Times Square isn’t the first neighborhood most New Yorkers think of when contemplating their Saturday night destination. Or second. Or third. But Matt Levine, the founder of downtown hotspot maker IndieFORK, is intent on changing that, with his takeover of the W New York – Times Square’s Living Room. The newly renovated bar from Levine, who is behind SoHo’s Chalk Point Kitchen and The Handy Liquor Bar, won’t be in official full swing until the end of September, but it will get its feet wet this Sunday night when it plays host to the Hood by Air official after party.
“The goal is to bring a detail-oriented, grassroots approach to a mainstream area,” Levine explains. “We get a lot of tourists, it is very transient, but it will also be for locals. There’s the Jacob Javits Center, Best Buy Theater, Madison Square Garden, and people need a place to go after. Why go drink downtown, go up to your show and then go back downtown?”
The renovated bar’s decor has been updated to match its swanky new cocktail menu and features a disco-ball-styled DJ booth, inspired by the famed Times Square New Year’s Eve ball. The booth will host several downtown DJs Levine has lined up. “We’re in Times Square, so we’re really trying to personalize it,” he says.
The drink menu is based around “very unique flavor profiles,” Levine says. “We’re creating a tincture out of sangria; we’re taking the peels from the orange, from the grapefruit, from the lemon and the lime, and making a bundle of it. We’re pickling strawberries to make a syrup, making a lot of purees — blood orange and pineapple.” The menu, what Levine distinguishes as “creative cocktails — not mixology,” is New York-centric — featuring local companies like Catskill Distilling, Ithaca Beer and Brooklyn Gin — catering to the tourist-dense demographic. “People are coming to New York City because they want to experience New York,” Levine says. “We’re in the middle of Times Square, but we are supporting a lot of smaller batch brands.”
Levine made his mark on the downtown culinary scene in 2008 with the opening of The Eldridge; from there, he opened Sons of Essex in 2011, started IndieFORK in 2012 and soon after opened Chalk Point Kitchen and The Handy Liquor Bar. Diverting from his usual SoHo grounds, this is his first partnership with a brand as commercial as W. “But when you look back at what W has created, they’ve been at the forefront of creative initiatives,” he says.
On W’s end, the redesign, which is part of an extensive renovation across many of the W hotels in North America, was approached with sincerity. “The Living Room is the heart of every W,” says Anthony Ingham, W’s global brand leader. He noted that this location will attract a mix of hotel guests and locals, though the bar will need to garner a following first. “You don’t stumble upon it,” he says. “You have to know where it is.”
When it came to reimagining the space, formerly the Whiskey Blue at the Times Square location, “we looked for actually quite a long time for the right partner,” Ingham says, noting that the vibe of the redesign needed to be “perfect for our guests, relevant to W, and with the right amount of edginess and downtown feel — which Times Square is obviously not known for.”
“At the end of the day, we know that it is Times Square,” Levine says. “I’ve thrown warehouse parties all over. But our job is to curate this space so it appeals to everyone.” And this is exactly who he plans on attracting. “Everyone comes back to Broadway,” he says. “You can see everyone on Broadway right now.”