Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Nightlife Thrives Now, But an Inevitable Crackdown Nears

House of Yes (Photography: Audrey Penmen)

We find ourselves in a more resilient era. January saw the closing of mega club Pacha after a 10-year-run. In past eras, the loss of such an iconic joint might have devastated the scene, but other joints stepped up and absorbed the crowds. In Manhattan, Stage 48 seemed to benefit the most from the closing, but a recent check bounce to promoter Kayvon Zand has me wondering about the viability of that venue. Space has survived, but it’s at best a lukewarm club still searching for an identity that will probably be found without the current regime.

Santos Party House is now suddenly closed, although I see that space being revived with a new concept brand. Santos had some wonderful nights and some great parties, but it was always plagued by confused management. It closed with a sigh, not a cry and their scene shifted mostly to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, once a bedroom community, has clearly taken the reigns as the epicenter of NYC nightlife. When one of the mainstays of that borough Verboten was shuttered recently due to legal problems, folks were worried if a crackdown similar to the one that closed much of the scene in West Chelsea was in the works. Then Mayor Giuliani had designated certain derelict neighborhoods of Manhattan as cabaret zones. The Meatpacking District was one of these zones and clubs grew like magic mushrooms where cattle and other innocents were slaughtered. Although there isn’t much there besides the Standard Hotel and Cielo below it, the area does attract hordes of revelers. To be fair, Catch, Provocateur, 1OAK, Avenue and Tao are still keen. Luxury high rises have only been allowed on the fringes of this nightlife mecca.

Another zone was the West Chelsea club district. As real estate interests eyed the area, police found all sorts of violations in the existing clubs. Places like Home, Guesthouse, Bed, Quo, Mansion, Cain, Suzie Wongs, Spirit, Bungalow 8 and many more suddenly seemed to be operated by bad, bad people or were unable to survive the changing climate and neighborhood. It was amazing to see all those luxury high rises rise from the ashes. Some think it wasn’t a coincidence that the clubs couldn’t survive and coincide.

Texts to a Verboten owner have only yielded a “there’s two sides to every story”-type response. When dealing with cops and the city there always is. Yet Verboten’s re-opening seems to be forbidden—for now. Still, nightlife thrives as good as ever with House of Yes, 2 Wyckoff. Originally thought of as a performance club, it is now absorbing the best of what Brooklyn offers. I was to attend an event there last night and I will continue to go and support what I consider the best place in town. Cityfox has stepped up bigtime with the opening of The Brooklyn Mirage, 140 Stewart Avenue. This mega venue holds thousands and could be the all things to all people type of nightlife experience that the old folks always complain is lacking. There is nothing lacking. There is also Good Room although very rarely more than an okay room, it still offers an outlet for those not willing to pay the $50 plus entry to Mirage, or are intimidated by the fabulousness of House of Yes.

The development of the waterfronts of Williamsburg and Greenpoint continues. Everywhere you look, cranes bring steel and concrete to dormitories for trust fund kids, commuting slaves and Manhattan refuges. The artists and creative types seem to be making a last stand in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. The loss of the L Train may stay the inevitable, but rest assured in the war between condos and nightlife the condos always win. Eventually the glory of those artists and cool cheap nightlife that brought in the new inhabitants in the first place will be exiled to another hood as by then the baby carriages, Duane Reade’s and $80 brunches will have displaced the edge.

Yet out of all my gloom I hear of another mega-club. These folks of whom I will not speak of now will bring that edge to Johnson and Starr as soon as all the I’s are dotted on the legal stuff and the paint dries. Here’s a couple of raw shots of the place which is being built for dancing and dreams:




Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Orlando Shooting Highlights NYC Nightlife’s Need for Paid Details

For years, the threat has lived in the backs of many nightlife operators’ minds. After terrorist attacks in Paddy’s Pub, Bali (2002), Stage Club, Tel Aviv (2005) and, of course, the Bataclan in Paris as part of a multi-target attack, operators around the world have been helplessly waiting, but hoping against Orlando. The world reels from soft target attacks on theaters, cafés and restaurants. Nightclubs are also “soft targets,” but at least in NYC don’t have to be that soft. There are easy solutions to ensure that clubgoers party in relative safety.

Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly abandoned us on the pretext of fear of corruption, therefore leaving NYC’s club scene helpless. Many in nightlife have called for the Police Department’s “Paid Detail” to be available for clubs—a program where uniformed NYC cops can be rented to protect an event or business. I’ve been detailing this need for years and, of course, don’t want to drop a Donald Trump-style “I told you so,” but I did here.

Now that Kelly’s gone, it’s time for clubs to have, at least, a couple police officers protecting patrons. A pair of cops will mean a few less security guards are necessary and it should be a wash financially. The cops will certainly deter fights, common robberies and brawls, deter phone and bag thieves and also keep noise down—especially from honking cabs.

It’s a win-win, as communities will have someone on-hand to deter patrons pissing on their doorsteps and blocking side walks. Blocks with clubs should actually become safer than most. A couple of armed cops may make a nut job think twice. The armed cops combined with prayers might prevent an Orlando from happening or limit the damage. Mayor Bill DiBlasio hasn’t scored many points in his term so far.

