The Team Behind Pebble Bar Brings Downtown Cool to Midtown Manhattan
Investors Mark Ronson and Nicholas Braun gave W a tour of the four-story space.
Mark Ronson spent a recent weekend holed up at home making playlists—14 of them, in fact. “I went crazy,” Ronson tells me while walking up the stairs of the Victorian townhouse that’s home to Pebble Bar, a new Manhattan bar and restaurant he’s invested in. “I pictured what I would want to be listening to when I was in here: some stuff that’s elegant, rich jazz, like Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. Anything that was sophisticated and would work for a place like this.”
He gestures toward the top level of the four-story bar, which, when I visit, is in the final stages of construction ahead of its soft opening in late February. Builders are drilling into the walls while the founders, Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte—who run the Smile; the Jane Ballroom; and Ray’s, a Lower East Side dive that’s become a known celebrity hangout—toy with chair placement. The actor Nicholas Braun, who is also an investor (also involved: Justin Theroux, Jason Sudeikis, and Pete Davidson), sips coffee nearby. There are boxes of liquor stacked all over, like a scene from Goodfellas. But Ronson is still fixated on the playlists. His voice rises as he gets into the nitty gritty: “And then, of course, there’s a playlist for when it gets popping—it’s not gonna be playing, like, ‘The Macarena,’ but rather really cool, fun, upbeat shit. And then I was like, ‘Oh, this one’s for 8 to 10 PM, and then when the demographic turns, it’ll be this one.’ I made a playlist called ‘One for the Road’ for last call, when people are crying into their whiskies.” He comes up for air. “So, yeah, I gave it a lot of thought.”
The formula for Pebble Bar is this: take one part nostalgia for old-school New York City (the building which houses Pebble Bar was once an Irish saloon named Hurley’s, which lived through Prohibition and survived the development of Rockefeller Center), one part big-name partners (Robert Pattinson this week chose Pebble Bar as the venue for his The Batman premiere after-after party), and one part the gaping hole that is Midtown, an area of Manhattan which is notably missing a spot with a cool, downtown vibe. The founders hope Pebble Bar will attract foot traffic from not only tourists ice skating at Rockefeller Center, seeing a Broadway play, or standing in line to nab tickets to Saturday Night Live, but also locals who might be seeking a place to sit down and have a stylish cocktail.
Even if it lacks a certain cool, Midtown does have its charms. “I love this era, and that richness of New York, The Sweet Smell of Success, those classic Fifties movies,” Ronson says, gesturing once more toward the interior, which is decorated with velvet couches in jewel tones, soft lighting, and Eames chairs. “I have such a soft spot for anything SNL, Rockefeller Rink—it’s so storied and rich with history.”
“This is the New York that people move here for,” Kliegman adds.
“Plus, it’s going to be the best date spot ever,” says Ronson, who recently married Grace Gummer and sports a plain gold band on his ring finger. “I’ll just be bringing my wife instead of someone I met online.”
The townhouse is split into three distinct zones: first, a standing bar; then, a dining room, and finally, a space named Johnny’s, which will host private events. Carlos Barrera, who worked on the New York City restaurant The Lobster Club, created the seafood-focused menu, which also offers steak tartare and bar snacks. Cocktails crafted by partner Matthew Carles range from the classics—martinis and Manhattans—to house specials like The Dude, which is made with dandelion, saffron, and bourbon.
It’s a far departure from Ray’s, a watering hole that has made regulars out of Braun (who is also an investor in that spot) and Ronson themselves. But Braun says he’s taking some of the lessons he’s learned from Ray’s and imbuing them into the Pebble Bar vision. “Ray’s is such a different vibe. Who knows, though, it could get pretty raucous in here,” he says. “But one thing the two have in common is, when you go to Ray’s, you’re in it. You think you’re going to go in for one drink, and you spend the whole night there. There’s something transportive about it. I hope that’s what this becomes.”