Taavo Somer

Who

Somer is the co-owner of Freemans, the hard-to-locate hipster haunt on the Lower East Side. He's also the proprietor of Freemans Sporting Club on Rivington Street.

Backstory

The child of Estonian immigrants, Somer grew up in rural Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and went to college at the University of Minnesota. He spent five years working as an architect in Minneapolis before moving to the city in 2000. After a six-month stint at Steven Holl's eponymous practice, a bored Somer asked nightlife/dining impresario Serge Becker, a friend of a friend, for a job. Becker hired him to assist on his design commissions and Somer went on to help craft the look and atmospherics at spots like John McDonald's Midtown restaurant Lever House. In the meantime, Somer had started to make a splash on the downtown social scene as an occasional party promoter at the Pussycat Lounge and as the man behind a series of popular screen-printed t-shirts. (They featured wholesome slogans like "Morally Bankrupt" and "Emotionally Unavailable" and were sold at Barneys for $88 a pop.) Looking to set up a venue of his own, Somer and partner William Tigertt opened Freemans restaurant—its studiedly rustic touches like antlers and taxidermy belying the decidedly unrustic prices—in a dead-end alley in 2004.

Of note

More than three years after its debut, Freemans continues to pack in the hipsters on most nights (and its rough-hewn look continues to inspire less original restaurateurs). But Somer has expanded beyond food. In the fall of 2006, he launched Freemans Sporting Club, which sells his line of ready-to-wear suits (made from vintage deadstock wool) as well as antique books, rain boots, tool kits, and bicycle saddles; there's also a full-service vintage barbershop on the premises. More recently, he designed Gemma, the Italian restaurant on the ground floor of Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson's Bowery Hotel; collaborated with Philadelphia-based mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr on several new venues; and teamed up with Ken Friedman of The Spotted Pig to open the Rusty Knot, a nautically-themed, faux-divey bar-restaurant on West Street.

Personal

Somer, whose preferred means of transportation is his low-rider bicycle, lives in the East Village with his girlfriend, Courtney McGuinnes, and his toy Yorkie, Georgie. The rusticity-obsessed nightlife impresario also owns a 38-acre property in Ulster County with a barn and a pond on the premises.

No joke

Freemans got a big boost of publicity after Barbara and Jenna Bush popped in for dinner one night in November 2004. "How long is the wait?" one of the Bush girls asked. "Four more years," was the supposed reply.