Webster Hall’s GM Gerard McNamee Tells His Origin Story

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In nightlife, one of the hardest jobs to fill is general manager. Everyone and anyone can be an owner. People who never did more than promote a prom end up calling themselves owners at joints around town. Great GMs are a rarity. Gerard McNamee is the GM at NYC’s longest running nightclub, Webster Hall. Being a GM at a lounge or midsize club is not the same as running a joint that holds 1500 and up. Webster Hall is ginormous. It holds concerts, special events, corporate events, and fund raisers, and is open as a club with  thousands of people from all over the world passing through.

The buck stops with Gerard, who is tasked to make hundreds of decisions a night and run a huge staff. He juggles this monumental task with an acting career. He plays the lead in a short film which just won two awards at the Independent Film Quarterly Film & New Media Festival. I asked him a few questions and got volumes from him, including this edited down description  of himself:

"My name is Gerard. I currently operate New York City’s largest and longest running nightclub and 1,500-person capacity live music venue, the legendary and world famous Webster Hall. I dispense alcohol. I entertain thousands from various cultures each week. I am all business. I work long hours. I do volume and roll full throttle. I don’t burn out. I thrive under pressure. I am decisive, a decision maker and delegator. I am a mentor. I am a protégé. I am a teacher. I am a diplomat. I have been told so. I am a businessman and entrepreneur. I curate art, fashion, music and theatre. I have shown so. I am local. I am international. I wear a suit well. I don Italian boots and shoes. I enjoy travel and work. I drink black coffee, espresso and fresh squeezed juices. I live in Chelsea and ride a Harley 12 months a year. I park my ’99 BMW 323IC convertible on 15th Street. New York City is my home. I am charming and have character. I am a natural host. I throw parties."

What isn’t mentioned here is that he is a gentleman, a man who gets and gives respect. I am honored to be his friend and to tell you about this tireless player who gets less sleep than most who dwell in the city that never sleeps

You are the General Manager of Webster Hall, a big job. But like everyone in nightlife, you have a shadow career as an actor. Tell me about that side of you, and how you manage to act and manage one of the biggest clubs in NYC? Tell me about your club career?
I have had an interest in acting since grammar school, where I played the lead roll in our annual Christmas play three years in a row. But then in high school, sports took over my life. My interest in acting has always been in the back of my mind, but I don’t particularly have the personality for it. I am a wallflower, a behind-the-scenes type guy. It’s just my personality. However, I was constantly told that I should put myself out there and that I would get work based on my look alone. I knew that this would probably be the case, and that I needed to get over myself and do it. I have been drawn to it. I promised myself that I would never be a starving actor, depending on acting to survive. I didn’t know if I wanted it that badly that I could commit and devote myself to it as a craft.

I already had a craft that I was a natural at, and that was throwing parties. I had done it from childhood. I used to spend all my paper route money as a child, every July on illegal fireworks and throw a party for all my neighbors at the house out on Long Island. I was in third grade, it was 1976, America’s Bicentennial. Several years later my mom and dad had an eighth grade graduation party for me. I had survived the nuns of our Lady of Mercy grammar school, and the celebration was on. My mom called her buddy, Johnny Broderick, to see if his son would DJ the event. The day of the party, Johnny and his son showed up to the house with a truck and an old beat up horse trailer. The contents of that horse trailer changed my life forever. They loaded out nine big sheets of plywood attached to 2 x 6 beams. Piece by piece up the long driveway and into the backyard they attached the pieces together with six inch lag bolts. It was a dance floor. Then, out came the sound rig. Two big ass JBL’s, two Techniques 1200 turntables, a JVC double cassette deck, and two extremely heavy, big fat crown amps. I took all the money I received at my party that day and went out and bought me a rig. I’ve been doing it since. That was the summer of 1983. I DJd through high school and through college. The day after I graduated from Fordham University I was invited out to The Hamptons. Within two hours of my arrival in Hampton Bays, I was bar backing at a place called "The Beach Bar." I went home only once that summer, much to my mother’s chagrin. I had only gone out there for a day trip. When I finally returned home after the season, without a penny in my pocket (I had been literally partying like a rockstar), I sat in the room that I had grown up in, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my business degree and my life.

