When I wrote a story a few weeks back about the places in New York that will always have my heart, I had no way of knowing that one particular place had captured the hearts of so many.
I’m talking about Temple Bar.
The sexy, cool, downtown watering hole that hosted many first dates, more than a few affairs and a whole lotta late night fun.
Well, Temple Bar – with its iconic skeletal chameleon outside – shut its doors in 2017.
We thought it was the end of an era.
Until longtime friends, David Rabin and Maneesh Goyal (also partners in a new Indian restaurant, Sona) teamed up to bring Temple Bar back to life.
It’s all the rage.
And rest assured, downtown date nights are back!
MANEESH GOYAL: The response has been amazing. [We just hosted] the [after-parties] for the CFDA Awards and the Glamour Women of the Year Awards.
ALINA CHO: Huge events.
MANEESH GOYAL: Huge events. And you know what this is, Alina. It's not an opening, it's a reopening. That's a categorical difference because we have the gift of having this place that was known and loved.
ALINA CHO: Beloved.
MANEESH GOYAL: For three decades.
ALINA CHO: I did a little thing on my favorite places in New York…
DAVID RABIN: I saw it.
ALINA CHO: I put Temple Bar on the list, and number of DMs I got from people saying, "This is not true. Are you joking? Do not joke with me about this." People were saying, “My heart skipped a beat." What do you think it is about Temple Bar?
DAVID RABIN: I mean, this was everyone's favorite make out bar, if you're going to be honest.
ALINA CHO: I mean, it has nothing to do with the place, but I think I've had a few bad dates here.
DAVID RABIN: I hope you had a couple of good ones.
ALINA CHO: I had some good ones, too. But the point is, this is a date place.
DAVID RABIN: Oh, yeah. It's a date place.
MANEESH GOYAL: I think there's a nostalgia about what Lafayette Street [where Temple Bar is located] used to be because it was very driven by artists. It was a little counterculture. It was a real part of the fabric of New York in a way that sometimes might be hard to find anymore.
DAVID RABIN: We [also] felt that downtown was missing this nightlife-for-grownups vibe.
ALINA CHO: It's a grownup bar.
MANEESH GOYAL: It's a grownup bar. That's exactly right.
DAVID RABIN: We can’t believe how busy [we are]. Friday, Saturday – we’re already completely sold out before 9:00 p.m., let alone the late-night part.
MANEESH GOYAL: My father was an engineer at Xerox, and with the grit of an immigrant, in 1975, he realized there was not a single Indian restaurant, not just in the city of Dallas, but in the entire state of Texas. So, he opened Texas's first Indian restaurant two months after I was born.
ALINA CHO: India House.
MANEESH GOYAL: He had it for 12 years, until 1987. My boyhood was spent in that restaurant.
ALINA CHO: So fast forward — you sort-of had that same feeling that your father had all those years ago about New York.
MANEESH GOYAL: That's right. That's when I reached out to David [Rabin] and I said, "I've got this big, bold idea."
ALINA CHO: What was that idea?
MANEESH GOYAL: I said, "Let's make Indian food cool. Let's create what doesn't exist right now." There's a litany of Indian restaurants [in New York, but] I don't have a place that I can recommend to friends. What's the “Nobu” of Indian food, and why don't we have that? So, David saw the vision and said, "All right, let's do this."
ALINA CHO: You’re right next to…
MANEESH GOYAL: Gramercy Tavern.
ALINA CHO: Gramercy Tavern.
MANEESH GOYAL: We were very specific about our location. Because we want people to rediscover Indian food or discover it for the first time. So, we’ve got to come to them. Where are they going to be? We need to show up. We can't ask them to come to us.
ALINA CHO: But you also put together an amazing team. You found an incredible chef. The menu's amazing.
MANEESH GOYAL: Yeah.
ALINA CHO: I mean, I dream about the butter chicken.
MANEESH GOYAL: Yeah, it’s based on my family's recipe.
ALINA CHO: The food's insane, it’s really buzzy. And you opened in the middle of COVID.
MANEESH GOYAL: March 28th of 2021.
ALINA CHO: We were all just getting vaccinated.
