David Sarner on Thursday’s Opening of Pink Elephant

Nightclubs come and go and sometimes, but rarely do they actually come back. The return of Pink Elephant to our scene has me…well…tickled pink. I used to go to its incarnation on lower 8th Avenue just below 14th Street and when it was on 27th Street. On 27th Street it was one of the top dogs on a block that included Bungalow 8 (which is also making a comeback), Cain (hmmm, I hear rumblings), Bed, Spirit, Home, Guesthouse, with Mansion and Marquee right around the corner. The Outer Chelsea or OUCH club paradise was closed down by police action. There were horses and Kleig lights, and cop cars blocking the street to foot traffic. All sorts of search-and-destroy behavior, harassed clubs and customers, and it all went south… literally, to the friendlier Meatpacking District. Pink faded to memory like the day after a satisfied patron’s good time. It will reopen this Thursday at MacDougal and 8th Street and I am excited.

Pink honcho David Sarner is one of the nice guys in the business. He is an innovator, being at the forefront of high energy house music in the mid nineties when everyone else was pushing hip-hop or early mixed format. He was one of the first to push the expansion of his club brand overseas. He was, along with Jeffrey Jah and yours truly, one of the early purveyors of bottle service. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, so expect the unexpected as well as the expected great service and beautiful, sharp crowd.  As I said, the Grand Opening is this Thursday and I will sneak in before my Hotel Chantelle DJ gig.

I asked David to tell me all about it.

Welcome back! Who are the players in this incarnation? How will it be different?
It’s a lot of the same players from the old Pink Elephant. My partner Robert Montwaid, Jamie Hatchett, Stephan Seguin, Rich Black, and we have also added some new faces, including Roee Nahmani, Justin Clemmons, our GM, who comes from GoldBar and most recently, Le Baron, and several unbelievable bartenders and servers who really take pride in the art of cocktail mixology.

What is different is that the venue is much more multi-functional and will operate for longer hours. The space itself is unique because it delivers three distinctive experiential spaces: an amazing Infinity Room, a maze-like mixology bar, and a retro-style discotheque that functions as a traditional cabaret in the early evening before morphing into a dynamic nightclub with high energy dance music as the night progresses. Also, we decided to take the venue in a different direction than most clubs today in that we actually have a great dance floor. We still have VIP tables, but the majority of the people can come in and dance and have a great time without getting destroyed with table charges. 

How did you arrive at the name?
I wanted an iconic image that would transcend language because the brand has expanded into foreign markets where names might not necessary translate. As I wanted to create a brand that typified fun and exuberant celebration, I needed to find a visual that exemplified that. Pink Elephant has the distinction of having a drinking reference. It’s a euphemism for having drunken hallucinations. Therefore, the visual of the dancing Pink Elephant is jubilant, whimsical, a little silly, and most of all, happy…and as we play happy house music, the name fits perfectly.

Tell me about the new space…it’s a little up and to the right. Is its location a plus?
We wanted a venue that was easily accessible to get to and, just as importantly, leave, so we didn’t want to be too close to anyone else. The 8th street location is perfect because it’s directly between the Meatpacking District and the Lower East Side, and it’s very accessible from both 5th and 6th Avenues. Additionally, the whole block is going upscale with the team from The Bowery Hotel opening a boutique hotel on the block, the team from Masa opening an amazing new Japanese restaurant, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is opening adjacent to Pink Elephant, as well as several other places which are in various stages of development. The space itself is unique because it has a tremendous history in the annals of New York nightlife for being the home of a number of famous venues for over a hundred years. I loved the idea of paying tribute and rediscovering the history of this great venue.

In the 1920s, it was Rominy Marie’s, a club for all the great political thinkers, artists, poets, designers and bon vivants of the day, including Eugene O’Neil, Picasso, Calder, Brancusi, Duchamp, E.E. Cummings, Noguchi, Stieglitz, de Kooning, and tons of other major talents that are still remembered today by a single name.

Then, in the 1950s and ‘60s it was the Bon Soir, a cabaret that had some of the hottest talents of the day. Barbra Streisand actually got her start in this very room. Pink Elephant will also feature weekly cabaret performances that are directly reflective of entertainment from the jazz era through the 1960s, from torch song singers, songstresses, and other styles of entertainment, more Café Carlyle than The Box. In fact, in June, our first cabaret event is with Carla DelVillaggio whose Streisand-channeled performances are amazing and uncanny. 

Pink Elephant

What does the brand stand for?
The brand is geared toward high energy entertainment and exuberance for life. It is a joyful place where people come to unwind and celebrate life. The brand has come to be a favorite among jetsetters, celebrities, socialites and trendsetters alike because of the levels of service, sophistication, and the overall entertainment experience.

What has changed in the market since you closed?
In the New York market, it seems that everyone has hopped on the house music bandwagon. Club owners who focused almost exclusively on hip-hop a few years ago have suddenly shifted gears and are espousing house music. It’s very funny. Our team has focused on European house music since 1996 when we started exclusively playing house music at Chaos on Watts Street. Still, our venues are unique because we are focused on discovering and bringing emerging talent to this country, as opposed to the insanity of paying five-to-six figures for a single-night DJ performance. We want our patrons to experience music for the first time and not just get the same 20 songs each night that everyone else is playing, every night.

Having an opening right around Memorial Day is usually….dangerous. What are you doing to market yourself with half the crowd fleeing east and elsewhere?
I’ve never really been concerned about when I have opened a club – Prive, Spy Bar, Chaos, Rehab…none of these were timed. We opened when we were ready. I believe that the important thing is to provide a superior product, focus on quality, and let the crowd and buzz build.

There are so many people who try to open around Fashion Week to garner a little bit of press and get some celebrities attending third-party-programmed events, but that’s a supernova effect, something that may be hot for a moment and then burns out. We’re much more focused on a slower trajectory and building something that has longevity. If you can provide a beautiful room with amazing sound and extraordinary service, as well as great staff, people will come because of the delivery and the way they are welcomed and treated. Additionally, having a smaller venue ensures that you can keep quality really high even in slower months. When Pink Elephant officially opens this week, we will have had a few smaller events for friends and family already, which have put all of our operations systems in order and can provide a seamless and incredibly enjoyable experience.

Besides, Pink Elephant is a known entity that has tremendous international recognition, so there isn’t the concern that people will be away. People have been begging us to reopen in New York for some time because the Pink Elephant itself is beloved. It provides amazing experiences and long-lasting memories and people are so happy that we’re back. I’ve really never felt so much love and appreciation, it’s amazing!

Is a brand viable if it isn’t exported, and is that the idea even at this stage? Viva Las Vegas?
Brands need to evolve and expand, otherwise they become stagnant and boring, and in an industry where venue lifespans are quicker, it’s essential to export product and introduce new ideas to keep things fresh. Our brand DNA has been built around fun, excitement, and high energy entertainment, so we need to be in places that are conducive to that atmosphere. We want to be in locations where people have a great time enjoying life. That’s why Pink Elephant has opened locations in Brazil and Mexico, that’s why we do pop-ups at festivals, and that’s why we are in the process of opening Pink Elephant locations in Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas.

What is your favorite Pink Elephant moment?
My favorite Pink Elephant moment is actually one that reoccurs nightly. It’s that moment when the energy builds up to a point and then suddenly explodes with everyone in the room going crazy at the same time. It’s palpable – you can feel it – and it’s a collective euphoria that is utterly intoxicating.

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