Check out our Outside Insider interviews with the best and brightest in New York nightlife. Featured folks include Corey Lane at Brasserie Beaumarchais, Ashley Williamson at Revel, and Kelsey Mathes at Brass Monkey.
David Graziano and Corey Lane are becoming moguls. David is a fantastic hospitality/interior designer with home runs like Pink Elephant and the Kiss & Fly/Bagatelle/RdV complex to his credit. Corey comes from an operations background but is well grounded in promotion, especially when it comes to South American house fests. I don’t know one person that doesn’t like or respect them. In an industry which sometimes creates tensions, that’s a mouthful. I caught up to them (and their new publicist Steve Kasuba) at their new restaurant, Ganesvoort 69, where the old Florent restaurant used to be. Florent was in the Meatpacking District when men were still packing meat while other men dressed as women were also packing meat. Late night, a scene of running mascara and sex workers of every persuasion had a bite after a long night. For club operators and staff, it was one of the few places always open where you could get an intelligent late-night meal. It was an after-hours club affair or someplace to fuel up before taking the party to the late afternoon at one of the great house meccas. They kept a lot of the charm and some of the fixtures as Ganesvoort 69 pays its respect to its vaunted past.
This used to be a very fabulous place called Florent, a late-night restaurant which I visited way too many times. What time is it now, Steve? Steve Kasuba: It’s 3:15.
Yeah, it was possible that I was eating here at 3pm from the night before. Steve: Ending your night.
Very possible. And there would be some S&M hookers over here, and some transsexual hookers and some other hookers. Spike Lee, lots of trendies. Florent was one of the great places in New York. In fact, when it went down, a lot of people were very upset because Florent was an institution, and you guys were taking over. As a publicist, Steve, you had to talk about what it’s like to go from this legendary space to Ganesvoort 69 without breaking eggs. Corey Lane: Interesting story about Florent himself. He was in here on the first night of friends and family. He came in with his boyfriend, and he sat and he had dinner. I went over and introduced myself, and I had a drink with him. I told him what our intentions were — to maintain this fun, neighborhood dinery type of feel. I said, “We promise that we’ll do good things with the space, but we have tough shoes to fill.” His comment back to me was, “Honey, my shoes are most of the time high heels. You wouldn’t feel comfortable in them.”
Well, he is that kind of guy. With Florent now closed, I don’t know if he still does his infamous Bastille Day party. Maybe you should do a Bastille Day party with him. Corey: We actually spoke about that. David Graziano: You should finish what Florent said. He did give the green light. He said he was happy with what the place had changed into. He kind of passed the baton on … Corey: He thought that we were a good, young group. He felt our vibrancy. He felt that the place was left in good hands. He passed the torch to us that night. It was very nice to have that moment with him.
Well, I think with any success, whether it’s a band or an institution like this, it’s being true to your school, being honest, and no fault can be found in that. Corey: Good sportsmanship.
I think that’s right. You guys are good sports. You’re the nice guys in the business, and you’re not finishing last. So this is Gansevoort 69. Tell me about he other properties you have. You have RdV, Bagatelle, Kiss & Fly. David: The new addition is Kiss & Fly Sao Paulo.
Now tell me about that. Are you going to actually go there? David: Yeah, we were just there last week. We signed a deal. It’s in motion. We’re in the process of designing it right now. We’re going to open up in March after Carnival. It’s a licensing/consulting deal. We’re going to help them get it off the ground. We’ll do co-brand and stuff with the DJs, stuff like that.
How are you going to operate? How do you control quality from 5,000 miles away? Corey: The first thing you have to do is you have to believe in the company. You have to investigate who these people are, what they’ve done before, and their track record, as well. Right now, we feel comfortable with the group that we’re dealing with. They’re responsible.
Are you dealing with Rudolf? Corey: Yeah, we are.
