Bottles of single-barrel Jack Daniel’s line a glass case at the entrance of Justin Timberlake’s latest addition to the New York City restaurant scene.
While the rare brown liquor is just for show, bourbon shots were the drink of choice at the soft opening of the pop star’s new restaurant Southern Hospitality on Monday night.
“How many do you want?” a comely bartender asked a group of four guys who sat surrounded by empty glasses.
“How many you got?” one of the gentlemen replied loudly.
As music from the 1980’s (and only the 1980’s) seeped from the sound system and a giant Elvis mural peered down from the back wall, the revelers seemed quite at home downing drinks and devouring the high-cholesterol Southern fare.
Perhaps the only thing that seemed slightly out of place was the restaurant itself. The 3,000-square-foot space, co-owned by Mr. Timberlake and partners Eytan Sugarman and Trace Ayala, is not in the sort of hip Manhattan zip code one would expect. Located at 1460 Second Avenue, it sits unassumingly between 76th and 77th streets just down from frat house favorites Mo’s Caribbean and Brother Jimmy’s.
Is there a renaissance on the Upper East Side that the rest of the general pubic is being kept in the dark about?
Not quite yet, but there is method to the former boy-bander’s madness. James Famularo, the exclusive broker on the space, explained that the “SexyBack” star wanted to establish a place that will become a destination in the city, not because of his name, but as a result of the menu.
“A lot of the places that celebrities put together downtown end up being trendy for a while and then losing their appeal”, Mr. Famularo explained. “They tend to be short-lived, and Justin wanted something that would have longevity”.
Another attractive feature of the area is the rent. The pop star, who made $20 million last year, according to Forbes, is paying just $100 per square foot for the year, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. Rents for comparable spaces in the meatpacking district are going for approximately $250 per square foot.
While the restaurant has many unassuming qualities, there are certain trappings aimed at the celebrity clientele. For instance, there is an alternate entrance built off the back room that one person in the know said was for “Justin, Leo and other celebrities to enter without being seen”.
Celebrity accoutrements aside, the restaurant does a good job of fitting in with its surroundings. There are no fewer than 10 plasma screens each tuned to a different sporting event or entertainment show. Every table comes with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth and a bottle of hot sauce to summon thoughts of barbeque shacks from Mr. Timberlake’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
Despite the attempts to push ambiance and culinary talent over celebrity flare, a number of passers-by were well aware of the establishment’s reputation.
“This is Justin Timberlake’s new restaurant”, a young woman explained to her friend outside.
“Is it good?” her friend replied.
“Who cares?” she replied. “It’s Justin Timberlake’s restaurant!”