W.i.P in Turmoil as Artistic Visionary Stuart Braunstein Exits the Picture

The Camelot that was W.i.P. is over. Stuart Braunstein, half of the creative crew in a joint centered around creativity, has split the club, leaving behind a trail of bad things to say, bitter regrets, and little else… even the art. According to Stuart, that art which has so wonderfully adorned the art-based club, is being removed today, probably as you read this. His partner Rony Rivellini remains and has been joined by man-about-town Thomas Moller. This story is moving very fast and has lots of moving parts but this is what I got in the last few days.

The core of the beef is the deteriorating relationship between W.i.P. co-owner Barry Mullineaux and Stuart. Stuart claims that "most of my days working for Barry were spent fighting for peoples’ money.” He referred to him as a "non-man" and other terms not appropriate for this family-read column. Stuart insists that he is leaving because he must continue to take the moral high ground and "will not stop doing the right thing.” One of the real sticking points was the damage to a sculpture by Adam Grant.

According to Stuart, all the art was to be insured, but management didn’t live up to their end of that basic requirement and refused to compensate Adam for the loss.  Adam committed suicide after the incident. Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door, but the implication hovers like cigarette smoke in a pre-Bloomberg nightclub.

Another question left unanswered was whether the entire art installation concept was really a sham to get an expansion of the joint at the hip Greenhouse space approved by the community board. There are lots of accusations being thrown around and this promises to get hotter before cooler heads prevail. Since cool heads are rare at Greenhouse/W.i.P. this might get ugly.  But Thomas Moller is an experienced man-about-town and a gentleman and may prove capable of carrying on the Stuart Braunstein legacy.

I asked Stuart Braunstein what the heck was going on. 

Stuart, what the heck is going on?
The owners of the venue have split the creative team behind W.i.P up. A disconnect between mine and the management’s vision of W.i.P has been occurring for quite some time. The original plan was to change the entire room every five to six weeks in the same manner as galleries do. The owners never supported the plan financially, putting a severe strain on my relationship with the art community. My repeated requests and proposals to execute the plan were never allowed to come to fruition either due to lack of funding or shared passion for art.

In addition, the venue never took out insurance on the work. Several pieces were damaged or destroyed without compensation to the artists. A $40k sculpture by Adam Grant, a talented young artist, was broken in December. Despite repeated requests to make some sort of restitution, none ever came. Rony Rivellini will remain on board as the principle programmer of EMD. Timmy Regisford has invested in a state-of-the-art sound system, which promises to be the best in the city. Kimyon Huggins and Andrew Lockhart, who have worked with Stuart since the beginning, put together a plan for the future of W.i.P. It was turned down.

The work that is currently in W.i.P will be removed since it was entrusted to CH Creations, not W.i.P Management.  The paintings were by some of New York’s greats, Ronnie Curtone, Mike Cockgrill, Rick Prol, Walter Steding, Gaia, Dick Chicken, Spector, Kimyon Huggins, and more. There was at least $500,000 in work in the place; it had the ability to be epic. With Ben Devoe’s help (an artist employed by CH Creations), I financed and built the centerpiece at W.i.P. "The OZ Project" featured a three-dimensional head upon which images were projected, blowing people away. CH Creations would have changed the way that the club and art worlds came together and a lack of any vision from WIP’s management killed that dream. 

CH Creations has a new project in the works that will complete a circle from Collective Hardware to W.i.P. The last two projects were learning experiences, works in progress. The next piece will be a finished work of art. Finally, we will be working with professionals that share our common goals and artistic dreams, a first for the boys from CH Creations. We have had many forces working against our vision for so long… it’s going to feel great to have competent people on our side."

So who’s running the artistic side of it in your absence?
An artist by the name of Thomas Moller, a close friend of a new manager Frank Heidinger, has taken over the creative control of WIP. His first install consists of Brillo pads in the glass display case that is the bar top, replacing the beautiful jewelry by Rachel Brown, which was taken out cause the top of the bar was leaking and would not be fixed by management. Brillo pads are a good answer for an easy fix, just like how all things are handled at WIP. It makes sense to me that this is the direction they would go. I named it Work in Progress but it should now be called NP, No Progress.

