Industry Insiders: Erik Foss, Lord of Lit

Lit co-owner Erik Foss talks about his art, his new bar in Philly with the best name ever, and why the city needs less yuppie cocksuckers.

Favorite Hangs: Max Fish! Max Fish! Max Fish! I also like Beatrice Inn because my bro’s Paul Sevigny and Andre [Saraiva] own it. It’s the first place I DJed. I dig Motor City because they are real there. Otherwise I don’t drink anymore, so my bar days are kinda over. Santos’ Party House is sick too. I love Spencer Sweeney, and he’s a dope-as- fuck artist!

Point of Origin: I graduated from Chandler High School in Arizona in 1991. I never went to college. I was accepted to Cooper Union, Stanford, and Art Center in Pasadena, but I was too concerned with skateboarding, making my own art, and running my T-shirt company (Dope Cloze). I made up my mind to sell the clothing line and leave. I moved to New York on Halloween of 1996. I came to New York because this is where all the artists came to be seen and make the best work of their lives. Once I got here, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

My first job here was at the French Roast in the West Village. I got fired from there immediately. Bartending jobs are impossible to get. One of the bartenders who worked at Odessa became my friend … or so I thought. I was dating this crazy woman from San Francisco at the time, and we would go there to drink. She was very sexy and had a flavor for the dark side of things. My bartender friend ended up sleeping with her and felt so bad about it he got me my first bartending job there. I worked the slowest shifts until one of the bartenders quit and I got Saturdays. Boy, shit changed then. I had that place fuckin’ raging! I’ve always been able to get people goin’ — it’s kinda my specialty.

Occupations: I co-own Lit and the attached Fuse Gallery. One day I stumbled across this hole in the wall called Sub Culture Gallery, which became my home. David Schwartz was the grump behind the desk and owner of this wonderful place. David made emerging artist’s dreams come true. He provided us with a space to work and show. He had the gallery till about 2001 before the lease ran out and they doubled his rent. At that point, he looked at me and said, “Do you want to open a gallery?” So we went out and found Lit and Fuse Gallery. We had to raise a retarded sum of cash to do this. So we got partners, and that was a whole other issue. What a nightmare. Oh yeah, we also signed the lease one month before 9/11. Imagine that one.

We worked construction building the bar for six months with the help of our friends. I bartended seven days a week while also building seven days a week. I thought I was going to die. We opened on 02/22/02 and have been killing it ever since. Do-it-yourself is the way we did this: No benefactors, no grants, no nothing. This bar was built by artist, for artists. Call it a throwback, but when we did this, I never heard of anyone else doing this in New York City. I also just opened a bar with David Schwartz and Chicken Head in Philadelphia called Kung Fu Necktie.

Side Hustle: I am an artist. When I came here I wasn’t of a pedigreed art background, nor did I come from money. So I showed my work in bars like a href=”http://bbook.com/guides/details/max-fish/” title=”Max Fish”>Max Fish, Luna Lounge, and Life. I work 7 days a week and have since I was 15 years old. I paint and make art in my studio, which my bar pays for. I curate and show artists I like, and that’s it. I buy art I like. In fact, I spend all the extra money I make on other peoples’ art. I do have a solo show in San Francisco in November this year at Gallery 3. My website is erikfoss.org. I know it’s a nonprofit URL, but hell, I never sell my work anyways!

Industry Icons: Steve Lewis is one of my heroes. For a while I had a job at the Bowery Ballroom. They hired me with no résumé. I put the first dollar in that register and worked for the Bowery family for almost five years. They run the best-run venues in New York City. I learned most of my club knowledge through them. Michael Winsch [owner of the Bowery Ballroom] is kinda my surrogate dad in New York.

Known Associates: I am very protective of the celebs that frequent my place. I believe in protecting them because they want to hang with us and come up to our level. That’s rad! I say let ’em and leave ’em be. My whole staff rules! They are all artists and musicians; creative people.

What are you doing tonight? Hangin’ out with my boys Carlo McCormick and Daze then going to the studio to paint a cop arresting a clown. I think the city is going through a transition, and it’s going to get real fun now that the economy is shit. Bye-bye yuppie cocksuckers. I just want our neighborhood back. Oh yeah, my favorite band is Slayer!

