Chatting Up Stephanie Podasca About Nightlife: The Art Exhibition

This Saturday will find me at the Nightlife: The Art Exhibition opening at The Keeley Gallery, on Bowery. As in all things worth doing in nightlife, it starts at the reasonable hour of 10pm and goes until 2am, early enough to allow the denizens of the deep to scurry off to the action elsewhere. The exhibit is presented by Flavorpill and Roxy Cottontail, curated by Derrick B. Harden and Laura O’Reilly. Artists include Ryan Keeley, Kaitlyn Stubbs and one of my favorite peeps Stephanie Podasca. The press release describes the showing as follows

The art exhibition installation takes you on a night out in the city visually, with each piece representing a point in time between 10pm and 7am through the art work of Ryan Keeley, Stephanie Podasca and Kaitlyn Stubbs. Presented by Flavorpill and the “Queen of Clubs” Roxy Cottontail, who shares her art of mixing with a soundtrack to the visual show, gearing up to her nightlife art piece lifestyle enhancement video Hey Girl Hey directed by Kareem Black, screening at the Red Bull Space September 9th. The Keeley Gallery, an alternative pop up art gallery on the Bowery, notorious for its late night hours sets the perfect stage for the art exhibition Night Life. The opening night will feature Stephanie Podasca filling in her talk bubble silhouette pieces live, grabbing snippets of text from ease dropping on the crowd throughout the course of the opening night. This interactive body of work represents the 10pm-2am banter that usually takes place during the first couple of drinks consumed in a night. Ryan Keeley’s mixed media paintings represent the allure of the after party taking us into the 2-4am realm of night life where tops come off and divas dance for the camera. Kaitlyn Stubbs’ figurative, photo realistic oil paintings portray the 4-7am disoriented hook ups, black-outs and blurred vision, with double exposure inspired paintings. Topped off with an exclusive gallery mix by Roxy Cottontail, hosted by the shows curators Dear Derrick & Laura O’Reilly.

I couldn’t have said it better, so I chose not to. Stephanie is one of those pleasant faces that you see at clubs, bars, lounges and events doing something to make a buck while she hones her craft. One of the most important contributions of vibrant nightlife is its ability to feed the artist, the actor, the writer, the dancer as they pursue their career in the arts. Without the work many of these future stars couldn’t survive in this tough town. I caught up with a nervous and excited Stephanie Podasca as she readied for her first show.

Like many artists, you found income working at night as you explored your calling. Where have you worked and what other jobs have you taken to pay your rent as you developed? Working nights in the club scene comes with the territory of living in Manhattan at such a young age. I moved here when I was 17 and at 21, I started working as a host at nightclubs to make some extra cash. I worked as a nightlife host aka promoter at Avenue, the upstairs Thursday night parties with Paul Sevigny, Todd Smolar, and Kieren Taylor, hosting a table to bring in the cute crowd from downtown. I also worked at Collective Hardware. Besides my role in the night scene, I’ve held countless retail and restaurant jobs, I’ve even walked a dog or ten.

What did you take away from your experience at Collective Hardware? Collective is all around the craziest memory of my young NY life. It was a rollercoaster and it was crazy, intense, destructive, dark, and fucking beautiful if you were on the inside and saw everything through and through. My favorite experience was my first encounter with artist Ronnie Cutrone. I was just 19 and was at a standstill the second we shook hands, letting him spill out life experiences and virtues beyond anything I’ve ever heard. He has left me with the most amazing advice about life, art, and self conquest that I truly hold close and I probably will never forget.

Do you go to art openings parties and why? What is that scene about these days? I love going to openings and parties. There’s always something exciting about the first wave of viewers at any exhibition opening whether it’s uptown or downtown. The overall curiosity and excitement can at times make the art more appealing and accessible to those surrounding it. Art openings can be one thing here that can make you feel connected to the city all over again, given a crowd that truly appreciates the art. For the most part, they’re great, but you can always pick out the posers or the youngsters there to jump on the free Charles Shaw.

Besides the club, what are your influences? This is the end all question for any artist, Steve! Nightlife has had a time and place in my life since moving here. It’s certainly had its influence in my art from the get go, because painting is all I would do when I wasn’t going out drinking and dancing, so whatever the reverb was in my brain, has come out through my art. I think I liked being out in the crowd so much because it was a constant and chaotic emotional landscape not only to observer from the outside, but also to be pulled in and out of. My interest expanded greatly in that because people always fascinate me, whether it’s a feeling of disdain or love. Most other influences come from my studies of art history and the chaotic lives of great artists. Part of being an artist, is finding the beauty in subtle details that may seem mundane to everyone else, and often go unnoticed.

How does the music you listen to come into play with your work? And who do you listen to? Music has always had a huge place in my life. I listen to everything and depending on what I’m painting or what I’m going through, I have the tendency to attach great meaning and emotion to certain artists and songs. For this show, I’ve been on a nonstop Roxy Music, Depeche Mode, Gang of Four, Lords of the New Church, Echo and the Bunnymen, Julee Cruise, John Maus kick. On the subway, at home, and anyone’s house I go to that’s what’s playing. Those artists have been my life’s soundtrack the past 3 weeks preparing for this opening. What are we going to see Saturday and is there anything that can be said that will help viewers understand your art? Saturday will be amazing because the exhibit will showcase a collaboration of three very different artists and their individual perspectives on what nightlife is and what their place in it is. The industry means something different to every person living here, so to bring three very different ideas into one show and have it all make sense is a feat in of itself. My paintings represent the mere questioning of social interaction, Ryan Keeley’s showcase the provocative and sexy allure, and Kaitlyn Stubb’s photo-real paintings depict the soft and dizzy sensual experiences late in the hours. The three of us capture the essence of nightlife from so many different angles, it’ll be interesting to see how others react and take in the work as a whole. Why are you nervous? It’s one thing to be in a room in a crowd of people and know you’re kind of a mystery. It’s another thing to be in a room in a crowd of people, and to know you’re completely visible. Usually the art I do is commissioned for an individual. This is my first show and I’m stoked, so that’s where the nerves lie.

