Drumbar Chicago Opens with Newby at the Helm

Benjamin Newby has been named VP of Nightlife for Menin Hotels, a new position created by the full service hospitality management company,  where he will oversee nightlife operations of Drumbar, a rooftop bar and lounge located at the Raffaello Hotel, 201 East Delaware Place in Chicago’s Gold Coast Historic District. It is opening June 8. (A second Drumbar opens at Menin’s new Gale Hotel in South Beach this December.)  Newby, a celebrated operator and mixologist, joins Menin Hotels from the award-winning Chicago nightclub, The Underground.  Newby brings to Drumbar his signature "tableside mixology kits" developed at The Underground and much more.  Newby will "act not only as a mixologist, but as a gracious and entertaining host to bar patrons."  Read more about Newby’s new role and what he has planned for the Drumbar properties.

Rooftop bar and lounge Drumbar opens in Chicago June 8. Photo by Anthony Tahlier.

Nightclub Confidential (NCC): The Underground was a hit. One of the best clubs around. But now your move is to Drumbar which is catering to a more adult audience. Have you matured and is this now the place you want to hang?

Ben Newby (BN): Running Underground for five years was an amazing experience. I joined six months after it had opened and feel that it was the premier nightclub in Chicago for those years, which was due to the great company that Rockit Ranch is and a lot of hard work and passion. We put on special events and series from fashion shows to some of the most talented DJs and hosted some of the most notable celebrities as well as incorporated live music which was the heart of many memorable Lollapalooza weekends. It allowed me to connect with people in Chicago and become an experienced and effective operator under the mentoring of Arturo Gomez.

It was a very hard decision to leave Underground and Rockit Ranch, but the time had come for me to move on. I had gotten older and the nightclub scene was evolving once again. My interests and passions had evolved during this time.  I found myself wanting to connect more with my guests and create a different kind of social experience. I also love to run a venue that I would go to frequently myself. I realized that I was going to nightclubs much less than I used to, and that we didn’t really have a place in Chicago that provided the experience that I wanted. With Drumbar, I feel that we are about to open something that caters to a growing demographic. A more mature crowd who still wants energy in their night out, but wants a more sophisticated, open-minded and elegant experience. Drumbar aims to cater to that audience through a beautiful and unique venue, a curated music program featuring both new and classic music that veers from the mainstream, a creative cocktail program, and a handpicked selection of quality liquor, beer, wine and champagne with a focus on bourbon, scotch, whiskey and small batch products.

NCC:  Drumbar is a rooftop and Chicago is known as the "windy city".  It also gets real cold during the winter. Tell me how you will attract crowds and protect them from the elements.

BN:  Drumbar is not just a “rooftop bar” and we don't want to classify it as one. Drumbar is an incredible bar and lounge that just happens to be on a rooftop and has the luxury of having a gorgeous terrace with stunning views of Chicago. The venue will be attractive all yearround due to the features noted before, but also the décor. When you are inside Drumbar, you are surrounded by dark woods, attractive features, a one-of-a-kind layout and a full-working fireplace. You are going to feel at home whatever the time of year, whether getting cozy during the winter or feeling the warmth of the sun during summer. Drumbar will be a spot that is attractive to its audience all year round.

NCC: I understand you were raised in London and settled in Chicago. Why were you attracted to Chicago and how has its scene changed say over the last 10 years?

BN: I was raised in Bristol in the UK, but lived in London, Cheltenham and Cardiff along with doing project work in other cities. I also spent time in Ibiza and one of the things that attracted me to Chicago was the musical heritage. It was the birthplace of house music after all and this music has always been my first love. I have only been here for six years, but I feel there is a resurgence of electronic dance music happening not just here but across the globe. When I first arrived in the States, hip hop was at the forefront and was the genre of music I heard most. Over the last year, I have seen dance music grow and grow and start to become more in demand with the mainstream audience.

NCC: You are getting ready for your opening and then another Drumbar in Miami. Tell me all about the place, design, music, and the market you are seeking.

BN: Drumbar is a speakeasy style bar that really gets back to the roots of what a speakeasy was. The term “speakeasy” has become associated with the craft cocktail and mixology scene over the last few years. But , we want to create somewhere that has amazing cocktails but that offers other reason to go there. We are really focusing on the guest experience and the interaction between them and the bartenders and servers. The bartender in an original speakeasy was everybody’s friend, counselor, news reporter, political analyst, gossip mogul. We want to bring this back.  We are pre-batching the cocktails to allow for the staff  to engage more with the guest rather than spend time their time looking for bottles and ingredients and having their heard buried in a Boston Tin for ten minutes. Music was also part of the speakeasy experience. We will be playing the perfect selection of music with elements that people recognize, but also new music that suits the Drumbar ambience. The sound system has been installed by one of the best in the business and this is their first installation in Chicago. We have created a warm and full sound that really adds to the feel of the bar. We think that all these elements will attract a more mature and sophisticated crowd that are looking for higher quality nightlife experience with the excitement that social interaction and being around like-minded people gives. The Miami location will be located inside the Gale Hotel, which is Menin's soon-to-open hotel in South Beach.

NCC: How does an operator liaise with a hotel group?

BN: Menin Hotels created the position of Vice President of Nightlife as they wanted Drumbar to be something more than just your usual hotel bar type concept. They wanted Drumbar to exist independently from the hotel and become part of the nightlife fabric of the city as well as cater to the needs of hotel guests. To do this, they felt that they needed someone whose background was in the nightlife world, but with experience of multiple venue types and cities. So far the experience has been very rewarding for both myself and Menin who is excited about what we are going to create.

NCC: The name Drumbar comes from?

BN: “Drum” was jazz slang in the 1920s for speakeasy or bar.

NCC: In New York City, 230 Fifth Avenue broke all revenue records. More and more hotels are using their roofs as food and beverage spots. There are inherent problems with this including sound proofing and elevator speed.  Talk about the ups and downs of operating 20 stories up.

BN: We have installed a soundproof “trumpet resistant” floor to prevent the music disturbing the hotel rooms. We have increased the speed of the Drumbar elevator along with using an elevated hosting experience to ensure that the guests are welcomed and entertained when arriving at Drumbar. There are some challenges to having a bar on a rooftop, but this has led to creative problemsolving and implementing ideas that will create a more unique and exciting product. We also have the advantage of Drumbar being different to anything else in Chicago and a truly beautiful venue that people will want to come to and experience.


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