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Heritage retailer Bergdorf Goodman just opened a bar within its men’s store on Fifth Avenue

February 18, 2020, 6:00 PM UTC
The heritage retailer on Fifth Avenue wants you to come sip a cocktail, then shop.
Courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman

Brick-and-mortar retail is tough these days, but there’s one way to set yourself apart: open a bar inside.

It’s not a new idea. For years, major department stores have also been home to a namesake restaurant, a place where ladies can lunch, sip tea after shopping, or socialize with other customers.

That all changed in the past decade. In came branded experiences from retailers like Urban Outfitters and Ralph Lauren as part of their physical stores. Ordering a Ralph’s coffee on Madison Avenue gave plenty of passersby a reason to step into Ralph Lauren’s luxury boutique, and maybe end up buying something else, too.

Retailers learned that if they included alcohol—say handing a complimentary glass of Champagne to a potential buyer—that customer just might throw down the credit card after a few sips. In 2019, New York’s new Nordstrom opened the Shoe Bar, serving sparkling wine near the Manolo Blahniks, and the city’s first Neiman Marcus has Bar Stanley with a hearty list of single malt Scotch.

The latest retailer to adopt the concept? The 119-year-old Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.

Last month, the luxury department store opened Goodman’s Bar, a snazzy, James Bond–esque bar and restaurant inside their men’s store on Fifth Avenue. Pony up to the marble bar and have a bartender sling you a rye Manhattan and dishes from a Michelin-starred chef. You’ll sit your designer-clad suits on chairs by Franz Schuster, and you can partake in a quick game of backgammon on custom tables by Tom Dixon. Want to Instagram it all? Good, because there’s excellent lighting by local design studio, Apparatus.

Bergdorf Goodman bets a bar will attract more customers.
Courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman

But the gorgeous space and thoughtful food isn’t just a place to grab a bite; it’s a destination in which Bergdorf Goodman can better engage with its customers and attract new ones.

“The act of shopping takes on a whole new meaning when you can also add having a rare Scotch, an incredible steak tartare, or just relax with a glass of Pinot,” says Matt Marcotte, chief operating officer of Bergdorf Goodman. “We want our customers to spend as much time with us as possible. It’s part of our passion around building deep relationships.”

Marcotte explains that today’s customers are looking for a multisensory experience to connect with brands, and restaurants are a natural—and if done well, authentic—extension of a brand’s experience. For Bergdorf Goodman, restaurants have always been a part of the business, and the time felt right to add another one to the mix. The department store has a well-regarded, Kelly Wearstler–designed restaurant with an excellent afternoon tea service at its women’s store, also on Fifth Avenue. In fact, the men’s store used to have a restaurant as well, but that closed, and since, customers have continually asked for a replacement.

A bartender pours a craft cocktail.
Courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman

Beyond satisfying the store’s current customers, Marcotte says Goodman’s Bar is a way for Bergdorf Goodman to attract new ones. To align with people who value food and drink, Bergdorf Goodman wants the venue to be a destination for high-end, hard-to-find wines and spirits accompanied by refined cuisine. “We see Goodman’s Bar as an entry point to learning about Bergdorf Goodman and our product,” he adds. “We really believe we are adding a vehicle for attracting new customers. Hopefully [they] allow us to be part of their lives.”

To aid in that mission, Marcotte cites the store’s partnership with big names in food and beverages. The team at Goodman’s Bar includes Austin Johnson—a Michelin-starred chef who made a name for himself at Frenchie in Paris—and Dustin Wilson, a master sommelier and owner of Verve Wine, a boutique wine retailer with locations in New York and San Francisco. Wilson’s business partner at Verve, David Bruno, is also part of the mix and happens to have once worked at Bergdorf Goodman. The trio have concocted a menu inspired by an aperitivo bar—think riffs of classic cocktails, warm gougères with bacon, caviar-topped potato chips, and Champagne. It’s available to shoppers during the store’s business hours, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except Sunday, when the store closes at 7 p.m.

Avocado toast
Courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman

It’s not lost on Bergdorf Goodman that traditional department stores face a tough environment today. Nearby retailers like Lord & Taylor, Barneys, and Henri Bendel have all closed up shop, and a walk up Madison Avenue is like entering a ghost town. “For Sale” signs hang in many windows, and among the stores that are open, few seem to have a steady flow of shoppers. Bergdorf seems to be banking on aspiration and cocktails to bring people in. Customers could, after all, just shop Bergdorf Goodman’s wares online, but why not walk into an “oasis,” as Marcotte calls it, where they can take a break from their stressful lives? Even if one cannot afford the likes of Tom Ford, Brunello Cucinelli, and Ermenegildo Zegna, one can at least throw down to drink like someone who can—and maybe pick up some socks afterward.

“People want to walk away with both the product and the experience,” Marcotte says. “Retailers understand the more you can provide this to your customer, the more apt they are to come back.”

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