One With the Force: Stuart Braunstein on Collective Hardware

The wait for the “Collective Hardware” follow-up at the space below Greenhouse has hit a snag. Curators Stuart Braunstein and Rony Rivellini promised shock and awe, and all we have now is “awww.” It isn’t actually going to happen? It still might, I am told, but extensive delays with permitting have our heroes looking elsewhere for creative fulfillment. I asked Stuart what was up.

With the permitting delays for the space under Greenhouse, what are you working on? The delay has been extremely frustrating for everyone involved. It’s just the New York way, the “hurry up and wait.” I’m confident it will all workout in the end. We definitely plan to do something special, a great platform for the arts. Next on tap is this pop up concept we’ve named, tongue firmly in cheek, “Popped.” It’s basically a reaction to the boredom we feel about the nightlife scene these days. I hope the crowd will appreciate the effort to do something special and, as always, overtly original. Much of our time has been focused on the production of the film, Don Peyote. Don Peyote chronicles the aftermath of one man’s (Dan Fogler) comedic apocalyptic dream, and subsequent synchronicity-filled search for answers as he goes down the rabbit hole of 2012 mythology. During the course of Don’s journey there are surprising cameos by Daniel Pinchbeck, Jay Baruchel, Anne Hathaway, Joe Coleman, Anthony Haden Guest, Billy Leroy, Dean Winters and others. It’s been a great ride, Many artist from the Collective Hardware days have helped to build sets and give the film its soul. On Monday the 23rd, we will be doing a short presentation/screening to raise more funds to continue this passion project that Dan Fogler, Michael Canzoniero, and I have been working on since Collective Hardware. It’s all that’s left from that time.

So I hear you’ve landed in the old Canal Room space. Tell me about the first event? The first event is Sunday May 22nd. I’m still putting together the roster of artists, musicians and DJ’s. But I promise you, it will be amazing! We got a high water mark to reach, considering we haven’t done anything public since the closing of CH almost exactly a year ago. We are extremely fortunate to have a corporate sponsor, XL energy drink is throwing down for the cause. Some more info: Kick-off party for artists, galleries, collectors, art/fashion/film/society and title sponsor guests. Weekly Sunday events featuring a crowd of the Art, Music, & Tastemakers of the Downtown NYC culture. Weekly Mondays are events featuring movie screenings & intellectual interludes with Daniel Pinchbeck, Anthony Haden Guest, and others followed by music after-party. Artist/Hustlers include: Pork, Spam, Gaia, Ezo, Kimyon Huggins, Scott Alger, Ellis Gallagher, Lisa Melezik, Peter Makebish, and Dominick Leon DeFelippo. More are signing on everyday.

How did you get into the space? What’s been going on there? Everything old is new again. I opened the place well over a decade ago as Shine. Those old enough to remember would say it certainly held its own, and has its place in NYC lore. Rony and I have been working on a pop-up cultural concept that will combine aspects of the movie, as well as artists and musicians we have been working with. Canal Room just came to me in one of those “ah-ha’ moments. They have been operating as great corporate event space, and hosting a couple of regular gigs on the weekend. It seemed like the perfect fit. Marcus Linial and Sam Lott (owners of Canal Room) are family, They are also probably the only ones crazy enough to play with me these days. What have you learned from the Collective experience, and what won’t you do this time? What will you be doing more of? I think we learned that anything is possible, but you have to balance the dream with the practical world. During one of the darkest economic periods NYC has seen we were able to conjure some real magic with no funding—just sheer will and vision. We will, no doubt, be bringing all of that with us to all future projects. We will be much more diligent in securing financial backing to make it practical.That’s just the world in which we live.

At one point, you, Rony, and Collective were the Obi Wan Kenobi’s of the scene—our only hope. These days the scene is more vibrant. Did Collective lead the way out of the darkness, and will this be anti-climatic, or a new revelation and path? Last week the New Museum outdoor art instillation made me wish we still had the building. I guess CH was just a bit ahead of its time. We will never be able to do that again. It was its own thing, it gave me knowledge that was priceless. Nothing was harder to pull off than that was, anything else down the road will be a walk in the park. Whatever comes next will be it’s own thing, I only compete against myself, so I’m just trying to keep it fresh—like any other Mad Scientist. The best is yet to come. Trust the power of the force.