How are you taking all this?
I’m in good spirits and relieved that I don’t have to deal with the small penny pinching pettiness of W.i.P management. I just finished my first feature film called Don Peyote with the folks at production company Studio 13 and a music video I directed called "Army of Slaves" for the band PUi just made it to MTV. 

I’m also currently working with Randy Fields to produce a film about Nico from The Velvet Underground. I’m working with Mark Baker; he is producing monthly installs at The Liberty Theater, the first of which was The Best Little Whorehouse in NY; a new one is happening in June. I’ve also just constructed the Highline Zoo with Jordan Betten from Lost Art that has been getting major press. Jordan and I are planning to host performances in the zoo during weekends for all the highline visitors.  I’ve decided to hold a Friday party. I’ll be DJing with Ashley Rae Perry at Danny Kane’s new spot Bishops and Barons, spinning a great mix of new and old cutting edge music for a clientele that is looking for something different. 

W.i.P Strikes Back: Disneyfied Statement Inside

Yesterday’s article about Stuart Braunstein leaving the cozy confines of W.i.P. has whipped the good people running the art-based night spot into a frenzy. In the spirit of there-are-two-sides-to-every-story, and almost everybody in the business is at times a two-faced, bold- faced lying con artist, I had numerous conversations with W.i.P. ownership, management, and employees to get their version of the absolute truth. Absolute truth is rare in clubdom. Everybody is often a little right and a little wrong. Sometimes both parties or multiple parties can be correctly labeled as incorrect or shady.

Lets get this straight: Stuart Braunstein can be difficult. Hell, he prides himself in it, but he is a talented creative type and that is becoming rare in the club business. The fact that he ended up leaving over beef with the bean counters comes as no surprise.

The club, after many backs and forths and ups and downs, decided to take the high road in their response. In other words they didn’t dwell on the fact that Stuart does spend a portion of his time on Earth high and acting like a wacko. If we scolded every club honcho who got high we’d be doing nothing else today and through the glorious weekend ahead. If we reprimanded every player who acted like a wacko we’d miss the summer. W.i.P. ownership sent me their Disneyfied version of the story. They chose to issue this as "W.i.P. ownership".

"Regarding Stuart- he was fired for numerous reasons including a physical altercation with a female employee. There were ongoing verbal  and physical disputes between him and employees of the venue as well as with talent. 

Thomas (Moller) was brought in to curate a true work in progress evolving art program that would include well know artists, non for profit art associations, emerging artists and galleries as well as private collections. He wants to expose the wide range of visual arts that are currently being created by young artists. Thomas Moller is excited to be on board and will be releasing the names of the artists exhibiting in the next show in the coming weeks. Currently wip is featuring a collection by Ryan Keeley. He is happy to announce that WIP will be working with Sarah Walko and Triangle Art Association for this upcoming show.

Along with other business improvements WIP has just made significant improvements to its lighting and sound systems. We will continue to work with our existing art partners such as Projekt Gallery to produce early evening art related events and are committed to exposing a greater number of people to New York’s emerging art scene."

Others were less Disneyfied. I got "Stu was an asshole" and "since day one super difficult" and "his energy sucked every night". I got "he was always high and had many physical encounters including throwing Jessica Rosenblum to the floor." My favorite call from a good friend described Stu as a "mutt drug addict." The crazy thing about these comments is that Stuart will be grinning ear-to-ear when he reads them. 

A comment to yesterday’s column demanded an apology from me to Barry Mullineaux, an owner to be named later, as he didn’t want to be named here along with CH who semi-autonomously sent this in.

"Adam committed suicide after the incident. Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door, but the implication hovers like cigarette smoke in a pre-Bloomberg nightclub." This has to be one of the most irresponsible and idiotic instances of "reporting" that I have ever read. The fact that an artist (who is not the subject of this article) committed suicide, while very unfortunate, is completely irrelevant to any of the subject matter. This is confirmed in your writing ("Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door…") but by including it you are creating and perpetuating a completely unacceptable accusation. Someone who considers themselves to be a writer (and constantly refers to themselves as a gentleman) should be completely ashamed at including this sentence in an "article." You owe an apology, in writing, to Barry for even the slightest insinuation of something so terrible. If you want to write an article about a talented young artist whose life was cut short, do that. If you want to create tasteless drama for the purpose of getting more readers, go get a job at The National Enquirer."

