Ruben Rivera on His Celeb-Studded Parties at XIX

It’s all about fit – the round peg in the round hole, and all the et ceteras in the square ones. Nightlife often tries to force things. An uptown promoter in a downtown space might not be able to perform; a great DJ who spins a certain genre might be placed in the wrong room with the wrong crowd. Ruben Rivera at Travertine is the perfect peg for the perfect hole in the ground. His basement spot XIX is continuously jammed with the right stuff.

Its casual, dark, street-smart atmosphere is a haven for those who know exactly who they are and what they want, which surely includes privacy, intimacy, and great music. It’s a place to party with your friends without attitudes and crowds. The restaurant is going through a few changes and will re-launch as a better fit for the neighborhood. Danae Cappelletto’s considerable talents didn’t seem to translate to this location. She was a talented square peg trying to squeeze into an unforgiving round hole.

Ruben Rivera comes from a door position where he met all the right people and learned from his mistakes and those of his employers. He learned well. Travertine is red hot and it’s all his fault. We are buddies. He is respectful, intelligent, and aware of who he is and how much he needs to learn to get it right. He learns from his mistakes, while so many in the business just deny them. He isn’t last year’s Ruben Rivera. He’s grown considerably, but in doing so has never lost sight of his lifelong values, friends, and where he came from. He’s a man who gives and gets respect, and that is at the core of his success at Travertine. I interviewed him yesterday afternoon as we both waited for our wonderful dentist, Dr. Farzin, to cure us of — and cause us — pain.

Travertine has no press and no PR, yet you are always packed with an A-list crowd. How are you doing it? I opened the place with lots of help from friends and great music. It’s a very intimate venue so I figured we’d start slow and let it grow through word of mouth, like the days before cell phones. There’s a mystery to that type of PR that attracts people, it’s a bit more real then just hiring every promoter in New York.

Which celebs have showed up? I always say that good clubs don’t need celebs to attract crowds, it’s the opposite…the club’s crowd attracts the celebs. As far as celebs, we’ve been blessed. I don’t do anything in Page 6 or any other publications. I think it’s a comfort zone for those who are obligated to go to other venues. a sort of a free zone for famous people. It’s refreshing to see an A-lister such as Scarlett Johansson come in and socialize with guests and dance all night. By the way, did I mention that people really dance at XIX? They really get down. The people and privacy and dancing is what’s attractive to celebs. I won’t mention anyone else on the list but it’s quite extensive and impressive. How about the food? We’re going through some complete changes at Travertine. We’re going in a different direction with the menu. I really want to give people in the downtown community what they want—quality, great tasting, well-prepared comfort food. They’ll know it will be open late night so everyone will be able to stay in the neighborhood and eat late.

What’s it like being the man controlling the space instead of just a door? What do you miss about handling the door? It’s crazy! It’s all about sticking to the script and knowing what’s hot and what’s not. I see that door man problems are a lot different from the shit I deal with now. The politics of booking DJs is crazy! That alone can make a man insane. Just things like simple repairs, AC, liquor orders, maintaining staff is difficult, but I have a great staff. Big Benny’s done a great job at the door, and Jay Lyon and Justin have been a tremendous help. I almost miss the days when I just had to show up looking good and send people away. Or the funny stuff like when you walk out holding some poor guy’s arm, yelling, “Who the hell let this ass in?” ha. I definitely don’t miss the losers that couldn’t get in and would annoy me all night. Guys: If you get turned away, just go home. You look stupider if you hang around talking shit. The door is the key to the room and if you don’t have swag, style, comedy, wit, or if you’re high, thirsty for press and tips, you’re not a good door man. The club will reflect its’ door and I’ve seen it ruin places almost instantly.

Talk to me about your DJs. What’s working and what’s trending? I’ve got to thank DJ Sinatra, he was the only DJ that believed in XIX when we opened. He was spinning to 20 people the first month. Now everyone wants a night. I mainly deal with 4AM but I’ve had almost everyone of DJ importance in NYC come through, including Cassidy, Ruckus, Mick Boogie, Sam French, Nick Cohen etc. It’s really the most important component to what makes XIX. You can’t get a better sound system and you really feel a DJ’s music intimately at XIX. I’m excited about the music every night and the people in the room are musically literate so they also appreciate it. The energy is amazingly live when Sinatra is in the booth on a Saturday night.

What’s missing in nightlife today and what’s improved from the good old days? To be honest, after I left Juliet I spent the year in Los Angeles came home to XIX and haven’t been out much. I support “Funday” at Gold Bar but besides that I haven’t been anywhere in a while. I try and get rest every chance I get. I guess I’m old school because I really can’t mention anything that I like about this club era. I’m from a great era of night life the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, so I’ll just keep those great memories and try my best to duplicate that energy at XIX. I think it’s working out so far.

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