Stuart Braunstein’s Collective Greenhouse

The space underneath Greenhouse seems to have found a curator. Collective Hardware’s Stuart Braunstein—who sometimes goes under the aliases Stuart Bronz, Stu Sweetness, or Bronz—will bring his considerable talents, attitude, and connections to a joint that wouldn’t be cool even if they left the doors open in January. Greenhouse is a machine, and those that like it love it, and there is nothing wrong with that. I like everybody there except for a few and they know who they are. I mean, I did throw my birthday bash there a few years back and my Blackbook one year anniversary bash, and I deejayed there a bunch, but sometimes “rifts” separate men and sometimes spaces evolve or devolve into other things. I still think it’s one of the best rooms in the city, and I was indeed the fellow who convinced Jon B to get over there and partner up with my lifelong friends Merlin Bob and Timmy Regisford. They have been keeping that Shelter party around since the birth of nightlife, and are deserving of mad props. The room Stu Sweetness is gonna make work is downstairs, next to the room with all the leaves. It will have its own entrance and not much else in terms of décor.

Blank walls are opportunities for a guy with a blackberry filled with decades of artist connections. Stuart will let those types do their thing and the space will change into something new. I spoke to him last night while he was upstate and I was passing out. He is excited about the project, and therefore all of us should be. Collective Hardware crashed and burned on the beach of good intentions, nice tries, and “Let’s try to get away with these.” For a minute it was Camelot, with Stu and his partner Ronnie Rivellini bringing it back to the old school days with a thoughts like “Sprinklers? We don’t need no stinkin’ sprinklers.” I think the 3.4.or 5 story joint was for the most part safe, but it certainly skated that line of Kosher and legal. But that was it’s charm. It was like 1981 on the Bowery again, and so many people, including your humble servant, pitched in to make it swell. Parties there left you exhausted and satisfied and often enlightened. The art, the music, and the scene was unparalleled in recent times. Found furniture, prostrate doors made into tables, improvised lights, and a new image, painting, sculpture or tagged wall made this Bowery hang the “in” place for a brief while.

It ended the only way it could: in a disaster of paper, red tape, broken dreams, and promises, with all the usual suspects picking at its bones. Its death throes were painful to watch as we all knew that nothing like it would come along again any time soon. Many love to dwell on the end and define the space by the last few days rather than the multitude of amazing nights. That’s jealousy spoken in “I told you so” from people who never tried to do much but tie their own shoelaces and follow the next guy down the block.

Stuart and his partners tried to rewrite the history of downtown and they fell short. Their success was not only in the trying, but was realized over and over again until a world that has banished this sort of magic crushed them. Stuart being enthusiastic about a new project is fab. The shoelace tiers will say things like “Omg, that place sucks. Why would he do something there?” or “I’ll never go because he’ll never pull it off.” Those same sorts will be telling the doorman who they really are in just a few weeks. They will play follow the leader as soon as they find out it’s safe to show their face. Stuart doesn’t need their blessing. He just needs the canvas that has been provided and maybe a break from the comparisons to Collective. This will not be Collective on Varick. It will be its own thing, a product of Stuart’s state of mind and amazing grace.

He carries an anger in him, and maybe a bit of unreliability and unpredictability, but that’s the person you need leading the parade, because anyone can bang the drum. Stuart is my friend and I don’t call many people that, despite what my Facebook page says. Just because you met my dog and he didn’t bite off your pinky, doesn’t mean you are actually my friend. My friends come from battles and trysts and years of support and love. Stuart and I have had our differences, but I was never actually going to whack him. We’ve screamed at each other, glared at each other, threatened each other, cursed each other, and came out of it trusting each other—befriending each other. Passion is what he brings to the table, and soon it can be your table at that joint underneath Greenhouse.

City Ghosts: Gentrification, Dirty Old Town, Michael Jackson

Yesterday I attended the premiere screening of Dirty Old Town, a film shot in my hood starring people from my hood. The screening was in my hood as well—just around the way—at the Sunshine Cinema. The movie, from Jenner Furst, Daniel Blevin, and Julia Willoughby Nason, stars local heroes William Leroy of the Houston Street antiques hub Billy’s Antiques and Props, his partner in grime, Lorraine Leckie, former club god Nicholas De Cegli, and my man, Paul Sevigny. Another local hero, director Abel Ferrara, presents the flick. The story centers around Billy’s and its cast of real life and made-up characters. The plot is sort of irrelevant, like the plot in a porn flick. It’s a tale of Billy’s desperate attempt to raise loot to pay back rent, one that also features a hot junkie who steals, prostitutes, dirty cops, and robbers. All the usual and unusual suspects are on hand, including a bunch of the local dogs. The story seems a mere excuse for the sexy scenes of the streets— a life and a neighborhood—that is quickly being gentrified into folklore.

These sentiments are underlined as Billy laments, “How the fuck can you wear flip-flops on the Bowery?” as he watches the world go by. The texture of the neighborhood I live in now, Little Italy, is a Starbucks away from extinction. Some say it began when they started calling it Nolita so that yuppies wouldn’t be afraid of the gangsters. Others say the Ralph Lauren outpost at Prince and Mott signaled that the end was near. That turned out to be a false alarm, as the store blended in nicely, and the gossip, fears, and talks of migration ebbed. Then the new “bespoke” building at Elizabeth opened up a ton of conversions, and reconstructions brought the hood where it is today.

Today, “Nolita” hosts the old-world Italians, the hipster generation, and the newbie yuppies—all waiting in line for Ray’s Pizza, or side stepping European tourists who overrun the once quaint cafés and boutiques. For people like Clayton Patterson, who was the subject of the aforementioned filmmakers’ first flick, “Captured,” and a consultant on this one, gentrification of a hood, and its loss of character, is familiar. He and the other players and producers bring a street cred to this flick that is impossible to find. It is shot beautifully, capturing the essence of the street. It is more New York than any film I have seen. It’s much more street than Mean Streets, and makes Taxi Driver seem like it was shot in Ohio.

