Industry Insiders: David Rabin, Mr. President

New York Nightlife Association prez and Los Dados owner David Rabin on re-opening the legendary Lotus, commuting to Moscow, and suckering his partner into doing his other job.

What are you up to these days? We are re-doing the Lotus space, though we don’t know what to call it yet. We’re doing it with Mark [Birnbaum] from Tenjune. Just yesterday we got the plans for Double Seven in New York, which we’re trying to re-open on Gansevoort Street near Los Dados by the end of the year. I don’t know if I believe it myself …

And we’re working on a restaurant in midtown with Jeffrey Zakarian, who is a terrific chef and a great guy. There’s going to be a Double Seven-ish bar on the second floor. So to answer your question, I own Los Dados, and we have three or four things that should open within the next six or seven months.

That’s a lot. It’s too much! I think what’s going to happen is we’re gonna get hit with a sledgehammer around December through March and have three or four openings and hope that we can hold up. But we’re lucky because we have some great people to work with.

About four things happening at once. I’m not as nervous at [the former Lotus space] and Mark and [his partner] Eugene [Remm] have a huge part to play in that. So I’m not concerned. They are very hard workers. I just think that it’s a lot at once. So we’ll see, hopefully it’ll work out.

How did you get started in this business? Ah, sort of an accident. I was a real estate lawyer with a few entertainment clients, and my partner Will Regan was a Wall Street guy. We went to college together. Neither of us were too happy in our respective fields. We kept running into each other in the late 1980s at Nells, MK, and whatever, and we realized we knew a lot of people [in the industry]. Our first place was Rex’s from 1990 through 1992. So that’s where we cut our teeth, a place that people remember very fondly. Cause it was very organic, very pretty, with a lot of our friends from the music and fashion worlds. So [the public] decided that was what they thought of us.

One night I was at Rex’s, and Taylor Danes decided to sing. And she was very big at the time. Yeah, people jumped in with the band, it was great. And people dancing on tables. And upstairs was the club, and we learned a lot of lessons there — like making sure you have a big enough bar, an actual bar, to service the amount of people you’re going to have in your place. That was one of our problems with Rex’s, because nobody could ever get a drink. It’s nice to be popular, but it’s better if people can actually purchase something.

So after two years of Rex’s, we went to work briefly for Peter Gatien at Club USA for about a year, which was quite an education in a hit club. We went from a place that held 200 people to a place that held 2,000. And we worked with some of the best guys in the business, from Peter to Steve Lewis to people who really had a lot of experience. And then we got plucked, serendipitously, to be the consultants for the first Western-style nightclub in Moscow. And we commuted back and forth to Russia for two years. We took turns going there, running a place called Manhattan Express, which was the first large-scale Western designed and Western-run nightclub and supper club in Russia. Three years after communism fell. So it was an incredible time to be there. We had a two-year stint in Moscow.

When we came back and did Union Bar, which is [to this day] a nice bar for people between 25 and 35 who aren’t necessarily into the [trendier] nightlife. And it lasted. We sold it a few years ago to some younger guys, but it’s still open. So it’s been open from 1995 until now. It’s 15 years old, and we had it for about 9 years. So I guess we created a good thing there.

In New York City, that’s a big deal. It’s a long time. And then when we had Union Bar we stumbled across the Lotus space, which was a strip club closed by Giuliani.

And you partnered up? With Mark Baker and Jeffrey Jah. [Will Regan and I] were already both married [and because of that] we had not been in the middle of the nightlife scene for some time. We thought it would be great to have two guys who were sort of at the top of their game.

And Mark and Jeffrey had been just coming off of the club Life. Exactly. They were running Life, and it worked out very well. I mean, Lotus ran for eight years. We suffered through 9/11 because we were only 13 months old when that happened and very much on the upswing. We were one of the only games in town of this size and we were about to go into Fashion Week, and of course that’s a ridiculous thing to say in comparison to what happened to people, but … Somehow we stayed open, but we were severely damaged because people just were not in a celebratory mood for a long time, understandably. And we inched along, changed the menu from fancy Uptown kind of French to what we call urban Asian street food.

Tell me about being the head of the New York Nightlife association since it started. Yeah, yeah, unfortunately I am! I’m the only one willing to take the job. I’m trying to sucker Mark Birnbaum into taking the job from me. I don’t know if he realizes it yet!

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