Armin Amiri Brings Giddy Insanity to the Mondrian Soho

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.

Charlie Corwin on Giuseppe Cipriani, Socialista’s Demise & ‘New York Ink’

Charlie Corwin is a player. More often than not, it’s the other guy from one of his ventures that has his photo in the funny papers or in bold letters, but it’s Charlie making things happen. I don’t think he’s complaining, as he’s insanely successful and pursuing all sorts of endeavors that are satisfying his creative needs. Charlie isn’t limited to being a bean counter, although his work does provide him with lots of green beans. He’s married to one of my cocktail servers from bygone days, the beautiful and brilliant Olivia Ma Corwin, who’s a mogul in her own right. She got out of the club biz by creating the pet clothing company Kwigy Bo. All the right pooches are wearing Kwigy Bo. I’ll let Charlie tell you about what he does and is planning to do. Pay attention, you might learn something.

I know you in three capacities: first as a friend; second, you’ve dabbled in the club world in this world of lounges, if you will; and then third as a filmmaker. Tell me about your film career. I’ve always been entrepreneurial in media. My first company was a record label, second an internet company, and I sold both of those and moved on to start Original Media, which is my production company. We started by making television, and then we moved to movies, and now we do both. We have something like 14 series on the air now, all reality, although we do scripted also. Anything ranging from Stormchasers on Discovery to the Ink franchise. We do The Rachel Zoe Project, Swamp People for History, which is our new big hit about the alligator hunters of the Atchafalya Swamp basin in the Louisiana Bayou. And the movie side of things we do sort of Sundance-y independent films. I’ve shot 5 movies in New York, and all of them have premiered at Sundance: The Squid and The Whale, Half Nelson, Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, August, and most recently a movie called Twelve which Joel Shumacher directed.

Let’s chat about your latest venture. I went to a party for New York Ink, one of those parties I thought wasn’t going to be very good, but it turned out to be really great, which is always the best thing. Tell us about New York Ink and the tattoo shop. This all started about 5 or 6 years ago with the first show, called Miami Ink. I was a big fan of Taxi Cab Confessions, and I thought the tattoo paradigm presented a really easy way to tell real stories. In other words, when people typically get tattoos, they typically get them to commemorate crossroads in their lives, be they inspirational or commemorative, sad or happy. And while they’re lying in these chairs, literally and figuratively naked, being painfully and permanently inked by a tattoo artist, they tell the story behind the tattoo to the artist, and it takes on this confessional paradigm, where the artist is like a punk rock priest telling their story to them. After I created that show, it became a hit, and we started to franchise it. We opened New York, which partners with Ami James, who’s also the star of the show. Our shop is called The Wooster Street Social Club, and it’s also the location for New York Ink, the newest installment in the Ink franchise.

Tell me how this space transcends the normal, traditional tattoo parlor, and how tattooing has hit the mainstream. Everyone’s getting one. My Mom told me the other day that she wanted a tattoo! She’s 81! These television shows have made tattooing mainstream in a lot of ways, or they have at the very least helped it along the way. The percentage of Americans that now have a tattoo is staggering. I can’t remember what it is, but adult Americans with tattoos is a number something like 40%. It’s a huge number and it’s gone up since we started doing these shows, it’s infiltrated pop culture, like a Warhol Campbell’s soup can or Brillo pad box. With this space it has become something different—it’s in Soho, so it’s not on St. Mark’s Place, it’s not a dive, a rat hole. You’ve been there, it’s a very beautiful loft. You put a restaurant in there—you put anything in there—and it would be beautiful. The idea of having it in Soho, in the art gallery Soho district, and it being an art gallery itself, is we are now elevating what was considered “down” market, what was considered “street art” into fine art that is worthy of being presented in a gallery environment. So that’s the idea.

One of the themes for the space is it’s a multi-platform artistic venue, it’s an interdisciplinary artist place for artists to create all different kinds of art that will hopefully cross pollinate—that’s the Warholian part of it. But one of the central questions I was faced with, being a reality television producer who was making a show about art, was how to make it appealing—to some people, those are strange bedfellows. Whether or not they’re irreconcilable is up for debate. So it’s the question of whether you can make a show about art, in this case tattoo art, and have it play to the soccer moms in the red states, and also have an artistic venue (like the one I’m describing in the center of Soho), and still have credibility among the artist community. This became the challenge. And so rather than try to solve that riddle, I decided to make it the theme of the space itself.

