LOWER EAST SIDE — Months after Cake Shop closed its doors on Ludlow Street due to financial strain after 11 years of hosting indie rock bands in its basement venue, proprietors have transformed the former no-frills dive into a sleek, airy cocktail bar.
Kind Regards quietly opened its doors over the weekend at the 152 Ludlow St. space, revealing a modern design with white and bright pink accents and scattered greenery, and an accompanying menu of $15 craft cocktails heavy on fruity and citrus-infused drinks.
The new operation signals a sharp departure from the spot's previous tenant of more than a decade, noted Nick Bodor, who ran Cake Shop with his brother Andy and is now part-owner and manager of Kind Regards.
That departure was intentional, he said. After years of struggling to stay afloat against the tide of rising rent and operating costs, it became necessary to scrap the old model and create something that could be profitable in the ever-changing Lower East Side.
"[Cake Shop] was this really beloved place that didn't make enough money...with this, I think I've earned a right to make some money," said Bodor, adding the decision to shutter the venue was tough but necessary.
"I'd rather feed my kid," he said.
The venue had been in dire financial straits for years — it narrowly avoided eviction in 2012 thanks to an online fundraising campaign, through which it raised around $25,000 to pay off overdue property taxes.
But the bar never fully rebounded after the trials of 2012 — which Bodor called the "dark year" — and was unable to counter the steep cost of operating with cheap beer and small bands. Last year, the brothers launched an extensive image reboot with a grand reopening in hopes of reviving the dwindling business.
By the time they finally decided to close in December, they were roughly $200,000 in debt to the landlord and various suppliers. The Bodors were working long hours for very little pay, he said.
"I'm 47 years old, I have a wife and a son...if I'm not going to be able to cash even small checks from Cake Shop, we have to be like 'Why? Why are we doing this?'" he said.
Bodor chose to scrap the old model and team up with new business partners Michael Bray, a former bartender from Cake Shop's early days, and Tim Evans. They redesigned the interior and crafted a new menu with mixologist Hunter Orahood.
On opening weekend, Kind Regards made roughly 300 times more than a typical weekend at Cake Shop, Bodor said.
A seating area in the newly opened Kind Regards. (DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs)
The new bar's color scheme and design is intended to evoke a mix of early 19th century bohemian culture and mid-century American art, according to Bray, who described the overall vibe as "irreverent, bohemian, fun."
The cocktail menu was crafted to reflect that theme as well, he said, describing the drinks as "light" and "bright."
"I first moved to this neighborhood 12 years ago — I saw it change dramatically," Bray said.
"Just selling Miller High Life is not sustainable anymore. So it's about, how can we do something with the space that maintains the lineage of Cake Shop, has an actual, real connection to the street and to the people who have been here, but that is also doing something new and fun?"
The menu includes the tropical "Cinnamon Girl" with aged rum, banana, cinnamon and tikki bitters, and the "Airmail," made with rum, strawberries, lime and sparkling wine.
But bar-goers can also opt for a $5 Miller High Life — a nod to Cake Shop, said Bodor — or choose from one of the beers on tap ranging from $6 to $9.
The cafe portion, serving up Pennsylvania-based Concave Coffee, will soon include baked goods from famed East Williamsburg pizza joint Roberta's, said Bray. It will also kick off a rotating program of restaurants that will take up residency in the spot a month at a time.
Eventually, the operators plan to hosts readings and comedy nights in the downstairs venue space. In its final year, Cake Shop's comedy nights drew stars like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari, Bodor said.
And while there are no plans of going back to a nightly roster of rock bands, Kind Regards may host the occasional acoustic show.
"Maybe stripped-down performances, but not full-on rock seven days a week in a sweaty basement," said Bodor.