Old friend Nicholas De Cegli, who I know as Nicky D, lit up the flick as Billy’s good friend and cohort. A familiar face around town, Nicky D has been in a slew of films and has played pivotal roles in Abel Ferrara flicks like The Funeral and Bad Lieutenant. He almost steals the show, but that was left to Lorraine Leckie, who sings the folksy songs that tell the tale. However, my personal highlight was Paul Sevigny as Hans. Will Paul follow in the footsteps of Chloe, become an actor, and abandon us all, leaving us to bottle service bots and their Stepford waitrons? Will he be cavorting around in those hot red slacks that his character sported in the flick? Where does Hans begin and Paul end? I intended to ask these questions at the after party at Sweet and Vicious, or later, at the real deal after-after-party at Kenmare. But alas, the heat sent me packing to my air conditioned home to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox for the 12th time.

During the hop, skip, and jump from the theater to my pad I passed director Jim Jarmush, ex Collective Hardware honcho Stuart Bronstein, and a host of downtown denizens and legends, who where chatting about the film. As I passed Billy’s I realized that the sleeping carnival of clutter where I hang, and occasionally grab an unusual bargain, was the real star. Billy’s is one of those places that define all that is good about a place that I spend most of my life. You can’t help where you are born, but most of us can choose where we live. I choose to live in Little Italy, or Nolita, or whatever they may call it next. Whatever the name is, it will smell as sweet, but not last evening—it was garbage night.

Former Ben Sherman honcho, Dana Dynamite, doesn’t ask much of me. We occasionally catch a coffee at Gimme!, which lies just up the block. If a hood is going to be gentrified hard, its all good if they gimme Gimme! Coffee. Dana is pushing this Carrera Escape event over at Sky Club. It’s at 505 West 37th Street tomorrow and Sunday. It starts at 11am, goes into the evening, and there are spa treatments, stretching, and then a sunset soiree, with live performances. Carrera sunglasses, with their timeless, Steve McQueen chicness, will be peddled. Dana is fabulous, and if she says I must attend, then I must.

A year ago pop superstar Michael Jackson left us. He sold more records than anyone since, and the debts and financial woes that plagued him are quickly being washed away. Whenever one of his hits is offered by a DJ, we seem to be stunned at its perfection. It has become apparent, after life, that Micheal’s art will probably be the sound that defines this generation. He was the Jolson or Sinatra or Elvis or Beatles of our time, and all the rumors and innuendos and accusations that haunted him in life have become irrelevant in death. That’s not to diminish the gravity of the accusations, it’s just that, as time goes by, it’s his work that seems to be his legacy, and the circus seems to have folded up its tents for eternity. In a year, we have gone from seeing him as a genius freak to a genius lost, and we have come to realize that we are unlikely to bask in such genius again.

The Legacy of Collective Hardware

The demise, departure, destruction—er, padlocking—of Collective Hardware has resulted in name-calling, accusations, innuendo, bold face lies and controversy. In other words: Same as it ever was. If only this place had collected this much hype in its last few months, they wouldn’t be hocking the hardware now. The closing of Collective Hardware has been volatile, thanks to the aforementioned poor journalism from the mouths of babes who just don’t understand nightlife, try as they might. My emails, Facebook, and cell phone are a battleground of “he saids, she saids” with some “never-evers” thrown in for good—or bad—measure. I doubt the full story of the venue’s downfall will ever come out and, if it does, it will never be believed.

It is hard to summarize a concept as big as Collective. Looking back I guess it’s easy to throw stones and point fingers, but maybe it’s enough to say “they tried.” In a world where acceptance has replaced exceptional, Collective said “go fuck yourself.” They were never polite in their ambitions; they preferred to go through walls rather than around them. They’d often smash a hole when the door would have done nicely. Sometimes things became unreasonable, not logical, extremely dysfunctional and chaotic and, at times, unacceptable. I think therein lies the glory: at its worst it was at its best. All the negatives may have actually been requirements. It was artistic anarchy

The mountain of “ifs” associated with the joint— “if” it was legal or “if” it was safe or “if” it was viable —was not as important as the effort Stuart Bronstein, Rony Rivellini, and crew took to be true to its school. These owners have had accusations and snide remarks thrown at them in poorly researched columns and on the street and are here to speak their piece. If all this negativity were true it would amount to nothing in relation to the ambition that was at the core of Collective Hardware. If rules were bent in order to stay open, get the art up, and stay visible, I say so what?

As the dust settles and we live on without Collective Hardware, one thing is very clear: the owners were never motivated by greed and the place had moments unparalleled in recent times. That in itself is the stuff monuments are made of. Greed is a binding force in nightlife. It lives deep in the heart of all its creatures and, with rare exceptions, creativity is used as a means towards that end. Collective may have gone bust, but not before it showed us that not only is there a path less traveled, there’s a path that’s way more interesting. Creativity for it’s own sake needs no apologies. That which attempts to manipulate, or redefine the status quo, needs no financial reward to be considered a success.

There is a purity in Collective’s demise, a success within its failure. If it hadn’t ended, it would’ve meant that they played it too safe. Sure Rony, Stu, and crew are characters. Who else would throw it all up in the air to chase a dream? We should all thank them for this. So few dreams are chased anymore. I asked Stuart Bronstein and Rony Rivellini to sum it up.