Let’s talk about the space. What else is going to be going on in that space besides traditional tattooing and a section for filming? The way I think of it is like the Russian dolls. At the center of it you have the human canvases, the clients, the people that come in to get tattoos on their skin, and that art itself. Around that, the larger circle of the television show itself, where you have producers and directors, camera people, and sound people walking around with shoulder-mount cameras filming a television show—creating a television show. Around that you have the actual walls of the space, where we are curating exhibits from mostly street artists, and other organic urban artists. So we’re going to be doing a rotating mural on the wall, which will then get piped into a projector, and project it onto the wall while you’re in the space. So there will be multiple artistic endeavors unfolding in real time while you’re in the space getting tattooed.

And there will also be events. The events are going to be driven by art, so they’re going to be real avant-garde kind of events. Think—sketching days where you’re just sketching all day during a drawing seminar, with live models. Or we’re planning a kind of 24-hour film festival, where you have to shoot, edit, and deliver a short film in 24-hours. So there are all sort of artistic-driven events.

You were involved with one of the most hard-luck projects of all time, Socialista. It was really a great place, it had a good run, and people really loved it, but it got banged out because of bullshit. Tell me about your role there. I was always fascinated—and still am—with nightlife in New York. I think it’s the stuff of dreams. I had met Armin Amiri, who was one of the owners, and really running Socialista. I had met him originally through my wife Olivia when he was working at Bungalow 8 with Amy Sacoo. I’ve known him for many years. When he opened this place he went and showed it to me and I was blown away by the location. It’s just a gorgeous location with windows onto the river in the Jane Street Hotel. I was warned that that space was cursed, because there had been several other things in that space over the years.

I have that theory, by the way. I passed on the space, personally, for clients of mine a number of times. You actually took it while I was still with the clients who were insisting, and I was saying no. You saved me, vindicated me. You’re welcome. Armin invited me to invest, and at that time it was Armin and his partner Giuseppe Cipriani. The plan had the upstairs as a nightclub/lounge, and downstairs was to be a restaurant. It was a Cuban-themed nightclub, and Cuban-themed restaurant—hence the name Socialista—but the food in the restaurant was going to be run by Cipriani, who obviously has a lot of experience running restaurants. I loved the idea, and I love Armin, so I went out and I brought in a bunch of my friends, including some big names, to invest as well.There was a small group of high-profile investors that opened Socialista, and it was great. Giuseppe never showed up, basically. He never showed up to run the restaurant.

He had other problems. He had other problems. So Armin was left to run the restaurant, and ultimately—

I don’t want to make him sound like he was being flaky. He was distracted heavily. He was under indictment for tax evasion. So ultimately two things killed Socialista: Number one, and I don’t know the details of it so I shouldn’t speak on it with authority, but Giuseppe ended up making a deal with the government.That included him paying a large fine, and as part of that fine he taxed all of his restaurants—including Socialista. That’s how he covered the fine. And we were not up-and-running long enough to be able to cover that. I’ve never told that story before, but that’s the truth.

The other part of it was we had a very unfortunate incident with Hepatitis A. There was a bartender that worked for us who had gone home somewhere in Central America, I cant remember exactly where, for the weekend or something. He came back to work and he had unfortunately brought it back with him, unknowingly. Later he started feeling sick and figured out he had contracted Hepatitis A, which is not a good thing if you’re in the restaurant business serving drinks. It turned out that the night that he had worked also happened to be the night of Ashton Kutcher’s birthday party. Which made for a very awkward aftermath: a lot of phone calls asking people to get tested, which led to news trucks outside, putting microphones in everybody’s face before they walked into the club. You couldn’t come back from that.

No, there’s no coming back. Nightclubs are an addiction. I’m addicted, your wife is addicted. Even though Olivia and I are not in the business anymore, there’s a certain part of our brain that’s tapped in that wants a little bit more. I write about it, I got out that way, and I also design clubs. Did you get hooked? Or are you retired? Oh I’m hooked, I’m hooked. I didn’t lose enough to be scared away. First of all, I don’t regret the Socialista investment. I still love Armin, and I’ll probably invest with him again. I think it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. It ended too soon, and that was very unfortunate, but I had so much fun while I was doing it, and I would absolutely do it again. I have lots of friends, you included, who are nightclub proprietors whom I trust implicitly, and would be happy to go into business with.

