Thursday, July 29, 2010

13th Step owner discusses frat rap, telephone booths and bar names

On Tuesday, Billy Gray had a piece at Guest of a Guest titled, 13th Step Vs. Billy Hurricanes: Which Will Be The East Village's Most Hated Bar?

As Billy wrote, "The 13th Step is part of a massive evil empire whose leaders, unlike Billy Hurricanes', haven't even feigned interest in preserving neighborhood character. But the locals have already taken the all-important first step and admitted they have a problem with (decreasingly) out of place new arrivals."

I've been pretty tough on the 13th Step too... so, in fairness, I asked Michael Asch, one of the two senior co-owners of the 13th Step, and its sibling bars Down the Hatch, The Stumble Inn, Off the Wagon, et al, for his reaction to Billy's article...and other topics... we exchanged messages via Facebook (Michael previously invited me to the 13th Step's opening on July 6, which I did not attend) ... here's, in part, what he had to say ...

"[I found the piece] completely obnoxious ... and immature. The fact that we are being labeled frat bars and bad for a neighborhood's character is totally uncalled for and, for that matter, just plain ignorant."

On the Telephone's legacy:

"How many times are people going to say how upset they are about the removal of telephone booths and for that matter, the Telephone Bar? Has it not occurred to them that the Telephone Bar, as well as many other places that people hold onto in their memories, are going out of business for a reason?"

[Telephone photo via]

On their business model:

"My partner and I spend months and big bucks doing everything that we possibly can to build new spaces with tons of character and old-world charm. In fact, that is what we pride ourselves on.

"We end up with a classic, well-thought-out, safe environment ... a great and inexpensive venue where locals can come and eat, drink, watch sports (yes on 28 TVs -- is that so bad?) ... for just a few bucks.

"We always stay within the letter of the law, and have always run our establishments with the community in mind on many levels. We have had virtually no violations of any kind over a combined 50-plus years in New York. We get involved with many charities, both local and national, sponsor local groups and teams, and attend police precinct meetings regularly and proactively.

"We, too, are saddened by Duane Reade, Starbucks and the other big-chain-store takeovers of these neighborhoods. We are the exact opposite. We try and move with the times, by opening venues that will give value, and most important, create jobs for the city and these areas."

On coming up with the name the 13th Step:

"We do use names that make you stop and laugh, smile or, maybe in some few instances, grimace, but that is solely a marketing tool that has been successful for our formula.

"We never knew of the unofficial meaning regarding a new AA member being flirted with by current members when we chose the name. We always do a naming contest with friends, family and regulars. We get thousands of creative and comical names, and then a committee votes. [The 13th Step] was meant to be nothing more than the fictitious step that a person would take after having completed the 12-step program. They jokingly would naturally go have a beer and a burger in their local pub. Nothing more, nothing less. We polled dozens of New Yorkers who have been to, or are currently attending, AA meetings, and found 100 percent of them, young and old, to not only find the name funny, but many think it is fantastic, genius, creative, etc.

"Mind you, while we are very inexpensive compared to most other venues in NYC, we DO NOT promote binge drinking, or excessive drinking at all. We strive for great times to be had by all, in a safe and relaxed atmosphere."


pinhead said...

Methinks thou dost protest too much. Way too much.

Anonymous said...

Let's see here.

Asch calls detractors ignorant, yet admits that he -- nor any of his "friends, family or regulars" -- had any knowledge of the infamous, and hardly obscure, popular definition of "13th Step." (I'll let the AA crowd handle him calling skeptics immature and then stating his bar name "was meant to be nothing more than the fictitious step that a person would take after having completed the 12-step program. They jokingly would naturally go have a beer and a burger in their local pub." Jokingly! Naturally! Addiction is HILARious! lololol!)

Next: "My partner and I spend months and big bucks doing everything that we possibly can to build new spaces with tons of character and old-world charm. In fact, that is what we pride ourselves on."

Yes sir, nothing reads high-end and full of old-world charm like COMIC SANS.

Face facts: You are a frat bar. I might respect you if you'd just own it.

RIP Telephone

EV Grieve said...

The above comment was accidentally posted twice — so I deleted one version.

esquared™ said...

"We end up with a classic, well-thought-out, safe environment ... a great and inexpensive venue where locals can come and eat,..."

"...tons of character and old-world charm..."
. these pertain to the old telephone bar.

locals? unless you call the b& t's and nyu frat boys locals...

"safe environment", safe for whom?

and yeah, i've checked out the place; 13th step is no better, worse, than your run of mill frat boy college bar. agree with both anons. and Billy.

Lisa said...

"...doing everything that we possibly can to build new spaces with tons of character and old-world charm...we end up with a classic...environment".

So let me get this straight - that "character-laden, charming and classic environment" he prates on about is embodied by 28 TVs and a hideous neon sign? Someone get this man a dictionary, stat!

"...found 100 percent of them to not only find the name funny, but many think it is fantastic, genius, creative, etc." Here's some hot news for your readers - I'm finalizing plans to open a really classy EV bar called Son of Sam. Isn't that hilarious?!? Yeah, it's a killer! Whoo-hooooo!

