The first things I notice when I step into the bar are the Will Ferrell movies playing nonstop on the TVs.
Vivid oil paintings of hirsuite news anchor Ron Burgandy from Anchorman and hammy uber-villian Jacobim Mugatu from Zoolander dot the walls of the former art gallery. The menu features drinks and cocktails like the “Glass Case of Emotion” and “Smelly Pirate Hooker,” testaments to the way with words of Burgundy, one of Ferrell’s classic characters. The small stage, surrounded by a half dozen couches and ottomans, will play home to a jazz flutist on Fridays.
Features like these aren't just a few gimmicky concoctions designed to appease tourists. Indeed, Stay Classy New York, a former art gallery turned watering hole in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has been completely transformed into an epic voyage through Will Ferrell's colorful, manic career, a veritable shrine to one of America's favorite funnymen. And with a typical hour wait to pay tribute to one of comedy's biggest names, business seems to be booming.
The two friends behind the concept, Zach Neil and Brian Link, are still bewildered and happy by the scrum of attention it’s attracted so far.
“We thought, 'if we’re going to do something like this and spend all our money in the world, even if it fails, at least this is something we’d think is really funny,'” Neil told Maxim. “I’d rather lose half a million dollars doing something like this about one of our favorite comedians. And who wouldn’t want to watch Anchorman while getting hammered?”
Neil and Fink were inspired from the Ferrell fandom of their youth. Looking back, Neil says, Ferrell was something of a staple of their media consumption. They adored his shtick on Saturday Night Live, where Ferrell would often depict bombastic, over the top buffoons (with the exception of a long-suffering Alex Trebek in "Celebrity Jeopardy") with an unnerving deadpan. Though he says he’s not necessarily a cinephile, Neil eventually realized that whenever he would reach for a movie to watch, it was usually a Ferrell flick. “At that point, I figured, I might have an obsession," he said.
"Who wouldn’t want to watch Anchorman while getting hammered?"
Neil and Link weren't the only ones. The lifelong friends quickly realized the concept they’d taken a risk on probably wasn’t much of a risk after all; once news of the bar's existence initially went viral earlier in October, he and co-owner Brian Link found themselves in the eye of a veritable media hurricane.
But outside of the media attention, Neil feels like the bar is playing an important role in revitalizing their block. Eighteen people live in the building above Stay Classy, and “17 of them have been coming down to drink with us” by Neil's count, a solid contingent of regulars embracing the laid back decor. The rest of the crowd runs the gamut from tourists to high-society types like the woman Neil saw come through the doors one evening in an expensive pair of Louboutins. Ferrell's talent for playing a comedic everyman seems to have translated into the bars appeal.
The massive interest nearly sank the establishment prior to opening. In the hours before the doors opened last week, the two were scrambling to get the bar ready for the public, hanging art and installing TVs. They had commissioned about 96 pieces of art by local and national artists, some of whom had works in the previous space, depicting the comedian’s roles through the years. The walls of Stay Classy New York are now adorned with oil paintings and acrylics of everything from Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby to Buddy the Elf. Someone’s even working on a bust of Ferrell’s beloved KVWN Channel 4 anchor, the human blunderbuss Burgundy.
The art is fascinating and hilarious, but it's the cocktail menu that really captures Stay Classy's intended aesthetic. There’s the “Great Odin’s Raven,” which consists of light rum, ginger beer and lemon. The “Glass Case of Emotion” is a combination of muddled rosemary and peach, whiskey, lemon juice and simply syrup. And the “Smelly Pirate Hooker” blends jalapeno margarita, tequila, Stoli jalapeño, orange juice, sour milk and lime juice.
“We hired a friend of ours who’s a really good bartender,” Neil says. “She’s a mixologist, and I said, ‘I want custom cocktails.’ She worked tirelessly for three weeks coming up with them. And they’re hysterical — but they’re also really great cocktails.”
Ferrell-inspired inside jokes abound on the drink menu. The “Did We Just Become Best Friends?” consists of two house shots, “one for you and one for your best friend," although you can also leave shot for a friend “to redeem at a later date.” How about the “Milk Was A Bad Choice”? It takes a bit of Vanilla Stoli, Vanilla Schnapps, milk and ice.
A photo posted by Stay Classy New York (@stayclassybar) on
Oct 13, 2015 at 2:24pm PDT
As far any concerns about the Ferrell character likenesses that fill the space — a potential copyright issue for a litigious movie studio — the partners have been told they’re on solid legal ground. Neil's lawyer advised the duo that as long as Stay Classy isn't explicitly character focused and not leading to the impression that the business is somehow connected to the actor, they should be fine. “Paramount had two reps in last week, and they were like, 'we love this place,'” laughs Neil.
So far, the novelty shows no signs of wearing off. The bar already has 11 private parties booked in the coming weeks. And Neil says the menu will continue to grow, as will the decor inside, as the bar's popularity increases. The performance space in front seems destined to host a singer-songwriter type of performer who, one would hope, can match Burgandy's frenetic performance in Anchorman — although it's hard to imagine what could be more of a draw than some flaming jazz flute:
This bar is missing one thing: Will Ferrell himself. The pair aren't sure if Ferrell is aware of the bar’s existence, the owners are hopeful; Neil claims the son of Ferrell’s agent came in the other day and was texting with his dad.
“This is definitely a tongue-in-cheek thing,” laughs Neil, who compares his and Link’s commercial exertions to the job-hunting scene in Step Brothers, where the hapless characters played by Ferrell and John C. Reilly wear tuxedos to a job interview with a sporting goods store manager.
So what will they do if the man himself shows up? The two pals make no secret of their hope that the man himself makes an appearance, although they're hoping for an unannounced visit by Ferrell to the neighborhood spot built his honor.
“We kinda have this thing in our heads where we hope he’ll show up unannounced,” Neil laughs. “We think it’ll be funnier that way. And we could even be dismissive of him. Like, ' hey man, we’re really busy, can you come back in an hour?'”
Stay Classy New York, 174 Rivington Street (between Clinton and Ridge), New York, NY 10002
Photos by Alycia Kravitz