Screenshot/"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory"
When the team behind the Kimpton Hotel wanted to rebrand their upscale Fifth Floor restaurant into a hip hotspot, they made the usual decisions for a downtown San Francisco bar: Rename it something sexy, like Dirty Habit. Theme it around whiskey. Scrap the formal linens and dining tables in favor of banquet seating with electrical outlets. And then they set their tech-bait trap.
Per the restaurant’s announcement press release: “The Dirty Habit team is distributing tech industry bar passes to employees — a special token for recipients to keep that will provide them with exclusive discounts and offerings when visiting the restaurant and bar.” (Emphasis their own.)
On a recent Friday night, Dirty Habit opened for Twitter employees while still under construction (it opens to the public May 1).
A few dozen Twitterites sat on sofas outside. There was a bright-blue cake shaped in the form of the company’s bird logo. The inspiration for the restaurant’s redesigned interior had been “Blade Runner,” said one of the marketing representatives.
“I want tech in here,” chef David Bazirgan said, dropping caviar onto ricotta canapes in the kitchen. “I also want the people who bitch about tech in here.”
The menu was a pared-down, snacky version of the midtown restaurant’s former elegant fare.
“They don’t like to go out for a three-hour dinner,” Bazirgan said of his new target clientele. “They like to go out and snack. And it’s like, want to just come and have some nuts? Have some nuts.”
The idea of tech-industry memberships for a random hotel bar brings up a few questions: Why would the restaurateurs want a special pass for tech workers rather than just make the prices so high that only professionals come (do they not want lawyers)? Do tech workers desire what is, basically, a discount card? That they’re playing with anti-tech resentment to drum up interest in their bar (tech and those who bitch about tech, the chef winked) is particularly intriguing. The gold coins and the press release were a stunt – one meant to gin up a very particular kind of reaction. Has the tech backlash gotten to the point where it’s fun to toy with? And can the anti-tech afford caviar ricotta canapes?
A group of Twitter employees, just back from Coachella, sat on the veranda behind a decorative line of flickering fire.
“People inherently like exclusivity,” said 31-year-old Twitter salesperson Peter Norris. “None of us knew about the coin till tonight, but if people at Twitter knew about it, more of us would have come.”
Not everyone agreed.
“A VP said he’d heard there would be Warrior girls here, but that’s all I knew about it. I guess he was joking,” said 31-year-old Mike Nierenberg.
You do know that this is a bar with special passes for tech employees?
“Oh, god – yeah, that’ll never work.”
Some tech clubs have succeeded. The Battery, which launched last year, has attracted a very real A-list of tech celebrities. But whether the Dirty Habit creators are trolling for publicity (outrage at the gold coins) or hoping to capitalize on the recent Battery-esque desire for hierarchy in the historically egalitarian tech community is unclear. Answers were not to be found on this night, though.
I tried to push the topic of exclusivity and hierarchy, but the idea of a “coin” got people talking about the credit card replacement startup, Coin, which led to a few opening their wallets. Almost immediately, half a dozen young men started comparing medical marijuana dispensary cards, and waiters brought by slices of the blue Twitter cake.