FelCor raises Knickerbocker rooftop venue into thriving focus of events booking.
Story by Denny Lewis, Video by Michael Costa, Photos by Aul Warchol
Learn how to make St. Cloud’s signature Aqueduct and Queens & Tonic cocktails.
After a redevelopment that exceeded the $250 million mark, the Knickerbocker Hotel at Broadway and 42nd Street in New York City reopened in the spring of 2015. The Knick’s owner, FelCor Lodging Trust of Irving, Texas, designated the historic property-rising above the bustle of Times Square, sitting within a few minutes’ walk of Broadway theaters, and nestled among towering corporate skyscrapers—as its flagship hotel. FelCor, in association with operator Highgate Hotels, has maintained the luxury and elegance that hosted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Enrico Caruso in the property’s early days. The crowning feature of the new Knickerbocker is St. Cloud, a bar and event space that sits atop the 330-room hotel providing a glorious and unique view of the cityscape.
FelCor VP of F&B Don Falgoust saw the creation of the rooftop venue as inevitable. “With the popularity of rooftop bars now in New York City, we knew we had to take advantage of our unparalleled location,” he says. Beyond that opportunity, St. Cloud helped Falgoust optimize F&B operations; in midtown Manhattan, discretionary food dollars have countless places to wander off to unless you can persuade them to stay with you. The Knickerbocker has one full-service restaurant, Charlie Palmer at the Knick, situated on the fourth floor; a coffee shop, Jake’s @ the Knick, with some food offerings; a mid-size conference area called the Salon, where food may be served; and in-room dining. St. Cloud provides a more casual, relaxed outlet for lighter fare and shareable items out of a small, onsite kitchen.
“The property has landmark status, so, whatever we did, it had to fit into the existing footprint,” says Falgoust. “What we could do was somewhat limited, but we needed to maximize our F&B opportunities. A roof deck gave us the ability to extend our F&B presence without encroaching on landmark restrictions.”
St. Cloud occupies nearly 8,000 square feet on the roof with about 3,500 square feet of that under cover for year-round use. The venue’s legal capacity of 249 people—relatively low for its size—means there is plenty of room for everyone and the possibility to move inside during inclement weather. At the three streetside corners of the roof are Sky Pod seating areas that can be reserved, with a per-person minimum, for 10 to 25 people. In an area set apart from F&B service, renowned 42nd Street tobacconist Nat Sherman stocks an open-air cigar lounge.
Inside, guests can relax at the 35-foot bar, in the Club Room, or in the Waterford Crystal Lounge. Directional electric space heaters do their best to lengthen the seasonal usability of the outdoor space.
Buy the Sky
St. Cloud GM Chris Choquet touts the roof deck’s spaciousness as part of its desirability, saying there is “a lot of real estate” to move around in compared to most roof venues in the city.
“Many of our after-work regulars work in the corporate buildings around us and can see us during their day,” says Choquet. “Most of our buyouts have been from corporations that are close by and book us because of our great location that is convenient to get to.” In the warmer months, St. Cloud sells a full buyout about once a week, along with one or two partial buyouts weekly.
The buyout is the magical occurrence that makes St. Cloud the keystone in the arch of the hotel’s F&B success.
“Buyouts and partial buyouts can be way more profitable,” says Will Rentschler, F&B director at the Knickerbocker. “We can be sure of staffing and eliminate waste. We can secure a higher check average because we sell a beverage package and take a food order ahead of time.” While revenues in the 2015 start-up period point to a check average of around $39, a full buyout in the busy season can run up to $75,000, with partial buyouts available according to group size.
The staff—front and back of house—numbers just over 20 for a capacity crowd, and expected-guest totals for private functions allow management to keep labor costs exact and low. St. Cloud can also offer action stations such as sauté, grilling, sushi, and others, that can spread out over the roof. By upselling advance beverage sales, eliminating losses from food waste, and optimizing staff needs, buyouts result in greater profits and fewer risks, Rentschler says.
“Going into 2016, I’m preaching ‘Buyout, buyout, partial buyout,'” says Falgoust. The ability to minimize waste and risk and to feed the Knickerbocker’s overall F&B bottom line with St. Cloud events satisfies him that adding a rooftop venue was a “no brainer,” and its revenue contribution is “extremely robust.”
St. Cloud is open in the slower season but closes on Sundays and Mondays. The Knick will gladly open the venue either of those days for a buyout, however. A “roof reservationist” has been added to the team, with dedicated email for booking events. Falgoust pinpoints the “sweet spot” for St. Cloud business as being a mix of partial buyouts and regular clientele.
“We’d love to book more partial buyouts,” says Falgoust, “and still have the great location open and available to hotel guests and regular customers.”
Denny Lewis is a Hotel F&B veteran based in Arlington, Massachusetts.