By Nora Workman By Nora Workman | September 28, 2022 | Food & Drink Food & Drink Feature Food & Drink Migration
Derek Axelrod and Tony Fortuna are returning to the city with T-Bar’s reopening.
Managing partner Derek Axelrod talks city classic T-Bar's new opening, partnership with Tony Fortuna and their secret ingredient to success.
WE HEAR YOU HAVE SOME EXCITING THINGS COOKING! WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW OPENING COMING UP?
It’s going to be a highly anticipated launch with back-to-school and people getting back to work from the Hamptons or from Europe. We decided to open at the end of August, after almost a nine-month-long gut renovation.
IS THE RENOVATION A NEW LOOK OR IS IT STAYING TRUE TO THE ROOTS OF THE ORIGINAL T-BAR?
The T-Bar that people are familiar with was a restaurant that was on the Upper East Side and it was like your neighborhood cafeteria. All these people would go there and know that they could always just get a great consistent meal in the neighborhood and it wasn’t really about the decor. It was really about just having a great meal. The main difference about this T-Bar is that we ended up taking it to a whole different level as far as the decor. I worked on construction through my company DA Project Management as well as design with Seed Design and owner Lesly Zamor. It has a real sexy and luxe vibe with lots of earth tones from the velvet paneling on the walls to the color of the walnut floors and the stone countertops—everything is just a clean, contemporary and modern look.
YOU HAVE YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN RESTAURANT MANAGEMENT. WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’VE BROUGHT TO T-BAR?
We like to cater to the customer and give them everything they want when it comes to their food because T-Bar’s menu is a very consistent product. We have a lot of signature items that T-Bar is known for, and whether it’s the chicken Milanese, the sushi, the hamburger or the porterhouse steak, the customers have always wanted something specific. They want it a certain way. So we’ve really learned how to make sure that the customer’s always happy and we’re always taking care of their wants and needs.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO MOST WITH T-BAR’S NEW OPENING?
This T-Bar is not only different in look but in configuration from the former Upper East Side and the Southampton locations. It’s a trilevel space with a ground floor, a mezzanine and a lounge. What’s really nice and unique about this space on 60th Street is that it has two private entrances. We’re going to be doing a lot of exciting events upstairs in the lounge. We have a couple of Fashion Week events already planned in September, and we have some events for movie premieres also in the fall. And something about this location that’s different from the other two is that we have a private room that holds up to 14 people. It’s a closed-off space with a television and its own sound system and other traits that make it a very private space.
T-Bar’s new interiors elevate the New York City classic to new heights
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH TONY FORTUNA.
We have a very special and unique partnership. I have an interior design background and a construction background. My talents gel really nicely with Tony’s, who’s a true restaurant operator. I’ve owned restaurants for almost 20 years, and Tony’s been in the restaurant business for over 50 years. The two of us together, it’s nice for expansion and for opening other locations where I handle all the construction, the design, and I rest assured that he’s operations. We’re creating a sexier, more contemporary vibe which will be different from the Hamptons location and the T-Bar that was on the Upper East Side.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE RESTAURANT GOING FROM HERE?
Coming out of the pandemic this summer, we’ve noticed that in the middle of the week business is just as busy as Fridays and Saturdays. We’ve gotten great feedback from all of our customers and our clientele, and everybody’s been really pleased with the quality of the food and the quality of the service. We’re fortunate that we bring all our staff from the city to ensure the T-Bar customer has an experience that they’re used to. As far as expansions, I’m excited to announce we’re in our final lease negotiations for a location in Palm Beach. So that’ll be the first T-Bar that’s outside of New York. It’ll be executed within the next 60 days and we’ll be hoping to open that by next fall within one year.
WHAT’S YOUR MUST-HAVE DISH FROM THE MENU?
I would say the chicken Milanese is probably our biggest seller. It’s really a unique and special dish, unlike any other chicken Milanese that you’ll have out there. There’s the porterhouse steak, which we are very proud of, which is one of the most popular steaks on the menu. Another popular dish as far as fish goes is the branzino, and the crispy sushi, which we added a few years ago has been a big hit. My personal favorites are definitely the branzino, chicken Milanese and the porterhouse.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE SUMMER COCKTAIL?
My ultimate summer cocktail is a spicy margarita. We make it with muddled jalapenos and do a very simple version where it’s good tequila, fresh lime juice and fresh agave. We prefer to use Casamigos for tequila. 116 E. 60th St., New York
Photography by: PHOTOS BY BRANDON SCHULMAN