The New York Times: Play Guitar? Head on Over to City Winery




City Winery will host as many guitarists as it can hold on Nov. 16 – roughly 350, all told, including well-known players as well as amateurs who just like to strum – for Guitar Mash, a concert at which the audience is encouraged to play along.

Among the starrier players at this year’s installment, the third, are the folksinger David Bromberg; Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers; the polystylistic Memphis-based performer Valerie June; the pedal steel player Robert Randolph; the blues players Duke Robillard and Scott Sharrard; and the teenage virtuoso Quinn Sullivan. Mark Stewart, the founding guitarist of the Bang on a Can All Stars (and a member of Paul Simon’s and Sting’s touring bands) is the music director.

For audience members who want to take part – and perhaps get some practicing in first – charts and chords for the songs on the program will be available at the Guitar Mash website,, on Nov. 10.

The event, which also includes a display of vintage guitars and a silent auction of instruments, will raise money for music education programs run by the Church Street School for Music and Art as well as Little Kids Rock, which provides instruments, teachers and music curriculums to public schools.

Guitar Mash also runs its own educational programs. In one recent project, guitars and digital recorders were lent to a group of teenage players who each had a week to write and record a new song. The music they produced will be available at a listening station at the City Winery concert.

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USA TODAY Travel: 10Best: Urban wineries across the USA



by Sharon McDonnell, Special for USA TODAY | Published on October 24, 2014

Private Dining Room

Vineyards are beautiful – no doubt about it. But some wineries, even state-wide tasting rooms, are located right in the city, so you can sip and savor minus the long drive home. Here are some of our favorites:

Bluxome Street Winery in San Francisco

Sip Sonoma Russian River Valley pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – the most popular of a dozen wines produced at Bluxome Street Winery – as you watch the wine-making process through big windows in the tasting room. In this winery in SOMA (South of Market), a former industrial area where many tech firms from Airbnb to Zynga have offices, flights are $10 to $15, $20 for an “experience” – which combines a tour, charcuterie platter and flight. A food truck is often parked outside on Friday nights, while monthly Meet Markets feature artisan food producers and crafts vendors. Special Epicurean Experiences offer six-course dinners at local restaurants or vineyard dinners paired with Bluxome wines.

City Winery in New York City

A candle-lit concert venue – starring Sinead O’Connor in October, The Association in November — City Winery pairs the cultural and culinary with Mediterranean-style small plates from a chef whose pedigree entails Franny’s in Brooklyn, a 40-page global wine list, and a working winery whose barrels are visible from its Soho street. Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, who opened that Tribeca music club in 1987, has opened City Wineries in Manhattan (2008), Chicago (2012), downtown Napa in the former Napa Valley Opera House (April 2014), and Nashville (October 2014). Members can buy a barrel or a share, pick a grape variety and vineyard (covering California, Oregon, N.Y.), and participate in the wine-making process under supervision.

VIDEO: Virtually tour City Winery New York City with the winemaker

Division Winemaking Company in Portland, Ore.

One of almost 20 small-batch wineries in Portland, Ore., located near the Willamette, Columbia and Yakima valleys and southern Oregon wine regions, Division makes pinot noir, gamay noir, cabernet Franc and chardonnay. The SE Wine Collective, whose tasting room offers flights from 10 member wineries, bi-weekly guest winemaker events, and food from prosciutto-wrapped dates to mac and cheese with chanterelles or banh mi baguettes, was founded by Division’s owners, a married couple who fled finance and event planning, in 2012. It’s located in southeast Portland, the city’s hippest neighborhood, crammed with eateries, boutiques and galleries.

Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco

At this DIY winery in the formerly industrial Dogpatch district, near the new Museum of Craft and Design, you can buy a barrel, pick a grape variety and top California vineyard – like Sonoma’s Russian River Valley or Mendocino’s Anderson Valley for pinot noir, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc – and be as hands-on as you wish, even offering ideas on your bottle label. The tasting room, open Thursday-Sunday, serves small plates. Dogpatch was opened in 2011 by the ex-sales director and an ex-client/investor of Crushpad, San Francisco’s pioneer urban winery a decade ago, who moved to Napa a few years ago.

Eight Bells Winery in Seattle

In north Seattle’s Roosevelt/Ravenna neighborhood, the small Eight Bells Winery makes reds and whites, including pinot noir, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay sourced from vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Named for a sailors’ expression that means their four-hour watch is over, this winery’s tasting room is open Saturday only.

Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, N.M.

Founded by a French Champagne-making family, the Gruets, this winery has produced sparkling wine like Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noir, Brut and rosé since 1987, finding the altitude of its New Mexico vineyards (4,300 feet high) and dry climate to be ideal growing conditions for crisp bubblies. Its tasting room offers views of the city’s famous hot air balloon festival, Balloon Fiesta, every October.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem in Denver

In a state better known for its brews, a cheeky Brit punctures the pretense to “get rid of the variables that don’t matter: the vineyard location, the rolling hills and the tasting room covered in granite and marble” – and often the bottles. At The Infinite Monkey Theorem some wines come in cans (with a monkey logo) or on tap, the winery is in a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in RiNo (River North), a former industrial district, whose tasting room is hipster casual, and owner/winemaker Ben Parsons buys grapes from Colorado vineyards. His approach seems to be working: his 100th Monkey, a red blend of petit syrah, petit verdot, cabernet Franc and Malbec, is Colorado’s highest-rate wine.

New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.

Tastings from wineries in all five New York state wine-making regions – the 14-county Finger Lakes, Long Island, Hudson Valley, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie – are $7 to $9 for five tastes in this small city a 40-minute drive from Rochester. Beer and spirits from New York are also offered — it’s the state’s only tasting room where all three are served in one tasting room. Frequent wine pairing and cooking classes, chef demos and five-course Chef’s Table family-style dinners (kids 12 and up welcome) are also held in the center, whose goal is to showcase New York’s bounty (it has 450+ wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries). The Upstairs Bistro serves lunch and dinner daily, amid Canandaigua Lake views from indoors or outdoors.

Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

This winery with a Statue of Liberty view, whose rustic tasting room walls are composed of recycled wine barrels, makes many wines sourced from vineyards in the Finger Lakes and North Fork, with two top Napa Valley winemakers — Abe Schoener from Scholium Project and Robert Foley (of his eponymous vineyards) — consulting. Red Hook Winery’s claim to fames are petite verdot, cabernet Franc, chardonnay and merlot, which “really define what’s working in New York.” Tastings range from $5 to $12, while a tour and barrel tasting is $25.

Times Ten Cellars in Dallas

This Lakewood neighborhood winery makes Spanish- and Rhone-style wines like tempranillo and syrah, grenache and petite sirah from its own vineyard in the high desert near Alpine, and also sources grapes from California and Texas vineyards. In a stylish yet casual setting, you can buy wine by the glass or bottle in several lounges or a big shaded patio, or do a tasting at the counter. Indulge in the winery’s own small plates, pimento cheese platter, locally-made pecan-coated chocolates and cheesecake, and salads; even order pizza or burgers from local eateries. A second location is in Fort Worth.


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Vintage venue strikes the right note – Crain’s New York Business

Baby boomers, quality spirits and performances by veteran musicians provide the winning formula for City Winery.


City Winery CEO Michael Dorf hopes to expand his music-and-Malbecs concept to 30 outlets in the U.S. and abroad.
Photo: Buck Ennis


Glenn Tilbrook knew what his audience of some 300 baby boomers wanted as he scanned the candlelit room at City Winery.