What is the plan? Before I started CH, I wrote a script with my friend Michael Bossion called The Rub. It was a feature based from a short film that I made years ago. I always wanted to make films. Everything I have done lead up to it: set design, the shows that I did at Shine and Joe’s Pub, as well as DJing. I wanted to capture the images and music on something concrete like film because my whole life’s work seemed to be the construction of sandcastles that slipped into the sea just when they where getting started (like CH). It’s like a curse or maybe it’s what I do. I’m starting to feel like it’s what I do. Back to the present. I still have CH productions, which was my pet project, in between plunging toilets and a million other things I had to do in that building to keep it going. Our first project just got released. It’s called Mlarky, or you can find it on MTV.com. It was a co-production with Studio 13, the show was created by Dan Fogler. We are also working on a feature with them called “Don Peyote,” where CH is a character in the film. We already shot that footage. I’m very proud of this project. Dan Fogler is a great talent and I’ve learned a lot from him. Last but not least, I have 1000’s of hours of footage from CH that I’m going to cut into a film. You will be in that one, Steve.

Is it done, done or is there hope? I’m not saying that if a white knight saved CH, I wouldn’t be excited. I always wanted to see it finished, with a restaurant anchoring the business, but I’m not upset that it’s gone. I’m happy that I gave it my all and CH did a lot of good, not only for the art world, but the New York community as well.

When did you accept that Collective wasn’t going to be Warhol’s Factory 21st century? I never wanted CH to be compared to the Warhol Factory. I’m friends with Rony Cutrone and Walter Steading who were a part of that scene, so I knew a lot about it. I looked at CH as an open forum for the cultured, or those that wanted to be. We had no velvet rope, we didn’t need one because the vibe dictated the crowd. Without the rope it seemed to be the who’s who of all the scenes NYC has to offer. Any night at CH you could run in to a writer, director, Nobel Peace prize winners, models, actors, jet-set beatniks, hipsters, uptown socialites, Wall Street moguls, Chelsea boys, and the best of the last New York old school. It was all magical to me. I think the Warhol thing comes up every time a group of artists occupy a space in NYC. I remember years ago the press was calling Dash Snow’s crew “The Next Warhol.” I don’t think we had anything to do with that world except maybe unbridled creative spirit. I guess it’s the press’s only reference point.

Could it have worked? Absolutely. I got the liquor license and one of the top NYC restaurateurs signed on (two weeks before we got evicted). I would love to give the name, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do based on confidentiality agreement. I still think it could be saved, but I’m not crossing my fingers. I’ve moved on.

Would money help you reopen it, or are you thinking of a new location? I’m not considering anything. I did my job, we made it happen with nothing, no capital, and we kept it going, living like cornered rats for two and a half years. It was extremely taxing on my soul. If someone with power, money, and vision wanted to get down, I would raise my eyebrow once again.

In the beginning, myself and tons of other people that maybe you should name, were fixtures there, coming in a few times a week. But over time, people dwindled away. Why did this happen and were the people who replaced them as vibrant? That’s an interesting question. My job—if you can call it that—was to inspire, give opportunity, and curate the people, art, and vibe at CH. I looked at it as an art piece, a circus. I had to. It’s the only thing that kept me sane, because a lot of the time I had to keep the crazies in line. And anyone that knows me knows I’m crazier then them all. I guess some people couldn’t hack it and some people asked for too much and some thought it was a big party. To top it all off, I’m not that easy to deal with. I put the idea before everything and some individuals got lost in the cross hairs. As far as the last team, I will be working with some of them on our productions. There were a few that understood what it took and I am happy to be working with them.

The fire seemed to refocus everyone for a minute but then things slid until the padlock. Is this true or was it vigorously artsy and optimistic ‘till the end? Funny thing about the fire. Rony made me laugh the other day cause I said to him, “Man, we only had 3 weeks of the entire 5th floor building in full operation.” In the basement we had the Monstershop, the main floor was the exhibition space and gallery, the 2nd floor was the hair salon and clothing store and the promising unopened restaurant, the 3rd floor we had the TV station and think tank, the 4th floor held the music studios and the 5th floor was the post production and Eric Foss. For 3 weeks it was amazing to walk up and down the stairs with the whole thing busting with creative energy. So Rony said, “That’s what probably ignited the fire.” I think I agree with him. As far as the last months, there was a feeling that the end was near, but we took the time to work on the productions- less party more work. Although Peter Makebish’s show “In Dialogue” was one of the top events we had, it was good to go out with a big bang I guess.

Is it the end, my friend, the one and only end, my friend? I think so. I’m planning on moving upstate, to learn how to grow my own food. The city just is too much for me full time, I’ll be back and forth.

Tell me a brief history of the fire and its aftermath. I’ve seen so many conflicting tales The fire put the nail in the coffin. We already had many problems before the fire, after that it was just a vicious attack on us from all sides. It was hard to do anything, we just did many fundraisers for good causes and made no money. I was, I hate to admit this, literally living on pennies until the bitter end. I think NYC is just not ready for something like this. In today’s business models there seems to be a need for some major immediate financial return. I was looking to grind out something special. We put our balls on the table, Rony and I. It was selfless. We took pride in giving back to the NYC community. I guess that’s just not the trend these days. Lady Gaga is. What is the legacy of collective? The legacy is that it was a real Collective, everyone donated their time to it with passion. I would like to personally thank every single person that was involved with the project. If it wasn’t for you–and this means you as well, Mr. Lewis–it could never have happened. It was a combination of artists, philosophers, techies, gurus, healers, producers, personalities. It was the NYC I missed and the NYC I didn’t think existed anymore. Rony and I did the best that we could with the tools that we had, to keep it together as long as we could. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! I hope the experience will not be forgotten by all of you. I will never forget it.

