In 2011, I travelled to London to pitch a party idea I’d been fiddling around with to a global spirits brand. I had arranged to meet with their representatives at a speakeasy bar I had only heard of – the Experimental Cocktail Club in Soho/Chinatown. After no less than 20 minutes walking up and down Gerrard Street, in what I thought was the right area, I knocked on an unmarked door out of desperation – et voilà, I had arrived.
As I so often do, I’d totally misjudged the situation sartorially, not knowing at all what kind of people I was dealing with. I chose to dress in a button-down collared shirt, shiny shoes and a leather belt, just like mom taught me to do when going to an important meeting. Suffice it to say, there was no way in hell I was going to win the “coolest guy in the room” award that day. Without having to say a word, Vincent Marino, the general manager at the ECC, who was sat calmly behind his laptop, clearly had that category wrapped up.
Fast forward a year later and Vincent had made the jump to Manhattan’s Lower East Side to oversee the newest branch of the Experimental Group’s cocktail club concept. My idea had been picked up by the spirits brand and we once again found ourselves in one another’s company. This time we were working together, to make my Turtleneck Club concept come alive in New York City.
Over the next several years, Vincent found his way to the center of New York’s social scene, by virtue of his charm and determination, he helped make the ECC a legendary venue. With the experience of that endeavor fueling his ambition, he partnered with 3 native New Yorkers to found Four Happy Men Hospitality Group in 2015. In the years that have followed, he has created a string of some of the most celebrated hospitality outlets in Brooklyn.
When I came up with the idea of cocktail themes for our delivery service, and New York City came to my mind, I knew it was time to check in on Vincent and see how things were going.
Tell me a bit about the businesses you guys have founded and your guiding principles.
We decided to create an extension of our living rooms; a place where we could meet friends and feel totally comfortable and have fun.
We created Loosie Rouge at first. South Williamsburg was still very virgin. Many cool people were living here because the rent was cheaper, but they had nowhere to hang out. We saw that as an opportunity and we created what was missing. Slowly, we took over this part of town. We have always been community driven. It’s a big part of our success.
A big eye-catcher at Etiquette is the bed inside the space. What’s up with that?
I designed Etiquette (now called Sobre Masa) like an apartment. There is a bathtub, too, and a beautiful fridge. All of that surrounds a beautiful living room.
It seems like living in New York would be a constant grind to stay ahead of your bills. How do people cope with that and still maintain the good life?
New York is a very expensive city, you can’t be lazy unless you are sitting on a lot of cash. Even so, you always have to work and hustle to be part of something and pay your bills. So, you don’t really have time to stay in bed. As soon as you open your eyes, you know that millions of people are already out and about. You feel guilty not to be part of it, so you wake up, shower, drink a coffee, sometimes maybe a painkiller (because you are hungover) and you go out.
Is there a lesson you’ve learned you can save someone a lot of time who might be thinking of starting something up themselves?
It’s a real job which takes a lot of time and energy, but it can give you an amazing lifestyle. Like every other job, you have to take every step seriously.
Your social media is great. It’s pretty amazing how it so succinctly communicates the vibe of our spaces. How do you keep that focused?
I have to give the credit to my business partner, Damien. He has been running it from the beginning. He is very talented and spends a lot of time on it. I believe social media is just a live mood board of your venue/brand.
You have live hip-hop at Loosie Rouge, which is about as New York City as it gets. Is there any other aspect of your businesses that works in NYC but would be hard to pull off elsewhere?
I believe most of the things you create in NYC could work elsewhere. We are very lucky to be surrounded by very talented people, from our entertainers we have in our bars to the staff who takes care of them. But what really makes a great venue is its customers. So, if we decide to open a bar, we always look for the neighborhood where cool and creative people live. It’s the key to our success. We are nothing without our patrons.
What’s the reality of the COVID situation for you guys?
We have access to loans from the gouvernement but it’s not enough. Right now all my businesses are closed. Some will reopen as soon as the weather gets better and the state authorizes indoor dining, but some may not reopen.
Assuming things get back to normal sooner rather than later, what’s next for you guys?
Personally, I would like to open a small hotel upstate or somewhere with less hustle. I need nature and a new challenge.
Last question: Can I sleep on your couch next time I visit?
Better than that, you can have your own bed, I have a spare bedroom at home.