Image: Rudy Archuleta (photographer) from Inked Magazine

Mister H & Mondrian Sessions Hit LA’s Sunset Strip

LA’s Sunset Strip used to be known as the home turf of bands like Guns N’ Roses and, god help us, Poison. These days, with hotels such as The London and Mondrian pulling the jet set to West Hollywood, a more sophisticated demographic stakes a claim to the famous boulevard. Accordingly, The Mondrian is raising its own nightlife stakes this year with two new initiatives. Over the weekend, Morgans Hotel Group debuted Mister H, a new pop up that might just take the place of ping pong-centric Spin Hollywood, which dominated the ground-level lobby in 2010.

Armin Amiri (Socialista, Bungalow 8) flew in from New York for the opening, which was timed to Oscar weekend in LA. Guests were given a taste of the flavor Amiri has already brought to the Mondrian’s new Soho property via his Mister H in Manhattan. In WeHo, Mia Moretti was on hand to spin a few nights at the new space, which isn’t yet fully designed, but already feels a step up from Spin Hollywood, with lush plants, dim lighting, and a vaguely bordello-esque vibe.

But the best reason to try to find a parking space on the Sunset Strip this spring is the hotel’s Mondrian Sessions. Presented by iAMSOUND Records, the live music series has snagged some fantastic talent to play poolside at the hotel’s Skybar, including Lykke Li and Canada’s Gonzales.

Already this year, acts such as the Dum Dum Girls (top image) and Zola Jesus have sent their sounds pinging off of the sleek glass rooftop exterior.

The best part? So long as you RSVP, all the shows are free. Information can be found here.

March is shaping up to be a very good month to drop by the hotel, and we highly suggest you check out Gonzales’ gig there next week. Rumor has it he’ll be bringing a special guest or two. If you know who his famous female musician friends are, you can probably guess who we’re talking about.

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Strong Silent Type: Genc Jakupi, Keeper of The Box

I am not a frequent visitor to The Box, even though I live just a short walk away. The shows don’t excite me much; in fact, what I have seen has had the opposite affect. However, I cannot deny the cultural impact the place has had on our town. In the jaded land of nightlife, The Box has redefined the model-bottle era. In its performance-based theatrical approach, it has shocked us into believing once again that if you think outside of the box in clubdom, you can achieve success. My problem with the bottle-model era is that it’s never been over the top enough to excite me. It never pushed the envelop or culture. Having Lindsay Lohan, Paris, and a gaggle of lowbrow celebutantes, models, and promoters throwing napkins into the air to generic music is not greatness. Any night at the World, Studio, Area, Paradise Garage, or any of the classic joints was better than the best nights ever at Marquee, Tenjune, or Kiss & Fly. I am not knocking these clubs, as they are doing their formulated best to entertain their crowds. They are the product of these times and are a reflection of the attitude of their owners and the need to make money against impossible odds.

These crowds are not, for the most part, interested in serious music or culture as an important part of their nightlife experience. Their clone-like clothes and views define an age where Grey Goose is more relevant than art. The Box said there can be another way, and even though I don’t go there, I celebrate it for taking the scene in another direction. The Box is always swirling in controversy. Showgirls and other distractions, scandals, and such have been well documented in the gossip columns. Life on the edge can sometimes get edgy, so let’s talk with Box doorman Genc Jakupi about his vision and how he guards Simon Hammerstein’s playground.

You are a mysterious character — we really don’t know each other. I’ve met you maybe once or three times. I know your brother Binn pretty well. He does 1Oak, and you do The Box. How did you become doormen, and who was first? Binn started G-Spa with Richie Akiva. He took off for like a year I think. Anyway, I got into it with my brother’s help. I started just doing hosting and helping with Mark and Richie at Tenjune. That was just for a short amount of time. I met with Serge Becker, as they needed a guy at the door of The Box. They’d really never had one before — not that they didn’t have a doorperson, but they didn’t have somebody who knew the people. They did not have it down at the front of the house, you know what I mean? It’s such a complex project, you know what I mean?

I did the door there one night — they brought me in for an event. Cordell Lochin asked if I’d be interested in doing. I told him I couldn’t because I have other things to do. Cordell told me that it underscored their need to have someone who know a lot of people out there. I was doing it for Tricia Romano’s party. I’m glad that I actually became a part of The Box because I really care about that place — I care about it, very much. I’ve been in New York for about seven years, so I can’t speak so much about past New York. I started first working like two nights a week, and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday I was still at Tenjune, and then I just switched — took over the whole thing at The Box.