Photo: Leo Fitzpatrick

Star Crossings: Matching Celebrity Hookups

Professional matchmaker Amy Laurent offers advice for Hollywood’s confirmed bachelors and those recently in the doghouse.

What’s in store for Guy Ritchie? Well, he was always Mr. Madonna, but he has in his own accomplishments. He needs to date someone less famous. He’s been seeing actress Kelly Riley, who is great because she’s not such a superstar. I really like him with Padma Lakshmi from Top Chef. She’s divorced from Salman Rushdie and definitely doesn’t need to be with another writer. And look, I hate to promote adultery, but I kind of like Madonna with A-Rod.

Yeah, it’s pretty hot. They are both huge, but in different industries. Plus physically I always pictured her with a darker guy.

Do you think David Duchovny and Tea Leoni will stay together? I don’t know. If they do, she’s gonna need to support him. Sex addiction is like alcoholism; it’s an everyday struggle. He’s so sexy though, it’s understandable, plus there’s that show he’s on.

Yeah, and apparently he’s got a huge one. If they don’t stay together, and after a while he’s ready to date seriously, I love him with Meg Ryan. He needs a natural beauty, and she’s been through her own stuff.

And she got down in that movie In the Cut. Speaking of getting down, Hugh Hefner is single again. He should just have fun. Holly moved out because he wouldn’t marry her. Now he has 19-year-old twins living at the mansion. I say go for the twins.

Sage advice. What about George Clooney? He says he never wants to marry. Humans are humans, and sometimes they need a partner. A guy like him doesn’t deserve to be 70 and alone. He’s recently gotten back with Krista Allen, and I think he craves that kind of close friendship. But I think he does best with non-celebs. He can have everything he wants and keep his privacy. Of course, I sort of like him with Anne Hathaway …

She could definitely use a good man. They’d be like the cool version of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Jeremy Piven is in New York right now doing Speed-the-Plow on Broadway … should the girls in the Meatpacking District look out or what? He loves his fame. He worked hard for a long time, and now that he’s big, he wants to enjoy it. And he has enjoyed it. You see him on the circuit in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago with models, hot girls, yet he always brings his mom to the award show. I would like to see him with Karina Smirnoff from Dancing with the Stars. She’s hilarious and fun. I think there would be plenty of passion, but humor will keep him coming back.

What can a girl do to get Lance Armstrong coming back? I don’t know. He was great with Sheryl Crow. Obviously he needs someone beautiful but also active. She’s got to keep up with him.

Like Matthew McConaughey? No comment. I like him with Jennifer Aniston, but she is a friend of Sheryl’s, so that might be tough. I could see him with Shania Twain, who’s got that all-American look, or Christina Applegate, who is pretty, sweet, and also a cancer survivor. He should stay off Ashley Olsen. He needs to keep it over 30.

Should Bret Michaels keep it over 30? He’s not gonna find love on a TV show. Those girls are a little rough around the edges. I like him with Katy Perry. She’s sexy, she can hang with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but could be more than just a groupie.

Plus she’s kissed a girl. She might be down for a three-way with Brandi C.

Industry Insiders: DJ Jus Ske, Master of Western Decks

Mr. West co-owner and DJ Jus Ske talks about blowing up, speeding up, and building up.

Favorite Hangs: When I’m in Tokyo, I love Feria. It’s a very high-energy, New York-style club abroad. David Guetta’s “F*** Me, I’m Famous” parties are always insane, and I love those. When I’m in NYC, you can usually find me at Mr. West, 1Oak, Beatrice Inn, or Rose Bar.

Point of Origin: I was born in Manhattan and have lived here my entire life. I think a lot of my musical influence comes from my dad. Everywhere we went, he was constantly playing music in the car — funk, 80s, jazz, classic rock, Latin — you name it, I heard it as a kid. When I was 21, I started at Life, promoting Friday nights with Mark Ronson. Mark was really the one that got me into DJing. He taught me the basics, and I took a big interest in it from the start. A few years later, I was promoting and starting to DJ at Lot 61 with Richie Akiva, and from there, everything started to snowball. Before I knew it, I started getting recognized by a lot of big-name people and was being asked to spin at clubs all around with world.