Let’s call on him to get this right.

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Will Fleet Week Save Us From Ourselves?

Photos via Fine Young Man productions

The drone of the tattoo gun was a sexy background music to polite conversation. Hipsters, tastemakers and painted ladies enjoyed wonderful concoctions of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, while cute sailor boys mingled. One young lad wearing the whitest uniform ever designed turned to the older mariner and lamented, “Chief, I’d love to get a tattoo, but I live with my mother when I’m done.” The older seaman barked at him, saying, “Get it where she won’t see it,” and headed toward the free BBQ.

It was Fleet Week at its best as “The City That Never Sleeps” embraced seaman from all over the world. An old joke wonders about how long Popeye and Bluto have been at sea. It must have been a long time, it goes, because they immediately get it on with a no holds bar fight over what has to be the ugliest gal in the world, Olive Oyl.

At The Sailor Jerry Home Base, open until the 29th, there were no fisticuffs as the boys in white were on their best behavior. They called all the women, “Ma’am,” and all the men, “Sir,” as they hobnobbed with the likes of Rock Photographer Mick Rock, and artists Buff Monster and Hanksy. The free BBQ from Daisy Mays, haircuts from Frank’s Chop Shop and tattoos from Three Kings were provided to thank them for their service.


You see, Sailor Jerry was a real dude—Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was in the Navy back in the day before he took the art of tattooing to a different level. I wear his tattoo flash all over my body. It grounds me in old world values and speaks of a time when honor was more important than life itself. Now good ol’ Norman wasn’t what these days we might consider a “perfect” guy. His political views put him a bit to the right of Attila the Hun, but he sure created some classic tattoos. I got one yesterday, a sparrow, which in the old days meant I had traveled 5,000 nautical miles. I may not have done that, but I have been lost at sea and shipwrecked a few times without leaving this island.

As we walked down the streets of the sanitized Times Square it hit me how NYC has changed. Years ago, the sailors would have flocked to the center of our universe looking for love in all the wrong places. Now they just ogle and politely smile. All the politeness is so confusing to me. My daily regime is polka dotted with rudeness and bitter arguments, as this election year seems to have turned us all against each other . Lifelong friends fight over candidate’s shortcomings, as political leanings turn into seemingly religious arguments. On the dating sites I occasionally peruse looking for love in all the wrong places, potential hookups want to know in advance if you stand with this guy or that gal. I can’t imagine, imagining any of the candidates in the bedroom. The campaigns have made all of us idiots in the eyes of those with opposing views. Facebook is a battleground.

Fleet Week and all the polite warriors that have been washed up on our shores have brought us a different set of rules of engagement. Some of us may disagree with the politics of Navies and the military, but there is little argument that these boys and girls in white are standing tall for all of us.

This Sunday everybody’s favorite bad boy from The Walking Dead, Daryl himself, Norman Reedus, will ride up on a custom built Sailor Jerry Harley and make a guest appearance to toast to the troops for all their hard work at the Sailor Jerry Block Party, featuring Cage the Elephant at Hudson River Park’s Pier 84, 12 Avenue and 44th Street. Mr. Reedus will be showing love to the visiting swabbies. I suggest we all bury the hatchets and show them love, too. (Tickets available, here)

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Death Mask Murderer Up For Parole, Clubdom Gasps

Photo via Newsday

The parole hearing of the convicted murderer 31 years into his 25 years to life sentence went relatively unnoticed. On February 23, 1985 Bernard LeGeros tortured to death club goer, model and aspiring fashion designer Eigil Dag Vesti in what was sensationalized as the “Death Mask Murder.”

The leather S&M mask preserved the face of the burnt and animal eaten corpse, allowing for identification in a pre-DNA world. It was the murder of the decade until a year later when the murder of Jennifer Levin in Central Park by Robert Chambers, the so-called “Preppy Murder” eclipsed it. Bernard LeGeros was not alone, but he was the only person convicted of the crime. “One Percenter,” Andrew Crispo was accused of masterminding the crime. The investigation led police into the S&M clubs that thrived in the old Meatpacking District. It opened up their eyes to a culture and society thriving underground, sometimes literally. Places like the Mineshaft where Eigel was picked up, catered to patrons that put themselves at risk as a way of life. The death of Eigel was still a shock.

Limelight VIP host Fred Rothbell-Mista was a target for Andrew Crispo and his lapdog Bernard LeGeros. Fred recounted to me, many years ago, how they tried to seduce him into leaving with them that evening. Drugs and sex were the bait, but Fred said he just didn’t feel comfortable. His gut told him it wasn’t right and he decided to find his action elsewhere. He told me he came close. Rumors of the death chilled the hot crowd. Some said his heart was cut out while he was still alive, while others said a large sex toy was still lodged in the corpse. Andrew Crispo’s drug-fueled forays into S&M had become legendary and now there was a body. They couldn’t pin it on the art mogul, but over the years other charges stuck. There was a threat to his lawyer to kidnap her child, there were other beatings, a tax rap. He did go to jail, but not the 30 years prosecutors wanted. He got out many years ago, while Bernard stayed locked away.