The Box is certainly a prestigious door … it’s one of the premiere clubs in New York. You’ve got a lot of important people showing up. How did you train yourself to do door? Did your brother instruct you, or did you take your own approach? I used to bartend at Bungalow 8. I learned from Armin Amiri. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he did things, the way he did the door — he kinda ran the whole place. That’s what I do at The Box, that’s what Binn does at 1Oak. it’s not just standing around at the door — he’s doing more than that. So there’s no real training to become a doorman besides knowing the people, knowing what the party needs to have. Knowing what you need inside to make the party happen, how many people you need, who do you need and what are you lacking … different things for different clubs for different clientele,

You need to make money at The Box — it’s showbiz. You have three shows a night, right? Yeah, we have three shows a night … right now we’re going through a little different way of doing the shows.

You have to make revenue off the tables You have to. Everybody has to. At The Box you have to more because there’s more overhead. We’ve been doing pretty good considering the economy; we’re still being exclusive, whatever that means — having the right people. The good thing about it is that we have a name out there; it’s a destination place. So I don’t have a problem with a lot of people outside.

Yeah, the people showing up are getting in for the most part People are showing up with 80 percent expectation of getting in. When you talk about fights, when you talk about stuff like that, I don’t — have much of that

I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but lately there’s been a spate of the incidents involving doormen where people are just losing their cool, and both of us are astonished that that could ever happen. I mean, there’s no need for it No need, no need.

Contrary to the public’s perception, doormen are there to let people in, and to educate people how they may get in in the future, and to be nice even when you turn people away, and say something like, “This place may not be for you.” Do you agree with that? Not “this place might not be for you,“ no.

Well what do you say? As much as I take doormen’s side in this, you know the fights and everything, I look at it in two different ways. I look at it if I was to approach the door — people who go out, they’re ready, they’re dressed, they put a lot into that, you know what I mean? So now when you say no to somebody, my approach is to let them know to come back. I want them to come back. That’s the main thing — I want them to come back and just to see to let them decide how they’re gonna show up when they come back. And people get it right — believe me, people get it right.

I used to say that I’m not making the decision that you’re not getting in; you made that decision when you left your house like this. True.

Nobody likes to be rejected … it’s the hardest thing in the world to tell people that they don’t belong, but that’s probably it, they don’t belong. You’re saying this is a club, and you don’t’ belong. You’re the expert on whether they belong or not. See, with the Box though, that’s not what I’m trying to do, because of the show. It allows me to let people in. I want to have all sorts of people. As long as there’s a community between people — as long as people see something, and they can talk about each other, and they can talk to each other, and they connect. I don’t believe in dress codes and stuff like that.

That’s very interesting. I used to say, “We don’t have a dress code, we have a heart code,” and I think that’s what you’re saying. If a person puts enough effort to come out, thinks about it, puts a beautiful gown or a beautiful something — something interesting. We don’t wanna see boring stuff. All of these people that work in offices, they see so much boring stuff … the last thing you want to give them when they go out is to see the rest of what they saw in the day. So I like to see people going a little crazy, going a little wild with the way they dress. … I never had fights, and I knock on wood because I don’t wanna have fights in The Box. We don’t have them because I really keep people with good attitude. A lot of times people approach the door in a very aggressive way. I never deal with that, and I’m not at the door all the time, so that’s a way of avoiding conflict.

That’s a problem — the fact that you’re not at the door all the time. I showed up once, it was late at night a couple weeks ago, and nobody knew me at the door, and I should be somebody that people know. I’m not bragging, but I should be known. But you ended up inside

I did end up inside. I waited about 10 minutes outside. No you didn’t!

Yes I did. No you didn’t –there’s no way!

Yes I did. And I wrote about it. But it didn’t bother me. It seems to have bothered Noah Tepperberg the other day when he showed up, but we’re not going to get into that much because it’s an unfortunate thing — old news. I didn’t mind waiting because I don’t go to the place, so I can understand why they don’t know me — but you do go inside, and what happens when you go inside? Do people just wait, and that’s the attitude? I know we’re in the business where some people in this industry really take it hard when they have to wait a little. I’m inside because I do a lot of stuff. I’m not just a doorman at The Box. I take care of everything that needs to be taken care of to make the place happen. When I’m not the door, I have guys outside that I trust — I don’t let them make decisions, but people that come here all the time end up inside. It’s rare that anyone gets a surprise when they show up wrong, like, “Oh, why am I not coming in?”. These are people who have been coming for a long time — people from downtown, people who don’t take it personally if they wait a little.