Occupations: I just opened a new club with Danny Divine in West Chelsea called Mr. West. I’m also continuing to DJ all over the place — I just DJed at Diesel’s XXX party in Brooklyn and was also in LA for DJ AM’s welcome home party. I really want to own more properties. I’m loving what Danny Divine and I are doing with Mr. West. and I’m excited to see what we can do next … maybe a hotel. I’m also thinking about possibly getting into acting and maybe releasing a DJ album soon.

Side Hustle: I have a clothing line called Danucht. Its very street couture, and I have a good handle in the design process, which is a pretty cool new world for me. I’m also a part owner of Oso energy drink, which can be found all over the city at places like Mr. West, Rose Bar, Marquee, etc.

Industry Icons: I really respect Richie Akiva as a veteran of the industry and his ability to pull together all the right elements of a party in order to make it perfect. I also admire Danny A for the way he can bring together the best crowd. Noah Tepperberg has proven time and time again that his business savvy is unmatched in the industry today. No one can run a business like Noah. All of these guys have the ability to maintain the sexy and classy integrity of a party by recognizing that it’s not always about making money.

Deck Trends: Music in NYC is definitely changing. It’s becoming a lot faster, which is great because it really increases the energy in a club. I’m starting to hear less hip-hop and more electro and dance, but I can never get enough of my hip-hop and rock and roll.

Known Associates: Shout out Pharrell, Zac Posen, Kanye, Noemie Lenoir, Mark Ronson, Mario Sorrenti, Jessica Stam and Kaws — all of these people have been huge supporters of Mr. West, and I can’t thank them enough.

What are you doing tonight? I’ll be at Mr. West.

Industry Insiders: Spencer Sweeney, Your New Santa

Spencer Sweeney, artist and one of the forces behind Santos’ Party House, talks community boards, sketchy after-hour clubs, and why he’s changing his name to Santa.

Point of Origin: I came to New York about ten years ago from Philadelphia where I was an art student. I started DJing when I moved here at a sketchy after-hours spot on Ridge Street. Looking back, it was a pretty significant place culturally. My first party there was with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello. The club was basically some guy’s apartment, and he got arrested every weekend. I think he had an incarceration fetish. There was this party at Standard Notions on Ludlow, which was a big hangout. Every week you’d have the guys from A.R.E. Weapons, Chloe Sevigny, Ben Cho. That’s where we all came together. At the time, DJing was very genre-driven. If you went into a record store, everyone would ask what you spun, and you’d have to be like “Organic Deep House,” you know?

Occupation: I co-own Santos’ Party House with Andrew WK, Larry Golden, and Ron Castellano. I had been DJing at the Hole, and the owner was basically raping me, paying me in pennies. And I thought how cool would it be if we could have our own space. It took us three years to build out Santos. Part of the impetus behind the club has to do with the Dadaists and the Futurists, which were artistic movements that had very strong social legs to them. We started with the stage and sound system, getting the best we could. And the idea of calling it Santa’s Party House was to try to make the most radical departure from nightclub naming as it currently exists. It was originally Santa’s, and then we were advised by our lawyer not to go with Santa, because if someone really wanted to fuck us, they could say it’s like Joe Camel trying to appeal to young children. So Andrew came up with the shift of Santa’s to Santos. But I found a way around it. I’m actually legally changing my name from Spencer to Santa. Really. I will be Santa Sweeney. It’s gotta be called Santa’s. It’s perfectly absurd.

imageSide Hustle: I’m an artist. I have solo show coming up at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco. I was in a performance art troupe called The Actress with Lizzi Bougastsos of Gang Gang Dance and some others. I wanted to move into visual art. I had just quit my job as an artist assistant — I was a terrible assistant — and I was walking down the street, I had heard about Gavin Brown and the bar Passerby and I thought that would be a good place to do parties and performance. We had a lot of good stuff — Fischerspooner and Andrew WK — it worked out great. Then I did a solo show for Gavin.

