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Eat and Drink

Inside Bar Gonzo: 1970s nightlife meets Barbados rum shack

R.L. King can walk into an empty room and envision a concept. 

The chef, who co-founded Untamed Sandwiches and has worked for il Buco, Hundred Acres, Five Points and the McKittrick Hotel, often consults on projects. And when he saw a bi-level space in Hell’s Kitchen last year, it took some time, but he pulled from a lot of different inspirations.

“I can walk in and figure out a concept pretty fast,” King, 39, said. “This one took a little longer because of the quirkiness of the space.”

Bar Gonzo, which officially opens Nov. 9 at 515 Ninth Ave. near the Port Authority, ranges from 1970s nightlife to coastal California vibes. The menu features takes on childhood staples alongside vegetable fare, with tiki cocktails and punches to drink.

“We’re very serious, but not taking ourselves too seriously,” King said. “This place is supposed to be fun.”

The executive chef and co-founder of Bar Gonzo walked us through some of his influences in crafting the new space.

1. 1970s nightlife

King wants the main dining room to exude
Photo Credit: Simmer Group

King wants the main dining room to exude the feel of the 1970s, with pink, green, blue and gold colors, palms and a giant peacock at the bar. “As you walk in the door here, that’s the feeling you get of that era — old Vegas. It’s just bright, it’s fun, it’s funky.”

2. 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'

Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in "
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

“There’s a loose interpretation with Hunter S. Thompson and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ ” said King (the bar’s name is a reference to a character in the novel and film and Thompson’s style of journalism). “That was the initial inspiration.”

3. The Polo Lounge

The second floor (pictured) features a climate-controlled, year-round
Photo Credit: Simmer Group

The second floor (pictured) features a climate-controlled, year-round outdoor bar. The feel up here is coastal California and Baja, King said, with places like the Polo Lounge providing décor inspiration. “If you look at that scene, you’ll see some lattices, flowers and some greenery,” King said. “You don’t even feel like you’re on Ninth Avenue.”

4. Barbados rum shacks

Bar Gonzo. Photo by Simmer Group. For 11/8/17
Photo Credit: Simmer Group

In the center of the upstairs space is a bar that resembles a rum shack you might come across on a Caribbean beach, with wooden structures and paneling. “It’s like in Barbados, the old rum shacks — there’s no electricity, they’re on every single corner. We took that feel.” To drink, the bar will serve tiki cocktails and large-format punches.

5. Frozen after-school meals

The menu has Mediterranean flavors, with veggie plates
Photo Credit: Simmer Group

The menu has Mediterranean flavors, with veggie plates and grilled brochettes. A signature item is the Latch Key Kid Pizza. “It’s our play on the iconic frozen French bread pizza — something you could pull out of the freezer, put in the microwave so the kid didn’t burn down the house and sit in front of the TV.” King elevated that, with ciabatta from Grandaisy Bakery and cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers.

6. Ninth Avenue businesses

Esposito Meat Market at 9th Avenue and 38th
Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The upstairs also has a cold kitchen with a raw bar, Saxelby Cheesemongers cheese and salumi, which will include products from nearby Esposito Meat Market (pictured). “If we’re going to be on this block, we’re going to put in Esposito for sure,” King said.

7. McKittrick Hotel

Located on the roof of the McKittrick Hotel,

Pulling from his time at the McKittrick Hotel, at Heath and Gallow Green (pictured), King plans to bring theatrics to Bar Gonzo, from fire-breathers to singers. Brunch will have a performance aspect, too, “some sort of cool funky jazz, or steel reggae,” he said. 

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