Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.
NEW YORK, NY – A West Point graduate created a unique social experience in an age when no one seems to look up from their cell phones.
“Drinks are things that bring people together,” said Owen Meyer, CEO of Liquor Lab, which is billed as “Manhattan’s first interactive cocktail experience.”
On a crisp autumn evening, a diverse group of people arrived at the cozy second-floor space in the SoHo neighborhood on a romantic cobblestone street reminiscent of old New York to indulge in a French-themed night of cognacs and cuisine.
“Four different cocktails on every menu and the menus are relegated by themes,” said Meyer, adding, “We might have margaritas and tacos one night, we might have bourbon and barbecue, we might have Japanese spirits and sushi.”
Music sets the mood and people make new friends over drinks and food, catered by local establishments. They also learn a little history related to the night’s theme and how to be their own bartender.
This week, Liquor Lab launched Dollar Cocktail Club, a product line of $12 mix kits with the exact ingredients to make a dozen drinks with a bottle of liquor. Meyer expects it to be a popular holiday gift item that is cross-promotional with their classes.
Liquor Lab has a calendar of events on their website, which they sell-out every night with a capacity of 50 people to maximize the intimate experience they label “social mixology.” They also offer private and corporate events.
“We have a little old couple sitting in the back corner, we have a newly met couple in the front corner, they’re having the same experience and they’re enjoying it equally as much,” Meyer said.
But, not everyone is on a date. Friends, colleagues and strangers come by for a cheerful evening that costs less than most nights out in the Big Apple – $65 for most classes.
Meyer, who turns 33 next month, is an old soul who feels he’s in a traditional industry unaffected by technological advancements. His company could fill a societal need when seemingly everything has become politically divided and intense. The atmosphere at Liquor Lab is the opposite – relaxed, enlightening and refreshing.
“After I got out of the military, I wanted to do something that was a little more interactive and fun, so I started working with Jim Beam, now known as Beam Suntory,” said Meyer who worked there for nearly three years as a “spirit specialist” and in a sales capacity after two foot injuries and a back injury cut his military career short.
Meyer said he has come to realize the “cliché” of taking calculated risks is true. He honed his leadership skills at West Point.
“SOP – Standard Operating Procedures – we harp on that here probably more than anything because everything we do here is very repetitive,” said Meyer of his staff’s routine in setting each table. “In the military, it’s your weapons, your equipment, it’s your gear, it’s your reports. From an officer’s standpoint and a manager’s standpoint there’s also an assimilation there with managing people, making it very clear their task and purpose each day, and those are things we do every day here.”
Meyer tested Liquor Lab in Chicago and launched a pop-up shop in Southampton before opening in SoHo last September. Liquor Lab has been profitable since its inception, gaining customers solely by word-of-mouth.
They are expanding nationwide over the next year, opening in 10 cities, including Nashville, Denver and Las Vegas.