When brothers Alex and Miles Pincus were growing up in New Orleans in the 1980s, they knew no oyster but the Gulf oyster, and they loved it.
Their horizons have expanded since then, and they’ve made their mark in New York with Grand Banks, a one-of-a-kind floating oyster bar built on a historic sailing ship.
Now, the brothers and their business partner Adrien Gallo have a new project in the works for their hometown — a cocktail and oyster bar in downtown New Orleans that combines their first love with a different approach and some lessons learned along the way.
Miles Pincus described the concept as “an All-American oyster bar,” with oysters from across the Gulf coast and around the country, and a menu from a high-profile chef focused on a more diverse local catch.
“We’ll be serving sustainable seafood from fishermen that we know, species that are healthy, viable and abundant,” said Alex Pincus. “New Orleans is right in the middle of the best area for fishing, so why isn’t more of that variety on menus?”
The new oyster bar, which is yet to be named, is being developed in partnership with the new Ace Hotel, which opens next month in the CBD. It will occupy a separate building, a three-story townhouse adjacent to the hotel at 630 Carondelet St. The oyster bar is slated to open in May.
The chef is Kerry Heffernan, who is also chef at Grand Banks. He was previously executive chef and partner at Eleven Madison Park, the acclaimed restaurant from Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group.
One of Heffernan’s claims to fame is developing that company’s Shake Shack burger. Now, he’s been known as a an outspoken advocate for sustainable fisheries and for bringing a broader range of seafood to restaurant menus.
As at Grand Banks, Heffernan’s New Orleans menu will be organized around a variety of oysters, small plates and just a few entrée-sized dishes. While it’s still taking shape, some likely dishes include ceviche of cobia and Spanish mackerel, fried frog legs and a lobster roll.
“We envision it as more of an ongoing session than a fixed dinner,” said Alex Pincus.
Lauren Schell, previously of the pioneering New York craft cocktail bar Milk & Honey, is directing the bar program at the New Orleans restaurant in conjunction with the local Ace Hotel’s beverage manager, Lucinda Weed.
“We spent a lot of time in New York and got to see New Orleans change from what we knew when we were growing up there. Now, we’re bringing back what we’ve learned, too,” said Miles Pincus.
Growing up in hotels
The hospitality business runs in the Pincus brothers’ family, and they say it’s in their blood. Their father, Ronald Pincus, managed the Royal Orleans Hotel (now the Omni Royal Orleans) for many years before taking the helm at the Hotel Monteleone, where he is chief operating officer.
“We grew up in hotels, we thought it was normal,” said Miles Pincus. “I thought everyone had a really charming maitre d’ around all the time.”
In New York, the oyster bar they developed with Gallo is anything but normal. In 2014, they opened Grand Banks aboard a 1940s-vintage schooner, a sailing ship that was once part of the region’s cod fishing fleet and later became a museum. Berthed on the Hudson River, it’s an open air eatery and lounge that is open seasonally and has become a coveted perch for summertime sunsets.
One of their design collaborators on Grand Banks was Eric Cheong, who is creative director of Atelier Ace, the in-house creative agency for the Ace Hotel. They began discussing ideas for a New Orleans partnership as the local hotel took shape. The designer for the new restaurant is the Brooklyn-based firm hOmE.
The oyster bar’s Carondelet Street address dates to the early 19th century and is part of a row of CBD townhouses that now includes the restaurant Balise. It was previously home to New Orleans Plating and Polishing Works. The new restaurant will have its main bar and oyster bar on the ground floor, a second dining room upstairs, a private dining area on the third floor and outdoor seating in a courtyard.
Ace Hotel is a Portland, Oregon-based brand known for its stylish redevelopment of vintage properties, and for cultivating its own popular dining and nightlife scenes.
The New Orleans hotel is scheduled to open March 14 in a nine-story Art Deco office building at Carondelet and Lafayette streets. It will have its own restaurant, an Italian eatery called Josephine Estelle, as nola.com first reported. It will be led by the Memphis-based chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman.
The new oyster bar will function a bit differently, as a bar and restaurant developed with the Ace Hotel but physically separate from the hotel.
The setting of a CBD townhouse is of course much different from Grand Banks, with its outdoor allure and also its logistical challenges. But the Pincus brothers feel some fundamentals of their experience in the business thus far will transfer to the New Orleans project.
“If we’re bringing some of what we learned in New York home, I feel like we brought a lot of New Orleans to New York, too, especially what we learned from our dad,” said Alex Pincus. “It’s how you treat people and how you relate to people.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.