Mark Baker on the Return of Times Square’s Liberty Theatre

This Friday, a list of top-of-the-line owner/promotion types are throwing a bash at the newly restored Liberty Theatre in Times Square. This Gangs of New York bash is a Halloween party with super star DJs Felix the Housecat, Behrouz, and Sneak entertaining what figures to be a massive turnout. I took a tour of the old theater and talked to Mark Baker and designer Ray Trosa about the space and its future use.

I asked Ray a few questions, which I will post in a couple of days, as my wonderful friend Mark Baker demands center stage and all the attention.There’s going to be some typos and names spelled wrong, as Mark was talking faster than a speeding bullet and we just couldn’t keep up. He’s very excited about this project and therefore so am I.

Steve Lewis: I’m sitting with Mark Baker at the Liberty Theater. It’s a really old Times Square theater now being renovated. I know I’m not going to get a word in edgewise, so I’m just going to ask Mark Baker pointblank: what the fuck are you doing here?

Mark Baker: Hey Steve, I love this. Every couple of years when I have to reinvent myself you and I get to have a chat and I’m always happy.

SL: You get to chat I get to listen.

MB: You get to listen, and I’m always happy that neither of us has a piece of glass in front of us and a monitor behind us. So, here we are, and once again the face of New York nightlife is undergoing an immense change. Over the years you and I have seen so many trends, whether it’s big clubs, small lounges, dance music… but what I think what’s fundamentally different this time around is that the big house DJs — the big Kascades, David Guetta’s etc — who used to just play for a big commercial crowd at big commercial venues, now have a following within the art and entertainment community. So, instead of going to a big club with big DJs where everyone has big muscles and gold chains, you have now a beautiful hip, world traveling crowd, from Bali to Burning Man to New York now, where these big DJs are playing venues. This summer, when I was trying to move on from Juliette and Greenhouse, and we were getting ready to open The Double Seven, which you know now has opened, and is quite spectacular, and quite unique in a sense that you can’t buy yourself a table at the Double Seven. Admittedly, we probably won’t be making as much money as some of the other venues. We’re not banging people on the head for bottles; it’s a more sophisticated crowd. It’s a little bit older, people are enjoying coming to the lounge, seeing good friends, and the crowd is amazing. Basically people can talk to each other and converse. In the middle of the summer I got a call from Ray Trosa, who said, ‘you have to come look at this place, it’s fantastic, it’s near Times Square.’ And I said, ‘yeah, sure… I’ve seen every space in this town.’ But Ray was pleasant but persistent, saying: “Dude, you really have to come see this space, it’s spectacular.’ I said, ‘How big is it?’ And he said ‘It’s really really big.’ So then, of course, I got flashbacks of Mansion and that whole scenario, which, you know, you and I discussed a long time ago. Right?

SL: Uh huh.

MB: So basically what happened is that I eventually got up here, and when I walked through the door, and I walked into the Liberty Theater, my knees buckled: holy fuck. Really, you can’t imagine seeing this place for the first time and what went through my head when I saw it. And what happened was that I was asked if I would come on board as the marketing director and the booking director of the Liberty. My past few years of almost exile, I will call it, to commercial club land, all of a suddenly came together and made sense with a combination of The Double Seven, as a home of my upscale, slightly older clients and friends, and this Liberty Theater event space, where we could do spectacular one-off events, similar to the stuff we used to do at Cipriani, except we just have a new home now. And this space just fits perfectly my return to fashion as opposed to being out there in commercial club land. SL: So you’re not going to be doing a weekly here or anything like that…

MB: Oh absolutely not.

SL: You’re just going to be doing events, high end events. And this coming Friday, you have a Gangs of New York party with a lot of high end owners, promoters and stuff like that. Tell me all about it.

SL: Since my generation of club-owning, from the Lotus days and all that, a lot of the owners have moved up and done hotels, but the new generation of club owners, you know, they’re great. They’re very business savvy, they definitely know how to make a dollar, that’s for sure. But I generally feel that New York nightlife has been segregated. Each club has its own clique, and the relationships between the club owners is not what it used to be when we were younger. When we were younger there was a bit more respect. Sure, it was competitive, but it was not as aggressive as it is now. Again, all respect to the owners for protecting their territory and getting their people in, but I got to tell ya, I think the general public…. well, the best events we’ve ever done is when all the owners get together to do something. When I saw the liberty, I saw an opportunity for that to happen. It’s a continuation of a lot of the clubs who are now booking these major DJs,but they’re completely overpacking the room. What’s going to happen is that you’re going to be able to have what I always dreamed of having at Mansion, which is a large venue, full of amazing people, listening to a big DJ. And that’s what’s happening. With the Liberty, what we’re going to be able to do is…. Look, I mean Provocateur did a big event with one of the Swedish house-master guys at Capital. That was a Provocateur event at a big venue. There was a huge line that was crossed, in terms of New York nightlife, which means that club owners with brands, are stepping outside of their venues, again, like we used to do years ago, but in this day they’re doing it with big DJs. The Liberty Theater couldn’t be in a better place at a better time with a better person driving it. I see and understand where it’s going.

SL: Now, I personally think this is because the dollar’s so weak, Euros are spending more time in New York. Especially at this time of year. By October, most Euros would have fled home as well as the South American’s But with a weak dollar we have so many of these types spending more time in town,in the past the music didnt matter as much to the homespun American crowd as most of them, couldnt tell the difference between the bad guy and the good guy. But now the crowds seem to know,they go educated as they got exposed to the worldclass circuit Dj’s .and the Europeans always knew and demanded better MB: Eurotrash, as we call it, has definitely been a driving forcein club-land, on and off.

SL: It’s driving retail, and I think it’s driving the clubs.

MB: I agree. Look, New York seems to be thriving right now… apparently there’s a world crisis going on but I don’t see it in our clubs or venues. But I think New York has always been about the mixture of uptown, downtown, straight, gay, east side, west side; you had all your elements under one roof. I think a lot of the clubs now really are quite segregated…

SL: specialized.

MB: Okay, specialized, we’ll call it. But I think that once in a while, to have the opportunity to put everyone together…and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to do this eight months or a year ago, the names that I’ve put together for this event…

SL: Let’s hear some of those names

MB: Ronnie Madra, Richie Akiva (Mark rattled off 20 names too fast too catch)… All the guys from 1OAK and Darby, you have Remy , Eric and all those guys form Bagatelle, you have Unik, Kiki, Dimitri from Low Key productions, Alon Jibli, Mark Bau, Ruben and Noel from Rogue Nights…

SL: On and on and on…

MB: What we’ve done is put together these support groups; the hottest, hippest, sexiest people in New York on our support committee, and look… everybody is just hearing about this Gangs party, it’s going to be amazing. They all love the thought of us coming together, and we love that for one night, people get to be number one, in dress, for the best party, and New Yorkers love Halloween.

SL: You’re not just a promoter, you’re also a producer. Let’s talk about the production of the events.

MB: It’s huge. There’s twenty thousand square feet here so that’s got to be decorated, got to be filled, even though we obviously have a great shell. We have a hundred and twenty people on the night, performing, acting, jugging, being a part of the show. You won’t even know who’s part of our production team and who’s in costume. I can promise you something spectacular. Felix the House Cat is playing, Behrouz is playing, DJ Sneak is playing… there’s another sexy little element that’s going to be a party within a party which I won’t tell you about, you’re just going to have to discover it when you get here.

SL: So how do you get tickets? How do you get invited?

MB: By invitation only, to call one of your Gang Leader Representatives on our invite.

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