Hold Fast is the winner of the Best Bar category in the W42ST Best of Awards 2020. Our virtual awards took place this week. Thanks to the sponsor Wells Fargo, which was represented at the presentation by Jacob Estrada from the W42nd St Branch and Ryan Hong, marketing program manager.
Congratulations to the runners up:
Read about Jason and Shane’s Hold Fast story (interviewed March 2020).
Two guys, one dream
Ten years ago, two handsome young gents met, as you do, over a crowded bar. Shane Hathaway was working at the old Joshua Tree (now Bareburger, on New York City’s Restaurant Row), and Jason Clark was a customer.
Neither of them could have known their future would see them opening a bar together just a few feet from where they first met. “Ten years, and one door down,” Jason laughs.
Hold Fast will mark its three-year birthday this month, a true locals’ bar, run by Hell’s Kitchen boys, one of whom (Jason) happens to be married to a Broadway princess – Kiara Clark, a choreographer with Disney.
“Living in the neighborhood, both of us knowing the area and caring about it – it all seemed like a fit. And the moment we walked in here, we felt a certain energy, a certain comfort, even though it was nothing like this,” says Shane.
The design build, from old Korean-French fusion restaurant to industrial chic New York bar, was not for the faint-hearted. They stripped the paint back to the bare brick walls, moved the bar (and the plumbing), arguing back and forth over what to do with a staircase that literally goes nowhere.
“We both had a vision,” says Shane, “and to try and merge two dreams together, it’s difficult, you know?”
Slowly, it came together: a bar top made of reclaimed wood from the Coney Island Boardwalk, rescued after Hurricane Sandy; vintage barn wood for the floors …
“At the beginning, we always said that the vision was already here,” recalls Jason, “it just took some time to realize some of it.”
There were expensive challenges along the way. Replacing a beam. Then two beams. Then the entire ceiling. Then an exposed pipe began to crack …
“We stepped in here in December 2016,” says Jason, “and our goal was to be open by spring/early summer, but we didn’t open until September 2017.”
They probably often wondered what the hell they’d gotten themselves into. But they never questioned the location. “It was always going to be here for us,” says Shane. “We never discussed any other neighborhood.”
And the neighborhood repaid them with their loyalty. “We’re both fortunate enough to live and work in this neighborhood, so we wanted to create a place for our community,” he says. “Even if you are coming to visit from somewhere, or you live down the block, we wanted to make sure that you would feel like you are at home. And people do call this their home.”
It’s the local go-to for many Broadway shows, “a place where they can come and relax and have fun after working eight shows a week. No joke – that’s tough,” says Jason. “And if you’re in previews, you’re rehearsing during the day and you just want to freaking relax and have a good meal.
And the food component was a big deal for them – creating a familiar menu with a twist, and serving late (they’ll soon be extending that from 1.30am to 2am).
“You ask what gives us the advantage,” says Shane. “Number one: we’re here all the time and we’re real. We’re genuine.”
“You’re never more than 25 feet from an owner,” laughs Jason.
“We don’t act like owners though,” adds Shane. “We don’t walk around with an ego. We’re just trying to build something truly special and genuine.”
Which brings us to that name.
“I was in Toronto, at the Distillery District, and we had just entered the talks about the bar,” says Shane. “I walked into this guy’s booth and he had these plaques – Irish clans and Scottish clans. One had the motto Hold Fast and I asked the guy what it meant. He talked about how the first clansman jumped on the back of a bull and he held on and they’re all like, ‘Hold fast!’ And that’s how they came up with their clan name.”
That plaque now hangs opposite the bar.
“In military terms or war times,” he adds, “Hold Fast means ‘stand your ground, hold your position.’ And in naval terms, it would be ‘hold fast to the line.’”
He’d stumbled upon the name for his new bar.
“Stay true to yourself,” he says. “Stand your ground. Be true to who you are.”
He still had to persuade Jason first, though. And, to begin with, all he could think of was a barnacle. Then he remembered a poem by Langston Hughes: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
“So this was the dream – two guys coming together. And we knew that was what it was going to be called.”
“It’s been a wild ride,” says Shane. “When I stop and think, I’m like, ‘What the hell did we do? This is insane.’ All the stuff we went through and how we battled – but then, if it isn’t hard, everyone would be doing it. And it’s been so worth it, just to be standing side by side and still …”
Friends, I ask?
“Family,” says Shane. And Jason nods: “Family, really.”
The original version of this interview was planned for the April 2020 issue of W42ST, which was postponed when the coronavirus crisis hit New York City. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.