Benjamin NewbyMixologist, Moet HennessyWHAT MADE YOU MOVE TO CHICAGO AND WHY HAVE YOU STAYED?
My wife is the director of world languages at the British School of Chicago, so we came over for her job. She’s fluent in Spanish and French and could teach all over the world. I worked in nightlife for years, and because I built my career around communication and talking to people, I had to move somewhere English speaking. A job was advertised at the British School in Chicago, and six months later we were here. It all happened very quickly, and then obviously I stayed here because it’s been very successful.
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR WIFE?
We met through a mutual friend, one of my best friends [Jenny] at university was her best friend from home. We met just when I got back from Ibiza, I just lost a load of weight. I was originally 280 pounds with a 40 inch waist, went to Ibiza and came back almost like this. I was quite bold, brash and a little bit arrogant, because all of a sudden I was good looking so then basically she hated me for four years and refused to be at any place I was at. Four years later, both at the same time, she had split with her boyfriend and I split with my girlfriend. Obviously after four years, I had grown up. I was a bit less of a cocky little kid. Had a great time, talked more afterwards and got along really well. She was living in New Castle at the time, I was in Bristol – it was about a six hour drive apart. It was cool because we were very long distance, so I wouldn’t see her for like four weeks, so we really kind of got to know each other over a period of time. We got to know each other without being in each others pockets. We eventually moved in with each other and got married. You know, marriage is always a relationship journey, especially me doing what I do and her being a teacher.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB HERE AND HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
I went [to Underground] on my first birthday in Chicago, in March 2006, with my wife and a friend of hers from school. I knew a girl that was one of the bartenders there, and she introduced us to Zach, who used to be the VIP host, and he introduced me to Billy, Arturo and Brad, the chef. [After talking with them,] I was just like “Wow, what an incredible company.” At the time I was supposed to be launching English but wasn’t that into the final concept. Underground had just opened so it was packed. It was the first time I had experienced the open format music in America. Arturo gave me his card and I was super impressed with that whole experience so I emailed Arturo, sent him my resume, and met with him about three or four weeks later to show him my portfolio and everything I’d done back home. This was really when mixology was just starting to grow. Arturo was into the concept, and created a role for me as manager mixologist, then through that I became VIP host/manager mixologist, then I became general manager, director of communications, then I came back into the venue manager then became partner.
YOU’VE SINCE MOVED ON TO DRUMBAR, AND NOW HENNESSY. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT NEXT FROM YOU?
To be honest, I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to run venues anymore, which is a reason I left Drumbar. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a commitment, and I felt I’d made that commitment, I’d done my time. That’s a young man’s game. The people that are successful in that environment, they’re out all the time, they’re partying hard. I just got to a point where just health wise, energy wise, wife wise, and everything, it was just time to get a little bit more control of my life again. I don’t know what’s happening next year yet. I’ve tried to come out of the industry a couple of times before and within a month or two months, I’m right back in there! I really miss it. It’s a little big of ego, because obviously it’s great— ‘Ben, Ben!’ And you miss that, especially when you’re younger. Now, I don’t care. [Laughs] This is the first time I’ve really come out and just felt really, really happy with having that normal lifestyle. I don’t really have a normal lifestyle, let’s be honest, but as close to normal as someone like me is ever going to get. I can actually make plans with the wife, go out for dinner on a Saturday night, and that can just be it for the night.
SO WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU DOING NOW, WITH MOET HENNESSY?
At the moment, I basically work as an independent there so there’s talk about what’s happening next year and all of that is getting decided but it’s been a great relationship for me, and it’s been a great relationship for them, the presence that Hennessy Black has in Chicago over the last two months. I’m weird because I’m self taught as a mixologist, so I learn as I go, so for example 2010 was my year of Gin [GQ award-winning Bombay General], 2011 was much more about rum, then this year was very much about scotch and whiskey due to Drumbar, and then ending out the year with the focus on cognac. It’s been great in that respect.
WHO DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST INFLUENCER IN CHICAGO’S RESTAURANT AND NIGHTLIFE INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW?
My biggest influencer would be Arturo [Gomez], hands down. When I moved over here and started working with Arturo it was great because he really showed me how important the operations side of the business is. When you do these events to make sure that you’re still making money and representing the brand, and also just things like liquor control, cost of goods and payroll control. Arturo and Rockit in itself, a combination of Brad, Billy and Arturo, such a great balance of characters and skill sets that I really think what they do is quite amazing. I still hold them in the highest regard. The way that Billy does business is also amazing and I know he gets flack and criticism, but what he does for Chicago and the fact that he’s creating jobs almost every single year is amazing.
