Matt Assante & Dustin Terry: You Live in Williamsburg? Me Too!

I met Matt Assante and Dustin Terry at Marquee. They are too much the face of the plague, for they are promoters who have gotten this “models bring bottle-buyers” thing down pat. At Marquee and the roof of Gansevoort and similar places, they line up a herd of models and book gentlemen suitors at nearby tables. The “bringing in the posse thing” is so pre-recession. In today’s club economy, in order to score big you need a percentage of the table sales to make ends meet. Matt and Dustin’s star rose just as the Dow Jones sank. Where most promoters bring 20 people or less, this dynamic duo are — in the words of one seasoned club entrepreneur — “killing it. They are one of the few teams that actually draw anymore, and their crowd actually spends money.” To those who say bottle service killed clubs, they are public enemies number one and two — or are they just a couple of nice guys trying to finish first?

You started off as promoters less than five years ago; you always had a good crowd, but now, is it your life? Matt, are you still modeling? Matt Assante: I am. I just got back from an audition. It’s more of an acting career now.

So is it acting, or is it clubs? Which way are you going? MA: Yeah — nightclubs, right.

And you too, Dustin? Dustin Terry: Yes.

So Matt, is the idea that if you hit a big role, you hit a big role? MA: Yeah, I think it can only help. If you become a household name, it can only help the restaurant or nightclub that you own.

You’re a team. What is the strategy behind having two of you? MA: Well, Dustin kind of introduced me to the business. I used to hang out at Marquee because Wass was my acting teacher, and one night I wound up dancing on top of Dustin’s table; he had started probably about five or six months before — and you know, I had a great night, and I partied with a lot of girls, and I woke up and I had a business card in my pocket. Soon after, I said, “Who the hell is this Dustin guy?” and he called me for dinner that night, and I kind of picked his brain about how this whole thing worked. He introduced me to [Marquee co-owner] Jason Strauss, and Jason liked my style and who I came around with. He saw something in me, and I started working separately from Dustin, but we kind of helped each other. We started on Tuesday and he would do Thursdays and Saturdays. We’d host the room on either side. But because we became best friends over a year and a half, we worked together, and even though we were hosting separate tables, we thought it would be better to put both of our groups together. We could weed out, trim some of that, and bring in a really A-list crowd. DT: It started off separate, but then, as we watched Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, and you sit back, you observe, and they’re obviously the best in the industry, and you see what they do and how they operate, and it kind of morphed into that naturally, organically. My social network became friends with his social network. At first the crowds didn’t know each other, but eventually they got to know each other and it became one crowd.

Tell me why you stayed in town this summer and therefore are having smashing success at the Gansevoort. MA: Well, with the state of the economy in the country, it wouldn’t be lucrative for us to go into the Hamptons this summer. We were there for years, and there just wasn’t enough money for us to go out there this summer, with all of the expenses — vans and food for the girls, etc. So with that said, we didn’t want to lose our crowd to someone else — another competing promoter or competing nightclub. So we had a brainstorming session with Noah, and we said that we’d like to figure out a project that we could do here in the city that gives our people a summer environment. So Dustin and I have been traveling the south of France for the last three years, and we took some of the elements there from Nikki Beach, Sea Lounge, Monaco; and we tried to get investors together, we were scouting rooftops and things like that to open our own project that we could execute for this summer. We talked to Elon Kenchington, the operator at the Gansevoort, and he got us a meeting with hotel owner Michael Achenbaum, and we said, “Look. Here’s our plan. You have no revenue — or minimal revenue — on Saturdays and Sunday afternoon. We’re going to bring you a huge revenue stream every weekend from noon until 8pm on those two days.” And he said, “Very interested; let’s see.”

So you did your pitch, let me hear more. DT: Our pitch was this: With the economy, a lot of people aren’t taking shares in the Hamptons, so there’s money to be spent here. We want to create a summer destination right here in New York City, and we thought that was a great space — the Meatpacking is flourishing with brunches right now.

It’s really an old “can’t miss,” formula: You’ve got girls in bikinis on a rooftop in the middle of a hot weekend afternoon with liquor, and you don’t have to hardly know her to have a good time. Now the girls we normally see dressed very nicely in nightclubs are almost naked. Why go to the Hamptons? DT: It’s true. You don’t have to wait in a traffic jam. Tony Theodore from China Grill Management is involved, Jeffrey Chodorow is the operator of the rooftop; so after we gave the pitch to Michael, he said I have to talk to my partners. Jeffrey bought in his team, Dustin and I came, and we joined forces.

