Jeffery Lindenmuth - April 2014
The success of a hotel lounge is tied as much to its identity as to its clientele.
Hotel bars have always been a crossroads of eclectic characters, the resident and the transient, the professional and the professional bon vivant. With the conception of Measure Lounge at Langham Place Fifth Avenue—a recent descendant of London’s venerable The Langham hotel, in the former Setai Fifth Avenue location—this traditional hub of the hotel acquires an even broader audience, while also tackling the tricky task of attaining a distinctive identity, one that is more than just another luxury lounge. The result is a hotel bar that comfortably hosts ages 8 to 80, transforming throughout the day to suit an ever-changing, but always discerning, clientele.
The wine list, curated by Michael Smith, Measure’s f&b manager, embodies the diversity of the guests, ranging from an $8 glass of sweet Banyuls to a $3,000 bottle of Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1975, across about 150 selections. After touring Manhattan wine bars for inspiration, Smith created a visually simple, linear list, which encourages browsing of the full range. Rather than frontloading the list with by-the-glass choices, every wine has three columns for pricing, reflecting whether it’s available by the glass, half bottle, or bottle. There are 30 wines in half bottles and 31 available by the glass, managed with simple vacuum closures and a hands-on approach rather than a preservation system.
“A lot of business comes from people who stop in after work before they hit the train. Half bottles are a great fit for them because they can be shared by two people,” says Smith. “The old idea was to be able to taste a really expensive bottle for half the price, which we do with wines like Quintessa. But it also allows people to enjoy more diverse and interesting wines, like a Weingut Bründlemayer Grüner Veltliner, that might not sell enough for us to offer by the glass,” explains Smith.
Wine selections circle the globe, but do show some bias to the former Empire, with New Zealand and Australia represented much more heavily than Chile or Argentina, for example. Smith says the large number of British guests is also reflected by an abundance of Napa Cabernet for exploring, alongside white Burgundy for a taste of familiarity.
With large street-facing windows originally conceived for a retail space, Measure operates in close sync with the rhythm of the day, and the most popular wines ebb and flow along with the crowd. For lunch meetings and after work, finance professionals might order Napa names that impress, but with nightly jazz shows, the evening crowd turns more fashionable and adventurous, as half bottles of Rioja reserva and glasses of Fiano d’Avellino adorn the tables. With the bases well-covered, wine sales at Measure are on par with spirits.
Beyond the windows, Measure is mostly unrecognizable from its former state at The Setai, with many of the changes geared to the addition of executive chef David Vandenabeele, most recently head chef of The Langham London. “We originally had furniture that was loungy and low, but that doesn’t lend itself well to dining. So, with Measure, we met halfway between lounge and restaurant height to make it more comfortable without betraying the lounge aspect,” explains Smith, who held the same position when the space operated under The Setai banner.
Taking his place alongside Michelin-starred sibling restaurant Ai Fiori by the Altamarea Group, Vandenabeele brings his signature twists on British and American classics to Measure, as well as to the in-room dining and caterng menus. With small plates for sharing, the menu also includes seasonal comfort foods with subtle homages to The Langham’s British pedigree, including upscale interpretations of English classics like bangers and mash with house-made sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes, and spring onion gravy, or lamb chops Scotta Dita with fried chickpeas, fairytail eggplants, piquillo peppers, and minty yogurt. Sandwiches include a Landaff cheddar grilled cheese with Brie, Parmesan, and black pepper bacon, and the Langham burger, presented on a pretzel roll with Swiss cheese, avocado, fried onion, and yellow mustard. The result has been a nearly 25 percent increase in food sales at the dinner hour.
That impressive figure is dwarfed by the 300 percent increase in breakfast sales, aided by an earlier opening time, the addition of a continental breakfast ($29), and a popular family brunch program called Tunes with Tina, featuring improvisational songs by singer and songwriter Tina deVaron. Two Sunday morning seatings regularly sell out at $40 per person ($20 for under age 3), with beverages and a candy cart from the London Candy Company additional. “We saw the breakfast opportunity, and we firmly believe if you build it, they will come. It’s intended to be a fun format, where the parents can relax while the kids are entertained,” says Smith. Menus are in the form of a “mini golf” card, where children use a small pencil to eagerly check boxes to order items like French toast sticks.
With Old Glory and the Union Jack competing to welcome visitors from the sidewalk, The Langham Place inhabits New York City’s Fifth Avenue while embracing its British lineage, dating to the opening of The Langham London in 1865. In order to lend Measure an identity of its own within Langham Place, The O Group, a boutique branding agency in New York City that specializes in fashion, hospitality, and spirits, drafted a mission of modern British luxury and created a striking visual identity.
Menus, coasters, and matches (a quaint anachronism in smoke-free Manhattan) feature a fresh and colorful herringbone graphic, anchoring Measure near to New York City’s fashion district, while simultaneously saluting the hotel’s British roots. “The hotel offers style and service at the highest level, with a British flare. In our work with Measure, we tried to reflect this idea and create a destination unto itself,” says Jason B. Cohen, executive vice president, of The O Group. “We tried to establish Measure as a curatorial brand, combining excellent food and beverage service with unique art and music offerings, all through a modern British filter.”
British elements also surface subtly in the cocktail program, in drinks like a blackberry bramble made with Ribena, a black currant fruit juice that holds nostalgic appeal for many English. Cocktails are served in distinctive glassware from English producer/supplier John Jenkins and Sons. Long drinks and by-the-glass wines are poured tableside with aplomb, yet there is no hostess. By picking and choosing proprieties, Measure strikes the right balance of luxury and accessibility, fitting for brunch with the family, a business lunch, or a sultry jazz show.
“The creation of Measure is more than a name change,” says Smith. “When I used to speak with guests [of The Setai], they’d mention ‘The Bar at The Setai,’ even though we were actually called Bar on Fifth. With Measure, we’re being referred to as Measure at Langham Place. We have more than a name. We have a soul.”
Jeffery Lindenmuth is a consumer of fine drink for reasons personal and professional. He writes about wine, spirits, and good living from his home in Pennsylvania.