When the former frontman for the late, great U.K. pop band Squeeze finally delivered his hits “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Tempted” at the end of his 90-minute set, the crowd erupted. This is what they came to hear on a September evening while they sipped expensive wine and swayed in their seats—though Mr. Tilbrook hoped they would also groove to songs from his new solo release, Happy Ending, which he is promoting now.

The confluence of new and nostalgic, pricey yet casual, is the gold mine that six-year-old City Winery has tapped into in Hudson Square. Now City Winery is becoming an international brand, like many of the musical acts it books on a nightly basis. It is on track to double its revenue next year, to $50 million, according to its founder and CEO, Michael Dorf. It expanded to Chicago in 2012, and opened clubs in Napa, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn., this year. Mr. Dorf wants to build an empire of 30 venues in the U.S. and abroad that his wealthy backers liken to the Hard Rock Café and House of Blues—both of which are savvy marketers of merchandise as well.

“The stars have come together very nicely for us,” Mr. Dorf said. “We have gotten the big names that used to fill concert halls and an audience that is looking for culture and a sophisticated environment.”

It is also the only winery and concert venue in the city, and Mr. Dorf wants to grow fast before any competitors “wake up” and copy his business model.
City Winery launched in 2008 as the economy crumbled. Mr. Dorf managed not only to survive, but also to create a new concept around winemaking in New York.

“Michael was almost a one-man show, but he has built an organization of people underneath him, and we have just taken in some new investors to grow this thing,” said Ilan Kaufthal, one of City Winery’s original investors and a former vice chairman of investment banking at Bear Stearns & Co. Mr. Kaufthal is currently chairman of East Wind, a boutique investment bank.

Mr. Dorf, 51, is hardly a novice club owner. In 1986, he founded the original Knitting Factory, a club on East Houston Street, featuring jazz and experimental music that has since moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and opened in several other cities. He’s no longer affiliated with the venue, but it gave him the experience he needed.

At City Winery, he is targeting older and wealthier customers.

“They still like to go to a concert like they used to, but they want to have civilized conversation, and don’t want to get completely wasted and get home at 3 a.m.,” said Steven van der Zwan, a real estate developer who owns residential properties as well as Williamsburg Cinemas, and who was an early investor in City Winery. “These fans still have to get up in the morning and go to work.”


Providing a high level of service is crucial, Mr. Dorf said. As customers arrive for either drinks and dinner or just the music portion of the evening, they are greeted by a delegation of hosts and servers who keep close tabs on their needs.

A huge fan of restaurateur Danny Meyer , Mr. Dorf requires his staff to read Mr. Meyer’s landmark book about the art of hospitality in business, Setting the Table. He also takes his 70-person management team every year to a resort in the Caribbean or elsewhere to develop the corporate culture and share ideas.

“I hate the phrase ‘corporate retreat,’ ” he said. “I call it ‘base camp,’ because when you are mountain-climbing, you create a base camp, where you survey the area you want to climb and conquer.”

One of the summits he’s focused on is the goal of opening up to 20 City Winery outposts in the U.S. within the next five years.

Not just another bar 

His move to Napa in April was a key component to the growth. Because 70% of the wine sold at City Winery venues is made on the premises, it needs huge volumes of grapes and a good relationship with the vineyards that supply it. It has 36 contracts with vineyards—25 in Napa and Sonoma, Calif.—that process more than 100 tons of grapes for City Winery.

“We felt it was a strategic move to have a location in the heart of wine country so we could further our relationships there and get new ones,” Mr. Dorf said.

Without the music, however, City Winery would be just another bar. Access to such performers as Mr. Tilbrook and Steve Forbert, who plays there on Nov. 2, is made easier in large part to the declining fortunes of many musicians who are not making as much income from royalties on their past hits because most consumers are not buying CDs.

Concerts are seen as a steady source of revenue for musicians. Because the vast majority of City Winery’s revenue is derived from selling drinks and food, artists keep about 80% of the money from ticket sales, Mr. Dorf said.

