Strong Silent Type: Genc Jakupi, Keeper of The Box

I am not a frequent visitor to The Box, even though I live just a short walk away. The shows don’t excite me much; in fact, what I have seen has had the opposite affect. However, I cannot deny the cultural impact the place has had on our town. In the jaded land of nightlife, The Box has redefined the model-bottle era. In its performance-based theatrical approach, it has shocked us into believing once again that if you think outside of the box in clubdom, you can achieve success. My problem with the bottle-model era is that it’s never been over the top enough to excite me. It never pushed the envelop or culture. Having Lindsay Lohan, Paris, and a gaggle of lowbrow celebutantes, models, and promoters throwing napkins into the air to generic music is not greatness. Any night at the World, Studio, Area, Paradise Garage, or any of the classic joints was better than the best nights ever at Marquee, Tenjune, or Kiss & Fly. I am not knocking these clubs, as they are doing their formulated best to entertain their crowds. They are the product of these times and are a reflection of the attitude of their owners and the need to make money against impossible odds.

These crowds are not, for the most part, interested in serious music or culture as an important part of their nightlife experience. Their clone-like clothes and views define an age where Grey Goose is more relevant than art. The Box said there can be another way, and even though I don’t go there, I celebrate it for taking the scene in another direction. The Box is always swirling in controversy. Showgirls and other distractions, scandals, and such have been well documented in the gossip columns. Life on the edge can sometimes get edgy, so let’s talk with Box doorman Genc Jakupi about his vision and how he guards Simon Hammerstein’s playground.

You are a mysterious character — we really don’t know each other. I’ve met you maybe once or three times. I know your brother Binn pretty well. He does 1Oak, and you do The Box. How did you become doormen, and who was first? Binn started G-Spa with Richie Akiva. He took off for like a year I think. Anyway, I got into it with my brother’s help. I started just doing hosting and helping with Mark and Richie at Tenjune. That was just for a short amount of time. I met with Serge Becker, as they needed a guy at the door of The Box. They’d really never had one before — not that they didn’t have a doorperson, but they didn’t have somebody who knew the people. They did not have it down at the front of the house, you know what I mean? It’s such a complex project, you know what I mean?

I did the door there one night — they brought me in for an event. Cordell Lochin asked if I’d be interested in doing. I told him I couldn’t because I have other things to do. Cordell told me that it underscored their need to have someone who know a lot of people out there. I was doing it for Tricia Romano’s party. I’m glad that I actually became a part of The Box because I really care about that place — I care about it, very much. I’ve been in New York for about seven years, so I can’t speak so much about past New York. I started first working like two nights a week, and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday I was still at Tenjune, and then I just switched — took over the whole thing at The Box.

The Box is certainly a prestigious door … it’s one of the premiere clubs in New York. You’ve got a lot of important people showing up. How did you train yourself to do door? Did your brother instruct you, or did you take your own approach? I used to bartend at Bungalow 8. I learned from Armin Amiri. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he did things, the way he did the door — he kinda ran the whole place. That’s what I do at The Box, that’s what Binn does at 1Oak. it’s not just standing around at the door — he’s doing more than that. So there’s no real training to become a doorman besides knowing the people, knowing what the party needs to have. Knowing what you need inside to make the party happen, how many people you need, who do you need and what are you lacking … different things for different clubs for different clientele,

You need to make money at The Box — it’s showbiz. You have three shows a night, right? Yeah, we have three shows a night … right now we’re going through a little different way of doing the shows.

You have to make revenue off the tables You have to. Everybody has to. At The Box you have to more because there’s more overhead. We’ve been doing pretty good considering the economy; we’re still being exclusive, whatever that means — having the right people. The good thing about it is that we have a name out there; it’s a destination place. So I don’t have a problem with a lot of people outside.

Yeah, the people showing up are getting in for the most part People are showing up with 80 percent expectation of getting in. When you talk about fights, when you talk about stuff like that, I don’t — have much of that

I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but lately there’s been a spate of the incidents involving doormen where people are just losing their cool, and both of us are astonished that that could ever happen. I mean, there’s no need for it No need, no need.

Contrary to the public’s perception, doormen are there to let people in, and to educate people how they may get in in the future, and to be nice even when you turn people away, and say something like, “This place may not be for you.” Do you agree with that? Not “this place might not be for you,“ no.

Well what do you say? As much as I take doormen’s side in this, you know the fights and everything, I look at it in two different ways. I look at it if I was to approach the door — people who go out, they’re ready, they’re dressed, they put a lot into that, you know what I mean? So now when you say no to somebody, my approach is to let them know to come back. I want them to come back. That’s the main thing — I want them to come back and just to see to let them decide how they’re gonna show up when they come back. And people get it right — believe me, people get it right.

I used to say that I’m not making the decision that you’re not getting in; you made that decision when you left your house like this. True.

Nobody likes to be rejected … it’s the hardest thing in the world to tell people that they don’t belong, but that’s probably it, they don’t belong. You’re saying this is a club, and you don’t’ belong. You’re the expert on whether they belong or not. See, with the Box though, that’s not what I’m trying to do, because of the show. It allows me to let people in. I want to have all sorts of people. As long as there’s a community between people — as long as people see something, and they can talk about each other, and they can talk to each other, and they connect. I don’t believe in dress codes and stuff like that.

