Nov 14, 2007

Cloning the Abbey; Intelligentsia, the Un-Starbucks; More on rising gas prices

Ø Out magazine's December issue has an article about Abbey-owner David Cooley's efforts to find locations around the US to build a "chain" of Abbeys, a term that riles him. Technically, the string of gay bars won't be franchises but wholly owned by his partnership with Sam Nazarian's SBE Entertainment Group, which is speculated to have paid $20 million to Cooley for a 75% stake in the business. But semantics are important to him.
"This is not T.G.I. Friday's," he sniffs... Cooley prefers to describe his current project as "taking the Abbey national" or "replicating the soul of the Abbey."
Right. He's had mixed results so far in cities like New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami and Atlanta. The first of the cloned souls is planned to open in Chicago sometime next year.

According to the article, the "newly ambiguous" Abbey (in their minds anyway) seems to be dancing around the option of partially shedding its "gay" image.
Cooley believes the Abbey, as a national brand, could reinvigorate gay nightlife-- and his strategy for doing so appears to involve toning down the avowedly gay part of that experience. But how straight-acting does gay nightlife need to be in order to survive?
Sam Nazarian says,
I think the Abbey is very,very important to the gay community in our city. But I think the Abbey is not just a gay bar. Twenty to 30% of the clientele is non-gay, and we try to offer the best service to everyone who walks in our door.
To me, that sort of posturing is past its shelf-life. It's not a stretch to imagine a national chain of gay bars as the right wing continues to loses its battle against gay rights due to the growing numbers in the current and future generations having grown up in a culture that accepts sexual orientation as just another facet of identity.

Speaking of chains, Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based coffee company, opened their first cafe outside of the windy city at Sunset Junction in August.

Waiting in line one of the first times I went and unaware of their Chicago roots, I remarked to a friend, as I was noting the expensive-looking, high-design aesthetic of the place, that I smelled corporate money mixed in with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee. I postulated that maybe it was owned by Starbucks with the intent of marketing premium-priced coffee to those who consider themselves too cool for the Seattle stalwart.

Grasping for a reason to chat up the cute barista, I told him my theory. His sexy smile faded to a look of concern that I would think such erroneous thoughts about the place. He told me about Doug Zell, the owner, and his straight-up eco-politics, adding that he was the nicest guy he ever worked for.

A quick perusal of their web site confirmed his story. But the REALLY important thing is how good the coffee is. Even if you're ordering regular coffee, it's ground and brewed to order, and strong enough even for me. They also sell Chemex coffee makers.

Ø The LA Times had a front page article about soon-skyrocketing gas prices and an opinion piece about the merger of Zipcar and Flexcar.

The first points out that gas prices still aren't reflecting the 40+% price-rise for crude oil since August. And they soon will.
Analysts warn that gasoline prices soon will rise by as much as 20 cents a gallon -- which would put California's average at nearly $3.50. And it's not just gasoline. High oil costs are trickling through the economy, pushing up the price of food, airline flights and cruises as well as retail prices for a host of products derived from crude oil and its byproducts.
The opinion article is about the car-sharing revolution gathering steam in other more walkable cities. Fellow car-prisoners of Los Angeles, wrap your brains around this:
Car-sharing, however, offers a new and seductive form of freedom, one based on the refusal of direct ownership and the liability that entails. The key to the Zip-Flex business model is that the actual car is not all that important. It is really just a means to an end. It's a transportation appliance, a node in a system made possible by the Internet.

Understandably, Zipcar and Flexcar have found the most success in places where walking is still an important feature of the transportation grid -- Washington, Boston, San Francisco and university towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich.
All of those years I lived in NYC without a car have taken on a new luster.