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Omnivore - A hotel restaurant fit for locals

Robert Gerstenecker and Greg Best talk Bar Margot

This week we took a First Look at the new Bar Margot, inside the Four Seasons Hotel. One of the main objectives for the hotel's new restaurant is to do a better job of attracting a local audience - not just serving hotel guests. Since this challenge is not unique to the Four Seasons (just ask the folks at the various W's around town, or the Loews, or the Ritz-Carlton, or the InterContinental...), I wanted to dig a little deeper into the issue with Bar Margot executive chef Robert Gerstenecker, who has been working with Four Seasons properties since 1989. I also checked in with Greg Best, who is consulting on Bar Margot's bar program, to get the bartender's perspective on turning the hotel bar into a drinking destination. 
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? Robert, most hotel restaurants in Atlanta seem to have a really difficult time attracting locals - what can be done to get locals in the door? 
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? Robert Gerstenecker:  That is the question – how do you do that? We have been working on that for a very long time, and our initial mission was to create accessibility, and make sure the quality and value was there. So, over the years, we’ve addressed those things, but for some reason in Atlanta, unlike other cities, people don’t feel comfortable coming into hotels for a number of reasons. I just don’t think its part of the local scene, or hasn't been, because the hotel world has (traditionally) been fairly staid – (meaning) many hotels were internal, introverted, always looking at the in-house guests rather than the local community. So it's turning around years of perception. I think that for special occasions, hotels (always) do well, because people know there’s quality and value.
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? Turning the corner on that and trying to get the younger, or "foodie" people coming in - the only way to do that is to have more of an exciting, edgy, entertaining kind of environment, where you are balancing food, service, entertainment, and giving a reason to come in. And a lot of hotels miss that – we’ve had great service, great food, but we really didn’t pay much attention to the entertainment factor.
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? What specifically do you see as ways to do that?
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? ??? RG: With Bar Margot, we’re going for that kind of funky hotel experience. We’ve got great music – Fridays and Saturdays we stay open til 2AM - and we have DJs coming in, spinning vinyl, and people are loving that aspect. It adds that factor to stay for an after dinner drink because (Bar Margot) has got a good buzz...
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? The whole idea with getting Ford Fry and the Rocket Farm group in here (to consult on Bar Margot)... you know, a lot of hotels are leasing out their (restaurant) space, but we feel that we still want to be the drivers of the food and beverage program. But coming up with a way to entice people to come into a hotel, the best thing is to go local with chefs. This city has seen celebrity chefs come in, but they’ve been a flash in the pan. People in this city want to see the chefs and know who they are - they're not loyal to people from out of town. Even Jean Georges couldn’t make a go of it here, because the folks in Atlanta want something real. They want to connect with something. 
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? I think the other part that a lot of hotels miss is a serious beverage program geared to a contemporary mindset. We brought in (bartenders) Greg Best and Paul Calvert, and they consulted with us on the beverage program, so we’ve got an amazing lineup of beverages... (We want) to bring people in and show them what a hotel can be, and have people say that it's not a hotel bar, but a bar in a hotel. It’s a subtle point, but a really important point. 
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? So Greg, I noticed that Bar Margot has a section of nightcaps on the menu, which you don't often see...
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? Greg Best: From the outset, Paul (Calvert, also a consultant on Bar Margot's bar program) and I drew great inspiration from the romanticization of "that last sip of the evening" one imbibes before turning in for the night. There is a sexiness and a sophistication to the nightcap that we felt would be the perfect flip of the switch for the Bar Margot space. The nightcap menu represents a close or "tucking in" of dinner service for the night. This is when we as drinkers are allowed to open our collars, or let our hair down and relax with good company. Almost like retiring to the parlor after a great meal.
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? What other aspects of the bar menu are you most proud of, and how do you see that changing over time? 
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? GB: My favorite is still the Gin Margot (a spin on the gin and tonic, employing accents of sherry and basil), which was designed to be the one unchanging menu item. As for the rest of the menu, we worked very hard to empower the bar team at Margot to work in a collaborative method that would allow the menu to change as frequently as they are comfortable for it to. The basic framework or bones of the drinks on the menu have been set. How often they change the skin will be largely dictated by the folks drinking there.
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