Good Night Mr. Lewis: Ella & Mr. Varney

imageThere’s been much ado about something going on down on Avenue A near Houston. Ella pops onto our scene, and my pal Brittany Mendenhall of won’t shut up about it. It was my impression that Ella was going to be another boutique bar cum bottle boite, but then I heard that Carlton Varney had designed the place. I’m not going to tell you too much about him right now, as I’m scheduling a sit-down with this legendary designer for next week. But Mr. Varney, now in his 70s, has turned it out. Ella is wonderful — it’s Hollywood heyday chic without discounting its East Village location. Varney did the Waldorf Towers and Joan Crawford’s home. I sat with Josh Boyd, Jordan Boyd, and Darin Rubell, and left convinced that there are still people out there trying to make wonderful things.

The name “Ella” is not a direct reference to anyone in particular. I asked if it was for Ella Fitzgerald as they showed me the piano lounge downstairs, and Josh told me it was simply a great name — a sexy old-school name that refers to the great ladies of long ago. A time of glamour and class … a name that refers to legends. Darin and I talked about Steve Rubell, his erratic relative that blessed him with wisdom during his Wonderbread years. I told them about the Palladium and how it came to pass that I would be responsible for filling it with 5,000 peeps a night. I told him that fresh off the success of Studio 54, his cousin Steve had tried to duplicate that winning formula on 14th Street. It didn’t work well. The 108,000-square-foot-club couldn’t survive on the peeps who loved Studio. It had to embrace the neighborhood. I did a monster art/fashion show with just about everyone in the East Village and LES involved. We did like 9,000 people, and it was a hit.

I asked about Ella’s door policy, and if they had thought they would go the same route as the Eldridge. They felt being more inclusive was a better route. The Eldridge is such a destination, and the door policy so confusing to many, that it’s not nearly as successful as I thought it might be. I don’t think it embraces the neighborhood at all. Ella has New York native Adam, who worked inside at the Box manning the door; Josh says after four days, they are still working it out — trying to figure out where to draw the line. They own local spots Plan B and Gallery Bar and have a solid base of friends and fans to start with. Drink prices of $8, $9, and $10 are far below the $16 or $18 cocktails at the Eldridge. They’re not trying to be the same thing, but it’s interesting to see two small joints three blocks away from each other doing things so differently.

See, the basic dilemma in this industry is that it’s the same Jack Daniels, whether it’s served in an Irish pub or at Rose Bar. It’s all about the presentation. Darin says his customers knows who they are and where they are, and they don’t want to feel raped when they leave. I stared at Carlton Varney’s wallpapers like I used to stare at go-go dancers. Josh told me how Carlton came in for a look-see, put in his two cents worth (which turned into a buck and a half), and then the juices started to flow and Carlton dove in … and you got a million-dollar movie’s worth of decor. There are couches from the green room of the Oscars! I sat down putting my derriere where Tom Cruise’s might have once rested. I don’t give out straight lines like this very often, so I’ll just conclude that Ella is beautiful. Josh, Darin, and Jordan are cool. The location is easy and the drinks are cheap. It’s a hit.

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