WPH doesn’t just have any restaurant on site. It has Employees Only, the acclaimed speakeasy bar and restaurant out of New York. Now that co-founder Billy Gilroy has set up shop at 1050 Washington Avenue, we got a chance to chat with him about the project, and most importantly what we should be eating at the new EO.
How did the partnership with WPH come about and why did you pick Miami for Employees Only?
I had been looking at Miami for a couple of years. My career had spanned basically being in Manhattan, south of 14th street for 40 years. I've always had children of varying ages and from varying marriages, but I wasn't going anywhere, because I wouldn't get a chance to see them. But then with my youngest to go off to college, I started looking.
I've always liked Florida. I like the weather. I have family down here as well. But I was getting frustrated because of some of the deals and the situations that people get in down here with the rent and the prices they pay - It's no wonder that so many restaurants go out of business, as far as I can see.
So, I was actually not going to open. I was deciding not to open, and I was approached by a very substantial hotel development company [Highgate]. They were developing this whole block which is from 10th to 11th Streets on Washington Avenue. They approached me and made me a really nice deal. Now I'm in the Coral House on that block, which was built in the 1920s and is on the national registry. That's what finally got me down there.
When you eat at Employees Only, what do you order?
I'm one of those people, that when someone asks, "What's your favorite?" It really depends on the mood I'm in. But I would probably say the ribeye. Not just because it's the most expensive, and the most decadent - although that probably has a lot to do with it as well [laughs].
The other items are good too, but probably more so than not I'll order the ribeye. It's a real treat. It's something you can't always splurge on. And then I love the skate that we do. It comes paprikás, and with a pasta that's made fresh, in-house. It has this delicious sauce.
The menu isn't very large, so over the years, as we've tried to change different items it’s been difficult because they've become what any restaurant hopes to have - signature items which people don't want you to change. There's fish if I want fish, oysters, too. Or steak tartare. And the pastas I love too, so it's hard. I'm a big food person.
What do you drink at EO?
I didn't drink tequila for like 20 years because I had gotten ill on it and I couldn't even stand the smell for like, forever. But there's a drink called the El Diablo, and it's tequila-based. It has all kinds of botanicals and herbs and stuff that we make in house. It's delicious. Sometimes I'll drink that with a shot of tequila on the side. It's like a tequila, with a tequila drink back. That's if you want to get there in a hurry.
But the drinks at EO are very deceiving because you don’t taste the alcohol - and they have a lot of alcohol. We only use really good alcohol. People think they're only coming in for one drink and they end up closing the place because they sneak up on you. It's the story of the person buys one drink and the drink makes the next decision.
Employees Only has an in-house fortune teller. Why a fortune-teller? How did that start?
I'm glad it turned out to be a fortune-teller. Initially it could have been a shoe-shine, or a hot dog stand. The idea is that it’s a front. EO is a concept that's supposed to be frozen in time, you know Prohibition Era, 1920s-early 1930s. And at that time it was against the law to drink, so you didn't have windows, so people couldn't look in on you having a drink. There was an anti-chamber. So the fortune chamber is that generic front space.
For example, when you walk in New York you see the fortune tellers on the streets - they're shaking a baby in their lap and they have a sign that says “Come in!” and you’re like, “No! No! I don't want to come in. You're going to tell me something horrible and then want money from me!” But we came up with this idea because there's no Employees Only sign. Luckily this is based on curb appeal. Nobody would know we're there, if it weren’t for the psychic sign in the window.
What happened in the end is that people come to see the fortune teller and don't even have a drink or something to eat. It's become a little cottage industry in and of itself. I guess it’s because people come in and they're waiting for people, and they need to kill time. Sometimes people will say to me, “Well, are they for real?” And I say, “How the hell do I know if they're for real?” All I know is that they think they're for real and the people that go to them think they're for real. So that's the whole story with that.