the W Hotels brand. And forget about seeing things such as soda guns — those are strictly forbidden.
The décor manages to balance life inside the Beltway seriousness with touches of whimsy. Twelve-foot windows frame glossy black and red lacquered walls for sophistication, but zebra-striped cowhide barstools add a dash of fun.
During the warmer months, the 11th floor Roof Terrace features an outdoor bar paneled in fresh green grass. Velveteen red banquettes, steel-framed daybeds and chocolate-colored high-back wicker lounge chairs sit under a red and white awning with glossy ceiling fans to complete the scene. With only 104 people allowed upstairs at a time, Petraske has created a rarified environment that its mostly 30-something crowd craves.
Small Wonder Bar of the Year
Manifesto, Kansas City, Mo.
If something feels fishy when trying to find Manifesto, then you’re probably on the right track. With its entrance down an alley, tucked behind a corner and with no discernable sign anywhere, finding this hidden Kansas City, Mo., gem is part of its mystique. Tough as it is to locate, one of our judges dubbed it a “must” for any fan of classic and contemporary cocktails. Those who make it to this modern day speakeasy will find themselves in a space firmly ensconced in the pre-Prohibition ethos.
Located down a dark hallway and in the basement, Manifesto’s décor plays up the pre-Prohibition theme. Furnishings feel new in style yet reminiscent of a bygone era; the space is so small that reservations are basically required to ensure a seat and also that no one is rushed.
Owner Ryan Maybee takes a fine dining approach to creating cocktails, which means never packing people in and never hurrying them out. He also focuses on using fresh ingredients and juices and classic bartending techniques in crafting the quality cocktails.
Those looking to eat can order something off the menu from 1924, a restaurant located just upstairs but seemingly miles away. What separates Manifesto from other bars around the country is Maybee’s belief that creating cocktails is a true American art form, and he’s working to preserve its heritage through his team at Manifesto.
Mega Club of the Year
XS Nightclub, Las Vegas
You know when Encore and Wynn creator Steve Wynn and nightlife impresario Victor Drai of Drai’s Afterhours team up that the after-dark scene is in for a shock. Enter XS Nightclub. The name means “excess” for certain, because “extra small” could never find meaning here.
Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Wynn, and Victor Drai built the club out to symbolize and celebrate the curves of the human form, with more than 10,000 light sources to bathe the room in an ethereal glow. A collaboration of rich gold, onyx and bronze accents, the space’s aesthetic continues to ebb and flow through 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor club space, including 95 indoor VIP tables and 30 outdoor VIP poolside cabanas. Enormous sliding glass doors are lifted from the walls and ceiling to literally “let the evening inside.” Capable of entertaining 2,000 at a time, XS also offers touches like gold resin bar tops, a huge central chandelier over the island bar and extreme DJ talent on the state-of-the-art system. DJ Create spins a variety of House and Top 40 Fridays through Mondays, helping bring in repeat guests, which gives the large club an intimate feel because many guests know one another.
“There’s no other nightclub like XS in the country, or better yet, the world,” offers XS managing partner Cy Waits, who oversees XS with brother Jesse, also managing partner. “From its unique design, the energetic feel and poolside gaming, XS has everything you’d want — and more — in a great mega club.”
Our judges couldn’t agree more. “This mega-club is not only the most expensive ever built but will set an all-time industry revenue milestone,” one said. “It is consistently the destination of choice of celebrities and average patrons alike. There is no comparison.”
— Jenny Adams
Ultra Lounge of the Year
Blush Boutique Nightclub, Las Vegas
A club chameleon, Blush Boutique Nightclub truly morphs with the nightlife flow. Each evening begins low tempo, with soothing music and ambient lighting provided by the 300 cream-colored lanterns strung into a sculpture on the ceiling. Rich greens and dark chocolate browns round out the design features and provocative, edgy art adds a splash of playfulness to the walls. As the night sky gets darker and the hours roll on, Blush manages a metamorphosis from calm lounge to frenzied, packed nightclub. It’s a feat all ultra lounges strive to achieve but rarely match at this level of seamless perfection. The transition is as effortless as the bottle service and as all-pervasive as the music. “An ultra lounge that doubles as a boutique nightclub with a great patio — three separate areas of total comfort and luxury,” observed one Nightclub & Bar Awards judge.
“Having been around the country and world looking at different places, I know firsthand that Blush is unique,” says operating partner Sean Christie. “I don’t know how many other 3,800-square-foot places can cater to a thousand people in a night. People love Blush, and it has a unique niche here in town.”
From the circular, centered dancefloor to the privately draped VIP room that seats 25 to the personal lockers for guest belongings, this space offers everything guests want in an ultra lounge — frivolity and elegance, comfort and celebration.
Ongoing Promotion of the Year
Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
Taking the title of Ongoing Promotion of the Year, Rehab needs little introduction with the Las Vegas locals, thanks to a tenured success rate spanning years and an intense marketing program that lets everyone know “the best nightlife in Vegas is daytime poolside.” What began in 2004 as a small Sunday poolside gathering at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in summer drew more than 90,000 guests in 2009. This averages out to approximately 3,500 guests per week.
“Rehab is the original pool party in Las Vegas and quickly grew from a locals event into a massive international phenomenon,” offers Tony Wang, nightlife events manager for the Hard Rock. “Over the last six seasons, we’ve adapted to meet the desires of our clients while staying true to the open party attitude that made it such a fun party to begin with. No matter if you’re in a VIP cabana or just getting crazy in the pool, we focus on making your Rehab experience a memorable one.”
