Industry Insiders: Downtown Fixture Sebastian Nicolas

Sebastian Nicolas’ path to downtown party prince has been meteoric and mostly unplanned. From karaoke at Cipriani Upstairs to his new digs at the Box, the normally press-shy nightlifer holds forth on his past, present, and future endeavors.

Point of Origin: I was born in Sweden to Chilean parents, then moved around Spain, lived in Easter Island, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. My sister ran a catering company in Chile that did the catering for all the big arena shows that came to Chile, as well the country’s first upscale fusion restaurant, Route 66. A lot of the people involved with the restaurant had worked in New York with Douglas Rodriguez, who owned Patria and basically invented the Nuevo Latino cuisine. That experience opened up my eyes to this crossroads of many interests like music, art, food, ambiance and made me fall in love with this industry.

Eventually I wound up at Columbia University to study Political Economy, and that’s when I started going out downtown to take a break from the hectic class schedule. I met Giuseppe Cipriani one night being out at Cipriani Downtown. The lounge Upstairs had been open for about a month, but he was looking to diversify his brand, so he hired me to help with that, and that’s how I got my start professionally in this business as far as New York. I came up with the karaoke idea on Sunday nights because I went to karaoke a lot at Sing Sing in the East Village with [Swedish top model] Caroline Winberg, a good friend of mine. And her birthday was coming up, so I decided to have a karaoke party at Upstairs and it took off from there.

Occupations: After Cipriani, I did a very fun one month event for the 2006 World Cup called Cuervo Mundial at the Soho Grand hotel, as you know, since we were partners in that. It was a World Cup viewing party in the hotel yard, we had a great time, open bar for an entire month. What drew me to that event, in addition to my love for soccer, is that it was interactive. Soccer is like that, because you’re supporting a team. There’s a third element there, aside from the alcohol and people. After that, the Box.

Why the Box? Because basically at that point the New York scene felt a little sterile. Anything could have exploded. It seemed like people wanted something different, something more. I was trying very hard at the time to do the final show at CBGB’s, which was about to close, and then I thought it would be cool to do the next CBGB’s, similar to the Box but more music driven. And since I’m very good friends with Serge Becker, we talked, and Serge had this idea for the Box. Come to think of it, actually, Moulin Rouge had the idea for the Box, right?

Any non-industry projects in the works? I don’t see a separation between the industry and other interests or endeavors. We label things, but it’s all interconnected. Your office is your restaurant and vice versa. For example, I was executive producer on a movie called Frost that was at Slamdance this year, and that’s something that I definitely see myself more involved with down the line. I also wrote a script, though I cringe when I hear myself say that. Don’t put that in!

Favorite Hangs: I like to go to new places with something different and new to offer, and I also like places where I feel I’m part of a family, which is why I like La Esquina and the Box. I like to eat at Buenos Aires in the East Village. I also like places that feel intimate but with positive energy. Exclusivity doesn’t have to be negative. I think Beatrice Inn has accomplished that. I like the way they operate it.

Industry Icons: Keith McNally, because I admire his focus and patience in creating a place with a story. He takes his time to develop places. Economically he’s successful but more importantly his places have soul. He found the balance between the money side and the other more important elements. Serge Becker, of course. What attracted me to the Box was that I wanted to work with Serge. I felt comfortable around him, he’s an artist. He appreciates life in a way I admire. He’s a different type of person than you typically find in this industry. I admire Giuseppe Cipriani’s hard work and the specific niche he was able to find and tap into. I admire Ian Schrager’s vision. These are all people and qualities I admire, regardless of whether or not we have the exact same taste or not.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with, other than every model in the city, of course? Never! In general there are people I tend to identify with. [Musician] Diego Garcia is a good friend of mine. You know, people who have a similar background, like you, [Kemado Records boss] Andres Santo Domingo. My Swedish friends. Now I happen to be surrounded by music people. That’s why my upcoming project is music related. Because I’m interested in music, in learning more, and so it’s an extension of where I am in life right now. It’s organic.

Projections: My latest project is tentatively called House Party. It’s at a private loft space on Bond Street. It’s hard to define exactly, because there’s a mix of many things I like happening there. It’s part art gallery, part performance space, part party space. A lot of my friends helped me put it together, from donating furniture to art to labor. So far I’ve been doing very low-key parties for friends. Very soon I’m going to start having some really incredible musicians and bands performing there, and some of the footage will be available online. We have a great producer, lots of incredible talent lined up. Some of the artists I know, some are friends of friends, and some are coming from my partnership with [a major music magazine].

What are you doing tonight? I don’t know, what are we doing? What is there to do?