Anonymous said...

go on with your self 13th step!

Look forward to having beers there tonight.

Anonymous said...

"Go on with your self 13th Step"?

gee, what a ringing endorsement

Shawn said...

I draw the line at bars that use the "Comic Sans" font for their logo. I got standards!

Kurt said...

The sign is obnoxious, where in the "old world" did you see signs like this?

Nathan said...

Reading through this interview, I wanted to make the point about the absolute lack of "old school charm" in the design of the 13th step, but it appears that everyone else has already made the same points more eloquently and hilariously than I could have.

so I'll just cosign with all the comments above.

T.E.V.B. said...

This bar is absolutely terrible for my neighborhood.

It reinforces the already deeply negative elements of area in terms of nightlife and socializing, as opposed to fight against it and turn the tide, which is what is needed if a new bar is to open here. A bar like this - obnoxiously lit and loud, filled with TVs, mediocre food and drink offerings, frequented by B&Ters and frat boys and all-around immature douchebags - is just more of the same characterless, soul-sapping homogenization happening in EV.

The bar owner's quotes are pretty funny because he seems to understand the reasons why this new bar is offensive for EV residents, and tries to portray 'The 13th Step' as going against those reasons:

1. " spaces with tons of character and old-world charm" - The 13th Step completely lacks character and old-world charm.

2. "...great and inexpensive venue where locals can come and eat" - EV locals, such as myself, would never go here. This place obviously caters to weekend B&Ters and frat douches.

3. "We, too, are saddened by Duane Reade, Starbucks and the other big-chain-store takeovers of these neighborhoods." - Maybe not a big chain store, but definitely a formulaic-bar takeover, falling in line with his other characterless, frat bars Down the Hatch, The Stumble Inn, and Off the Wagon.

I agree with Anon 8:27 AM: just own up to the fact you're a shitty frat bar able to make money of shitty frat tastes, and yeah maybe I'd respect you more.

RIP Telephone Bar and the real East Village.

Tom said...

You people won't be happy until the whole neighborhood is block after block of banks, drugstores and nail salons. It's a freakin' bar! People will get drunk and act stupid on occasion. I think they call it having fun.
And for the record, the service and food at the Telephone Bar were horrendous. I intentionally stopped going there years ago. And I think a bar called Son of Sam would be pretty fuckin funny.

blue glass said...

we don't need more bars hiding as restaurants.

we don't need more places that feed off the students that have taken over the neighborhood and are happy to bar-hop. sometimes with false identification, sometimes not, mostly under 21 out-of-towners.

"We, too, are saddened by Duane Reade, Starbucks and the other big-chain-store takeovers of these neighborhoods." - well, if that's true, stop opening establishments that pay exorbitant rents to greedy landlords so that the only businesses that can pay these new huge rents are bars and chain stores.

you are not bringing us atmosphere. you are part of the replacement of our neighborhood's family-run stores with useless crap.

Anonymous said...

On a somewhat related note, did anyone else notice that CB3 is having a special meeting on Aug 19the to discuss the policies & procedures for approving licenses *and* they will be reviewing all resolution areas ? I sure hope they don't liberalize their policies under pressure from the three bar owners on the CB3 SLA committee.

Ken Mac said...

Seems much of the EV is turning into MacDougal Street between 3rd and Bleecker. Welcome to my nightmare and keep up the fight.

Marty Wombacher said...

If you want to be a frat bar, be one and don't apologize for it. It makes you seem needy. Try to respect your neighbors. But please, don't use the words "old-world charm" and "28 TVs" in the same thought. And I agree about the Comic Sans font, it ruins neon. Leon.

Bowery Boy said...

I'm not a fan of 13th, but come on, this lot was cast years ago when the community board, and other govt officials, allowed all the nyu dorms to be built in the area. These students are now the customers, so this is what they get... or what we get.

Had those run-down parking lots for hookers on 2nd Ave. been turned into senior centers or low-income housing, we'd be getting completely different retail establishments around them. But they weren't, because the city wanted nyu's big bucks.

The east village is now a college town. And go to any college town - they got no different. But you can't blame 13th. If you didn't turn out to oppose the nyu dorm's back then, then you got little to complain about now.

It's simply and sadly Supply & Demand. And students demand a large supply of alcohol.

pinhead said...

C'mon, he polled "dozens of New Yorkers who have been to, or are currently attending, AA meetings?" Really? Where'd he get the names? Don't these folks seek anonymity? Do they line up somewhere to participate in silly frat bar polls? Are they some sort of marketing demographic? Grieve, is this guy f*cking with you?

EV Grieve said...


Ha! I suppose there is always that possibility that he's having some fun with us....

Anonymous said...


Jill said...

Anon: One thing I heard about the Aug 19 meeting is they will be considering the idea of splitting the SLA Committee into two parts: below Houston & above Houston in order to address the ridiculous length of the meetings that last until the wee hours.

