Man about town Steven Greenberg has passed and I’m going to put my two cents in. I’d put in three but I have a feeling, if he could, he’d scold me for overpaying. Over many years, Steven was a friend, mentor, and a go-to-guy when I needed a big brain and an honest answer. He was always more than pleased to help. A couple of years ago when I was putting together some nightlife community thing, he advised me about the people I was dealing with and why it would fall short of my expectations. He was unrelenting, unforgiving, and spot-on. I was in too deep to go back, but his wisdom had me prepared for the inevitable.
We were meeting in the office at 230 Fifth. Various managers and other thrill-seekers came in to pay homage, get approval, or just bask in his light. He stopped every now and then to answer a phone call on the company line. He told potential patrons about the place, how to get there, how much things cost, what to expect. I can’t think of another owner who would have done that. He loved this world created by him…himself, away from the pack, out of sight and mind of most of the club community. He made more loot than anyone but demanded I wouldn’t tell. It was a Thursday around 11pm and he asked someone to show me what they had grossed so far. The numbers were unreal. We walked around and I saw gigantic bars with yuppies five deep banging down drinks under the light of the Empire State Building. He catered to a crowd that wasn’t chic or fabulous or newsworthy. They dressed from work or similar to it. I imagined they would go home and take off the white shirt and put on the colorful shirt and be ready to go. He fired a DJ while I was taking a tour. The offense? He put on a hip-hop record. He wanted none of that. It was a room with a view, the best view, but only one viewpoint: his.
He had been that rich guy behind the scenes for eons. Secretive and charismatic, sometimes appearing in the tabloids for doing something flamboyant like nixing a Gossip Girl shoot which was to have Chuck Bass and the Empire Hotel claim his 230 view as his own. He fired the Apprentice before they could use his space. He was involved in some SEC scandal. He rode in his very own limo with his very own driver and the it-girl of the day enjoying the night he loved so much. I knew many of these girls, many people do. I more than once hinted at the nature of the relationship and was always told something like, "he never laid a hand on me, it’s not like that." I met him at a sushi bar in Midtown. He was with an educated Asian woman who did something fabulous and he took over my evening. My date became his new friend. He wanted to know all about her. He asked and asked and she told and told. He knew all about her field and told her he knew someone and he could help connect her. He ordered for us and introduced us to the owners and built up our importance as if we were the king and queen of Siam. I never saw a bill. He was going to meet me about something important and I’d see him at some opening tomorrow and he sped into the night. His energy was boundless. His mind curious and insatiable.
Everybody knew him or at least recognized him. At Madison Square Garden, one night I sat in some good seats at a bad Knicks game. He was in his great seats. His white frock made him easy to spot, even in the crowd. He rose and started to walk up the aisle and the Garden camera showed him on the big screen and everyone cheered. He was Ben Franklin to some. The Quaker Oats guy to others. That quirky rich guy to the envious. Someone asked me yesterday, "who’s going to get all his money?’ I replied, "surely not you."
When I ran things, he was behind the scenes only popping up at meetings a couple of times. I once asked my direct bosses at the Palladium, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who he was and got "he owned the parking lot next door" or once "he was the landlord." Other places like the Roxy or Gramercy Park Hotel or the rooftop of the Ganesvoort had him doing something as well. Owning, leasing, controlling, making money off…sometimes it was more clear than others. It never mattered to me.
He was a friend. When he called me, whatever time it was, no matter what I was doing, I dropped everything. Time with him was precious to me and no, there will be no more. Susan Anton an old club buddy, now a natural healer, alerted me to his passing. Kelly Cole, an old friend on the West Coast, heard it but couldn’t confirm. Anthony Haden-Guest called me for confirmation. I called 230 Fifth and identified myself as an old friend and writer for this magazine. I got a "we can’t speak to that at this time" response. I pressed on as I am, after all, sort of press…I asked the nice lady, "I guess if it weren’t true, you would be saying something like… that’s absurd!" There was silence on the phone and so I continued my full court press. "Is this silence like the silence in All the President’s Men where you are saying "yes" because you aren’t saying anything and not hanging up?" She repeated the party line "there will be no comment at this time." I called Anthony and told him what had happened. We agreed it must be true. I gave him the number and he gave it a try with his impressive name and accent. He told me he must have gotten the same lady as I did and got the same answer except she had added for "legal reasons" to her "no comment" mantra. Anthony wondered about that. I told him that it’s a three-day weekend and maybe they’re worried they don’t have a valid liquor license if he’s officially gone.
The news was confirmed on Facebook with old soldiers Bill Jarema, Robert Roth, and Eytan Sugarman leading the charge. Steven was dead. My great friend Christie, living now in an exotic land, reminded me that Steven had introduced us on the steps of the Palladium’s Michael Todd room back in the day. We are life-long friends and we remembered Steven’s part in that. Others called in short stories that they made long. All agreed he was a character. We are all a great deal poorer for his passing. We have lost a zillion stories which, even if retold, will have little meaning without him. His illness was a secret to many. His death was sudden for us and way too soon. It screams at me about my own mortality. I have lost someone who rarely said no to me and when he did, the advice and lesson learned made that no a yes. His eyes lit up a room. Nightlife was a toy, a board game to him that never bored him and that he almost always won. I apologize for this article being a bit everywhere and maybe a little confusing but maybe that describes Steven Greenberg perfectly.