Sports bars often get pigeonholed into a lower class of venue in today’s on-premise arena. These taverns have a reputation for offering cheap food and drinks in settings that can leave much to be desired. But Paige Hospitality Group has been working to change that image since launching in 2008. The New York City-based company operates a portfolio of upscale lounges where sports take center stage, while boasting world-class menus and fashionable interiors. From craft beers to creative cocktails and approachable boutique wines, Paige Hospitality Group’s venues are changing the perception of the sports bar.
“We really focus on the food and beverage programs and event planning,” says vice president Brian Mazza. “We’re a multifaceted hospitality group that works very hard to put out consistently high-quality food, sophisticated cocktails and professional events. We were the first company to successfully produce an upscale sports bar and eatery concept.”
Paige Hospitality Group’s premiere venue, The Ainsworth, debuted in 2008 in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. At 6,000 square feet, the lounge and restaurant has a rustic-chic interior complete with antiqued pine walls and aged mirrors and chandeliers. A plethora of high-definition televisions throughout the space provide game-watching opportunities at any angle. The success of this first venue led to the addition of Ainsworth Park in 2012 in Manhattan’s Union Square area and The Ainsworth Las Vegas in The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino later that same year. Rounding out the company’s roster of brands are the American bar and grill concepts 121 Fulton Street and The Chester, both in Manhattan, and the fine dining venue Southampton Social Club in Southampton, New York.
In just six years, the Ainsworth brand has become a destination venue in New York City for people who enjoy watching sports in an upscale setting. The original restaurant and lounge features a menu of American fare enhanced with global ingredients, with such standouts as hamburgers and steaks. The Ainsworth boasts seven types of burgers ($15 to $18), including versions topped with macaroni and cheese, caramelized onions and Gruyère, and Italian sausage, mozzarella, peppers and onions. These offerings join a selection of main dishes like branzino, marinated skirt steak, dry-aged bone-in rib eye and lamb chops ($22 to $38). The Ainsworth also serves a weekly brunch.
Drinks comprise 60 percent of total sales at The Ainsworth. The venue focuses on upscale but accessible cocktails, craft beers and approachable wines. “Initially, beer drove 90 percent of our beverage sales,” says Koorosh Bakhtiar, the executive general manager of Paige Hospitality Group. “We recognized that both our wine and cocktail programs left much to be desired, and we’ve worked tirelessly over the past few years to elevate those programs. It has paid dividends both financially and with the feedback we’ve received from guests.” He adds that the company’s efforts to enhance its cocktail and wine offerings have led to roughly equal shares of beverage sales among all three categories—beer, spirits
The Ainsworth’s beer menu is diverse, listing big brands like Budweiser and Guinness alongside crafts and imports, such as Blue Point Blueberry ale, Brooklyn Brewery’s namesake lager, Shock Top Belgian White ale and Peroni (beers are $6 to $8 a bottle or draft pour; $23 to $26 a pitcher). “There’s nothing more American than watching sports and drinking beer,” Bakhtiar says. “Beer has and always will be a huge part of our core business. Our goal is to provide a diverse line of unique microbrews and traditional domestic beers.”
Cocktails are now a critical component too, and The Ainsworth offers roughly 10 specialty drinks ($15 to $16), which feature top-shelf spirits, fresh produce and high-quality mixers. While they’re designed to be sophisticated, the venue’s cocktails are also relatively straightforward—a key factor for Bakhtiar. “We strive each day to create complex flavors while using simple ingredients,” he says. “People want consistently delicious drinks and don’t want to be overwhelmed by flavors and ingredients.”
The Ainsworth’s specialties include the Georgian Style, mixed with Cîroc Amaretto vodka, Baileys Irish Cream liqueur and espresso; the Mr. Moore, comprising Bulleit Bourbon, honey-ginger syrup and fresh blackberries; and The Market, made with Nolet’s Silver Dry gin, mint, cucumber and simple syrup. “We take a lot of pride in our cocktail program,” Bakhtiar says. “Quality is key, and we focus on making sure every single cocktail, garnish and presentation is exactly the same every time. We show our commitment to quality by using only high-end spirits like Belvedere vodka, Ron Zacapa rum and Don Julio Tequila, among other brands. It creates a much better product for the guest.”
