Pebble Bar Opens in Rockefeller Center with Pete Davidson and Nicholas Braun Among Investors

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The four-story townhouse at the corner of West 49th Street and the Avenue of the Americas has stood there for more than a century, much of it as a fabled Irish saloon named Hurley’s, which survived Prohibition and the development of Rockefeller Center.

For decades, it was a famed watering hole for NBC stars like Johnny Carson and other network V.I.P.s who would use a secret passageway that connects to the 30 Rock studios next door.

Now, a group of downtown scene makers are reopening it next week as Pebble Bar and, in the process, trying to lure a cooler party scene to Rockefeller Center. Yes, right down the street from where tourists gather to see the Christmas tree.

“Pebble Bar is filling a void,” said Matt Kliegman, a bar owner and restaurateur who runs the venture with a team that includes Carlos Quirarte, his partner in such downtown spots as the Smile, the Jane Ballroom and the dive bar-cum-celebrity hangout Ray’s. “There’s nothing wrong with Midtown. But it’s missing certain things.”

Investors include the D.J. and producer Mark Ronson; the actors Nicholas Braun, Justin Theroux and Jason Sudeikis; and Pete Davidson, the “Saturday Night Live” star who works next door.

Mr. Kliegman and Mr. Quirarte envision a nightlife spot that offers a reason to come to Rockefeller Center after dark. It may not be such a crazy idea. Rock Center is, if not exactly Dimes Square, at least a little more happening these days.

Lodi, an upscale Italian café by the chef Ignacio Mattos, opened there last summer, bringing foodie buzz to a neighborhood better known for grab-and-go sandwiches from Pret a Manger. And Rough Trade, the vinyl record store, closed its warehouse space in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn last year and relocated to 30 Rock.

Mr. Kliegman and Mr. Quirarte have a talent for spotting the next scene — or making one. They also have a loyal following and celebrity friends to help boost Pebble Bar’s profile.

Those things appealed to Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm that operates Rockefeller Center and has been trying to replace the center’s chain stores with more bespoke experiences. In 2019, the firm approached Mr. Kliegman about opening a bar in the old Hurley’s space. At the time, the ground floor housed a Magnolia Bakery (and still does) and the upper floors were used as offices.

EB Kelly, a managing director of Tishman Speyer, called the efforts a “re-imagination of the Center,” adding, “The Pebble Bar team is a wonderful example of this. Their design sensibility calls back to Rock Center’s iconic Art Deco aesthetic, while bringing a new and vibrant energy.”

For Mr. Quirarte, Midtown evokes the mythic big city with its skyscrapers, TV studios and the neon marquee of Radio City Music Hall. “There’s that feeling up there of, ‘I’m in New York, I’m going to hail a cab!’” he said. “The problem before is it felt a little bit old and stuffy.”

Hurley’s dates back to the 1890s and belonged to an earlier era of boisterous watering holes. It entered New York legend when Rockefeller Center was being developed in the 1930s, because the proprietors refused to vacate their long-term lease, causing the whole Art Deco-style complex to be built around the townhouse. A famous photo shows a hole in the ground, with only Hurley’s left standing.

The original Hurley’s closed in the 1970s, though it continued for two more decades under new ownership, before closing for good in 1999.

For the new bar, Mr. Kliegman and Mr. Quirarte imagined a fictional townhouse with a different vibe on each floor. (The name comes from a quote by Jack Kerouac, another famous Hurley’s patron, who once described the townhouse as being “the pebble at the hem of the shoe of the immense tall man which is the RCA building.”)

Designed by Gachot Studios, the interiors have an elevated swankiness not in evidence at Mr. Kliegman and Mr. Quirarte’s downtown spots, like Ray’s. The second floor houses a traditional saloon, with an etched bronze mirror, aged brass architectural lights and a wall of windows overlooking the bustle of the Avenue of the Americas. The third floor is a 30-seat restaurant and raw bar, with a mix of upholstered banquettes, dining chairs and tables made from Noir St. Laurent marble.

The top floor is an intimate private events space called Johnny’s. A vintage marble fireplace mantle and stand-up piano lend the space the intimate feel of a residence. It could be a future home of “SNL” cast parties, or where musicians who play Radio City have their after parties.

Mr. Kliegman and Mr. Quirarte are planning a soft opening for friends and family before Pebble Bar opens to the public next week. “We don’t do big parties anymore,” Mr. Quirarte said.

It “might be a little more precious than our other places,” Mr. Kliegman said, but he added that it would also attract the tattooed artists to Midtown. “We’re not selling veal chops for $95.”


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