Years after the crime, I was in a 7th Avenue restaurant featuring a Chelsea crowd. It was a scene place and the scene at the bar was loud and cruisey. I was in mid-sentence when a communal gasp followed by the loud whispers stopped me cold: “It’s Andrew Crispo.” Every head turned, every conversation stopped. Joy turned into stone, as the guy that got away was shown a table. It was that kind of impact the murder had on nightlife—hard to pick up someone at a bar having heard of Eigels fate.

But death was no stranger to nightlfe. It was a war with casualties counted just like any
war. It was measured in deaths, wounded or missing in action. Drugs, AIDS and a crime ridden NYC had taken a massive toll. A creative generation was wiped out. Where are the Haring’s, the Warhol’s, the Basquiat’s today? The mean streets of New York bubbled out that vibrant art scene, as well as new genres of music like punk, hip-hop and house that had only percolated in the deep underground.

Those who were there remember the early to mid ’80s as a sort of golden age for club life. It had a speedy numbness like a Cocaine rush. Looking back at that time, old school patrons talk of how mixed the clubs were with celebrities and Euro-trash hobnobbing with skateboard punks, artists and the fashion set. Clubs had become inclusive as even the most exclusive ones looked to curate a smorgasbord of tastes, styles and classes. Gays hung out with straights, rich with poor, Blacks with whites, all in the same room. Transgender people used any bathroom they wanted to and nobody complained. New drugs replaced, or at least cooperated, with old drugs. Looking back, it looks like heaven, but really wasn’t. Part of the problem was the party never ended and nobody was keeping track of the cost.

After hours clubs, some as big as today’s mega clubs, flourished on weekends. During the week, there were countless regular hours places to go to and smaller joints that went till noon. Mondays were great and Tuesdays amazing. Many went out every night. Many enjoyed sex, drugs, alcohol and sleepless nights that merged seamlessly with annoying days. Sunglasses were part of a night crawler’s ensemble, as much as dancing shoes and condoms. Clubs were often located in seedy neighborhoods where nobody would complain. The local entrepreneurs scored big time by selling whatever was wanted—drugs, women, late night sandwiches—to the stumbling masses. Bad decisions went with distractions. We all made them, but Eigel paid the price.

Bernard ultimately stopped the party. He was Jack the Ripper, a subconscious demon, a pause to think in that mindless moment when the drugs, music and urges didn’t want to. The parole hearing has been postponed until November. When I saw his face on my computer the other day, I sensed the breath of that demon once again and worried that he will soon walk among us.

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: When a Club Closes, We All Suffer

Photo via Verboten

The closing of Brooklyn dance club Verboten has many in an “I told you” mode. The place was shuttered, according to a sign on the door, for failure to pay taxes, but allegations that run the gamut from fraud to sexual harassment have been leveled. Although legal eagles got the place open last Saturday night, it isn’t clear whether Verboten will soon be closed for good, reopened under new management or miraculously weather this storm.

Some seemed happy to see this joint go, but I felt bad for the staff who may be forced to look for work. A nightclub supports many people: bartenders, waitrons, managers, busboys, security, coat checkers, receptionists, door folk, public relations and promotional persons, DJs and cleaning crews all trying to pay rent, buy food, support boutiques and other businesses. There are also suppliers of booze, lemons and limes, soda and mixers. There are glassware purveyors and garbage picker uppers who now make less money. Then there are cab drivers, local deli’s supplying Altoids and before and after snacks and beers, diners, people who put up posters, graphic designers, uber drivers all suffering—the list is endless. A large nightclub like Verboten is a shot in the arm of the local economy. Oh, I forgot the government collects taxes on everything above, although some people are saying Verboten wasn’t paying those. (Update: Verboten Co-owner Jen Schiffer has been arrested).

Working in nightlife can be a double-edged sword. There is cash money, a stimulating environment and night hours that allow artists, actors and such to have day jobs. The club gigs pay the bills, while castings, rehearsals and all sorts of real world stuff occupy the days. In a perfect world, a thespian or student can work a Friday and Saturday night shift, maybe another during the week and pay their way to a bright future. The list of famous people who had bar, restaurant or nightlife gigs is long. Everyone from Dustin Hoffman to Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry to Keith Haring have served food or swill with a smile. Vin Deisel was a bouncer.

The players, below, balance their creative careers with nightlife jobs. Without clubs to pay their bills many would not be able to blossom in the arts. Could a Broadway or a New York film industry flourish without the talent pool working elsewhere? Here are four nightlife legends trying to become legendary performers.


Wass Stevens

Strategic Group Partner Wass Stevens, the bon vivant doorman at such ultra exclusive clubs like Avenue, Marquee and many more says, “Working in nightlife is the perfect job for those pursuing a career in the arts. It keeps your days free to audition, take classes, and rehearse. It’s generally ‘freelance,’ so if you book a gig, you can take the time off without too much of a hassle. For me as an actor, working the door is like one long improvisation. And because you interact with people from all walks of life—in the span of 15 minutes tonight, for example, I talked to my favorite homeless guy Julio, an Oscar winner (with whom I’ve worked several times) several gazillionaires, two of my students, several of NY’s finest, my pal who plays for the New York Rangers, and other assorted nightcrawler—it takes any intimidation factor out of the acting equation.  Seeing huge stars, directors [and] producers staggering out intoxicated, or chasing hotties that I see on a daily basis and barely notice, levels the playing field really fast. And, if you take [it] seriously [and] treat it as a job, it can. Nightlife gives you a degree of financial security most ‘part-time’ jobs cannot give. And let’s not forget, for the most part its pretty fucking fun.”