We’re going to be working with a lot of artists at Santa’s, have more live music and a theater group too, that Kembra Pfahler of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is going to direct. Our liquor license took a year. Our neighborhood didn’t have a community board, so we were thrown to Tribeca by default. We were like “we won’t even be in your neighborhood,” and they’re like “we don’t care!” It was a bunch of angry old ladies. We had all our friends at museums write letters on our behalf, saying it would be a place for artists and culture. The board was like “what kind of artist is gonna be up at two in the morning have a drink?”

Favorite Hangs: I liked Lit on Mondays and Wednesdays. And I like … uh … I guess that’s the only place I go. Erik Foss, the owner, is a nice guy. Of course there’s also Max Fish which has been a great place for 20 years now.

Industry Icons: I don’t want to emulate anyone else’s career. But there’s definitely inspiration. Mickey Ruskin at Max’s Kansas City. I mean everyone went there. And Steve Paul who owned a place called the Scene. And the biggest inspiration was Arthur Weinstein, who I was very good friends with, who just passed away a few months ago. He owned one of the first discos called Hurrah. They were really hot for a season, then Studio 54 opened up. I learned a lot of lessons from him.

Known Associates: I’m collaborating at Santos’ Party House with a great choreographer named Maria Hassbi. Who else do I want to give shout-outs to? Andrew WK. Gavin Brown. Elizabeth Peyton. Agathe Snow, Carol Lee at Paper magazine, Ben Cho, Chloe Sevigny, Meredith Monk — we hope to have her perform. Will Oldham — him too.

What are you doing tonight? Going to a reggae party. I’m excited.

Industry Insiders: Taavo Somer, Rustic Freeman

Freeman’s and Rusty Knot co-owner Taavo Somer talks about his failed busboy career, the proper use of porno paneling, and why he strives for simplicity when doing three jobs at once.

Point of Origin: I moved here when I was 27, for a job at Steven Holl Architects. And my first day was an immediate wake-up call that it wasn’t gonna work out. I had been working in big firms for years, and this was my dream job. And when that disillusionment came, I thought: screw architecture. I’ll do something else. A friend there knew Serge Becker. I thought I’d be a busboy, learn to tend bar. When I met him, he was like, “Why do you want to work in a bar? I have no busboy openings but I have a project.” It turned out to be Lever House, which he was working on with John McDonald, and the designer Marc Newson. Serge didn’t have a trained architect in his office, so he said, “Do this until a busboy position opens up!”

Occupations: I co-own Freeman’s and the Rusty Knot. I was going to throw a big New Year’s party at a club Serge was opening in Brooklyn. The club didn’t open in time, and Serge felt bad, so he introduced me to this space on Chrystie Street. The landlord was cool with the party, but he said we had to use the alley entrance off Rivington. As soon as I saw the alley, the party dissolved, and I wanted to open a café. I already had a concept for a restaurant, and I just put the concept in the space. That’s how Freeman’s came about. The Rusty Knot is a 1950s nautical bar, really mellow, cheap materials, cheap drinks, 50-cent pool table, free jukebox. It’s got porno paneling, you know, fake wood like the Calvin Klein basement ads. The building itself is pretty unremarkable. But if you find yourself being a snob about something, my instinct would be to embrace and explore it, and that’s when epiphanies occur. It’s born from the location on the West Side highway. It’s not beautiful.

Side Hustle: I never wanted to do just one thing. When I was first in New York I was spending a lot of time in NoLita, which back then was really kinda cool. I started going into Selvedge and lamenting with Carlos [Quirarte, now of Ernest Sewn] about the state of New York nightlife, how there’s no Mudd Club. Where was the good rock party? So we decided to throw our own at the Pussycat Lounge. I started making T-shirts. And we sold them at Selvedge. Then we got in trouble, because the owners didn’t know. But they sold out. If I didn’t have the discipline I learned from architecture I wouldn’t be making clothes today. Now, we have Freeman’s Sporting Club. I design suits and shirts. The aesthetic of the restaurant definitely influenced the aesthetic of the clothing and the store itself. There’s also a barbershop in the store, and we just opened another, FSC Barber, on Horatio Street.

