It was opening night at Ray’s, and already the floor was sticky, several people had spilled drinks on the pool table, and the room smelled — not entirely unpleasantly — like the onion rings, hot wings, and bologna sandwiches being passed around. As Roy Orbison blared out of a speaker, pretty women in outfits completely inappropriate for the weather and boys gussied up in cowboy hats filed into the new Greenpoint outpost of the faux dive that first opened on the Lower East Side and has become a favorite watering hole for this city’s young and clouty. Curiously, many of the guys inside were drinking espresso martinis (available on draught), while the girls were slamming Tecates, and the one gay I met was more preoccupied with the crowd than the drinks: “I’m getting pushed around by all kinds of straight people! So it’s a normal night at Ray’s!”
The first Ray’s opened on Chrystie Street just before the pandemic, in 2019, and in two short years had become just maybe the most-TikToked bar in the city. Most people know it as the “Cousin Greg” bar, since the Succession actor Nicholas Braun is an investor and it’s often packed with young women hoping to catch a glimpse of him bartending. The Greenpoint location, unlike the one on the other side of the river, is adorned with more Brooklyn-appropriate sports memorabilia: all “Mets, Nets, Jets,” as the owners put it to me. Outside on the windows, the bar promises, “COLD BEER FOOD COCKTAILS,” next to its logo, the outline of a cowboy swinging a lasso at a horse.
“I didn’t want to wear the cowboy hat but felt like I had to,” said the first person I ran into, Matt Rossi, a member of the TikTok boy gang the East Villains, who is exactly the kind of person you might expect to find at Ray’s. It was barely eight o’clock, but everyone was already eye-fucking. “I’m getting the up-and-down from a 40-year-old man in a too tight leather jacket and a beanie,” said my friend, describing another representative member of the crowd.
Ray’s arrival in Greenpoint has been met with some side-eye. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for three years, and as of late my friends and I have been fussing that something strange is happening here, that the neighborhood’s denizens are starting to look — as my colleague Chelsea Peng recently pointed out — a little too much like those in Murray Hill. When the opening of the bar was announced on the locally beloved Instagram rag Greenpointers yesterday, the comments section was quickly filled with dunks like, “Let’s add the douchiest bar to Greenpoint” and “Please god no” and “God tier neighborhood vibe killer.” “I’m mostly worried the neighborhood will think we’re a bunch of stuck-up Manhattanites,” one employee told me at the party.
Others are less pressed. A podcaster who lives nearby messaged me with the prediction that Ray’s will distract the normies from our other treasured neighborhood spots. “My hope is it acts as a magnet for the bad people already here,” he said. Nolita Dirtbag, the memer and expert reader of the kinds of men who hang out at Ray’s, said to me, “I like the idea of having a micro Chili’s chain in New York. It’s kind of like how people hate on Fred Again. It’s just so popular that people naturally hate on it for no reason.” All night, various partygoers kept joking to me, “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”
Ray’s is owned by Authentic Hospitality, the group behind Georgia Room, Jac’s on Bond, Pebble Bar, and — before it was sold to Jeff Klein to be turned into a New York outpost of the San Vicente Bungalows — the Jane. Authentic is run by three total DILFs — Matthew Kliegman, Carlos Quirarte, and Matthew Charles — who met each other while working for Ian Schrager at the PUBLIC Hotel. (“The three of us have never done blow,” Quirarte once told me. “Which, in this line of business, is unheard of.”) Before Authentic, Kliegman and Quirarte ran the Smile (this magazine once described the café’s clientele as “young, stylish, arty”) and Westway (Guest of a Guest, memorializing the nightclub when it closed, called it “everyone’s favorite strip club-turned-nightclub-turned-hipster hot spot”). Since the pandemic receded, Authentic has reigned supreme above the other hospitality groups in Manhattan nightlife (Vanity Fair once called the men “New York’s Foremost Vibe Curators”). It gets a lot of good press in part due to its roster of celebrity investors, including Braun, Justin Theroux, Pete Davidson, and Mark Ronson. (Ray’s in Greenpoint is backed by Braun and the artist Nate Lowman.) It’s also been especially generous to this city’s premier party kids, whom the group often lets throw drunken bashes at its properties for free (full disclosure: I’ve thrown my birthday party at its bars two years in a row). Its director of events, Kaitlin Prince, told me that though Authentic didn’t set out to attract a TikTok crowd, it’s learned to embrace it. “Ultimately I decided, the kids are freaking great … We don’t do anything for TikTok. If we’re doing a good job, people will create content about it.”
The people at Authentic are viciously against the recent trend of private clubs cropping up in New York, and like to frame their mission at Authentic as being something of an “egalitarian” antithesis to it. “What’s fun about fucking sitting in a corner and thinking you’re better than everyone else? I hate private clubs,” says Quirarte. “I don’t have to try and be cool. I live in a cool city.” I suspect they’re all smart enough to know that if you open the right kind of establishment, and invite the right people to hang out there, the clientele will gatekeep it on their own.
Both Ray’s locations owe their vibe to Taavo Somer, who opened similarly wannabe rustic spots such as Freemans and the Rusty Knot in the aughts. “If you have the right aesthetic and comfort level for people, they’ll start to personalize it, rapidly,” Somer told me. For example, soon, the bathroom stalls will, like the Manhattan location, be filled with photos of their regulars. It’s inspired by the restroom collaged with shots of topless women in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Ray’s 2.0 has some added pressure: It is located at the corner of McCarren Park in what the locals have been describing as a “cursed” spot. Its last three tenants — the French bistro Sauvage, the vegan Mexican café Xilonen, and the Green River Project–designed Cool World — all quickly shuttered. “If you look at Sauvage and Xilonen and Cool World and you live here, do you want a really expensive plate of food?” Kliegman asked me, in an attempt to assure me of their ability to break the curse. “Or do you just want a place that is a great vibe?” They hope one day Ray’s will be a chain.
As Nolita Dirtbag put it, “The worst part is that it’s going to be wildly successful for sure. I am confident it will break the curse of that retail location and be a great addition to what I call Greenpoint’s Triangle of Sadness.”
Around 9:30 p.m., all the women turned their heads and phones toward the door when Braun walked in and, looking like a deer in headlights, immediately walked back outside to enter through the side door instead. Once safely in a corner with his people, he kept hitting his head on the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Justin Theroux pulled the same alternate-entrance move when he arrived and later plopped himself up on the bar with his asscrack out. “Did you see Justin? How’s his hairline looking?” a curly-haired girl asked me.
Other celebrity supporters who showed up included Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski, whose arms were bulging out of his T-shirt; Nev Schulman, from the mid-aughts MTV series Catfish; and two members of LCD Soundsystem. Also, several more East Villains and Nick Braun’s little brother Christopher, who I can assure you might be even dreamier. At some point, a big ol’ boy in a cowboy hat whose name is, apparently, Big Wet, country-rapped a song called “Beer”: “Beer / Oh, beer / Better get some more beer / Because we’re drinking beer.” The crowd loved it.