DAVID RABIN: We were at 30%.
ALINA CHO: It didn't hurt that you partnered with Priyanka Chopra. How many followers on Instagram?
MANEESH GOYAL: Oh, 70 million.
ALINA CHO: What happened when she posted about Sona?
MANEESH GOYAL: We started with 120 followers. Within a matter of minutes, we had 20,000 followers, and now we're at 70,000 followers.
ALINA CHO: What does Sona mean?
MANEESH GOYAL: Gold.
DAVID RABIN: Or beautiful, right?
MANEESH GOYAL: Yeah, or "beautiful" in Punjabi.
ALINA CHO: What are the boxes you need to check when you open a place, whether it's a bar, whether it's a restaurant? What do you need to get right to even have a fighting chance of succeeding?
DAVID RABIN: I always say I'd rather own less of a great place than more of a mediocre or a poor place. So, I think for me, I would absolutely argue that having the right partners for the right project [is critical]. Because this is not a business for people who are weak.
ALINA CHO: It's not for the faint of heart.
DAVID RABIN: Some people believe that you just show up, walk around the room and smile, and two hours later you're home watching the news. I've been on email or the phone since literally 9:00 a.m., and now I'm looking at four more hours of being nice to people and seeing my friends. So, it's an all-day, all-evening affair.
ALINA CHO: It's full on.
MANEESH GOYAL: It's full on.
ALINA CHO: Beyond obviously aligning yourselves with the right partners, the physical space, the chef, the staff, the decor. I mean, it's a lot to manage.
MANEESH GOYAL: Yeah, and you know what also is oftentimes not talked about, but really should be talked about is the culture of the staff. You can talk about the culture of these big tech companies, but restaurants have cultures, too.
ALINA CHO: 100%.
MANEESH GOYAL: You can feel it as a guest when you walk in and you are greeted, and you can feel it when your server comes to your table. No matter how much planning you have done, how much work you've put into it, if that face-to-face interaction between your guest and your server doesn't go well, that guest probably isn't coming back. And restaurants are built on repeat business.
ALINA CHO: I always say if I'm not treated well, I will never go back.
MANEESH GOYAL: Correct. You've got that one shot.
DAVID RABIN: I compare it to the difference between a Broadway play and a movie. Everyone sees the same movie, no matter what. I mean, they may have a different seat, but they're seeing the same movie. You go to a Broadway play Tuesday; it might be the best show on earth. You go back Wednesday night, and maybe the lead singer has a cough. Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend. Maybe he and the director aren't getting along that day, and you see a completely different performance. The problem with our business is how do you keep that consistency?
ALINA CHO: That's so interesting.
DAVID RABIN: So that you have the incredible experience on Tuesday, and then you tell three friends, they go back on Friday, and they're like, what were you talking about, Alina? The server wasn't kind, the hostess couldn't have cared less.
ALINA CHO: At the end of the day, it's about how you make people feel.
MANEESH GOYAL: It's about how you make them feel, how you treat them, and how they treat you in return.
ALINA CHO: So, what are you opening next?
DAVID RABIN: My bed, for a nap.
ALINA CHO: But seriously, are you looking at something else?
MANEESH GOYAL: Well, you know that I personally love to entertain.
ALINA CHO: We know.
MANEESH GOYAL: When I entertain, I love to create a beautiful table-scape. So, I scoured for the right plates for Sona, because you see the plates as soon as you sit down, and you want the experience to be beautiful. What I couldn't have imagined is that 50% to 60% of the diners at Sona sitting down, eyes open wide when they see the plates, pick them up and look on the back, and say, "Where are these from?"
ALINA CHO: Wow.
MANEESH GOYAL: So that has now translated to building a business that we are now calling “Sona Home.” We're creating a whole new home line based on the Sona experience. I'm not talking about it much, so Alina, you have a little scoop there.
ALINA CHO: When does it come out?
MANEESH GOYAL: March, April of 2022. It's going to be kind-of like everything. We have these beautiful lamps, and the lampshades are made of vintage saris.
ALINA CHO: I love the lamps at Sona.
MANEESH GOYAL: Well, soon, you’ll be able to buy them!