On the wine side, The Ainsworth puts an emphasis on labels that offer quality at an affordable price. The wines must also pair well with food. Selections ($10 to $17 a glass; $38 to $350 a 750-ml. bottle) include current vintages of A by Acacia Chardonnay, Snap Dragon Riesling, Terrazas de Los Andes Altos del Plata Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosenblum Cellars Vintner’s Cuvée Zinfandel and Sterling Vineyards Vintner’s Collection Pinot Noir.
Ainsworth Park has a similar menu to the original restaurant, while The Ainsworth Las Vegas’ offerings are slightly different. However, both venues stay true to the flagship’s concept and design. The company hadn’t initially planned to stray so far west, but the opportunity in The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sin City was too good to pass up. “The venue is doing great, and it fills a void in the Vegas market,” Mazza says. “I’m impressed with how far we’ve come, although I knew with all our hard work and dedication we could obtain our goals.”
Once The Ainsworth was firmly established, Paige Hospitality Group started adding new concepts. The contemporary pub 121 Fulton Street opened in 2011 in Manhattan’s Financial District with a menu that spans 60 items and includes American classics that feature exotic twists. There are sliders and full-sized hamburgers, tacos, sandwiches and larger entrées (appetizers start at $8; main dishes are $17 to $29). Specialties include The Fulton burger, topped with Gruyère, smoked bacon, grilled Portobello mushroom and caramelized onions; ahi tuna taquitos in a crispy wonton shell; grilled cheese stuffed with short rib; and Southern fried chicken served with potato gratin, cole slaw and a buttermilk biscuit.
Cocktails ($14) at 121 Fulton Street are named after the restaurant’s location in lower Manhattan. The menu includes the Wall Street Spritz, made with Moët & Chandon Impérial Champagne and fresh mango and blackberries; The Downtown, a blend of Bulleit Bourbon, mint, lime and strawberries; and The Fulton, comprising Ketel One vodka, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and fresh cucumber and lime. The restaurant also has a more encompassing wine menu that spans 25-plus selections, roughly double the list at The Ainsworth. The wines ($11 to $13 a glass; $38 to $350 a 750-ml. bottle) hail from California, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Argentina and South Africa.
Located in the chic Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC hotel, American eatery and bar The Chester is Paige Hospitality Group’s newest concept, having opened in September 2013. The restaurant features indoor and outdoor seating, including a weatherproof garden room and a large bar area. The menu lists small bites like sea bass skewers and prosciutto flatbread alongside such larger dishes as Bourbon-glazed Atlantic salmon and steak frites (appetizers start at $11; entrées are $16 to $28). The Chester’s drinks menu boasts specialties like The Astor Martini ($17), made with Ketel One Citroen, Aperol aperitif and grapefruit juice, and the Hellfire ($17), a blend of jalapeño-infused Don Julio Blanco, lemon juice and agave syrup.
Rounding out the Paige Hospitality Group portfolio is Southampton Social Club, a tony spot that’s heavy on seafood and small plates. The menu offers lobster tacos, Caribbean-spiced mahimahi, Tequila-and-lime-grilled shrimp, and pan-seared striped bass (small plates start at $16; entrées are $30 to $49). Southampton Social Club is a nightlife destination in the summer months when the Hamptons are packed with city dwellers looking to escape Manhattan. The venue features a variety of seasonal cocktails ($16) and offers spirits and Champagne bottle service (from $375 a 750-ml. bottle of Bacardi rum or Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey up to $4,800 a 6-liter bottle of Moët & Chandon Impérial). A variety of beers and wines are also available.
“As a team we’re constantly evolving to stay relevant, especially since New York City is one big melting pot of competition,” Mazza says. “To achieve a highly regarded product, you can’t ever take your foot off the gas in any aspect of the operation. It’s important to us that we stay as cultured as possible and learn from what others are doing right. We’re constantly building our team to surround ourselves with hard-working, creative individuals.”
Though no specific plans have been announced, Mazza says Paige Hospitality Group is actively looking into expansion. And he adds that beverage alcohol will continue to be a critical component to the company’s success, as he notes that having an innovative drinks program makes restaurants and lounges stand apart from their peers. “We’re constantly trying new products and combinations,” Mazza says. “I will never be content with where we are as a group. We still have so much more that we want to accomplish, and we don’t plan to slow down anytime soon.”