Hey, Rony Rivellini, what would you have done differently? I would have tried a different approach to fundraising, maybe bring in a pro.

What will you do now? I will take some time to reflect, work on the documentary. Maybe take a much-needed vacation.

Is there still art behind the padlocks? And if so will it be returned to the artists? All items will be returned this week

Were there enemies and if so who were they? Time was our enemy and it won.

Camille Becerra’s Moveable Feast

They’re calling it The Hunger, but the friends, family and press that showed up at Grotta Azzurra restaurant last night knew nothing about skipping a meal. The Hunger is a moveable feast that’s parked itself at Grotta for the next few days. Top chef alumni and dearest friend Camille Becerra has teamed up with Sky Group’s Alan Philips and Josh Shames and her unusual suspects including Erickson and Eli to dazzle us with this “pop-up” restaurant concept. Camille has taken over the kitchen and basement dining room located eight feet from the door of Goldbar. The Hunger team plans to move this event to various restaurants in coming weeks.

A press-heavy crowd representing Urban Daddy, Downtown Diaries, Paper magazine, Grub Street, The New York Post and Gothamist were on hand for good conversation and free food. The Voice’s Michael Musto chatted up my lovely lady friend, and there were way too many smiles and laughs for it to be a pleasant conversation. Top Chef guru Tom Colicchio was on-hand as was warring waitron Tarale Wulff and Double Seven/Lotus/ Los Dados/Union Bar mogul David Rabin. Call me fickle (or maybe I was a little pickled), but I had a real positive interaction with old friend-turned-enemy-then-back-to-friend (I hope), Todd English. I used to really love Todd and it was great to put the silly hate behind us. The food was great, the crowd interesting and chatty, and my only criticism is the place itself. The basement dining room has brick, stone and ceramic tiled walls, hard floors and low ceilings. The result is a cacophony of music and talking that had you leaning in to hear what your neighbor was saying. As a designer, sound in a dining room must be a consideration. They must soften the surfaces here with either curtains or padding or people will never enjoy the experience.

Word comes that Collective Hardware, that art gallery/performance space/hotbed of downtown culture has been shuttered. I spoke briefly with co-operator Stuart Braunstein, who was in the midst of shooting his movie who confirmed this tragedy. He was not depressed over what probably was an inevitable occurrence and told me they have “things” in the works. I’ll find out more when he wakes up today. With my two favorite haunts La Esquina down for the count and now Collective …moving to BK seems like a plan for this man.

My man Travis Bass is hosting dinner tonight @ Pravda (9pm). From 11pm to 4am is ‘Skuze-Moi’ Soiree, hosted by Travis and Simonez Wolf. Travis’ dinner parties at White Slab last year were legendary fun. I highly recommend befriending my man.

Last night, after dinner I was off to subMercer to spin my unusual concoction of ‘A’ sides, ‘B’ sides, and ‘CU later’ sides to an adoring public. A couple of Belgian tourists air guitaring to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” was my highlight. I shall return tonight at the request (demand) of sub’s Gabby Meija. Says Lady Gabby:

“Basically, tonight we’ll be doing something totally fresh, electrifying and fun! We’re bringing back some theatricality and a lot of whimsy to nightlife by transforming subMercer, for one night, into a glow-in-the-dark fun house. We’ll be hosting knitwear line Krel Wear’s DiscGlo fashion show and party. Miami-based designer, Karelle Levy, is a textile artist and knits designer who experimented and spun an entire collection out of glow-in-the-dark threads. She has now hosted a series of unconventional and interactive fashion shows and parties with this line, in which the models interact, dance, and party with the audience. She has successfully thrown such events in Basel, Switzerland for Art Basel, NYC and the Hamptons, Miami and most recently in LA. It is also her birthday party, so it’s going to be especially wild. Citizen Kane and Camp Gabby (that’s me!) will be DJing and playing disco, funk, soul and house gems all night. Doors open at 10pm and the show will start at 11pm, so we advise you get there early, as seating will be limited.”

Collective Hardware Burns, Prime Turns

Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves. — Italian proverb

The street-smart, ultra-cool, and uber-hot art gallery, performance venue, and creative space Collective Hardware just got hotter. The heat came in the form of a fire which devastated the top two floors of this ultimate downtown experience. Part Warholian factory, part bazaar, often bizarre and frequently edgy and enlightening, Collective has been a cauldron of forward fun for over a year. The fire started with those always crusty old faulty electrical wires. The damage from the fire and firemen’s hoses and axes seems to be survivable — the Collective crew are above all survivors.

The fifth floor, the domain Erik Foss (of my favorite watering hole Lit and the Fuse Gallery), was hit hardest. The amount of his work lost is still being assessed. Paul Sevigny was painting in a studio on the floor for awhile, but I was told he had nothing there at the time. Ninety percent of the equipment from the recording studio just below was saved and “absolutely no art from the gallery spaces and offices was lost … people are getting their hair cut now,” answered co-owner Stuart Bronz when I queried about the salon. The fire has quickened the move to “Collective Hardware west side annex.” Savior Steve Maass, not to be confused with former Mudd Club owner Steve Maas, has made his ginormous west side loft/studio available to the crew. Steve apparently had a tiff with man about town Izzy Gold, and they parted ways, creating an opportunity. Collective will still maintain its Bowery presence and now needs a helping hand from its friends as they rebuild. The best thing about the move for Collective and all their fans? The new space boasts showers.

image Rendering of Quo (click to enlrage).