The party also included some heavy hitters in the area of DJ talent. Rehab featured Tiesto, Fedde Le Grand, Clinton Sparks and DJ Vice to name a few, and Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg also got in on the action in ’09. An awards judge had this to say of Rehab: “This party has set the standard by which every other daytime event is compared.”
New Club of the Year
XS Nightclub, Las Vegas
"This is quite possibly the best nightclub ever created,” gushed one Nightclub & Bar Awards judge.
Opened on New Year’s Eve, XS ushered in 2009 and instantly took the nightlife business by storm in Las Vegas and beyond. Not only is this new Encore darling massive — with 40,000 square feet of total space and the ability to serve 2,000 people at a time — it’s also cutting-edge from sound to sight to taste.
“XS really changed the national nightlife landscape in just one year,” explains managing partner Cy Waits. “Since we’ve been open, we’ve truly raised the bar of excellence for nightclubs and taken it up a few levels. We feel like XS has established itself as the best of the best in a city that thrives on nightlife and entertainment.”
A meticulously designed stereo system allows for perfect levels of music when the club is filled each night and also when the walls and ceiling slide away to incorporate 30 outdoor poolside cabanas into the mix. Guests can enjoy the ultimate luxury in bottle service or try one of the masterfully created cocktails from more than five bars inside.
Sweeping curves may be found in large installations, like the bronzed sculptures of female torsos, and in the smaller touches like the lighting elements, of which there also are plenty. More than 10,000 individual lights go into the effect created each evening as XS serves the thirsty with both libations and the finest luxuries of life.
Single Promotion of the Year
Midsummer Night’s Dream at Palms Pool, Las Vegas
With the tagline of “A Pirate’s Guilty Pleasure,” the third annual Midsummer Night’s Dream party at the Palms Pool made our cut as the single best promotion of 2009 for many reasons.
The event begins in mid-August at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. Guests then flock to Las Vegas for the main party, where the Palms Pool this year was transformed to fit the theme, with life-sized cannons, a full pirate ship and cocktails galore.
“Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Palms Pool & Bungalows is one of the largest parties of the year,” says Michael Fuller, vice president of N9NE Group. “For the Third Annual Midsummer Night’s Dream, we prepared a number of elements exclusively for the event including extensive prop designs, state-of-the-art lighting, an unbelievable cast of performers and artists and a hosted bar. We are excited to host the Midsummer Night’s Dream event each year. It’s an exceptional weekend where guests indulge in sounds by premier DJs and the elaborate displays.”
Our judges acknowledged the “no expenses spared” philosophy of the event that’s capable of hosting 2,700 guests at a time and offering premier luxury accomodations to transfix guests and transform their experiences. The annual Palms Pool event sets the Vegas scene apart for single promotional capabilities.
Resident DJ of the Year
Paul Oakenfold, Rain Nightclub, Las Vegas
When Rain Nightclub at the Palms is packed, it’s a sight. With a capacity of 1,800, it takes a special man to keep the crowd entertained all night. Not only drawing in those numbers, but successfully retaining them with an industry night event known as Perfecto Vegas, DJ Paul Oakenfold’s residency has elevated Rain Nightclub to a whole new stratosphere in the eyes of our industry worldwide. While most nightclubs experience a
lifespan of three to five years, Rain hits its 10th anniversary this year stronger than ever, thanks to Oakenfold’s abilities on the tables and the pull of Perfecto as an event.
A collaboration between Paul Oakenfold and award-winning VJ and director Vello Virkhaus, Perfecto features various cutting-edge design and visual art elements, including full audio-visual system integration, multi-screen content and computer graphics.
“Paul Oakenfold and Perfecto Vegas redefined Rain as the ultimate nightclub venue with superior music and entertainment and also established Las Vegas as a true global music destination,” says Michael Fuller, vice president of N9NE Group. “Perfecto Vegas is the leading nightlife destination for locals and tourists alike seeking an experience that is unmatched anywhere in the U.S. and rivals any party around the globe.” As one of our judges commented, “Hands down, the winner.”
Nightclub of the Year
TAO, Las Vegas
Award Sponsored by:
Like the rest of the known world, our judges were wowed by Tao. Boosting sales by $11.3 million from 2006 to 2007, ranking year after year as the highest-grossing establishment in the Top 100 Independent Restaurant list by Restaurants & Institution magazine and a fixture on the Nightclub & Bar Top 100 list year after year, Tao Las Vegas Restaurant & Nightclub is unstoppable. People love this place, from the food to the world-class DJ talent to the stunning Asian design elements. Inside the 10,000-square-foot venue, up to 6,500 guests a night take in the legendary, envelope-pushing design elements such as models in bathtubs filled with rose petals, giant Murano glass chandeliers, towering two-story Buddhist statues and bottle service tables that allow dancers to be both separated from and surrounded by the action at all times.
“Tao is the highest grossing hospitality concept in the country, located in the largest hotel in the world; we have to be the best to exceed expectations,” says owner/operator Jason Strauss. “Ultimately, what makes Tao special is the combination of exciting entertainment backed by great service. A-list celebrities and world-renowned DJ talent create a major draw and have made Tao a destination in Las Vegas for visitors and locals alike. Once they are inside we wow them with amazing service and stunning décor, making sure they have a great experience and will want to return.”