I have been told by some people that The Box used to be much better; other people tell me that it’s better now. The first time I went that night I did the door there, I felt it was too pushed, like it was forced, and it was all about shock value. The shows?

Yes, and just the crowd itself, the vibe inside was like poseur or pushed. The second time I went, I liked it less, but the last time I went it was really natural, the way people sat, the way they interacted, and there was a sexiness to it. I guess I can credit you, and Simon Hammerstein. You have to credit Simon because he’s the visionary, and he’s really the best guy that I’ve ever worked with — he really knows what he’s doing. He’s an expert on his thing, and he trusts me with things that I want to do. He knows that what I do is good, and he believes in me.

That’s how a doorman has to work, and a doorman has to understand the message and the needs of the house, and he has to be left to do it himself. You have to know who’s expected, and what you have, because you’re really a maestro or an orchestra leader … you’re coordinating, mixing the crowds and creating this energy. But besides that, at The Box, you’ve got to have a certain amount of people by the certain time, because of the show. It’s more than just letting in who you want to let in.

How about money at the door? I mean, I’ve heard from people who I don’t really go out with — but I know of them — and they went The Box, and they got hit up for $1000 at the door, or $800 dollars at the door, and they bought tables. Tables are very expensive there, and yet you’re still selling them, even in this economy. Still holding up.

Because you’re offering something that no one else is? Not that no one else is — you’re offering something that people really appreciate. People don’t mind paying the show charge.

Is there an exit strategy? I’m addicted to nightlife; I’ve evolved from running clubs to writing about them, and designing them. I haven’t been able to get out. Are you addicted to The Box, to the nightlife, or do you think it’s a phase? I am at The Box because I like what The Box gives to people, which is not just nightlife. I’m addicted to New York. Even when I wasn’t at the Box, I wanted people visiting New York to go see what The Box has to give, because it’s really what I think New York is about. I don’t know if I would have been able to come up with something like that, but seeing it, my hat’s off to Simon for bringing that thing to life.

It’s not a nightclub — it’s a way of life? I wouldn’t be able to do any other place the way I’m doing it at The Box. If another place opened up, and they offered me a job, I don’t see myself going to work for somebody else. It’s not just a job.

Your job is theater in itself, plus your job is a responsibility to the acts inside and to the patrons; there has to be a certain intelligence, there has to be a certain way of people being treated, from the moment they get out of the taxi. Certain way of people being treated, certain ways of seeing where the party should be, and envisioning, where people want to sit, deciding where they’re gonna sit so they sit next to somebody who they’re gonna have fun next to. The first time I went to The Box, before I was working there, Serge and Cordell invited me, and I said to myself: there’s elegance in this room that could make such a good party.

There’s a movie called Casablanca, and in that movie, which is a classic nightclub, the lyrics for the most important song of the flick are, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.” That’s the thing with The Box, isn’t it? It really gets down to the fundamentals We’re not going against time at The Box. A lot of clubs open, and they have this expectation of first year, second year, that’s it … but we are still developing.

You’ve reached a point where the performers and the audience are one thing. I want to let people in such that when they came in, you wouldn’t actually need to know who the performer is.

Industry Insiders: Aalex Julian of Tenjune

Tenjune door sentry Aalex Julian dishes on the K-Mart of nightlife, the old chicks and thugs who don’t make the cut, “animals” who grab asses, and why some nightlife vets are toast.

Point of Origin: I’ve been working the door at clubs in Manhattan for almost six years. I started doing a lot of special events, for Lizzie Grubman, other PR groups. I did the Jay-Z event in the Hamptons. I knew people like Jeffrey Jah from going out. Some people resent me because I befriended the right people.

Instead of starting off as a security guard or something, I started off at a good level. A lot of people get hired and fired, are around for three or four years. When I started, I was working at Rehab, which was one of the top places at the time. The first door that was my door was Below, on 19th Street in 2002. Then I went right to Rehab. Then Bed, Cain, Guest House, Pink Elephant twice (on 13th Street and when they opened on 27th Street). I opened Home, I opened Guest House. There’s been a few more, but that’s the chronology. I chose to leave 27th Street before it got as bad as it’s gotten.