Say it ain’t Quo! Prime, that midsize club people used to walk past on their way to Crobar/Mansion, is going to reopen using the old name Quo. Of all the joints that operated in the space, Quo is the most memorable. It’s like when they changed the Limelight name to Estate, then Avalon. Everybody still called it Limelight. Everybody always called it Quo. An insider tells me:

They renovated it so many times in such a short time that we feel they have overplayed the name change hand — and everyone refers to it as the Quo space anyway. After the change to Myst, Retox, Prime on a yearly basis — who is going to trust that this is a real renovation or real change? In my book — another new name will be lost in the shuffle again and a waste of everyone’s time and money. That said, the project is not about the name, but the product. It is a performance-driven nightclub driven with live interactive and integrated performances choreographed by Raven O (from the Box), as well as what we hope to be a strong calendar of live acts.

The renovation and nightclub design was done by Stonehill & Taylor. They hope to move away from the table/bottle “ultra lounge” era with a bigger dance floor and by taking away tables. They have taken down the wall between Myst/Retox and replaced it with a clear glass wall, creating a big-club experience. Mike Heller will handle PR/celeb bookings, and Antonio Fuccio of Georgica fame will be the day-to-day managing partner. M2 is doing well down the block, as the West Chelsea hood seems to be coming back from the abyss. Pink Elephant with Rocco Anacarola still on board, seems to have been annexed by its roommate M2 and celebrated its fifth anniversary with a nice crowd. Scores brings all the boys to the park, and Marquee is more than just stable . 27th Street is still a destination. Is it fabulous? Certainly not as it was, but it still brings in crowds. Just like that little electrical spark can start a big bad fire, as long as the cabarets are there, a revival can happen.

[Photo: Brian Caulfield]

Industry Insiders: Darin Rubell, Gallery Cat

Darin Rubell is transforming the Lower East Side, one arts and culture venue at a time. The owner of Gallery Bar and Ella (opened last fall with partners Josh and Jordan Boyd) is no stranger to the ins and outs of nightlife. Let’s just say it runs in the family — his cousin is legendary Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell.

How’s business? Business is great. Obviously, it’s tougher during a recession. Over the past six months, bars I initially thought were recession-proof have turned out not to be. Everyone has to work a little harder to maintain.

How have you adjusted to become recession-proof? We started a half-price happy hour at Ella. Our cocktails were normally $12, and we started a $6 Happy Hour, which has been tremendously successful. It’s every night from 6-10pm. The response has been great. We have live jazz as well.

How has the clientele at Ella changed since you opened last year? When you first open a place, you have everyone who’s keeping up with the Joneses coming in, and then as the months go on, it starts to become more neighborhood people and more people who actually like the bar. Having regulars is always nicer.

What’s the story with the piano lounge downstairs? It’s a very intimate room, holds around 60 people. We’ve had incredible musicians. Just last week, Ben Taylor — who is James Taylor and Carly Simon’s son — had a video release party, and did a live performance. We love big name bands, but we also like to find acts that are on the cusp. For instance, Diane Birch, who’s been all over the place, was doing a weekly showcase downstairs over the past four months. We have another band from Miami called Big Bounce. It’s a two-man group, with Brandon O’Hara, a guy who plays the piano, and a beat boxer. They come up to play here once a month.

What’s going on at Gallery Bar? Gallery Bar is two and a half years old now, and it’s equally as successful the date it opened until today. It’s a really diverse space, and it lends itself to a lot of different things, whether they’re corporate events, fundraisers, or charities. Every month we change the artist, so all of the art switches.

Did Gallery Bar influence the opening of Collective Hardware? The Lower East Side has always been a place where artists would go because it was very inexpensive, and then everyone started to get priced out of the neighborhood. The art side started to fade for a minute. When we came into the neighborhood, there weren’t a lot of galleries down here. After we opened the space there was a huge influx of artists. It became an artists’ hangout. Galleries in the Lower East Side started opening, slower, slower, slower. Now, I do a map also of all galleries on the LES, and I had 99 galleries for the last one. I had to limit them down to 55 for the purpose of the map. The New Museum is also a tremendous push for art down here. I think that Collective Hardware probably saw this and recognized that this is also, once again, a booming area for art.

What’s the story with your maps? I originally tried to make money off this map and I thought it’d be a great marketing tool. And I realized that it’s very difficult to get money from all the galleries, because these people are moving from other areas because they can’t afford things as is. Then I decided that I was still going to do it because I think it’s necessary, and I was sick of having people come into Gallery Bar and asking about other galleries in the neighborhood. After a month or two, I started to see people walking around the neighborhood with them. I swear to God, every day, I see somebody with that map. It’s important to try to create some unity down here. In Chelsea, all the galleries are in a three-block radius. In the Lower East Side, they’re not. I’m from New York, and I still get confused in the Lower East Side.

True that you’re thinking about expanding Gallery Bar into other cities? I think that a lot of people have tried to combine art and nightlife and have done it unsuccessfully. What they’ll do is they’ll have a dark bar, and then ask artists to put work on the walls, and it gets lost in the environment because there’s a lot going on in a bar already. The concept with Gallery Bar was to make it a gallery first. We make it look like a gallery; make it feel like a gallery; change the artists every day; have art openings; have art closings. I think that this concept has still never been done, and I’d love to bring it to other cities. We’re talking about New Orleans, L.A., Miami.