Wass still hangs onto his door gig despite big and small screen success with increasingly larger roles in vehicles like The Wrestler, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Family Man, Public Morals, World Trade Center and more.

Michael Cavadias is a DJ, actor, writer and a director. He juggles his nightlife career amid credits for Wonder Boys, Girls, Difficult People and the upcoming Katie Holmes short, All We Had. For what seems like 500 Million Years he has performed Claywoman about a 500 Million Year old extra terrestrial. Recently he combined his day job with his night job by performing Claywoman at Bushwick’s House of Yes, where Girls star Jemima Kirke interviewed his character. He also wrote and directed The Joanne Holiday Show. By all accounts his career has been successful, but he makes ends meet with his DJ gigs at The Ace Hotel, Metropolitan Bar and his really fun new party HUMP at Rumpus Room every other Wednesday, which was created by Shoshana Fisher and Paul Iacono, who’s also an actor.

“Working in nightlife has allowed me the flexibility to take acting jobs, go on auditions, make my own work and survive in the city at the same time while also being able to DJ as another creative outlet,” Cavadias said. “It’s a balance between the sometimes unpredictable nature of both nightlife and film, TV [and] performance work, and the flexibility to be able to pursue the things I’m passionate about. “


Heather Litteer

Heather Litteer has and continues to pursue her life as a performer with money she makes in the nightlife industry. She told me she has done about every job you can think of, from barkeep to dancer. Many know her as Jessica Rabbit, a persona I once described in BlackBook:  “She comes off as a girl who can do anything—and might, if you ask right.” Others will recall her as the “ass to ass girl” in Darren Aronofsky’s  Requiem for a Dream. Typecast as a woman of ill repute or a druggie, she took advice from her mother, who said, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” This led to her first solo show, “Lemonade,” which will premiere at La Mama April 15.

Without nightlife to support her, Heather may not be able to pursue her dreams in NYC.


Fabrizio Brienza

Fabrizio Brienza is a rather tall, handsome, impeccably dressed presence at chic spots around town. He says he stumbled into nightlife while pursing a career as a model and actor. He can be seen in catalogs, commercials and campaigns, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label. His acting has him rubbing elbows with superstars in flicks like Adjustment Bureau, Duplicity, A Walk Among the Tombstones, as well as television, like Law and Order SVU and Days of Our Lives. He has been here for 11 years, “longer than he has been in any one place before.” He opens that velvet rope as he seeks “meatier roles” that will take him to the next level.

Nightlife is a dream job for many, as you make money and hang with the wonderful, the rich, the famous, the it persons, the next wave. You listen to great music and can often sleep in. These are some of the thousands of faces trying to make it in this impossible, but possible town. When a club closes the consequences ripple through our culture.

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Ben Rowland’s ‘Big Picture New York’ Takes Us Way Back

Photos via Big Picture

Many years ago I worked for club mogul David Marvisi, a nice enough fellow once you got past his gruff exterior. He owned Spa, as well as the mega club Exit, which has since become Terminal 5. David was very good at making money because, as you know, some people get into the club business for that stuff.

Spa was a hit and David was generous to all that worked there. Every so often he’d stick his head into my office and proclaim, ‘Lewis, Lugars!’ and I’d stop whatever I was doing and head to Peter Lugar’s for the best steak in town with this larger-than-life character. He’d even get me a take-home steak for my pet Chihuahua. After our meal we’d drive around Williamsburg in his Bentley du-jour before the neighborhood became gentrified. David had a stable of them in lots of colors, and the kids would all swarm toward us as we drove slow, wondering who it was driving in that big car—who was living their dreams. Now, those same blocks are occupied by people chasing a different dream.


I came into B-Burg about 6 years ago, a Hipster-come-lately to the art crowd that had come 5 or 7 years before. The original gentrifiers looked down at newbies like me. They had lived among the Bentley gawkers and old-school Italians in cheap-ass harmony until a wave of new kids created the massive change that has now swept through Bushwick and Greenpoint, as well. Those that could pay the ever increasing rents defined the hoods, while those that couldn’t moved away. Now it’s all baby carriages, big buck boutiques and new high rises. Even a recent arrival like me hardly recognizes large tracks of the promised land. Change is inevitable, constant and always complained about.

At Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, you can chat up locals and stately regulars about what it was like 30, 40 or 50 years ago in the hood and they’ll tell you all about the changes that have reshaped NYC’s cultural identity. Tourists and cool kids listen to stories about houses that date back to the beginning and how streets were named. Every week, the past is torn down and the future put up.