I also love the guys from Mid. I think the Mid does an amazing job. It’s interesting to me to see because all of this Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Deadmau5, all of that, that’s how I started in the industry 15 or 16 years ago. Mixology wise, I love what the guys at Violet Hour have done, they’re the legends in the city. Aviary is fantastic. Restaurant wise, I love Publican, I love Public. There are so many, it’s hard to keep up! I want to try Baume and Brix. I haven’t been to Next yet. I love American steakhouses, Mastros is the shit.
YOU WERE RECENTLY A PART OF BURBERRY’S “ART OF THE TRENCH” AD CAMPAIGN FEATURING STYLE INFLUENCERS AROUND THE CITY.“ HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
I have my own style and I try to bring in elements of the dapper gentleman but then with a little bit of punk indie rock attitude. My nose ring is my favorite thing, because whatever I wear it’s always like a little bit of an “eff you” to everybody. I don’t really follow fashion. You should always shop for your closet. I never buy anything unless it goes with at least three other things in my wardrobe.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MEN’S FASHION IN CHICAGO?
Style-wise in Chicago I think there’s a pocket of guys that are very well dressed – I think Ahmed [Braimah] does a great job looking great. I think Josh Kercher at Sebastian Grey does it really well. Nick Hanson, he runs Nicholas Joseph. Then you have people like Marc Moran, Shannon [Sangster] and the guys that used to be Bonnie & Clyde at Gallery Aesthete now, so there are pockets of fashion conscious people.
Sometimes I meet guys that make a hundred times more money than I do but you see them out and they’re just dressed terribly. It’s like they never leave the frat house. I see guys like ages 30, 35–it’s time to start tucking our shirts in, you know what I mean? [Laughs] Here, guys are very limited on their store selection and then also the confidence to go into somewhere like Topman and go “oh let’s bust a pair of skinny jeans or let’s get a nice jacket.” Another thing they need to do is buy an iron and iron your clothes! If you’re just wearing a shirt and jeans, make sure you iron them at least–at least–iron them so you know you made an effort. I do like helping people, so who knows maybe next year I’ll set up a male grooming consultation.
WHERE DO YOU SHOP?
I’m terrible! I’m an ambassador at Topman, so I get a little budget to play with there. I use Nicholas Joseph and Sebastian Grey for my tailored suits. Basics, H&M. I use Haberdash. Trunk Club is great as well. It’s more efficiency. I think it’s a great service for men – one I think men should use a lot more and I think the girls in Chicago really should be directing men to Trunk Club. Everything is reasonable, nothing is super excessively priced, and it works really well. My clothes get such a hard wearing, because I’m out all the time, I can never justify buying expensive clothes. Because I’ve dressed so well on a budget for so long, what’s the point? Why am I going to start spending $500 on a shirt?
WHAT’S THE BEST PARTY YOU’VE BEEN TO IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS?
I thought Public’s birthday party was amazing this year. Ian Schrager, Studio 54, probably the best-dressed crowd I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, there were a lot of guys in black suits but at least they were wearing suits! It was actually the one night where I didn’t wear a suit, which is perfect. I did a vest and suit trousers. I used to love Boom Boom Room on Mondays at Green Dolphin, that’s pure house music. Like I said, the Mid. I’ve had some tremendous nights at the Mid. The Burberry party was amazing. Dirty Pretty Things played so that was really good. Those are the ones that stick out the most.
WHAT ARE YOUR GUILTY PLEASURES AND WHAT CAN WE FIND YOU DOING IN YOUR DOWN TIME FROM THE INDUSTRY?
Video games! Video games and comic books. Video game wise – I’ve got the Xbox, Playstation 3, Wii. For me, even if I get a session of like 4 hours, even then it’s not enough. For my birthday – normally what will happen is I’ll wake up with my wife at 6:30 in the morning, she’ll get ready and we’ll open presents and she’ll always get me a video game. She’ll get me breakfast, and I just sit and play. You can’t just work all the time, you’ve got to have that balance of working and wasting time as well otherwise you’ll just go crazy. I see it more in this country. In the UK, they used to tell me I had to work less whereas here whatever hours you do it’s never enough in America. It’s almost like a weakness, taking a day off. I’ve come out the other end of it. I was like that but now I feel I’m much happier, much more productive and the work I produce is of much better quality because I’m relaxed and rested.
SOMETHING PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU?
To be honest, I’m such a big mouth. I don’t know if there’s really anything that’s hidden anymore! [Laughs] Everyone knows about me being a podium dancer. I’ve become a cat person, that’s new! Lord Archibald, he’s amazing. He’s the most beautiful thing in the world.