What do you think changed? I think [Home and Guest House owner] Jon B is the K-Mart of nightlife. When I started at Guest House, we decided with his partner Ronnie [Madra, now of 1Oak], we all agreed it would be a high-end, selective place. Within two months, Jon B started flipping the switch, letting in thugs, letting in a guy who was threatening people. It sounds like you’re very into keeping your standards. You have to be. I have a lot of friends, but I have even more enemies because I hold my ground. With every team that I’ve worked with, the fact that I hold my ground [at the door] has either been what they respect the most or what leads to a parting of ways. I’ve worked with everybody. But now I don’t need to go through the headache of opening a place unless I’m sure it’s going to be a hit. I believed in Tenjune from the beginning. Without getting into specifics, I make a good living, I get a lot of perks. During Fashion Week, I’m one of the first people they call, and I’m shopping with editors and stuff. I get a lot of free stuff. Everything has evolved now from only nightclubs, to more of a lifestyle. People call me to ask where to take their clients. Is that just you, or Manhattan nightlife in general? I think for the higher-end, yes. There are some people, without naming names — [unlike] the people at 1Oak — [these others are] high-end people but they’re sleeping till 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they’re drunk five nights a week. You know who works hard and who’s just passing the time. Nightlife is really reflective of society in general. You have your slackers, and you have your hard workers. I have my differences with Noah [Tepperberg, of Marquee and Tao], but I can’t deny the gentleman that he’s a hard worker, and that’s why he’s successful. I can’t deny that. At the same time I can look at someone like Rocco Ancarola [of Pink Elephant] who’s been in this business forever and is just barely hanging on. There are people who have been doing this for way too long and they’re burnt out, and it’s obvious to everybody. I tell some of the waitresses [at Tenjune], this business is like a ferris wheel: It’s a great ride, but you want to get off before you get thrown off. If I turn away a beautiful girl one night, there are gonna be two more the next night that are younger and prettier. We’re probably the only city in the world that has that. So you don’t buy into the notion that New York is over and London is the new “It” city? I haven’t had the urge to go to London. There’s something about New York that makes it what everybody else wants to be. You can go to Toronto to fake the backgrounds or whatever like they do in movies, but you can’t fake the Lower East Side, you can’t fake Soho. I can say that because I’m a New Yorker. We have something that just can’t be duplicated.

Occupations: I’m director of VIP services for Tenjune. Eighty percent of the night, I’m at the door expecting celebrities, clients, models. I do the seating arrangement of the floor. I keep track of the minimums (who’s spending $1,000, who’s spending $4,000). A lot of this business is based on the come-back. If you have someone spending $1,000 every once in a while, that’s one thing. But if you can keep that person coming week in and week out, that’s how you make your money. We just happen to do it better … well, Marquee does it as well — they’ve been at it longer — but that’s what sets us apart from other clubs. We have so many repeat [guests]. The main reason I do this job is the freedom it allows me. The only regret that I have is that I’m the only person in the industry that gets paid to say “no.” I’m respectful about it, and I don’t talk down to people, but people think I’m nasty or rigid — but I’m not. I’m playing a role.

What’s your worst experience with jilted clubbers? This is the first summer in four years I haven’t been at Cain and Pink Elephant in the Hamptons. Last summer I had an issue with this one thug-type guy who showed up with a couple other people. I let him in, but one of his friends was this big, sweaty, 350 pounds — it just wasn’t a good look. Anyone who was inside wouldn’t want this guy rubbing up against them. I didn’t let him in. He said, “Look, I know you’re here, and you’re gonna catch a beating for it.” Two weeks later, in the Hamptons, I’m inside looking at the room [before the club opened]. And one of the security guys runs in and says, “Listen, don’t go outside.” The guy was out there with 15 guys waiting for me. These guys aren’t kids, they’re pushing forty. It’s like, grow up already.

Everybody always talks about how it’s all about money, and if you can buy your way into clubs, you can always get in. And that’s not true. I can’t tell you what Wass Stevens does at Marquee, or what Armin [currently of Socialista] used to do at Bungalow 8. I can only tell you that … well someone commented on my New York magazine interview that I’m the “King of the Bottles.” I can tell you flat out that’s not the case. I’d much rather sell a table for $800 that’s gonna be a good crew and be respectful and fun inside than someone who offers $5,000 and behaves like an animal and pisses off tables around them or starts fights. Frankly yes, if I see a beautiful girl outside, I’m going to let her in, and I’ll buy her drinks all night because she’s going to add something to the party whether she’s buying something or not.

So the goal is the party as a whole? Yah. Tenjune is almost two years old, but it’s still a viable product simply because it’s a good party. Yah, there might be smaller places that are more selective, and bigger clubs where you’re not going to have a problem with anyone you walk in with, but I think most people are going to pick Tenjune over most other places because it’s always a good party. You might go to 1Oak and see 50 people, and then what? You have to get in a cab and go somewhere else.