While nostalgia is potent, grounding us in a rose-tinted past that seems better than it probably was, changes to the hood have been profound. For centuries, it’s been the constant out with the old, in with the new. Now as the pace of change has been quickened—condos reaching for the stars and providing slick homes for the next wave—there is a new site that takes you deeper into history. Successful photographer Ben Rowland’s Big Picture NY provides a glimpse of old New York, before the rise of trendy restaurants and dive bars—heck, even before the L Train.

Ben, a key player and creative consultant for Bang On! NYC, has a keen understanding about the ever-evolving relationship between culture and neighborhood. In the past, he’s photographed everyone from Obama to Jay-Z for major clients like Rolling Stone and Milk Studios; he also works in real estate.

Williamsburg Bridge Plaza Brooklyn NY-thelong goodbye

A self-proclaimed “Big nerd for old pictures,” Ben has accumulated a large collection of hi-res images that he’s now sharing with the world online. He’s decided not to include any text saying “from an existential perspective, I wanted to keep it an imagery site and not an historical site.” While they say a picture is worth a thousand words, a thousand wasn’t enough to satisfy some, the Big Picture’s Facebook provides lengthy descriptions for those who’re curious. He’s even VR-optimizing these images.

Ben’s project takes us away from our troubles to show us a distant world that seems gentle. Obviously we know our past was anything but, though looking back at these big pictures, zooming in on faces and building facades is a sweet addiction. I want more. Someday when I’m very old and my beloved hood is all glass and concrete, I’ll be sitting there at Peter Pan having a Red Velvet (still $1.10) and I hope somebody will ask me about the good old days. However, I suspect that won’t happen as the Internet will render me obsolete.

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Uncle Steve’s Vanishing New York, ‘Vinyl’ Sucks

Photo via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York is a brilliant site, which lets me and many others not only know about the closing of New York institutions, but their significance to the fabric of our city. Jeremiah covered the closing of St. Marks mainstay, Trash and Vaudeville, with their usual aplomb. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, New York is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? There was a time I couldn’t think of living anyplace else. New York, well Manhattan, has been hosed down, scrubbed, de-liced and perfumed—cleansed of the grit that once made it special. The city that never sleeps has become a bedroom community.

For the last couple of months I’ve been living in Philadelphia. I do come up to the Big Apple a few times every week for meetings. On a recent trip up, my significant other offered, “This town isn’t what it used to be,” and she was right. As mom and pop businesses lose their leases and national chains take over those spaces, Manhattan offers little but high rents, traffic and people I would never want to sleep with.

The closing of Patricia Fields and exile of Trash and Vaudeville are the latest in the agonizing death of a culture by a thousand pin pricks. Both boutiques remained true to their schools, providing their own signature style until the very end; both were places to gather, chat up the like-minded, absorb the influences of stylish staff that could hardly be imagined elsewhere. They were clubhouses, destinations, places to desperately search for that big outfit for that big date. Trash has just moved around the corner to 7th Street and those who need it will find the skinny jeans, band tees, Doc Martens and rock, goth or punk accessories. St. Marks hasn’t been what it was for a long time; St. Marks Bookstore recently closed, Sounds, the last record store, as well. The Sockman, Kims video and Andy’s Chee-Pees are as dead as Love Saves the Day, Natasha, Repeat Performance, Manic Panic and so many others.

In 1983 I produced “The East Village Look,” a fashion show at the great Danceteria. The exploding neighborhood of boutiques, art galleries and cool bars attracted the rock stars and hipsters. Now with Trash closing, everyone who participated is shuttered, online or sanitized. Back in the day was amazing; I spent the wee hours in clubs of questionable ethics and at dawn or noon, I’d dodge the junkies and my compatriots already rolled, while sleeping it off on stoops. We lived questionable lives, had dangerous sex, paid the price. We were to live fast and die young. Many kept this bargain.

For eons, St. Marks was the go-to spot to pick up go-go girls or boys shopping for spandex or making their hair stand up straight. It was a 24-hour walk of shame in a world where clubs were still open, as yuppie-scum were eating their lunches. Boy Bar, Coney Island High, Club 82, The Nursery, Brownies and a dozen more joints did their part as did the Saint, a mega club that helped define queer NYC nightlife. Everything and everyone was near and willing to exchange spit. It was cheap, it was fast and it was fun. Its sound, its music still makes us squirm, poured out of its pores from a hundred dives.

I stopped at Gem Spa the other day to get an egg cream and pretzel stick, not because I was thirsty, but to take a breath—maybe a look at the bar across the street where Mick Jagger and Keith once smoked cigarettes outside and inside and cruised the local talent. There’s still some familiar spots left in what once was the center of it all: B&H Dairy, St. Marks Comics, Rays on Avenue A and, of course, Gem Spa, but the crowd has changed and I can’t imagine running into Iggy on St, Marks and of course Joey and Dee Dee Ramone are long gone. I bet and I guess I hope that none of the hookers are still working the St. Marks Hotel. I actually never went, but it was somehow comforting to know they were there.

