Goodnight Mr. Lewis: When a Club Closes, We All Suffer

Photo via Verboten

The closing of Brooklyn dance club Verboten has many in an “I told you” mode. The place was shuttered, according to a sign on the door, for failure to pay taxes, but allegations that run the gamut from fraud to sexual harassment have been leveled. Although legal eagles got the place open last Saturday night, it isn’t clear whether Verboten will soon be closed for good, reopened under new management or miraculously weather this storm.

Some seemed happy to see this joint go, but I felt bad for the staff who may be forced to look for work. A nightclub supports many people: bartenders, waitrons, managers, busboys, security, coat checkers, receptionists, door folk, public relations and promotional persons, DJs and cleaning crews all trying to pay rent, buy food, support boutiques and other businesses. There are also suppliers of booze, lemons and limes, soda and mixers. There are glassware purveyors and garbage picker uppers who now make less money. Then there are cab drivers, local deli’s supplying Altoids and before and after snacks and beers, diners, people who put up posters, graphic designers, uber drivers all suffering—the list is endless. A large nightclub like Verboten is a shot in the arm of the local economy. Oh, I forgot the government collects taxes on everything above, although some people are saying Verboten wasn’t paying those. (Update: Verboten Co-owner Jen Schiffer has been arrested).

Working in nightlife can be a double-edged sword. There is cash money, a stimulating environment and night hours that allow artists, actors and such to have day jobs. The club gigs pay the bills, while castings, rehearsals and all sorts of real world stuff occupy the days. In a perfect world, a thespian or student can work a Friday and Saturday night shift, maybe another during the week and pay their way to a bright future. The list of famous people who had bar, restaurant or nightlife gigs is long. Everyone from Dustin Hoffman to Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry to Keith Haring have served food or swill with a smile. Vin Deisel was a bouncer.

The players, below, balance their creative careers with nightlife jobs. Without clubs to pay their bills many would not be able to blossom in the arts. Could a Broadway or a New York film industry flourish without the talent pool working elsewhere? Here are four nightlife legends trying to become legendary performers.

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Wass Stevens

Strategic Group Partner Wass Stevens, the bon vivant doorman at such ultra exclusive clubs like Avenue, Marquee and many more says, “Working in nightlife is the perfect job for those pursuing a career in the arts. It keeps your days free to audition, take classes, and rehearse. It’s generally ‘freelance,’ so if you book a gig, you can take the time off without too much of a hassle. For me as an actor, working the door is like one long improvisation. And because you interact with people from all walks of life—in the span of 15 minutes tonight, for example, I talked to my favorite homeless guy Julio, an Oscar winner (with whom I’ve worked several times) several gazillionaires, two of my students, several of NY’s finest, my pal who plays for the New York Rangers, and other assorted nightcrawler—it takes any intimidation factor out of the acting equation.  Seeing huge stars, directors [and] producers staggering out intoxicated, or chasing hotties that I see on a daily basis and barely notice, levels the playing field really fast. And, if you take [it] seriously [and] treat it as a job, it can. Nightlife gives you a degree of financial security most ‘part-time’ jobs cannot give. And let’s not forget, for the most part its pretty fucking fun.”

Wass still hangs onto his door gig despite big and small screen success with increasingly larger roles in vehicles like The Wrestler, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Family Man, Public Morals, World Trade Center and more.

Michael Cavadias is a DJ, actor, writer and a director. He juggles his nightlife career amid credits for Wonder Boys, Girls, Difficult People and the upcoming Katie Holmes short, All We Had. For what seems like 500 Million Years he has performed Claywoman about a 500 Million Year old extra terrestrial. Recently he combined his day job with his night job by performing Claywoman at Bushwick’s House of Yes, where Girls star Jemima Kirke interviewed his character. He also wrote and directed The Joanne Holiday Show. By all accounts his career has been successful, but he makes ends meet with his DJ gigs at The Ace Hotel, Metropolitan Bar and his really fun new party HUMP at Rumpus Room every other Wednesday, which was created by Shoshana Fisher and Paul Iacono, who’s also an actor.

“Working in nightlife has allowed me the flexibility to take acting jobs, go on auditions, make my own work and survive in the city at the same time while also being able to DJ as another creative outlet,” Cavadias said. “It’s a balance between the sometimes unpredictable nature of both nightlife and film, TV [and] performance work, and the flexibility to be able to pursue the things I’m passionate about. “

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Heather Litteer

Heather Litteer has and continues to pursue her life as a performer with money she makes in the nightlife industry. She told me she has done about every job you can think of, from barkeep to dancer. Many know her as Jessica Rabbit, a persona I once described in BlackBook:  “She comes off as a girl who can do anything—and might, if you ask right.” Others will recall her as the “ass to ass girl” in Darren Aronofsky’s  Requiem for a Dream. Typecast as a woman of ill repute or a druggie, she took advice from her mother, who said, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” This led to her first solo show, “Lemonade,” which will premiere at La Mama April 15.

Without nightlife to support her, Heather may not be able to pursue her dreams in NYC.

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Fabrizio Brienza

Fabrizio Brienza is a rather tall, handsome, impeccably dressed presence at chic spots around town. He says he stumbled into nightlife while pursing a career as a model and actor. He can be seen in catalogs, commercials and campaigns, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label. His acting has him rubbing elbows with superstars in flicks like Adjustment Bureau, Duplicity, A Walk Among the Tombstones, as well as television, like Law and Order SVU and Days of Our Lives. He has been here for 11 years, “longer than he has been in any one place before.” He opens that velvet rope as he seeks “meatier roles” that will take him to the next level.

Nightlife is a dream job for many, as you make money and hang with the wonderful, the rich, the famous, the it persons, the next wave. You listen to great music and can often sleep in. These are some of the thousands of faces trying to make it in this impossible, but possible town. When a club closes the consequences ripple through our culture.

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