I’m not a promoter, I’ve never been a promoter. It’s a very different role. The job of promoters, whether they’re owners, managers, whatever, is to get people to the door. I can’t go to work unless they bring me a good crowd of people [to choose from]. The owners have to trust me, and they do, to let in people that are going to add to the party and not detract from it. In almost two years at Tenjune, we haven’t had a single fight. If you look at the money that we’ve made and the money that 1Oak has made … in fewer risks that [we’ve both] taken because [we’re both] so selective, well, they wanted to be so selective, they’ve had more problems than we’ve had in two years. Some promoters and I argue that they’ve brought all these people and I’m not letting them in, and my answer to that is look: The checks never bounce. I have a proven record. My job is to gauge who’s coming in and who’s not. I do seating too. Working with Jayma [Cardosa of Cain, GoldBar, and Surf Lodge], I went from just running a door to seeing how critical it was to know how to sit a room. I decide where the promoters sit, where the big clients sit, who goes to VIP, who doesn’t. It’s a lot more than Ben does at 1Oak who just lets people in and then there’s a manager inside and then a floor manager. I make much more of a hybrid decision. But it’s critical.

Side Hustle: I’m exclusive with Tenjune. A lot of friends ask me, “Why don’t you work at different clubs on different nights?” and yah, maybe I could make even more money doing that. But clubs are all about consistency. Let’s say I work Tuesday/Wednesday with someone, and Friday/Saturday with someone else. When I get back on Tuesday, I don’t know who they let in on Friday and Saturday. Then I have to either clean up their mistakes or make up for people they didn’t recognize.

Favorite Hangs: I love to travel. I’m looking to go to South Africa, I’m going back to Brazil in October. I just bought an apartment, so I’m going to go look for some art. Asking me if I like to go out in the city is like asking the chef if he likes to go to restaurants when he’s not working. Going out can feel like work. It’s flattering [when people recognize me from Tenjune or other clubs], but still. Then there’s the other side of it. I was in Williamsburg at a deli getting apple juice in the winter, and the guy behind the counter’s like, “You’re Alex, that doorguy for that club in the Meatpacking.” We [at Tenjune] had just done the victory party for the Giants for the Super Bowl, and I guess I didn’t let this guy in. People take [getting turned away at a club] like I’m slapping their little sister around or something.

Do you think that’s indicative of who’s going to clubs in Manhattan now? They’re a more aggressive group of people? I think it’s indicative of people who don’t get in, who shouldn’t get in. And that reinforces the need for people like me who will stand their ground and be selective. I have had people come up to me and say “Oh, you have to let this guy in, he’s a super VIP,” and I didn’t. They got mad, but an hour later, in line, the guy is grabbing girls’ asses. I’m not going to take chances. I’d rather know who someone is.

Industry Icons: I have a lot of respect throughout. I’ve learned a lot from people like Steve Lewis, Jeffrey Jah, Dirk Van Stockum, Mark Baker. There’s a bunch of other people. I mean this respectfully, but truthfully, as much as I’ve learned from [other nightlife people’s] success, I’ve learned even more from their mistakes. It’s like if you’re walking up an icy block, and you see some people make it, and some fall, I know where not to walk. Sometimes you need to see someone you look up to fall, so you can say, wow, if he can fall, I can fall too. There’s someone I won’t name but who’s stuck around [in the business] way too long. You can only be in this business if you’re going to exit gracefully. Otherwise you’re like the girl who’s gone out too long, who was cute at 22 but now she has the injections and the lifts and is mad I don’t want to let her in anymore. It’s one thing when you’re 23 and you’re tipsy and giggly — it’s another when you’re 43 and sloppy drunk. It’s not a good look.

Frank McCue who runs the place under the Gansevoort [G-Spa & Lounge] for Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva [currently of Butter and 1Oak], he’s great at what he does. He told me one time, “I respect you and I respect Armin, but you guys do a thankless job. If you let someone in nine times, they may never thank you. But if you don’t let that person in one time, it’s like ‘you’re such an asshole”’. It’s just thankless, but you have to deal with it. Known Associates: This is the first time I’ve worked for Mark Birnbaum and Eugene [Remm]. I’ve known Mark for six, seven years. I just met Eugene when we opened. Working with them happened over three or four days. It was very quick. I had told Pink Elephant like a week before that I was leaving, then I opened Tenjune two weeks later. I didn’t like the direction 27th Street was going. Even though I know everybody [in the nightlife business], that’s not who I hang out with. You’re not going to catch me at Butter on a Monday night. Partly because of the drama I get when I go out. It’s embarrassing if I go out on a date or with friends and have to deal with that. I love Jayma Cardosa. I’ve know her about eight years. We happened to work together at Cain, but it was a genuine friendship. We like each other.

