The Mussel Pot Previews Tonight: Owners Talk

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I used to be 3’6″ but I grew out of it. Alex and Leo Baskin used to work in the club side of the business, but grew out of it. Now they are now poised to open a new restaurant, The Mussel Pot. It’s located at 174 Bleecker, just a few doors east from LIFE, where I used to hang my hat. Exit strategies for club types are as necessary as the smile on a bottle waitron’s face. Most don’t have one, and many get trapped in a young man’s game. Twins Alex and Leo Baskin filled joints as well as anyone in the business, but like myself and countless others, there comes a time when the you look around the room, and want to be someplace else. Inseparable since birth, they partnered up with restaurateur Michael Caridi, and have put what they have learned to another good use.

When I opened LIFE, there were concerns that the ‘hood was too commercial, too touristy. What we found was that the location, just 1 block north of Houston and just a hop from Soho, the West Village, the East Village and Nolita, was perfect. Bleeker Street was a direct feed off 9th Avenue and the west side. Foot traffic and great public transportation ensure a a bunch of covers on most nights, and packed houses on weekends.

That was before Alex and Leo tapped into the hundreds of thousands of friends who have grown up (well, most of them) and now find their evenings spent at nice restaurants with friends, family, and significant others more rewarding than clubbing. They all used to be 3’6″ as well. The Bleecker street strip and its quaint side streets have always been blessed with great little restaurants. It seems to be on the upswing. They’ve got executive chef Ronnie Esposito, formerly of NYY Steaks at the Stadium, doing the food. It’s basically a pound of farm raised mussels in a pot, with a couple dozen sauces to choose from. There’s a full menu for those who don’t go there. The Mussel Pot will open for press types tonight, and I’m a press type and will attend.

How did you make the transition from nightlife clubs to restaurant? Alex: To us it was a natural progression, an evolution I guess. I think it was always in the back of our minds that some day we wanted to do a restaurant. When you deal with nightclubs, it’s a very specific demographic of people that you target. But with restaurants, well everybody eats right?

What skills do you bring to the restaurant? Alex: Our 15 years of marketing knowledge. I think we understand the ability to create an atmosphere that people can enjoy themselves and feel comfortable in. We actually designed most of the place ourselves, from picking the mirrors, lighting, furniture and colors. We wanted the place to be classic and inviting. Also, our partner Michael Caridi got the Peter Lik gallery to hang some of his amazing photography in our place, and use it as a show room.

What are your responsibilities? Leo: Besides the obvious marketing and promotions, being an owner/partner you have to oversee everything.

How much did you learn building this restaurant? Leo: We had crash course about the food biz in the last 6 months—everything from kitchen equipment, to health codes, to food costs, and the like.

At what point did you guys want to get out of club business? Alex: We’ve been wanting to do something else for a long time. We did music for a while, which was fun. We actually took some time off here and there, but the club business kept pulling us back in. When this opportunity came up, we jumped on it.

Do you think the restaurant business is easier than the club business? Leo: Not at all. It’s different, yet similar in a lot of aspects. The hospitality aspect of it is similar but there’s so much more to deal with when food service is involved.

Are you guys looking for a different demographic then nightclubs or did other factors play into you decision into finding this spot? Leo: Were not looking for a club crowd. We want all types of customers. We looked at a lot of different spots in different locations. We felt this location would be a good starting point. Also, we love that we have a sidewalk café and a back garden. It’s in a great neighborhood—very diverse. We plan to open a few more of these. Our concept is “Mussels in over 2 Dozen different international sauces. Good wine, beer & cocktail list.”

How did the name come in to play? Alex: Well the Mussels are served in a pot, plus we felt it had an instant familiar appeal to the name. It sounds like you’ve heard of it before.

Has the neighborhood changed in the last 10 years? Leo: It’s one of the oldest and most nostalgic areas in NY. All the classics are in the neighborhood, and a lot of great newer spots too. Lupa, Dos Caminos, Minetta Tavern, Arturo’s, John’s of Bleecker, and Murray’s Cheese are all with in a few blocks from us. Bleecker Street is prime real-estate.

Also with NYU always expanding, I think introducing a new food savvy generation to our concept is exciting for us.