“And ’30s,” Mr. Rubell continued, “where there was a very glamorous side—not this speakeasy, underground thing. There was this other side that people for some reason keep failing to capture.”
“Howard Hughes,” Mr. Boyd said.
“The Great Gatsby,” Mr. Rubell added. “Old Hollywood. Everyone misses that when they go to that era. They always do these underground speakeasy type places. And we wanted to do something within that era, but the glamour side of that era, not the hush-hush side of that era.”
Assisting in the glamification effort is Mr. Boyd’s uncle, famed interior decorator Carleton Varney, perhaps best known for his work at the Plaza Hotel and Waldorf Towers and currently president of New York-based Dorothy Draper & Co.
His design incorporates black-and-white-striped walls, massive mirrors, steely chandeliers, decorative perfume bottles, and images of the late actress Joan Crawford, whose homes Mr. Varney once decorated.
“These banquettes are from the Oscars,” Mr. Boyd added, pointing to two large red sofas wrapped in plastic near the back of the bar. “They were in the green room. … He gave us those.”
Mr. Boyd’s younger brother, Jordan, 30, is also a partner in Ella, charged with managing the staff; the elder Mr. Boyd handles bookings and talent, and Mr. Rubell oversees the bar.
Like Mr. Rubell, the Boyd brothers are also hospitality gentry; their parents once ran a restaurant at the Rocky Hill Inn near Princeton, N.J. “They lost their shirt,” said the elder Mr. Boyd, who took his parents’ struggles as an object lesson in Hospitality 101. “There were so many issues,” he said, “from management to location. … They spent, like, $300,000 and owned 20 percent of this failing restaurant. I mean, give us $300,000, we’ll build a bar and actually make money.”
The Ella team has also rather smartly enlisted its landlord, Robert Perl, as an additional partner in the project. “We get a below-market rent,” Mr. Boyd said—around $8,200 per month to start. “He knows in order for the business to make good money, you might as well give the guys a nice rent.”
“He’ll get it one way or the other,” Mr. Rubell added.
“For us,” Mr. Boyd said, “the formula is …”
“Make it in a night,” Mr. Rubell interjected.
“Make your rent in one night,” Mr. Boyd continued. “On a Friday or Saturday night, if you can make your entire rent, you’re going to do very well. At $8,200, it’s very feasible.”
The real estate component of the business is one issue the Ella guys take seriously, above and beyond their own bar spaces.
Quite literally, in fact; the Boyd brothers have leased an apartment directly above GalleryBar. The elder Mr. Boyd also previously lived above his other bar, Plan B on East 10th Street, which he opened in 2004.
The idea is more about job security than simply a quick commute. These days, after all, it takes only one annoyed upstairs neighbor to trigger a regulatory crackdown that can wreck a business. Just ask any downtown bar owner.
“All the landlords at all our bars, I ask them, as soon as an apartment’s up, let me know and I’ll rent it for you,” said the elder Mr. Boyd. “We’ll get a friendly in there, a friend or a friend of a friend that we know isn’t going to be killing us on Friday night.”
Improper operators, however, are as much to blame as their cranky neighbors for the current tumultuous climate, he argued: “The idiots who come down here and do bars … they don’t do their job, they don’t control their crowd, and they get violations and they make it bad for all of us.”
Yet, even with the growing anti-bar-sprawl sentiment now creeping throughout the neighborhood, the Ella crew still feels quite at home in the East Village and Lower East Side—explicitly expressing no interest in Brooklyn or any other part of the city—as they continue to expand their presence throughout the area.
Mr. Rubell and the Boyd brothers recently signed on with Ella landlord Mr. Perl, who is also an investor in the Two Boots pizza chain, to help open a new sports bar called Two Boots Tavern on Grand Street.
“The Lower East Side is an amazing, up-and-coming, and still really raw part of New York,” Mr. Rubell said, “but rapidly changing, obviously, into something more like Soho and meatpacking. But it still has this raw New York sense, whereas the meatpacking is almost like Times Square. Times Square is Times Square. The West Village is a little sleepy. There is something really alive about this neighborhood.”
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