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My LES: Matt Levine

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For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked recently with Matt Levine of the celebrity hot spot Sons of Essex. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?

I wear many different hats (and I purchased them all on Orchard Street. Haha, kidding). Hospitality and operations are my passions. I co-own Cocktail Bodega and Sons of Essex with my business partner, Michael Shah. (I guess you can say I am a restaurateur.) I also own a branding, marketing and special events company based out of the LES, Brandsway Creative, with my business partner there, Kelly Brady.

How long have you lived on the LES?

I’ve lived in the Lower East Side since 2007. I was drawn to the artistic, creative, edge and grit of the LES; the innovation and forward-thinking [mindset] of the neighborhood.

Favorite block in the neighborhood?

Orchard between Grand and Hester. It has a little bit of everything — art galleries, coffee shops, clothing stores, bars and restaurants. The block has a ton of character and personality, along with a true sense of camaraderie and entrepreneurship.

Favorite date spot in the neighborhood?

Right now, my girlfriend is Cocktail Bodega and my mistress is Sons of Essex, but some of my favorite spots in general are: An Choi, Bacaro, Barrio Chino, Fat Radish, Les Enfants Terribles and Mission Chinese.

Favorite coffee in the neighborhood?

So many good coffee spots in the ’hood, this is a tough question, but I gotta say either 88 Orchard or Grumpy’s.

Favorite cheap eats in the neighborhood?
Hmm, you can always randomly catch me grabbing my cheap eats in the Essex Street Market, whether Brooklyn Taco or Saxelby Cheesemongers,. And I have to give a shout out to Souvlaki GR; I love me some hummus.

Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?

Sons of Essex, and soon to be Cocktail Bodega.

Favorite dive/locals bar in the neighborhood?

169 Bar is my spot, chill atmosphere for a cocktail, always a cool setting at Pianos, the basement of Hotel Chantelle regularly rocks like an old-school house party, Bondi Road (gonna miss that spot) and Epstein’s are my go-to’s when the weather is nice, and I really like the vibe at the new spot, Grey Lady … and then I have a few other local spots that I don’t even think have names!

How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?

The Lower East Side is known by many for our bars and restaurants, but the recent influx of art galleries and creative agencies has really taken the neighborhood in a great artistic and cultured direction. I also think brands are starting to take notice of the influence the Lower East Side has. You see more and more brands activating in the area, from events to product sampling and seeding.

Favorite LES memory?

The Lower East Side has such a sense of community, so many of my memories are just being able to kick it, collaborate [with] and support other entrepreneurial spirits, watching their businesses evolve and the overall growth of the LES as a whole. Most recently, being a part of organizing and producing a three-block street fair called DayLife with the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. The support and turnout was overwhelming, and the impact it had on the neighborhood was very rewarding.

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  1. Let’s not forget who we are dealing with. 


    This is the enemy that’s destroying the LES – the tacky gentrifier with zero redeeming characteristics, unlike the pioneers. The secondary infection that sets in – high prices minus the edge and cool. It’s funny that he likes all the actual cool places, and is now trying to emulate their success with the “farm to table” Freemans/Fat Radish vibe with Sons of Essex (at a higher price point, of course). Those places were expensive and disruptive, but were genuine innovators: they invented their own cool. This guy is just a trend-chaser. There’s a reason why his places will never last as long as Barrio Chino, Bacaro or Les Enfants.

    How can you ever trust someone who thought this was a good idea in 2008:

    “The entire left wall displays the Armand de Brignac. We have $650,000 worth of Champagne on the wall. We have more Rosé Armand de Brignac on the wall than the entire state of New York.” etc. Wonder if he got a TARP bailout. That whole link above is insane – was a must read then, and is still comedy gold.

    His idea of “cheap eats” is Saxelby Cheesemongers (great place, but come on, they sell cheese for upwards of $20 a pound). He cannot name a single actually *cheap* place. Brooklyn Taco, for what it is, is not cheap. You’d think he’d at least toss in an obligatory dumplings shout out, like everyone before him, but he doesn’t even bother. His idea of a locals bar is Hotel Chantelle and Pianos – couldn’t parody him better if I tried.

    It makes me sick that he name checks Bar 169. You are the opposite of Bar 169. Wish they could keep you out of there, but unfortunately they are all out of laser engraved entry cards. Stay above Delancey please. 

  2. He doesn’t even know the neighborhood. His favorite block?! Orchard b/w Grand & Hester has no clothing shops, no restaurants. I think he meant b/w Grand & Broome.

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