I Disneyfied Stuart’s statement yesterday with his permission. I will not apologize because that is what was said. I didn’t know Adam and was unaware of his suicide until it was brought to my attention a couple of days ago by Stuart. He felt it important to mention and so I did. I am sure that Adam’s death was caused by a string of unhappy events and things and that the destruction of his work and failure of the club to do its part by insuring it was only part of it. Stuart also agreed that there were obviously other issues and that’s why the suicide shouldn’t be left on Barry’s door, but he was also clear that Barry had lied about the insurance for the art work and that Adam was distraught over the drama.

I consider Barry Mullineaux to be one of the worst characters in nightlife, a business filled with shady characters.I don’t have to talk to him so I don’t. I don’t have to deal with him on any level so I won’t. Apologizing to him is a joke. He’s an asshole and I’m using my full name and I’m out here saying it. If he didn’t insure the art and that caused grief to a grief-stricken suicidal artist, he shouldn’t be arrested or accused of whacking poor Adam, but that’s where it stops. Stuart’s claims are unsubstantiated and put forth by him and he didn’t object to my wording in yesterday’s article even if I "Disneyfied" his actual statement …a tad. Conclusions are up to the individual and CH can come to his or hers.

A good friend defended Barry to me saying that he "isn’t the anti-Christ" and that he “holds it together.” He told me Barry pays those who "fulfill their promises and produce.” My friend added that "there are so many low lives in this industry we would need a year of articles to expose them all". So Barry is respected by some and I bet even liked by others, and Stuart is hated by some and disrespected by others. Barry and Stuart worked together at W.i.P. and W.i.P. was, for a minute, wonderful. Such is nightlife. It takes two and often a few to tango. It needs artists and bean counters and people to sometimes behave badly to make it work as well as WIP did. I hung out last night with the fabulous Thomas Moller who’s stepping in to fill the power vacuum left by Stuart’s departure. Thomas, as I told you, is a gentleman. I have seen him crazed and behaving badly. We work in clubs. We sometimes lose it – even the gentlemen amongst us.

For the record, Stuart Braunstein can be a prick, especially when he is high which happens too often.He fucks up, he gets physical, and is sometimes a hot mess when a cool head is needed. I sometimes hate him…but I love him more often. At times I think he’s a joke and at other times he’s a genius. He and I have had some serious beef and now we are friends. We’ll have beef again… and then we will be friends… again. I absorb the beef and chalk it up as club stuff. He uses the excuse that he’s artistic to cover up way too much bad behavior but hey…he’s an artistic type, an avowed trouble maker who also often makes magic. Now his bad behavior has kicked him to the curb and the cycle starts all over again. I can’t wait to see what this wacko and high prick comes up with next. I’ll cut the long line…thank you.

Even the beef I have with Barry is merely club stuff.He’s never insulted my mother or ripped me off, and being a low life doesn’t make him a bad person in clubland. Shoot, I have friends who say him and I should hang. Maybe his art is playing the role that turns me off. Maybe being "one of the worst characters in nightlife" is an art form.  That’s my Disneyfied version of it. Have a good weekend.

Industry Insiders: Giuseppe Tuosto and Barry Mullineaux, Boys Who Brunch

Giuseppe Tuosto (from Napoli) and partner Marcello Villani (a Capri native) have brought their Italian upbringing to their New York restaurant/lounge Via dei Mille. Alongside the Philly-raised but New York-braised Barry Mullineaux, the three have been sharing a loud and lively weekend brunch extraordinaire with SoHo for exactly one year now. On the eve of their anniversary, as the models and socialites of NYC prepare to gather at Via for fine Italian fare set to the backdrop of rowdy DJ beats and table dancing, the boys stop to reflect on their triumphant first year.

Do you only work together at Via dei Mille? Giuseppe Tuosto: We work together mostly at Via, but Barry and I have been working together since 2002. We had Rocco’s in the Hamptons and 21 Water. Barry Mullineaux: We have a couple of other things we are working on now, but nothing we can talk about for a couple of months.

What is the secret to Via’s success? GT: We went back to where we come from and what we’re known for, and that is a home-cooked meal. We use original recipes and nothing too fancy. Everybody’s making fusion and all these different cooking styles. We serve a good meal, which is really simple. BM: In addition to the food, we definitely keep the place interesting. We have live bands, such as the Gypsy Kings. We have afternoon brunch parties every weekend with DJs, so we are always doing something entertaining. GT: Every Tuesday we have light jazz bands play too.