None of this bothers me as life does go on until it doesn’t. What bothers me is Vinyl, the HBO show that supposedly shows us what it was like back in the day, is just so awful—a rewrite of my romantic past. My significant other offered, “It’s after all only a TV show,” but for me it isn’t just a TV show, it’s my soul. You can knock down the stores and bars, destroy the vibe and make the whole fuckin’ town a mall, but to portray it all in Vinyl’s very small, very inaccurate box is blasphemy. Gem Spa’s egg creams, chocolate of course, are all that’s left that you can roll around in your mouth and appreciate that which was before.

Goodnight Mr. Lewis: House of Yes and Closing L Train May Keep Brooklyn Cool

Photography: Audrey Penven

Nightlife at its best is a love fest—a place where even birds with broken wings can soar. Back in the day, cultures collided in the best places in town, artists, performers, dancers and even clowns were all celebrated. There were thriving places where envelopes were pushed, edges redefined. Drag queens could make a pretty penny dancing on bars, affirming to the Wall Streeters and bridge and tunnel sets in attendance that they, indeed, were hanging in a super hip place. Today, or tonight, there are very few places where drag queens dance on bars. The segregation of cultures is more profound in nightlife than maybe in society as a whole. There are those who live to challenge this theory. It was and still is Susanne Bartsch, Johnny, Chi Chi, the Mother Crew and others still thriving in the cracks and yes, there is the House of Yes: a place for smiles, laughter and eureka moments—for shock and awe. HOY is a place to belong—a place to say yes.

The Brooklyn nexus of Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick, a creative cauldron for all that goes bump in the night, is under attack. Real estate developers seeking that cauldron of gold at the end of that creative rainbow have put up a continuous string of dormitories for slaves pushing the wayward types farther away from the L train and connections to the Manhattan money stream. The hipster sprawl has attracted those who live to swarm around the creative light that starving artists and musicians have developed. Their credit cards have encouraged Duane Reades and mainstream boutiques to open and thrive. It is a D-Day level beachhead that has nearly transformed Nirvana into Pleasantville. Yet all is not lost as House of Yes and other stalwarts exploit the yuppie bucks and employ the star struck, bringing joy to the world.

DSC07712Photography: Audrey Penven

On a typical Saturday night, Manhattanites with tourists in tow command the lifeline of the Brooklyn creative cauldron: the L Train. Over the last decade or so, the Bridge and Tunnel types, with real jobs and real credit have migrated from the outer boroughs and now live the Manhattan dream. Like frenzied Salmon, they now swim upstream to mate in the old, forever changed hoods. A few years ago, most got off at Bedford Avenue, but now the hoards go three, even five stops, inland looking for that good time. Their money supports the clubs, bars and boutiques that pay the rent of the artistes, but it also dilutes the Gene pool—a Catch 22.

Suddenly, a new hope may have come in the form of disaster. At some table of suits, it was determined that the L train must be shut down for repairs—some say for a year, but other reports whisper of three or more. The inconvenience of it all just may save the hood from eating itself. The starving artists know how to survive such troubles; they’ll ride their bikes in a foot of snow, run to work or take three trains. The newbie crowd, the non-creatives that panic if their lattes are made with whole milk, might decide to opt out for Long Island City or Hoboken, which I hear are both very nice.

I ate at Forrest Point, Bushwick among my brethren and thought the end of civilization as I know it may not be nigh. It was mid afternoon when Kae Burke, one of the founders and partners at The House of Yes, and old friend Eric Schmalenberger, a HOY board member, house curator and performer, gave me the 2 cent tour. It all started with the bathrooms, each a work of art, each a vision of how things should be. I was showed stages, back rooms, go-go cages and Boardwalk Empire relics. My head spun, I decided this was it—a place I could hang my hat, a place where moments could occur, where talented people could push their limits, and therefore a community’s. Kae told me how a shoe company might want to promote their product, tap into the scene-maker crowd that’s attending rather regularly. She said if such a thing must be done, HOY would produce it, mimicking a giant shoe coming down on her. I laughed and I seldom laugh in Manhattan anymore unless Johnny Dynell or Chi Chi Valenti are doing something. HOY was reminding me of Mother, the seminal Meatpacking joint where everything was everything, so I asked Kae to tell BlackBook about what she calls “our accidental nightclub.”

She wrote me a book, which I’ve edited down, so you can absorb her energy:

“House of Yes has become so much more than we ever anticipated. Some things in life are planned. Sometimes with a project, you have a whole projection of what you’re doing and how it will make money and succeed and an exit strategy and how you’ll make it all happen. House of Yes, throughout the years, just kind of happened. Organically, magically, one of those weird destiny things.

