NEW YORK – Welcome to Travel Update’s second “Cocktails With…” series, the conversation series where I strive to introduce you to intriguing travel, restaurant and lifestyle industry rock stars – and rock- star road warriors.
Today, I’d like you to meet 32-year-old Manhattan restaurateur Eric Marx who I expect will be making big contributions to our food culture in the city. We chatted in Midtown Manhattan over signature cocktails at his hot, new restaurant called The Wayfarer, which is located at the also-new Quin luxury hotel.
Dressed in designer jeans, sneakers and a denim shirt, Marx opened The Wayfarer in late March with his partner Lisle Richards shortly after opening their first restaurant – The Monarch – in trendy West Chelsea. Given Midtown’s popularity with business travelers and its hotel location, we met at The Wayfarer. The restaurant, which contains a bar and second-floor event venue, occupies pricey Manhattan real estate: two stories at the intersection of 57th St. and 6th Avenue. Inside, the look is modern and clubby, with disco-era touches echoed throughout.
He’s an unpretentious guy, even leaning over in his seat at one point to swat a fly that had come in through the restaurant’s unusual windows that actually open (and actually nailing the bug!). But the best evidence is that when he took me on a tour of the second floor, where a pinstripe-suit gathering was taking place, and someone tried to prevent him from entering – he nonchalantly explained that he was with the restaurant.
Q. Why call this restaurant The Wayfarer?
A. We like to say it’s a thoroughfare. It’s at the crossroads of Manhattan. A wayfarer is a traveler.
Q. This place feels hip – and a bit out of place for Midtown.
A. We’re this “downtown” restaurant in a Midtown location. It’s a different atmosphere than you would get in other (neighborhood) hotels or restaurants. It’s airy and bright, and it’s got a lot of texture. You can dress, or you can dress down. It’s also feels like a casual environment. It’s not tablecloth-brasserie style. You think of Midtown as a little bit more uptight, whereas this is a little bit more comfortable.
Q. The Wayfarer’s large, garage-door-like windows open, which is unusual in this part of town. Why bother?
A. Unfortunately, we can’t have outdoor seating but we can have café windows that open to the street. They are cool. If you have the game on at the bar, the people walking outside can see in. You can connect with the sidewalk. I feel that’s what people like in New York. They want to be outside. This adds that element. It really makes us stand alone.
Q. Describe the Wayfarer’s menu. I see everything from $120 seafood platters to hand-cut French fries.
A. We call it a seafood grill. We have a shellfish bar, but we also have lamb chops, porterhouse steaks.
Q. Did you give it a healthy bent since so many big-budget business people tend to be health conscious?
A. Yes. I’m a healthy eater myself. I’m concerned about what I put in my body. We have quinoa as a side dish. We have fresh-squeezed juices for breakfast and Sunday brunch.
Q. You seem like a downtown kind of guy. Why Midtown? A. I live in Midtown, although I spend most of my life downtown. I wanted to open a restaurant in Midtown because of its high density and amount of people. From a business perspective, it’s a good business opportunity. The people that you can come across at the crossroads of 57th and 6th Avenue are amazing.
Q. Who eats here?
A. It’s a real good mix of people coming through. Hedge fund and finance guys, fashion people and people from Conde Nast. Real estate people from the Time Warner Center, and people from NBC. And then there are shoppers from Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel (luxury department stores).
Q. How important travel in your life?
A. I live a lifestyle where you’re always out meeting people, and I think travel is part of my personal brand and growing brands. I was in Paris a few weeks ago, meeting people in hospitality and entertaining them. In the hospitality business, you make this connection and you start feeding each other clients’ business.
Q. What do you look for as a hotel guest?
A. As a guest, I love attention to detail. I love when hotels pay attention to taking food and beverage, and creating an atmosphere within a property. Food and beverage draws people to hotels these days. It’s raising ADR (average daily rate) in a lot of hotels. It’s giving people a lot of reasons to stay in properties vs. staying in a hotel that doesn’t have amenities.
Q. You told me that you like looking at cool, new properties to stay at. Tell us one.
A. Ushuaia (the combination resort and entertainment venue in Ibiza, Spain). You wake up and there’s a concert going on.
Q. You describe The Wayfarer as a brand. How’s that going?
A. The brand is only six months old. It’s like a baby. It has to take on a life of its own. We now have to see who it really attracts over time as people start to become regulars.
Q. How do you balance personal with professional?
A. It’s blended. I’m entertaining most of the time. I’m entertaining people when it’s their personal time and their personal life. When they’re not working, I’m always working. If I see a customer in the street, I’m working again.
Q. Besides signature cocktails including one named after the restaurant, I see that you have your own bottled iced coffee. Why?
A. I drink a lot of coffee, especially in the last two years (as he and his partner have built the business). I like it cold, and there’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant and having hot coffee poured over ice. It’s watered down. So I said, what we have to do is have a brand standard (hotel industry lingo). We cold-brew all coffee in Brooklyn, and bottle it. You can drink it out of bottle. We’re trying to extend the brand with it.