To many of my readers, it goes like this: Cockroach, mosquito, rat, leech, agent, then promoter. In many people’s eyes, the club promoter is one of the lowest forms in life. You’re perceived to be dumb guys who make a ton of money, going to the best parties in town with the hottest girls, and who the fuck are you anyway? Almost everything is true, by the way, but the part about not working hard … I want you to tell me how you service your models, your girls, and what that entails. DT: It goes beyond that. You are more than just a promoter, so to speak. It goes beyond bringing a few hot girls here and there, especially when you’re doing five or six nights a week or days in nights out.

So how do you cultivate these crowds — what are your strategies? DT: Well, we’ve been at Marquee for four and a half years, so just the vast social network that you have to have to do the same place for three/four nights a week, for that long, it’s difficult. I’m usually up 9:30, and out till 3am or 5am …

One of things you’re doing is scouting locations. So how do you get the girls to loyally follow you around? MA: To be frank, we have class and we have likeability — we’re friends. There are a lot of arrogant, cocky promoters who think they’re big shots — and some girls might like that for a minute, because they’re cool, but we’re true guys; we’re very good to our people. We have extreme likeability.

I can’t wait to reread what you just said. Danny A once told me that one of the keys to his success is he never ever hits on the girls in his group, because once he does that, it’s over. DT: Yeah, obviously you meet a girl, and you go on a date and things like that, but as far as just bouncing from one girl to the next as a lot of promoters do, that would make things awkward. MA: Yeah, when I first started, I would burn out girls — before I had my girlfriend. Because you’d be at a dinner table and then three of the girls there you’d either had a prior relationship or what … I learned quickly it’s not a good idea. DT: Going back to likeability, these days any 21-year-old model guy can get a promoter job, and there’s really no longevity in that. When we decided that this is what we wanted to do as a career — not promote, but eventually use that as a stepping stone into restaurants, bars, clubs and so forth. You realize that these personal relationships with people, if you burn them out — well, you only have one name. So by treating people the way they deserve to be treated, you will be successful. The women deserve to be treated in a certain way. You don’t realize how many people have said to me and Matt over the years, “You guys are so different; I’ve gone out with other promoters, and you’re not like the other promoters.” And I said, “Why does everybody talk down promoters?” And you start looking around, and you see how people act and how they look, and it’s basically that some people are a step above the common street thug. Then you look at Jason and Noah and see how they carry themselves; they’re always dressed well, they’re not wearing some stupid hat with tattoos on their necks. We try and follow their lead. DT: Noah and Jason are businessmen. For them, they hired Patrick — who comes from the back of the house operation, he has been very instrumental to their success — of course their relationship with Mark Packer, also an operator, has also been instrumental in terms of back of the house stuff.

You guys come from what we call the front of the house — the imaging, the face, the thing that people see. How do you plan on getting knowledge of the back of the house end of it? DT: I have a business and marketing background, three and a half years worth — I worked for Wenner Media, that’s Us Weekly, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, etc. I was a key person in their marketing department. I learned a lot from that. Obviously publishing is different from nightclubs, but you basically surround yourself with people that have a little bit more experience, and we’re both smart people and business in a sense is business no matter what field you’re in.

What else are you working on besides the roof? Still working at Marquee? MA: Yes, we just started over at Avenue. Mondays and Wednesdays. And we left Johnny Utah’s because we’re so busy right now and with the opening of Avenue — we just don’t have time to do all those things. DT: I don’t know if you were at Matt’s birthday or heard anything about it

No, sorry I missed it. MA: For my birthday, I had Oompa-Loompas, I had a stilt walker, a guy in a parrot suit. DT: We had a parrot mascot just dancing on the front seat the whole night … rode on the front seat of our limousine so everybody on the street sees this big orange thing.

Are you hip guys? MA: I like to think we are. DT: I live in Williamsburg.

Does that make you hip? DT: No, I’m joking — but I’m surrounded by a bunch of hip people — I thought it would be cool to live in a big artist loft and just do something different than a big, regular, glitzy-glamorous high-rise. I like the neighborhood — it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, that’s why I moved out there.

I’m asking because there are going to be a thousand hipsters who will read this and discount you guys because you’re promoters. You’re the enemies of the snarky set. MA: We have hipsters that hang out with us. We have models and artists and photographers — we have a little bit of everything. DT: A handful of them are my neighbors, actually. You’re out there and you meet someone and they go, “You live in Williamsburg? Me too!” One other point I want to make is that with a lot of these big, high-profile clubs — Matt and I don’t take ourselves too seriously, and I think that’s a nice element that we bring, because we’re not afraid to walk down the street with a guy in a parrot costume. That’s fun, and I think people pick up on that, and just because you’re spending five to ten thousand dollars in a club doesn’t mean that you have to take yourself too seriously. And the wealthy clientele that we hang out with and service appreciate that, as do the image people.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

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