[House of Yes Co-Founder Anya Sapozhnikova] and I started making art together, playing out-of-tune instruments in cold garages, smoking weed in parking lots and drawing all night. We made art together, drawing, painting [and] sewing all night. It’s that creative love feeling—the feeling that someone gets you, the feeling that they see your potential, they will support your terrible brilliant ideas and think you’re awesome no matter what. We had that connection that multiplies the good things exponentially—the kind of love that keeps reflecting back and forth, the kind that makes you feel good about yourself because the person you love, loves you back and vice versa. With that kind of love, anything is possible. That is why House of Yes is possible. We made stuff. We were broke and didn’t care. We were resourceful. We were in fashion school, but it was more of pain in the ass as it got in the way of exploration, creation and going out.
Anya has always been a natural leader—the best at bringing people together. They follow her radiance wherever it takes them. That is why House of Yes exists. Because she leads with force, power and light. As much of a leader as I am, I have to say, I follow her [and] support her. It takes us to great places together. She leads parades [and] creates grand spectacles at huge illegal warehouse parties in Brooklyn. We still do weird art together, but now we do it with more people and all over the place. Now it’s a performance.
DSC07035Photography: Audrey Penven
 Part of the magic of the House of Yes has been in that collective need for something to succeed. People feel included. We’ve always been very open about it belonging to all, [and] especially in this early phase, we were open to collaborating with anyone and that is how the weird, wild and wonderful things happened. People feel included and therefore invested. They want it to work. They want to help. It’s not just for House of Yes, it’s for them. It’s the reflection—the love that keeps going.
People saw that what we had created was special. Everyone is always trying to be special, but when you try too hard and plan and brand and strategize for your target market, the result is completely contrived and it wreaks of bullshit and desperation. We didn’t try to be special, we didn’t have time to think about that, we would just make things and try things and rehearse and perform and do it again and again. We made performances, parties and art, and it all kind of worked together. We didn’t waste time ‘trying’ things, we would just do them and then adjust our decisions based on the consequences. It usually worked out.
 By the age of 26, we were old enough to freak out a little when we lost the second House of Yes. At this point, it was our home, our everything, our resource for making. After the devastation and sobbing, it became clear that we’d built something that didn’t need walls. Love doesn’t need walls. Real family, the kind you make, the kind that makes you, doesn’t need a house [or] have a home. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s so true. We had our people. They found us and loved us, warts and all.
People have come and gone from the House of Yes world, sometimes by chance and sometimes by choice. Anya and I have always stuck by each other, and it’s a power beyond love. It’s commitment. I have to admit that I have wanted to quit. We weren’t convinced about the third round. There was a beautiful freedom that came with losing the space and we tasted it. It tasted good to be free of the massive responsibilities of running an illegal venue, but we kept looking because we knew it wasn’t the end, even if we fantasized.
DSC06999 Photography: Audrey Penven
In previous installations of HOY, people followed us. We built it [and] they came.  To some extent, with the third, we followed the people. They wanted it. Everyone kept saying. ‘It’s okay, we’ll find a bigger better place. We have to do this.’ We followed them [and] they were right. Our crew, our family, our friends had the radiance, the hope and energy to remind us that yes, there was more. We believed in them, in ourselves, in the reflection and the need to succeed. House of Yes had to live on.
It’s a weird thing that happens when you make something bigger than yourself, bigger than you had planned. (Not that we had a plan). It’s terrifying and beautiful and the most exhilarating thing in the world to stand back and say, ‘Holy, shit, what have I done? What have we done?’ That’s how I feel now. We didn’t do it alone. People cared. This wouldn’t have happened if the community didn’t need it, didn’t want it, didn’t crave it and demand that it happen.
The current space is its own beautiful creature. Anya and I are 29 and we’re more and more in love with each other, with the space. Our family gets bigger, our art gets better, our lives get brighter. There aren’t enough hours in the day and there is still never enough money it seems. We never meant to make a nightclub, we just wanted to make art. I seriously can’t believe what we’ve created, but I know why we created it.
Because this city needs a place where things can happen that aren’t about tricking people into spending their money. We all need a place where we can go meet interesting people, where we can be surprised and where we can surprise ourselves—where we can grow and give, a place where you can give a shit about the space you’re in. We’ve let people put themselves into House of Yes. We let people help us build, we included them in the legend and it has filled every little crack and corner of the space with love. Because love is service. Love is selfless. People pour their time and money into House of Yes because they feel like it is theirs, like it was made for them, and should be made with them. They are right. We made it together, we made it for everyone.
DSC07145 Photography: Audrey Penven
[With] most nightclubs, you don’t care who the owner is, or who made the art on the wall, or who the go-go dancer is. I feel like House of Yes lets people care because we never present as a ‘brand,’ we present ourselves as humans who created a space for fellow humans. Maybe that’s all House of Yes is: a place for humans [or maybe] a gift for humans.
For me personally, House of Yes is a place for me to discover myself. I’m still working on developing as an artist, as a woman, as a good human and creator—as a leader, a believer in myself. It’s a life-long journey.
It is hard to balance the stress and management, the art and love. Luckily, I have the best partners in the world that remind me constantly what the struggle is for, reminding me that it’s worth it, reminding me that I am the same genius that I was when making art all night in highschool, the same creator from the basement days, the same leader I always was and will continue to be. Even when I’m tired, I can remember it’s okay to be inspired. Just let it happen. It’s always worked for us that way.”

Eric added:

“The first time I walked into House of Yes  I had no idea what it was and I was mad as hell that something so incredible existed and I wasn’t involved. When I was in college, I remember describing my perfect life as being a member of a group of artists, spectacle makers, performance artists, camp queens, and fearless creators who collaborated to make things that were thrilling, outlandish and beautiful, and there I was in the middle of it.  About a year later, I was cast in my first House of Yes production. From that point on, I was hooked and found myself braver and more excited with each challenge.  I always joke that it’s called ‘House of Yes,’ not, ‘House of Maybe,’ and I find myself saying, ‘Yes,’ to the unexpected here all the time.

