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NY’s Southern Hospitality gets serious

New location focuses on food, beverages, not celebrity connections, sports bar roots

Attaching a celebrity’s name to your restaurant might be good for business at first, but it’s not always the best strategy if you want your food to be taken seriously.

So the owners of Southern Hospitality in New York City have stopped touting pop star Justin Timberlake as being a partner in the restaurant, which opened its second location last month.

“I honestly don’t know if [Timberlake] ever had an actual ownership in the restaurant,” director of operations Chris Russell said. But the multiple Grammy and Emmy winner happens to be good friends with Southern Hospitality owner Eytan Sugarman, and the restaurant does specialize in the barbecue of Memphis, Timberlake’s hometown.

In the same vein, Russell also insists that people shouldn’t think of the restaurant as a sports bar — at least not the new Hell’s Kitchen location.

Russell said the new unit is a “slightly more evolved version” of the original Upper East Side location, which he acknowledged was more like a typical sports bar. He said on a sports bar scale of 1 to 10, with super-fine dining seafood restaurant Le Bernardin being a 0, the original Southern Hospitality would be a 7 or 8.

“This one is more of a 4,” he said of the new locations, which features plenty of flat screen televisions tuned to sporting events. But he said the sound would be turned up only when local teams were playing in championships. Otherwise customers will hear mostly Southern rock.

But if Southern Hospitality is not a typical sports bar, neither is it a typical southern barbecue restaurant. It has a wine cellar stocked by Wine Library owner Gary Vaynerchuk, who also is Southern Hospitality’s wine director. In addition, the beverage list features 20 high-end “sipping tequilas,” and more than 50 bourbons, divided into three sections on the menu: straight, small batch and single barrel. In honor of the food’s home state, Tennessee whiskey has its own section, listing three different types of Jack Daniel’s.

The menu includes a Tennessee cheese plate, which is intended to accompany flights of wine and bourbon that are being planned. But it also is being ordered by customers at the 200-seat restaurant five or six times per night.

“We sell a ton of southern fried chicken livers, served with red pepper jelly and Texas toast,” Russell said, noting that customers have been more adventuresome than he had expected. The first wine by the glass to sell out wasn’t a typical Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, but a Torrontes from Argentina.

The only sparkling wine on the menu is a red Shiraz.

To help guide customers’ ordering, Russell said Vaynerchuk is reworking the wine list to include food suggestions. That’s a departure from the usual approach of recommending wine to pair with the food.

Russell said the suggestions would include a couple of appetizers or sides and two main courses, allowing guests to plan their meals around the wine.

Currently, the most popular items are fried pickles, chicken wings and barbecue nachos, Russell said.

Business 10-days in has been “fantastic,” he said, noting that on their first Saturday they did 1,000 covers.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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