That’s very interesting. I used to say, “We don’t have a dress code, we have a heart code,” and I think that’s what you’re saying. If a person puts enough effort to come out, thinks about it, puts a beautiful gown or a beautiful something — something interesting. We don’t wanna see boring stuff. All of these people that work in offices, they see so much boring stuff … the last thing you want to give them when they go out is to see the rest of what they saw in the day. So I like to see people going a little crazy, going a little wild with the way they dress. … I never had fights, and I knock on wood because I don’t wanna have fights in The Box. We don’t have them because I really keep people with good attitude. A lot of times people approach the door in a very aggressive way. I never deal with that, and I’m not at the door all the time, so that’s a way of avoiding conflict.

That’s a problem — the fact that you’re not at the door all the time. I showed up once, it was late at night a couple weeks ago, and nobody knew me at the door, and I should be somebody that people know. I’m not bragging, but I should be known. But you ended up inside

I did end up inside. I waited about 10 minutes outside. No you didn’t!

Yes I did. No you didn’t –there’s no way!

Yes I did. And I wrote about it. But it didn’t bother me. It seems to have bothered Noah Tepperberg the other day when he showed up, but we’re not going to get into that much because it’s an unfortunate thing — old news. I didn’t mind waiting because I don’t go to the place, so I can understand why they don’t know me — but you do go inside, and what happens when you go inside? Do people just wait, and that’s the attitude? I know we’re in the business where some people in this industry really take it hard when they have to wait a little. I’m inside because I do a lot of stuff. I’m not just a doorman at The Box. I take care of everything that needs to be taken care of to make the place happen. When I’m not the door, I have guys outside that I trust — I don’t let them make decisions, but people that come here all the time end up inside. It’s rare that anyone gets a surprise when they show up wrong, like, “Oh, why am I not coming in?”. These are people who have been coming for a long time — people from downtown, people who don’t take it personally if they wait a little.

I have been told by some people that The Box used to be much better; other people tell me that it’s better now. The first time I went that night I did the door there, I felt it was too pushed, like it was forced, and it was all about shock value. The shows?

Yes, and just the crowd itself, the vibe inside was like poseur or pushed. The second time I went, I liked it less, but the last time I went it was really natural, the way people sat, the way they interacted, and there was a sexiness to it. I guess I can credit you, and Simon Hammerstein. You have to credit Simon because he’s the visionary, and he’s really the best guy that I’ve ever worked with — he really knows what he’s doing. He’s an expert on his thing, and he trusts me with things that I want to do. He knows that what I do is good, and he believes in me.

That’s how a doorman has to work, and a doorman has to understand the message and the needs of the house, and he has to be left to do it himself. You have to know who’s expected, and what you have, because you’re really a maestro or an orchestra leader … you’re coordinating, mixing the crowds and creating this energy. But besides that, at The Box, you’ve got to have a certain amount of people by the certain time, because of the show. It’s more than just letting in who you want to let in.

How about money at the door? I mean, I’ve heard from people who I don’t really go out with — but I know of them — and they went The Box, and they got hit up for $1000 at the door, or $800 dollars at the door, and they bought tables. Tables are very expensive there, and yet you’re still selling them, even in this economy. Still holding up.

Because you’re offering something that no one else is? Not that no one else is — you’re offering something that people really appreciate. People don’t mind paying the show charge.

Is there an exit strategy? I’m addicted to nightlife; I’ve evolved from running clubs to writing about them, and designing them. I haven’t been able to get out. Are you addicted to The Box, to the nightlife, or do you think it’s a phase? I am at The Box because I like what The Box gives to people, which is not just nightlife. I’m addicted to New York. Even when I wasn’t at the Box, I wanted people visiting New York to go see what The Box has to give, because it’s really what I think New York is about. I don’t know if I would have been able to come up with something like that, but seeing it, my hat’s off to Simon for bringing that thing to life.

It’s not a nightclub — it’s a way of life? I wouldn’t be able to do any other place the way I’m doing it at The Box. If another place opened up, and they offered me a job, I don’t see myself going to work for somebody else. It’s not just a job.

Your job is theater in itself, plus your job is a responsibility to the acts inside and to the patrons; there has to be a certain intelligence, there has to be a certain way of people being treated, from the moment they get out of the taxi. Certain way of people being treated, certain ways of seeing where the party should be, and envisioning, where people want to sit, deciding where they’re gonna sit so they sit next to somebody who they’re gonna have fun next to. The first time I went to The Box, before I was working there, Serge and Cordell invited me, and I said to myself: there’s elegance in this room that could make such a good party.

There’s a movie called Casablanca, and in that movie, which is a classic nightclub, the lyrics for the most important song of the flick are, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.” That’s the thing with The Box, isn’t it? It really gets down to the fundamentals We’re not going against time at The Box. A lot of clubs open, and they have this expectation of first year, second year, that’s it … but we are still developing.

You’ve reached a point where the performers and the audience are one thing. I want to let people in such that when they came in, you wouldn’t actually need to know who the performer is.

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