How much do your Napoli roots influence the food? GT: It’s all Southern-inspired food with just a touch of Northern. Marcello is from Capri. We all love the food from our regions.

What is you clientele like at Via? BM: It’s a mix. We do model dinners so there is a beautiful crowd. We get a ton of European clientele and out-of-towners. GT: People from the fashion world, the financial word. We get people of all ages, from the young 20s to 50s and 60s. People want a great place at any age. The place makes everyone feel at home.

What are your goals for the future? GT: We’re in the process of opening up a new place. BM: We’re also in the process of opening a private dining room upstairs come springtime. There will be a dining room and an outdoor patio.

How does owning a hot SoHo spot influence the ladies? GT: There’s never a shortage. BM: I have to agree, there’s never a shortage. GT: It depends how long you want the relationship to last.

What’s your dream project? GT: We’re working on something very unique. Hopefully we’ll be able to see our vision become a reality very soon.

What do you look for in a good restaurant/lounge? GT: This is New York City, so you can go anywhere. All you have to do is pick up a phone and you can find a great meal. People want atmosphere, they want beautiful people and good food. Even if you have all that it doesn’t make you busy every day. BM: It’s not just the atmosphere and the food but what keeps people coming back is to always have something entertaining that not everyone else offers.

Go-to places in NYC? GT: I’m really biased. I don’t go to too many places besides my own. If I’m craving Japanese, that’s really the only other time I get to go elsewhere. I spend most of my time here at Via. Sometimes we go to someone’s apartment or Barry is also a partner at Greenhouse, so we go there. In the summer, we spend a lot of time out East in the Hamptons. We do private events out there. We enjoy working and having fun at the same time, whether we’re hosting an event or at a Film Festival or the Kentucky Derby. BM: I’m here every day. Of course I go out to eat, but it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite.

In photo, left to right: Marcello Villani, Barry Mullineaux and Giuseppe Tuosto

Mark Baker Out at M2

imageThe high and mighty plans of the Opium Group out of Miami to create and sustain a high-end club in the Mezmor Building space are officially dead. Mark Baker has left M2. I won’t get into a he-said she-said debate on what happened. Mark told me “that the split was mutually agreed upon and that Joey Morrissey — a friend for 20 years — and myself still maintain a great relationship.” Mark believes his run at Mansion, now M2, “has been a great success”; through impossible times the club has survived, and most felt that was impossible. But I suspect that surviving, although a noble ambition, is not what they had in mind a little more than a year ago. The big dreams of a circus-like atmosphere where the beautiful people celebrated the sweet sounds of success while popping bottles to the sweet sounds of world-class DJs proved fleeting. Yes, there were many moments where the Euro set had a blast, but downtown didn’t understand it and mostly didn’t come. The dream of a mixed bag of the best of every class in New York was never achieved.

Mark says he hasn’t “looked at another opportunity for over a year … Joey Morrisey has an incredible vision” for going forward with M2. He says that he may even do one-offs at the mega-club. Ever the gentleman, Mark will always say the right things . He took a deep breath and told me, “Everyone needs to know when it’s time to move on.” For Mark, moving on will begin with heading to Moscow to host the Russian Nightlife Awards. It’s his second go at this; he’ll also host a mega “I Love New York” event in the Russian capital. Then it’s back to New York for the Hamptons season. He can’t speak to which Hamptons venue will get him right now, but he’ll let us know. Mark also told me that the long -waited return of Double Seven will indeed happen this September. The big story in his future is the collaboration with Jon B and Barry Mullineaux who are killing it over at Greenhouse. Mark brings his uber-high-end crowd to the emerging fabulous peeps at Jon’s properties. I believe this collaboration is exactly what is needed for both parties. I’m sure there will be future openings based on this deal.

Finally, I would like to add that Mansion, M2, or whatever never lived up to the expectations I had for it either. However, it’s still standing, and in these unprecedented times, that’s an achievement. Unfortunately the business model for Mansion was in the European bottle crowd. When the economy bludgeoned that scene, Mansion was doomed to a lower-rent niche.