Good Night Mr. Lewis: The Southside Boys

I live in Nolita but seldom hang in the neighborhood joints — Southside may change that. Around the corner from neighborhood staple La Esquina, Southside is a smallish basement boite catering to a crowd that is mixed and mature. The vibe is just right; you walk in and feel a cool that comes from operators who aren’t forcing it. A well-dressed but casual Nolita crowd with fun music and a lack of pretentiousness sets this place apart from so many others. Owners Anthony Martignetti andF James Willis took a few moments to give me the full story on the joint, so here’s Part 1 of the conversation; check back tomorrow for Part 2.

You’ve opened up Southside, which I attended the other night and had a great time. I think the place is beautiful. Anthony, I think you had a secret ambition to be a designer at one point, is that about right? Anthony Martignetti: Yeah, I started a design company when I graduated school, and basically that’s why I moved to New York, to design places and build furniture. Then I found out that you couldn’t make any money doing that, so I decided to start bartending at night.

We’ve had a different path. I started off running nightclubs and bars and decided I couldn’t make any money at that anymore, and then I got into design making a pretty decent living. AM: I’m actually learning now that once you start designing for other people, you make money; when you design for yourself, you only save a lot. You don’t see the money, but it’s actually there.

Now, one of my favorite restaurants, especially in Nolita, is a place called Ruby’s. James, I know you from Ruby’s, a place where I’ll have my pasta with hot Italian sausage and that pear salad I’ve been eating for years. When I read the post from Rachelle from Guest of a Guest, I saw there were Aussies everywhere, and I couldn’t figure out where they came from, and then I saw you. Tell me about the Aussie Nolita crew. James Willis: Well, basically when I first moved to New York, when I was in Australia, my friends hooked me up with the Ruby’s boys, and on Mulberry Street, you have Eight Mile Creek as well, the Aussie pub, which is where we go and watch the rugby games. It was such a small community of Aussies then. I think everyone just drew themselves to Ruby’s to go and maybe hang out with an Aussie or get some burgers, some food.

You don’t have ugly Aussies; everybody in your crew is like model material. It’s a really beautiful Aussie crowd, is that a rule? Is there a height requirement? JW: Well, if you worked at Ruby’s if you’re a male, you had to be an Aussie. Because the Aussie’s wouldn’t get along with one Swedish, or one American guy, because they would cop so much shit all day that they couldn’t handle the sense of humor. But the girls.

The girls are hot. JW: Yeah, but it was great working for them. I came to New York knowing two people, and I actually came here to do a fashion interview and didn’t take the job. And so I met the boys and started working with them and just created a friendship with the people that used to come in. Dudes who lived in Nolita and Soho, and that’s how I met Anthony.

There was a club downstairs before Southside, and it was a pretty raucous club. Sometimes I didn’t walk down the street because I would go to La Esquina and I’d peek around the corner, and there was a crowd that wasn’t my scene. How did you guys come to take it over? AM: Basically, James had moved over to Kingswood; we’d known each other and partied with each other for a bunch of years, and we just started saying if we put our two crews [together] … I can get all the socialite babes, for some reason, I don’t know why. I’ve known them because I used to bartend at Dorian’s and Suite 16. I don’t like to admit it, but I used to be a promoter back in the day.

You said the “P” word. AM: Yeah, I know … maybe you don’t want to use that. So we just wanted to make a place that was just an awesome nightclub for an older crew. Downstairs used to be really young, 20, 21, not your crowd.

But with Bar Martignetti, I was always amazed at the balance of it. Just enough yuppies to make money, and yet it’s still hip, which is a very rare balance. You just usually don’t get those crews mixing; it’s either the yuppies or the hipsters. But this place has a mix. JW: Yeah, we’ve got a strong mix of that, especially with the new club.

I think that’s really, really difficult thing to do, and I’m sure its conscious, so tell me the steps you took to balance that. AM: If you can put together groups of people where the room is heterogeneous, and you’ve got a hairstylist next to … I just wanted different. I want to see James’ Aussie surfer buddies sitting next to … I just, I want to see a mix of people. Those are the places that are going to last, and not like I was around in the 70s and 80s for nightclubs, but I imagine that that’s what they had as a mix. When you see old pictures, you see a politician who’s 45 years old sitting next to a young hustler, next to a gorgeous model, and you’ve got a mix of people that I think will make the place more interesting.

I ran the Palladium on 14th street back in the day. Back then without email or text messaging, you had to have a mailing list. I had 160,000-plus names on my mailing list, and when we promoted a party, what we would do, as it was all in zip code order, we could say we want a thousand artists crowd from this zip code, and we want 3,000 of this, 500 of that, and we’d mix it. We literally engineered the crowd, and that’s why we were successful. Then at the door, we’d adjust it; if you’re getting too many yuppies, let more of these in, just to keep that balance. And the door would be instructed as to what we were trying to achieve … 2% this, 10% that. AM: This is exactly what we’re doing every night, because Thursday night is the party that me and James host together, and we go through our phone on Thursday. He comes up with a list of people he wants to have from all different backgrounds, because I don’t want to invite ten of my friends that I went to school with. If I know ten best friends that I went to college with, I want to have one of them, but then I want to have one guy that I used to weld in Brooklyn with. And then one guy who’s a friend of a friend who’s a hairstylist. And James will bring one guy that he knows who is a surfer dude, and one guy he knows that always hangs out with a couple models, and then one guys he knows that’s just an Aussie hedge fund guy.

That’s what I hear is happening, that’s what I see is happening. I think it’s what’s necessary in this neighborhood. Because I think that’s what this neighborhood is about.

Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this interview.

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