I was borrowing my 14-year-old sister’s babysitting money to buy myself cigarettes and beer. My parents were fed up and disappointed at my lack of a real existence. My father gave me the ultimatum: "Start looking for a job to utilize your university degree or get out! You must at least make an effort." So that Sunday, I borrowed 5 bucks from my Dad and went and got me a copy of the New York Times. In the Classifieds, an ad read "NIGHTCLUB MANAGER WANTED. 40,000 square feet of adventure, must have 5 years New York City experience, Fax resume." I sat up in my bed as I read this ad and thought, Holy Shit! There’s my job!

I had two years experience booking bands and DJs at the college bar I worked at in the Bronx, and that was it. So I fashioned and fabricated a resume and faxed it away. They liked the fact that both my parents were from Ireland, which in their mind made me a farmer (they were farmers). I was hired in December of 1993, by Lon, Steve, and Doug Ballinger, at the legendary and world famous Webster Hall. I lasted until May of 1997. By that time, I had been sober since New Year’s Eve, a 5 month span. The temptation was great. I had to blow New York City in order to stay sober, so I bought a bar up at Hunter Mountain. Buying a bar was probably not the best idea for a guy that had been partying hard for a dozen years and who was trying to kick the habit, but I made it.

For the next 10 years, "The Cross" (short for Sixmilecross, the town in the north of Ireland that my Dad was born and raised in) existed in several locations. I had one up in Hunter Mountain and another out in Montauk, in East Hampton, and one most recently on City Island, in the Bronx. I returned to Webster Hall on Halloween of 2008. It was around then that Webster Hall hired a team of videographers to archive Webster Hall’s history. I met Gregg De Domenico and Jerry Zecker. Gregg assured me that one day I would be his muse. A few years later, he had an epiphany based in a photograph he saw while on a 5 month sabbatical to Spain. It was on this day that “Hip Priest" was born. Gregg wrote the character specifically with me in mind.

You meet a lot of people. How do you channel that into acting?
Yeah man, I do meet a lot of people. Thousands a week. They all have different needs. I "act" appropriately for all of them. I can literally hang with presidents. I hung with Clinton at Webster Hall for a few minutes on several occasions when he kicked off his ‘96 campaign there, or a homeless man on the street and everyone in between. I am a people expert. I diplomatically and genuinely give them what they need. I react to them as I react to my fellow actors. It’s all about them.

What does a day in your life look like?
Somebody asked me the other day, "How’s it going?" I answered "Same old, same old." and then immediately thought that my "same old, same old" was not the ordinary man’s "same old same old." I sleep at 6am or later, and I rise at noon. Upon awaking, I immediately begin to navigate through, and prioritize dozens of emails and dozens of texts regarding the next 18 hours of my life. Within minutes, I engage in the first of approximately 10 to 12 cups of coffee I enjoy each day. It is non stop everyday of my life, from when I wake to when I sleep. Webster Hall is a 24 hour 7 day a week machine. We book dozens of bands and DJs each week. We process between 5 and 10 thousand patrons each week. Three quarters of them we dispense alcohol to, the other 25% we have to monitor to make sure they do not imbibe illegally, as it is a privilege for us to allow 19 and 20 year olds to our venue. Attending Webster Hall is a right of passage for kids around the world. It is literally chaos and insanity between my job and juggling my acting career. 

Tell me all about the movie, including where it will be showing, your character, and where inside you he dwells.
It is funny how things happen. Some Soho casting agent stopped me on the street a few months ago while I was sipping my espresso in the East Village. They paid me 8 grand for the day—comical, really. The next week I shot Hip Priest, a short art house film. We have just begun entering it into festivals. Hopefully, someone will notice it and screen it for all to see.  I have been fully humbled twice in my life: once when my brother died in a fire in 1994 when I was 25, and again 3 years later when I stopped drinking. I think this Hip Priest experience has humbled me again. The title character in Hip Priest was written specifically for me, with me and my personality in mind. It has made me realize that people expect something from me. Everyone wants a piece, and I say that in the most respectful of ways. It is a weight I have always bore. It is a weight that I welcome and exploit. Hip Priest dwells inside me through my genetic makeup. I cannot help myself, it is how I am, it is who I am. I am a Leo, I love and lead.