How did you meet your partners in Ella, Josh and Jordan? I was managing a restaurant called Chango, and I’d hired Josh as a bartender. When Chango started to slow down, we’d always start bouncing ideas off each other. We started writing business plans, and I, at that time, had really wanted to open up a restaurant. Josh really wanted to open up a bar. I actually opened up Mercadito, and he had opened Plan B, and about two years later, we started to think of new projects. I found this place on Orchard Street, and we thought, “Okay, now’s the time.” Josh and Jordan are brothers, and I’m like the third brother.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to aspiring restaurateurs or bar owners? I think that a lot of the people who want to get into the business of restaurants and bars have this fantasy about what it’s going to be like. You can’t just walk into it and think that because you want a place and have the money to open up a place that it’s going to succeed. I think like anything, it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of knowledge of the business in order to have success.

Besides hard work and knowledge of the business, what has made you and your partners successful? I think we genuinely love what we do, and any time you love what you do, you’re going to do well. I really believe that.

Who else does it right in nightlife? I really admire Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode. Their design is always so incredibly spot-on, and their properties always seem larger than life.

What are your favorite spots? I’m simple in the fact that I love Lil’ Frankie’s. I like Supper. If you can accomplish something, and make it very simple and inexpensive and for-the-people, then you’ll always be successful. I don’t really like going to the fanciest restaurants and feeling uncomfortable. I feel I’m my happiest in a place that keeps it simple.

TGIF: Harlots, Hoodoo, and Hotel Griffou

Did some Nostradamus-type advertising guru from T.G.I. Friday’s invent textese, therefore predicting the SMS revolution me and my Blackberry are now celebrating? I went to the T.G.I. Friday’s website to check and was bombarded with heavy metal music and images of violently searing meat, bottle-tossing bartenders and sexy Midwestern waitresses. Too much before my morning lemonade. I’m in love with my Blackberry. It doesn’t mean I want to marry it, but I do plan on taking it on vacation. Some say I’ll have a better time if I leave her at home and go with some random gal, but I told them to gft.

My brain is indeed withering from the heat of my mid-summer night’s dreams. Last night, I attended the “Harlot Nights” party thrown by Collective Hardware’s very own Puck, Stuart Bronz. It was a stooopid hot event, with only two floor fans for a massive crowd of hipsters, dipsters, and scenesters. In midsummer you can tell how good a party is going to be by counting all the cute summer interns dressed up and doing important things. This party was no joke. There were gaggles of beautiful, sweaty women everywhere. As I sat in the big couch and chatted up all that I could, I was constantly reminded by an annoying intern of the “Win a Date With Steve Lewis” contest Blackbook was going to host for me way back when. I told the nosey intern that I was seeing someone on-line. I explained that I wake up most mornings and go to sleep most nights chatting up a sexy Facebook friend far, far away, and sometimes we text or SMS or tweet during the day. I told the squeaky intern that indeed I had “never met her in the flesh.” After this horrible intern stopped laughing in my very sweaty face, she asked me if that wasn’t “a bit two-dimensional.” I said it was sort of like dating a model. People were changing into bathing suits, hand-painted right there in front of me, and I guessed that and the sweltering heat and the obnoxious intern were the “harlot” part of this monster gala. Patrick McMullan took a thousand photos of me with the irritating intern and introduced me to his son, that hot boy about town Liam, for the thousandth time. I left, because I know when to leave.

Tonight, Noel Ashman is hosting a party for Candace Bushnell, who of course had that bestseller book-to-series-to-movie Sex and the City. This uber-hot event will be at Mr. West, which seems even farther west than when it opened. I saw on the Facebook page Noel posted that 23 people had agreed to attend. This was less than the 25 people who are members of the “Noel Ashman Screwed Me Out of Money (and I’m Suing)” group. If you add in the 1 member of the “Noel Ashman Slept With My Girlfriend and I’m Angry” group and the 3 members of the “Noel Ashman Is Not the King of New York” group, you can see that he is clearly outnumbered. However, if he rolls in with Chris Noth, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessie Bradford, Damon Dash, and other members of his loving and loyal investment group (ready to change nightlife as we know it any minute now), then it’s a push. Unless Ivy brings Scratt — but that’s a different story altogether. I contacted Noel for comment but got none. Could he have been shacked up with that guy’s girlfriend? I assure you that although most of you have no idea what just happened, there are others who are really enjoying this. It’s all on Google — or is it ggl? I love Noel Ashman. He is a frnd and not just of the FB variety. I may just go West to see him tonight.

I went to Hotel Griffou the other night. I was told the place was working out the kinks, and I should not judge it harshly. I guess when they fix the crowd, decor, lighting, and noise I will give it another look. When I mentioned this to the friend who brought me there, she made all these excuses and told me that “the food would be great when they work out the kinks … it’s new!” I used to pop into the place from time to time when it was the great secret hang Marylou’s. Jack Nicholson would enjoy a cigar there and was such a regular that when the smoking ban kicked in, Jack said he would pay the six figures to put in an air filtration system to keep things right. Alas, the city retreated from its approval of these systems because the ban is about employees as well as patrons, and cleaning up and such wouldn’t be fair to these people. I was told not to say bad things about the place, so I decided that every time someone says “Hotel Griffou,” I will just say, “god bless you.” See you l8r.