Interview: If Mom Only Knew's Marcus Bifaro Talks About His New LES Lounge

by Chelsea Burcz · December 19, 2011

You may recognize Marcus Bifaro; he probably has served you a drink at some point. But now Marcus has taken the reigns to create his own nightlife hot spot in the Lower East Side with If Mom Only Knew (iMok) - a place that shuns exclusivity of your typical club, and approaches with a more "local bar" feel. Though it does create an atmosphere of a lounge, the Eldridge street venue has its interior covered in graffiti, and a uniformless staff. Check out what Marcus had to say about his new spot... [Photo: Marcus Bifaro]

Being the head of beverage at the Surf Lodge, what made you decide to take the dive and own your own place?

I’ve been blessed to have worked with some of the best operators, and best venues, in the business. When the opportunity for iMok presented itself, I had to take it. It's something I’ve been planning for a while.

Are there any elements that you pulled from places you worked in the past that inspired you? What does inspire you?

Absolutely. Everything from the design, to the cocktails, to staffing have been influenced by my experiences. For example, I’ve lived in Montauk for 6 months a year for the past 2 years, so that lifestyle has become a big part of my life. The elements of iMok are definitely a timeline of my years spent traveling. From growing up in Yonkers where I always had a spray can in my bag, to moving to Southampton for college, to the Caribbean where I lived there for 7 years, only to end up back on Eastern Long Island again in Montauk.

The reclaimed barn wood is definitely reminiscent of Montauk, while the graffiti is a direct representation of my youth in Yonkers.

Rob McKinley Dj'ed the opening night, and Sam Talbot was there partying with friends - they seem to be showing a lot of support. How have they helped you shape imok? Have they done anything special?

They’ve become great friends. We all love working with each other, and will always support each others endeavors.

We talked briefly about the vibe of the space, with its graffiti walls and "no uniform" staff. What are you shooting for? How would you describe the vibe and the space?

Our motto is “Drinks & Music for the people”. I never wanted iMok to be a nightclub or be exclusive in any way. It is truly designed to be a neighborhood joint, I want it to feel comfortable for everyone.

What specialty cocktails will you be serving? The berry drink I had the other night was quite good. Are they all your ideas and recipes?

You had a Blackberry Bourbon Smash. Giovanni Padin is the brains behind the cocktail list. The list will “evolve and revolve” every couple of weeks. Also, we will have some of the country’s best mixologists guest bartending each week who will also create original drinks for us. You’ll need to check the cocktail board each time you come to see what's new!

The location is the old Eldridge, but the feeling is completely different. What type of crowd are you catering to?

The energy of the Lower East Side is a very unique. Our target client is definitely someone who is familiar with the neighborhood, who appreciates that downtown energy, and who enjoys a handcrafted cocktail too. It’s a cool alternative to the bottle joints out there.

You guys played a lot of hip hop at the opening, will this be typical? Any DJ's lined up?

I’d really like to have a base of old school hip-hop that branches off into some funk and soul, that’s how I always envisioned it to be. But I’m open to other ideas, as long as it works in the room. I’m also a huge 80's fan, so an 80's theme party might have to be in the works. The DJ’s will rotate, I’m working on that schedule now. We’ll have lots of regulars like DJ Tito Cruz (aka Rob McKinley), Chris Liggio from GoldBar, Chelsea Leyland, etc.

How do you feel to be the owner now? Being responsible for everything, rather than say Beverage Director?

Well, being the beverage director at the Surf Lodge is no easy task, let me tell you! It’s probably more work there than here, but now I also have to make all financial and operational decisions, which can be scary. I’m very excited to see everything play out. I'm confident we will be here for many years.