If you are worried about changes to the resolution areas (or alternately want to advocate for changes to the resolution areas), then you should attend the meeting and express your opinion.

Annoyed said...

As a 25 year old young woman (coming out of college during a recession) it is not easy living in Manhattan, particularly the East Village. I was not thrilled by the closing of Telephone Bar because yes, it was a staple in our neighborhood; however, what is done is done. I went out of my way to stop by this shiny, new, neon, fluorescent eye-sore. To my surprise, pleasant might I add, as soon as you walk through the door you would have no clue you even strolled through the "cosmic sans" gate of passage. To put it simply one must ask have all these self proclaimed "haters" been inside? It's like it's been there for 20 years. It is gorgeous in there. "Toto I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." This place has character; timeless character might I add. It’s not like it’s some cheap dive with a bar made out rotting plywood that gives off a deathly stench. You don’t walk though the door and think “wow this bar has no feel at all to it, it’s just another bar.” I don't know much about the bar industry so I can't sit here and shell out my opinion on the logistics of it; however; what I do understand is the importance of small businesses in this city.

Still annoyed said...

...cont.... Being raised on the Upper West Side by what most would consider "hippies" (and small business owners) I can remember watching out my friend's window the protests against the UWS's very first Starbucks and this has had some lasting results. For example- I am willing to spend the extra 6 dollars on my prescription in order to get it from the neighborhood pharmacy on the corner. I work above a Dunkin Donuts but you bet your butt I walk the extra 3 blocks every morning to get my iced latte from Lenny's- rain or shine. Why? Because simply, I am a New Yorker. Lenny's another prime example of the possibilities this city has in store for small businesses. Thirteen locations scattered all over the city and every morning I walk in there I am reminded of how spectacular this city truly is. New York City THRIVES off small businesses. They are the backbone to this city and everything we cherish about it. So I guess my underlying complaint is- why is it when we are watching one our very own homegrown New York City based companies flourish are turning our back on them; even worse attacking them? It's not like they plopped a God damn Hooter's right smack dab in the middle of second ave.

Annoying said...

...still going....I did my research on these bars and they don't have venues in other cities. They are a purely NYC based company that started with a little hole in the wall on W. 4th Street. Correct me if I'm wrong by I am pretty sure that is the definition of "The American Dream." Again I don't know anything about the bar industry so feel free to trash my un-educated opinion but what is honestly going through my head is shame on you New York. Is the message we want to relay to small business owners is we wish you the best on this endeavor but if you succeed prepare to be crucified by your very own? Is the outcome of success in our beloved city? Depressing

Annoyed said...

...almost done.....Oh right, we find the name of the new golden child offensive. The name "The 13th Step" certainly doesn't ooze class but since when is the East Village the pinnacle of the socially accepted? Isn't the point of self-expression to nudge boundaries. If we are going to complain about politically and socially correct anything in the EV we best pack up and move on up to Connecticut now because we're all dried up; or at least the Upper East Side. Perhaps we could take our "shame on you finger" we are so quick to point at "The 13th Step" and turn it around and point it at ourselves because the fact of the matter is anywhere you can get a $3 Kettle One and soda while still aiding to the rise of one of NYC's up and coming small chains is ok in my book. Not to mention, as a young woman on a budget, who can’t really afford to go to these “uppity bars” it is nice to feel safe in a bar with 3 or so bouncers as opposed to most frat bars where I am looking over my shoulder constantly as the 120 lbs NYC wrestler flirts with a clearly underage girl at the entrance and he’s the only guy with a staff shirt on in sight. Sweet, survivor of the fittest I suppose. The more I think about it …better yet, let's do some research and figure out all our cities small business doing well during our countries greatest economic crisis since The Great Depression, and tarnish their name on blogs across the city and see how many people we can leave unemployed along the way. So I guess the point I am trying to relay is simple: Get over it people it's not like it's TGI Fridays. As for your Mr. Michael Asch I will be seeing you on Wednesday nights in meantime. Hats off.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your breathless shilling, Annoyed. I'm sure you'll get a free Comic Sans martini at 13th Step tonight for your work here.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in nyc my entire 26 years (although not the east village), and I can't see why people hate these bars so much. I've been to telephone bar it was terrible, and although this guy opens up the same bar over and over again they do have great prices. If telephone bar was so beloved and doing so well why did it go out of business?

Anonymous said...

These bars are AWFUL and dumbed down and full of stupid people who nobody would want to drink with anyway. Fox News of Bars. How do you sleep at night owners? You definitely wouldn't drink with your douchey crowd yet you cater and propagate it to us who moved to the EVillage and LES to escape them. Cynical, unimaginative and condescending! Stay uptown with the frat douchebags and suburbanites where you belong! Do Not bring suburbia to the only real neighborhood left in Manhattan. Go away. I truly hope that you fail, you deserve to! BTW: I like that you got some of your Yes Men employees to write positive stuff here. All of your bastions of doucheyness could never touch the level of The Telephone Bar. Go away.