On a recent frigid evening, a procession of 30-somethings in peacoats and high heels under puffy layers pushed past a curtain and entered the elegant red saloon of the Nines, a new piano bar in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood that aims to profile itself as a downtown Bemelmans. A pianist played jazzy covers of tunes by David Bowie and Chaka Khan for guests who settled in chic benches. Everyone seemed to be sipping martinis served with sidecars.
The lavish crowd, eager for a night out on the town from the pandemic era, may have remembered Acme, the groundbreaking restaurant that quietly closed in 2020 and used to occupy this space on Great Jones Street. Or maybe they’d once spilled drinks all over their coats at the basement nightclub, Acme Downstairs, which is still going strong after ten years.
But nostalgia was not in the air. Everyone was too engrossed in uni toast bites and potatoes loaded with Russian caviar (dubbed the Kaspian Potato and priced at $95, it’s a tribute to Caviar Kaspia’s signature dish in Paris) to think much of the past.
While they enjoyed the refined fantasy of the Nines, a man in a black velvet tuxedo jacket named Jon Neidich kept a close eye on things. Mr. Neidich is the chief executive of the Golden Age Hospitality group and the maven behind the establishment. Omicron wave or not, he exuded the confidence of someone who has opened hot spots in New York before.
“I like the uncertainty of opening night,” he said. “It’s an act of faith that I’ve come to embrace.”
Mr. Neidich opened Acme in 2012, sparking a craze for New Nordic cuisine in the city. But it was Acme Downstairs, the nearly impossible-to-reach underground lounge he opened beneath it, that would define an era of preppy, millennial downtown nightlife. Now a father of 40, his reign extends far beyond Great Jones Street.
Mr Neidich has continued to build a robust collection of trendy haunts in the city. In the West Village, there’s the Happiest Hour, a beach resort-themed cocktail bar (the underground cocktail lounge, Slowly Shirley, closed during the pandemic). On the Lower East Side is Tijuana Picnic, a chic and funky Mexican restaurant, and there’s also Ray’s, a retro dive bar he opened with scene-makers like Justin Theroux, Taavo Somer and Carlos Quirarte.
Neidich’s stature as a player in the scene was elevated two years ago when he opened the French brasserie Le Crocodile at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, which quickly received a three-star review in DailyExpertNews. On the sixth floor of Wythe, he also runs Bar Blondeau, a natural wine bar overlooking the twinkling Manhattan skyline.
But Mr. Neidich says his sleek new NoHo piano bar may be his most important venture to date, at least for him personally, as it was in this location that he hatched the beginnings of his hospitality kingdom ten years ago.
The son of a real estate financier, Mr. Neidich grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, graduating from Hotchkiss and then from Brown. A Bacchanic young man at the time, he opened up Acme in a particularly uninhibited moment in New York nightlife that now mostly consists only in blurry Blackberry photos that survive the story. He managed Le Bain and Boom Boom Room before striking on his own, and when he did, he found himself with a sensation on his hands at age 30.
Along with Indochine’s Jean-Marc Houmard and Huy Chi Le, he hired chef Mads Refslund, a founder of Noma in Copenhagen, to run Acme’s kitchen, and the restaurant began catering to a burgeoning class of foodies who were suddenly craving mussels and scallops. served in foam by waiters wearing skinny ties and tight jeans. Contemporaries like Aska and Atera soon joined the scene.
But this was also the era of Grumpy Cat and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and Roberta’s in Brooklyn wasn’t selling frozen pizza yet, and everything was feeling a little carefree, so Mr. Neidich opened Acme Downstairs below the restaurant. Outside of Acme, crowds began to form at night, and as people passed the door, they descended into a dark cavern where a disco ball reigned, and small cramped bathrooms invited irresponsibility.
As time went on, Acme Downstairs became something of a nightlife mascot for a generation of New Yorkers.
There’s now a popular podcast, “We Met at Acme,” which explores the difficulties of millennial dating in the city, and when the M&M-manufacturing company recently announced it was revamping its green M&M and expanding its go-go boots with sneakers, Rolling Stone released a salvo defending her boots as a feminist fashion statement, declaring she deserves to be “blacked out” and indiscreet “in Acme’s bathroom on a Wednesday.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Neidich, sighing softly, when asked about the Rolling Stone article. “A friend sent me that.”
As Mr. Neidich steps further into the limelight of the city’s elite hospitality scene, he can express his bewilderment at the legacy of what he spawned on Acme Downstairs, but he says he’s proud to have witnessed a legendary era in New York’s millennial nightlife.
“That whole era, from Bungalow 8 to Beatrice to the Standard, it felt like a moment, and Acme was about to hit the brink,” he said. “The advent of the camera phone as we know it today took away the anonymity of being outside at night. People still felt like they weren’t known and they felt they could be more free.”
“We were one of the latest in a cultural change of how people went out in New York,” he added. “And downstairs we felt there was that safety and escape.”
Although Mr. Neidich hardly pines for nostalgia for downtown Manhattan around 2012.
He went off the grid backpacking in India at one point to purge himself of the intensity of his nocturnal lifestyle. He embraced sobriety two years ago and is currently implementing a free counseling program for employees of his hospitality group who may be struggling with substance abuse. Non-alcoholic cocktails become the mainstay of his menus.
“Acme was the epicenter of New York, and after a decade it’s still going,” said Succession actor Jeremy Strong, a close friend of Mr. Neidich, in a telephone interview. “There’s been a metamorphosis in Jon’s life and work that I’ve witnessed, and there’s been a real journey from what Acme Downstairs was to what the Nines are.”
“McNally, Jeff Klein, André Balazs,” he added, “I see Jon in that trajectory eventually and I think he’s aiming for that.”
In 2014, Mr Neidich married Alessandra Brawn, a publicist and socialite, and their marriage in Italy featured contortionists and fire twirlers and was written up in Vogue. (They broke up, but remain friends.) He now lives in a loft on Lafayette Street and raises his 4-year-old son, Nash, with Mrs. Brawn. He is developing a wine bar in Chinatown and a French cafe-cum-raw bar in Williamsburg. And above all, he has the ambition to open a hotel.
“I see an opportunity to create the next great hotel in downtown New York,” he said. “All the big hoteliers, like Jeff Klein or Sean MacPherson, make products where I can see their soul, and I see an opportunity for someone to be the next generation of that.”
On the opening night of the Nines, Mr. Neidich’s parents, financier Daniel Neidich, and jeweler and philanthropist Brooke Garber Neidich slipped into a red booth for dinner, and while Mrs. Neidich slid into a caviar-filled potato, she contemplated the her son’s trip when he helped her organize meetings in East Hampton.
“Hosting is in his blood,” she says. “It all goes back to when he was a kid who served hors d’oeuvres at our parties in Wainscott.”
“Acme is where he came from,” she continued. “We still have friends who ask us to get their children in. I’ll call him, but he’ll ask me, ‘Are they just boys? Because I can’t let them in if they’re just boys.’ He’s strict with me even.”
While a pianist played bluesy tunes and the elegant fantasy of the Nines continued throughout the evening, Mr. Neidich looked after his guests. And as the night waned, young people began to gather outside in the cold, hoping to enter Acme Downstairs.
When they did, Acme’s glittering disco ball was waiting for them and continued to spin defiantly.