One of the most exciting things about the launch of the House of SpeakEasy (on January 27 — get your tickets here) is where it’s happening. City Winery, for those of you who haven’t been, kinda requires a new word to describe it: it’s at once winery, restaurant and concert venue. Whatever you call it, though, those of you who find nirvana in a glass of wine, a plate of cheese and a treat for the ears need to get yourselves down to Varick Street.
Created by Michael Dorf, who also founded The Knitting Factory, City Winery opened in 2008. Four years later a second venue opened in Chicago, and there are planned openings in Napa and Nashville this year. In the last year alone, the New York branch has hosted Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Macy Gray, Bobby Womack, Sinéad O’Connor and Prince! We look forward to joining the ranks of this stellar line-up.
I spoke to Shlomo Lipetz, City Winery’s national programme director, about the delicate art of pairing wine and music, and the CW experience.
Charles Arrowsmith: Hi Shlomo. So your iPod must be a pretty eclectic place to be. What are you listening to at the moment?
Shlomo Lipetz: Wow, complicated question. Some people like to dive into one record and play it again and again; I prefer to listen to many at the same time. I listen to a mixture of artists that I’m exposed to at work (artist submissions, patron suggestions) and artists that may not necessarily be a fit for City Winery. I was actually working the past couple of weeks on reviewing all the albums that came out in 2013 for a special end-of-year email we sent out to our list. I asked our talent experts in New York, Chicago and Napa to share their top ten albums of 2013. You can find our picks here.
CA: The New York Times describes City Winery as one of the best places to see live music in New York. Tell us a bit more about the CW experience.
SL: I would have to agree with that! We provide a three-in-one experience and we do it at a level of customer service and hospitality a few steps above what people are used to in NYC. Let me explain. These days, when people go out to see a show they normally have to decide where to eat before or after and where to grab a drink in a place that doesn’t serve drinks in plastic cups. City Winery is a one-stop shop. We don’t feel that just because we’re a music venue you need to compromise on your experience. We offer a great menu and a great selection of drinks, whether you’re a wine drinker or not.
And we view our customers as family. Many of the people who come see shows at City Winery have grown to love our space and really feel a part of what we do. Many of them come to see artists they’ve never heard before; they trust that we’ll programme music they’ll like. Also, I’ve never been in a place where, from top to bottom, everyone loves what they do — and it reflects on everyone. And artists love playing here — hey, why not? They get treated with a lot of love and care, they get fed well, they get paid well and we have a great performance space. We try to provide the best possible experience to everyone who comes in. Whether it’s the person in the box office, the greeters, the seaters, or our servers, we all want to make sure you have a great experience.
CA: The theme for our opening gala on January 27 is “Plays with Matches”. What would you retrieve from the City Winery cellars for a night in by the fire?
SL: Haha! I encounter that question all the time, especially with my friends and family. Unfortunately, there are people who know much more about wine than I do! I’d recommend directing that question to any one of our well-trained servers or wine captains who roam the floor during our concerts. That said, I would gladly recommend a show to go see or an album to buy!
CA: I like that you can take home a bottle as a specific memento of your experience (check out CW’s “artist wine” here). How do you go about pairing a wine with your artists?
SL: We get as creative as possible. It’s not an exact science but we try to think a little about the song, the instrumentation, the time it was recorded, the vibe it gives out… and then try to match that with some of the same characteristics in the wines. It becomes a fun creative process for both our wine director and the artist, especially if it’s one who pairs her or his own songs with the wines they love, like Al Stewart.
CA: Who from the House of SpeakEasy line-ups ahead are you most excited to see?
SL: I love all the bookings you guys have done. It helps diversify both who performs here and who gets to enjoy City Winery. I’m a big fan of Uma Thurman, who’s co-hosting the opening gala on January 27, as an actor, and I’m eager to hear what she has to say about both her acting career and some of the other interesting things she’s up to. I also heard Jeff McDaniel is fascinating [Jeff appears in our February 24 show, “This is Not a Man”, on sale soon – ed]. I really look forward to knowing more about this eclectic group of guests in the coming months.