The Last Ambiance Salesman

Location: Last August, just before the world crumbled, you said you catered to a clientele that ‘wanted a more sophisticated

Location: Last August, just before the world crumbled, you said you catered to a clientele that ‘wanted a more sophisticated experience than dribbling beer on their running shoes.’ Has the recession changed your outlook at all? Do you aim for less snobbery?

Mr. Grossich: Well, it’s not so much snobbery. At the end of the day, I’m a marketing guy, and marketing is all about selling and finding a niche that you can own and cultivating that niche. … If you want to wear shorts and a ripped T-shirt and go have a drink somewhere, there are plenty of places you can go.


The Campbell Apartment’s dress code says: ‘Proper Attire Required. Absolutely No Athletic Shoes, T-Shirts, Sweatshirts, Baseball Caps, Shorts or Torn Jeans.’ Did you write that?

We started off with the simple ‘Proper Attire Required,’ but it was too open-ended. … I must say I appreciate your respect for our dress code, because there are journalists out there, who will remain unnamed, who have almost a vendetta against us because they were turned away at the door when they felt that because they were journalists that should somehow make a difference.


I assume you mean Times’ restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who wrote last year about being turned away from Campbell for wearing ‘a pair of very, very expensive Tod’s shoes’ that your doorman mistook for sneakers. Did you apologize to him afterward?

That wasn’t the person I had in mind, but certainly to start apologizing for our dress code starts to challenge why we have a dress code. Honestly, I can’t recall what we did, but we try to train our hostesses as best we possibly can, because it’s a very touchy subject. You walk in and, you know, I understand it, people take it very personally. It’s like—‘Max, I don’t think you’re worthy. Get the hell out of here!’


Your company describes its lounges as the city’s ‘most refreshingly civilized places.’ Isn’t poshness and civility out of vogue?

With all that’s going on in the world, and all the issues with people losing their fortunes or not being able to get a job or make any more money, it’s a relatively small expense to treat yourself to a plush environment, a well-made drink.


Does your World Bar in the Trump World Tower still have a $50 drink with drops of liquid gold?

Yes, we do.


Isn’t it a precarious time to be a king of the New York cocktail lounge—sort of like being a top Hummer salesman?

Overall, it’s a very sophisticated city that’s been at the center of this kind of lifestyle situation forever.


Lifestyle marketing seems dead: People aren’t buying something because it taps into what they want to be; they’re buying it because it’s a bargain or will really help.

It depends on what you’re selling! We’re selling ambiance, we’re not selling Chevrolets.


But isn’t the fancy, cigarette-holder, horn-rimmed era gone? The days of the big swinging dick, as Michael Lewis called the Alpha Male trader, were declared dead in September.

Goldman would argue differently, I think! That’s another story.


The Last Ambiance Salesman