I think that’s one of the reasons I love this space and this community. It encourages the unexpected and the surprising to take place, and it encourages the risk taking and the trust to take that risk. This whole community and club are built on that trust. Two weeks ago, I walked into the club before a variety show and was told by Kae and Anya that they had an idea involving me for an act that night where I’d be chased up the wall sculpture above the bar by crazed sexy clown girls, attached onto a zip line and then flown high above the audiences heads in my daring escape. For a circus space, I am very much a ground performer, but I trusted my friends and that night I found myself about 17 feet above the heads of a thrilled audience (while wearing sequins of course). Each day is an adventure; each day is bringing in new artists, creators, nightlife innovators and fun makers to join in that adventure. What more could a boy ask for?”

House of Yes is one of the reasons to live in NYC, putting up with L train closings, the high rents and all that Jazz . Go there ASAP, it’s the best place in town.

Did Trump Learn to Debate at Cocktail Parties, Bars and Nightclubs?

Donald Trump seems poised to win the Republican nomination and then face either a candidate that a lot of people dislike, or a candidate who is old, Jewish, divorced and a Socialist. The Donald could win.

Back in the day I would sometimes see Donald out and about at clubs and charity events. He was always well-dressed and polite, Everyone I know who knew him has nice things to say about him. I read stories of him hanging at Le Club with power broker Roy Cohen and other boites with the rich and famous. There are stories of him at Studio 54 hobnobbing with the best. When contacted while vacationing in Peru, Studio V.I.P. hostess Carmen D’Alessio offered me an emphatic, “No comment.” Most of the usual (and unusual) club folks, who surely were hosting parties that Trump visited refused to comment—mind you, these are the types who would sacrifice helpless animals for a photo-op or quote.

A doorman told me of Trump’s refusal to shake his hand, politely bowing instead; a bottle host told of how they got ready for the “Big D,” sometimes whisking female companions in and out of secret doors. A club manager told me, “For a guy in his position, he was out quite a lot.”  Regardless, he said “he always found him to be straight-laced and polite.” Between Marla Maples, Ivanna and the rest, Mr. Trump was seen in Miami’s Chaos, and in New York, China Club, Studio 54 and a dozen other important joints.

So, did Trump’s clubbing days teach him how to speak to the people? While political pundits scratch their heads over the impossible surge of candidate Donald Trump, it seems to me rather simple. Donald talks to the people like one speaks to folks at a bar. Simple, emphatic statements without too much need for facts or follow-up win the night.  In this manner of speaking, he has connected with the public. A regular guy wouldn’t want to have a drink in a bar with Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Hillary and Bernie wouldn’t be any fun. Those folks seem far removed from the language of the hoi polloi. The billionaire through a steady stream of bar-like banter has become the populist candidate. The Donald once proudly declared:

“I could stand in the middle of  5th Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

If candidate Trump made this statement at the neighborhood bar, few would doubt this and many would buy another round.

He might say something like this:

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out whats going on […] We have no choice, we have no choice.”

The crowd would gulp their Jameson’s and repeat, “ No choice, no choice!” They’d all hug and glance at the game on the TV screen until some guy with a hat that says “Vet” on it might choose to bring up life in the trenches. Trump might dodge that bullet with a quip about war hero Senator John McCain,

“He’s not a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Some would spit out their beer in glee and order yet another round. The lot at the bar is working class and talk would inevitably turn to making ends meet, and who to blame for it. All eyes turn to Trump, who might define a culprit by saying something like:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The bar crowd might cheer and demand, “What the hell would you do about it?”

He’d respond: ”I will build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

The crowd around him would be in a frenzy with the sound on the game lowered so all could hear. Only the bartender would be busy pouring swill to the unwashed masses. Trump, having their full attention, might continue with:

“In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before—as a group, we have never seen before, what’s happening right now. The medieval times—I mean, we studied medieval times—not since medieval times have people seen what’s going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

All would nod in agreement, Isis is bad. Lighter conversation is called for and the chatter would head to women. Trump might offer a tried and true line about Carly Fiorina:

‘Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that the face of our next president?”

No one could imagine to wanting to hang with that face. Feeling the love, Trump might add:

“It’s very hard for them to attack me on looks because I’m so good looking.”

And without skipping a beat:

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

The woman bashing has them by the balls, so with a couple of winks and a nod he repeats a winner about Megyn Kelly:

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her, wherever.”

Candidate Trump gets most votes at most bars these days. He will continue to win at the polls and maybe the election, as well, because he talks to the average Joe in a tone that Joe understands. He doesn’t make it too complicated.

“I would get China to make that guy (Kim Jong Un) disappear in one form or another very quickly.”

That’s his answer. It’s a simple, bang, bang, and the North Korean problem is solved and he didn’t even get his toupee mussed.

Another famous television personality, Groucho Marx, once famously offered the following thoughts:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies,” and, “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Groucho is long gone, but damn wouldn’t he have made a great running mate.