“Our focus is on the culinary side, so we are happy to let the artist fill up the room and make the money,” he added.

For Marc Cohn, who is best known for his Grammy-winning ballad, “Walking in Memphis,” performing at City Winery throughout the year is a no-brainer, as he lives in Manhattan and would rather be close to home with his two children than being on the road.

Still, he concedes that performing live is much more important to an artist than ever before.

“It was hard to sustain a career in the past if you couldn’t deliver live, but that is magnified 100-fold today because no one is really selling any records,” he said, adding, “I’ve played more shows in the last five years than in all of the past 15.”

City Winery represents a new chapter in the music scene as landmark clubs, like the Bottom Line, which attracted such legends as Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt and the Police, shutter.

“When the Bottom Line closed, it was a great loss,” Mr. Cohn said. Still, he pointed out, “City Winery is the only venue in the city where I don’t want to go home after sound check or performing because I want to stay and eat.”

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City Winery Finds a New Home in Nashville –




There’s no shortage of performance venues in Nashville — it is Music City, after all — but Michael Dorf, owner of the just-opened City Winery, says he feels his establishment will offer fans a unique opportunity when watching live entertainment that will keep them coming back for more.

The businessman opened the first City Winery in New York. The original location allowed him to pair a winery with a music venue and see how the two could smash up in a city like New York. “I had been putting on shows for a long time and have been on tour with a number of bands,” he said. “I’ve done that for about 30 years. There was a need and an obvious opportunity for a higher-end concert experience that combined the elements of a seated environment with food and beverages into the overall experience. People are looking for more than French fries and beer. People care where their food comes from.”

Since then, Dorf has opened two other locations, in Chicago and Napa Valley. What led him to Nashville? “We were looking at where we really wanted to start to grow and show off the model, and there were a host of them. Nashville has so many great ingredients that it was a no-brainer. Between the convention center and what is going on from a real estate perspective, it just made sense. Obviously, the music industry is very well entrenched in Nashville and has been for a long time. But there was a missing piece between the Ryman and the smaller tourist venues on Broadway. There are some great venues like Franklin Theater and 3rd and Lindsley, but no one was approaching the culinary side the same way we are.”

The menu offers such fare as duck tacos, pan-roasted flatiron and leg of lamb flatbread, while the wine list includes over 400 selections. Musically, the lineup is very diverse, with such performers as Sandra BernhardLucinda WilliamsDr. Ralph StanleyK.T. Oslin and Joan Osborne booked for the fall lineup. Dorf says he wants a visit to City Winery to be one his clientele doesn’t forget.

“We really try to look at the complete experience at City Winery,” he said. “Years ago, we started a policy of having all of our staff read the book Setting the Tableby Danny Meyer, a restaurateur from New York.  It’s a book about enlightened hospitality and that the customer experience starts from the first moment you plan a visit to a venue to the memories that you have after you leave. We pay a lot of attention to the ticketing process — how customers learn about the shows, and even how they pick their seat. We’ve built a proprietary ticketing program that allows the patron to pick the actual seat that they sit in. If you become a VinoFile member, our annual membership program, you get advance notice when we announce the concert. As a member, you don’t have to pay any service charges. We know what it’s like when you want to see a show, and it might cost $25 to $40, and there’s a $9 service fee added on top of that, which can really be frustrating.”

If his past successes are any indication, Dorf is betting that Tennesseans will make City Winery a favorite hotspot in The 615 by simply satisfying the senses. “We believe what you hear, what you smell and taste all come together to enhance the experience. We look at the holistic 360-degree experience that a customer is going to have to make the evening as memorable and special as possible. Time is a precious commodity, and we all have choices as to where we spend that time. We want to make those couple of hours as terrific as possible. It then becomes self-fulfilling. When the artist knows that their fans are enjoying themselves, they put on a better show. I think we’ve built a better mousetrap, and I think people will love it in a town where people love music, wine and food.”

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