He’s only 39, but Armin Amiri has lived a life rich enough to fill a memoir—so he’s writing one. Tentatively titled The Price of Imagination, it details his escape from Iran as a young man, his journey through Turkey, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia to a refugee camp in Vienna, and his triumphant arrival in the United States in 1989, a place where, Amiri believes, dreams do indeed come true.
They certainly have for him, even if they’re not exactly what he imagined as a child. Amiri has been an actor, with roles alongside Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Sienna Miller in Factory Girl. He’s been a bartender at New York’s once white-hot Lotus club. He was tapped by nightclub entrepreneur Amy Sacco to run the door at legendary Bungalow 8, where his keen eye for “casting” earned the club comparisons to Studio 54. He even ran his own nightclub, the West Village’s Socialista, which, at its peak, attracted an A-list clientele that included Madonna, Kate Hudson, and Ashton Kutcher.
Now he’s taken on a new role as the creative force behind Mister H, an intimate lounge in the new Mondrian Soho hotel that opened last February during New York Fashion Week. It’s a perfect fit for Amiri, allowing him to tap his limitless pool of industry contacts and to conjure a nightspot that reflects his fertile imagination.
“The concept, which I presented to the board, was a spot where Humphrey Bogart would have gone for a gimlet after work,” Amiri says. “He’d have gone to a place owned by a Chinese guy named Mr. Hong, and Mr. Hong would have known how many ice cubes Humphrey liked in his drink.” Add to that a certain “misty and mysterious 1930s Shanghai and San Francisco feeling,” and you’ve got Mister H, which has quickly become the preferred destination of a certain segment of Gotham glitterati.
The design owes as much to Lewis Carroll as it does to Bogey, with beaded curtains, potted palms, and a painting by New York artist Gregory de la Haba of a pole-dancing woman wearing a rabbit mask. A neon sign announces, “This is not a brothel—there are no prostitutes at this address,” lest the red lighting give patrons the wrong idea.
Amiri no longer mans the door. That responsibility falls to guys like Chad and Disco, who shoulder the difficult task of conferring entry to an always-significant line of hopefuls. “As hard as it is to get in, once you’re inside it’s pure hospitality,” Amiri says. “Whether you’re a famous actor, model, or musician, you’re able to roam around the room without being bothered. I want a place where people walk in and they’re ready to shake their butts.”
The stakes are high for Mister H, with huge sums of money and prestige to be imparted upon its partners should it be a success, but Amiri is surprisingly grounded about the whole affair. “Nightlife can be a breeding ground for a lot of insecure people, because it gives you the illusion that you have power,” he says. “Don’t buy into the hype. Just because your thing is hot today doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot tomorrow. And don’t ever let your imagination die, because if you’re not careful, this business can eat your soul.”
Photo by Victoria Will.