Favorite Hangs: Between Freeman’s and the Rusty Knot, there’s only a couple of nights a week that I’m free. I go to the Spotted Pig, because it’s like family there. I usually eat dinner at Il Buco once a week. I still go to Frank and Lil’ Frankie’s once in awhile … I have friends there. I go to a lot of the dive bars that I used to go to, like Joe’s Bar. In London I go to Rules, and in LA, for whatever reason, I like going to Dan Tana’s.

Industry Icons: Luc Levy, who owns Café Gitane. I love his set-up … he’s got his spot, it’s been open for 11 years, one owner … it’s an effortless business plan. Serge Becker, definitely. You could throw out ideas, and if he used it, he’d always credit you. This guy Jason Mclean from the old Loring Café, in Minneapolis. The place had Shakespeare one night, and a gypsy wedding the next, just weird shit happening. Freeman’s got its artichoke dip from there. Sean McPherson and Eric Goode, too. Even though they have a lot of projects, they’re still hands-on and obsessing about doorknobs. When I designed Gemma, I would go antiquing with them and saw just how much they labored over small details.

Known Associates: William Tigertt is my partner for Freeman’s and Freeman’s Sporting Club. My partner at the Rusty Knot is Ken Friedman, who also owns the Spotted Pig and is about to open John Dory. There are a lot of musicians that I love. My friends, kids I grew up with, are in the Hold Steady. I like what they’re doing. Their approach to music, in contrast with what’s happening in the rest of the industry, is really pretty awesome.

What are you doing tonight? I’ll be upstate. I have a house. I’ll just cook and hang out and garden.

Industry Insiders: Socialista’s Jeffrey Trunell

Socialista gatekeeper Jeffrey Trunell on working the door for a former doorman, club owners who scowl, and why Perez Hilton isn’t on his list.

Point of Origin: I moved to New York in 1996 to be an actor. I started working at Coffee Shop. I was a bar back and I didn’t know anything. I was just a kid from Philly. I started bartending, worked at a lot of hotel bars: 60 Thompson, the Hudson, and subMercer right when it opened. I remember that was the first place where cocktails were $15. Nowadays if you’re not charging $15 a drink you’re nothing, but back then it was like a science experiment. My voice would always choke when I told a guy he owed me $30 for two drinks.

Occupation: I was working at La Esquina as a bartender and started to work the door there part-time. [Socialista owner] Armin Amiri was getting ready to open up and still didn’t have someone for the door. He’d been working the door at Bungalow 8, and I think it was the last thing he wanted to think about, the last piece of the puzzle so to speak. It is cool having a boss who used to be a doorman, because he understands. There’ve been situations where I haven’t let someone in who I was supposed to — and at another place they’d tear my nuts off — but Armin gets it, he understands.

Side Hustle: I’m still an actor. I lived in LA for about three years. I worked some out there, but I missed New York. It’s hard. A lot of actors I know who used to work a lot are struggling. I came back because I wanted to do more theater. I do commercial work, which isn’t as fun but it can pay really well. I just turned 30 so, you know, now’s the time. Favorite Hang: Right now, I like a jukebox and a pool table. I don’t drink much, but when I do, I usually just want a beer. I live in the East Village so there are lots of places like that — like Lucy’s and some good dive bars on 5th street. I have a friend who works at Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg which is a good spot. I’ll go to the Beatrice Inn or 1Oak, but you end up seeing a lot of the same faces from Socialista. Then I feel like I’m on the job!

Industry Icons: I think Armin does a great job because he has a vision and he takes it seriously. [La Esquina owner] Serge Becker has great taste, plus he’s very even-keeled. You never see him freak out at anyone or even scowl. I think he understands that the whole thing is a process.

Known Associates: I’m not terribly impressed with celebrities, partly because they are so seemingly unimpressed. Strangely enough I get really excited over journalists. War journalists in particular. I met James Nachtwey and Michael Ware — that was amazing. I had the opportunity to hang around with these two photojournalists based out of Africa when I was working with a non-profit called Soft Power Health. Marcus Bleasdale and Finbarr O’Reilly. Fucking studs, man. Check out marcusbleasdale.com and finbarroreilly.com, then go to perezhilton.com. Then you tell me why anyone gives a rat’s ass about how much weight so-and-so has gained.

What are you doing tonight? Working, man. Then going to the beach tomorrow with my family for a few days.

Photo by Lucas Noonan