Projections: A lot of people with financial backing have asked me over the years when I’m going to open up my own club. And my answer to that is: I like the freedom that my job allows. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a very comfortable living without having to spend all day in an office staring at a computer screen. I take three or four weeks off during the winter and go to Brazil or Southeast Asia to hang out. You can’t do that when you have a 9 to 5 job. It’s not for everybody.

The dilemma for me now is, do I open my own place, or not. There might be a chance for financial growth, but at what cost? [At my own place] maybe I couldn’t take a month off a year. If someone falls at a club now, they don’t sue me, they sue Mark and Eugene. They have to put the fire out. That’s a lot of weight. That’s a decision I have to make in the next year or two. I’m not going to be doing this 10 years from now. Where do you hope to be next year? In nine months I’m going to do something new, and it’s going to be a hit. I hope that it’s going to be with Mark and Eugene, but my deal’s up with them in September, so we’re going to sit down then and make some decisions about the future. I do have two other projects I’m looking at. One in the Meatpacking, and one here [in Soho].

What are you doing tonight? Tonight I’m going to the screening of Pineapple Express, and then we’re hosting the after party at Tenjune.

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

Lights, Camera, Armin!

imageOur seemingly unquenchable cultural thirst for celebrity gossip has gotten to the point where star watchers are not only obsessed with what’s going on behind the velvet ropes, but who’s out front manning them. To wit, Armin Amiri—best known as the gatekeeper at New York City’s enduring Bungalow 8—has parlayed his doorman “celebrity” status into a burgeoning movie career. In his breakout performance in this winter’s Factory Girl, he took on the daunting role of Ondine, Andy Warhol’s misunderstood cohort. But rumor had it that the fledgling actor almost got booted from the cast. “I read for director George Hickenlooper and he took a chance on me,” Amiri recalls. “Then the part got bigger and bigger, so the studio decided, ‘Hey, who’s this kid that we hired? Let’s get someone else.’ I almost got bounced; I thought that was going to be my karma.”

However, with support from the director and leading lady Sienna Miller—whom Amiri says “really took a liking to me”—the kid stayed in the picture. And he’s already wrapped his second film, Reservation Road with Joaquin Phoenix and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).

Amiri’s Iranian-born mother, an actress herself, recognized her son’s non-conformist demeanor and spiritual side early on and knew that a life under the oppressive Iranian regime would have made it difficult for him to thrive. So at 12 years old, he was sent to Vienna before landing in New York in 1992 with a passion for acting and a distaste for that sense of entitlement possessed by those “spoiled kids” and celebrities.

Amiri, 35, studied acting under Susan Batson (well-known for schooling Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise) at the fabled Actors Studio, founded by Lee Strasberg. And as luck would have it, his Bungalow 8 experience not only brought him face-to-face with industry power brokers, it also gave him an insight into Hollywood politics.

Five years ago, Bungalow 8 owner Amy Sacco says she saw in the former bartender (at Kaos, Raoul’s, and Lotus) someone who could “create that character out in front” of her club and ensure that the rope was un-clipped for most celebrities and let in a “mixed crowd” comprised of “those that have something to add to the place and most importantly radiate good energy.”

By the time this story goes to press, Amiri will have passed on the Bungalow 8 throne to the daunting “Disco,” his former nightly co-star, and have moved on to focus on his acting and producing a movie of his own. “While the steady gig kept the money coming in, it also kept me up late and tired for auditions, and made me a little soft in my acting pursuits,” says Amiri. But it wasn’t all for naught. “I certainly played a role out there. Just like Ondine in Factory Girl, I created very clear boundaries, was cordial, and didn’t waste people’s time. But once you step on my tail? Snap!”

While you won’t find him working the door anymore, that doesn’t mean you won’t spot Amiri at Bungalow 8 in the future. “He is leaving soon, but he is always welcome back,” says Sacco, dryly adding, “We’re hoping that when he does, he returns as a celebrity investor.” Considering Bungalow 8 regular Bruce Willis made a similar crossover—from New York bartender to action-hero bard—it’s hardly out of the question.

Photography by Paul Costello