Good Night Mr. Lewis: Greg Brier, Midtown Maestro

Greg Brier is the man behind Highbar, Amalia, Aspen, and the soon-to-open Aspen Social Club in Times Square, designed by yours truly. Greg is a very dear friend of mine. Of course, he hires me once in a while to design his spaces. I’ve done two and half spaces for him so far. I did Aspen initially, then Amalia. Now we’re sitting in the Aspen Social Club at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

First of all, Amalia and Aspen Social Club are in this Times Square/Midtown area, and Aspen is really in the Chelsea thing. And instead of being downtown or in the Meatpacking District where everyone else is, you’re in Midtown. Explain what you like about it. Well, I mean in addition to that, we just opened Highbar in Midtown as well.

That’s right. I forgot about it because I didn’t design it. [Laughing] You’re right, it’s not as beautiful as all the other places, but it’s successful, and it is in Midtown.

I hang out downtown and have always been a downtown guy. I started to realize there’s no dividing lines in New York. People live in Midtown, they live Uptown, they live on the East Side, they live on the West Side. A lot of people claim they live Downtown, but nobody can afford to live Downtown. So they’re all living up here anyways, so our whole ideas was to take this kind of downtown cool aesthetic … a more artistic, creative aesthetic, and put it into a Midtown environment and see how it would work. And it’s been incredibly well received, because these guys are so used to seeing this cookie-cutter design in their restaurants.

In this area? In this area. And all their restaurants and all their nightclubs. We knew that if we came up here and developed and created stuff with you and really kind of redefined the lines of what’s cool and hip, making Midtown just as hip and cool as downtown. By creating the right elements with design, our staff, music, etc., it would be successful, and it has been a huge success.

Well, the W Hotel really broke through many years ago. They broke through with style, some sort of style, some sort of programming. The Whiskey and Randy Gerber have been up in this area for a very long time. So there was a successful precedent, and certainly you are capitalizing on that knowledge. I remember you and I having conversations when we were designing Amalia and talking about whether people would come or not. Specifically to the downstairs, which is like nightclub or lounge for Amalia. I said to you that I believe many people live uptown, and if they’re going to the other clubs downtown, they need a place to go before and a place to go after. So you’ll do well. Yeah, it’s a great stop-off before you start heading downtown for a late-night space. I think in addition we really need to talk about the fact that right now, the economy is in the shitter, and basically we are going to depend on our tourists to an extent, and we’re in the right position to be to be depending on tourists.

I hadn’t heard that! As a designer, I designed this wall [at Aspen Social Club] to be visible from the street. The idea was that there’s thousands and thousands of people walking by this restaurant every day, and you just want to grab them and have something visual for them to see. And the foot traffic around here is unbelievable. Absolutely, but the tourists we’re going for are the high-end kind of European tourists; people that can really appreciate this design. You know, they walk by and see these cookie-cutter generic spaces, and nothing really impresses them. When they’re coming from Europe, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or wherever they’re coming from, they’re used to very high-end materials and cool stuff happening inside their restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. And we’re one of the few people that are actually doing that in the Midtown area. It’s really attracting those people.

When you stand outside, you basically have Pig & Whistle to your left, a deli to your right, and of course this beautiful restaurant. Back in the old days, in the early 1980s, when 44 was open at the Royalton, Conde Nast used to hold court there. Some of the coolest professionals in the fashion world are working in this area, and they’re looking for a cool place to hang out. And I think it’s so refreshing to them that they can walk out their front door and they have a very cool place, like they did back then. So again, it’s not a brand new concept — we’re bringing back basically something like you said that started back in the Midtown area and re-creating it.

Back when the economy was crap also. One of the things that we want to talk about is the versatility of the space. It does function as a nice place to sit and enjoy an informal dining experience or lunch. But in addition to that, the lounge has a DJ. I think what will end up happening is that promoters and nightclub people who end up going to Marquee or 1Oak may come here, have dinner, and they may stay later. I think more people will come by later at night — it’s a sexy enough space. In the 1980s you used to have a model next to a drag queen next to the guy in the business suit. And that’s really what made the party fun. That’s what we’re re-creating. There are times that I look over and I’m like, “What is this, 1989?”

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