Rudolf Pieper is my mentor. He’s one of my best friends in the world. David: We’re actually designing with Rudolf. The group has done previous projects in the past that have been very reputable and very profitable.
I actually recommended you. Rudolf called me up and he was asking me about brands to take down there because that’s what he does. He rolled out Lotus. I suggested you guys. David: I don’t know if you’ve met any of Rudolf’s partners …
No. I know that I learned the business from him and Steve Rubell, Ian Schrager … he used to have a Cosmopolitan notebook. The next time that you see him, see if he still has it. On the cover of his notebook, he wrote, “In this industry, there are no friends that I cannot get rid of and no enemies that I cannot reconcile with.” David: We trust that the group is going to have the operational skills to help follow out our business plan. We’ll help them in the first couple months by implementing some of the procedures that we use in terms of steps and service. Corey, actually, that’s his expertise.
Is the idea that the Brazilian elite will be at one point passing through New York, and once they pass through New York, they will be familiar with you and therefore, it feeds your New York operation? David: Yes. Absolutely.
Once you do Brazil, Miami seems to be a natural pass because they do take that route. It’s easier to roll out in Brazil because you have that team in place, and Rudolf who does this for a living. So, is Miami kind of a natural next step? David: Miami has actually been on the map for us for quite some time. Miami’s a little trickier for us. I’m always a little bit hesitant with Miami because it’s so seasonal. Miami has to be exactly right. It’s got to be the exact right space, with the exact right local alliance. I’m from Miami, so I have a lot of connections down there as well, and I know the area really well. I wouldn’t make the move to Miami unless all the elements were right. Corey: We’ve come very close.
Kiss & Fly was an easy brand to take to Vegas. Then Vegas got hit hard by the economy, when Kiss & Fly was absolutely peaking. Have your other properties affected Kiss & Fly? Is Kiss & Fly still the same property to you? Bagatelle is different. Where is Kiss & Fly in your scheme of things? How do you maintain the brand? When people expand into other properties, how do you maintain interest in house and quality? Like Marquee is certainly a secondary brand to Avenue now. That’s like a dozen questions. Corey: With Kiss & Fly moving into its third year, where it’s found its groove is the weekends. They’re packed with European and South American tourists. We’ve become an international nightclub brand. The kid coming in from Germany or coming up from Argentina, or coming up in from most parts of South America and Europe — this is the brand that’s first on their list. And I think that that’s a good position to be in.
That’s always been your crowd, Corey. You’ve always been involved with South America. Corey: That is true. We’ve always had a South American crowd, and it’s certainly grown stronger with the European market. Some of our higher-end clientele has moved into RdV. The crowd has been replaced by more of the tourists, more of the transient crowd. The regular crowd that was more prevalent at Kiss & Fly, the higher-end Europeans, has moved over to RdV. They’ve made their mark in New York, and what’s replaced them at Kiss & Fly is more of the tourists.
I actually hear nothing but good things about Kiss & Fly. A number of my friends go on a regular basis. It’s a very strange niche club because it’s not shallow, it still has a great crowd, it has musical chops. It’s actually more fun than other clubs like that. Yet it stands alone. Sometimes it’s forgotten. It’s sort of like you’re not in the mix. You’ve positioned yourself to be to be a little bit off the beaten path. It’s very much like Florent. It’s always there. It’s always going to be there. It’s reliable. David: We share some of the same clientele with those places, but we don’t have a direct competition with them. We like that. I think that its helps. it keep its lifespan and keeps it lively. Steve: Black-Eyed Peas performed last night — an impromptu three songs at Kiss & Fly. Corey: They just jumped on the mike. They asked for a mike and performed three songs impromptu. Last week we had P-Diddy’s birthday party. We do have a mix of what’s happening in New York and a mixture of international crowd, as well.
I’m not a house head. I actually get a little nervous every time I hear house music. Corey: House music is a very general term. We play very, very happy European vocal-style house music.
I do go to see Junior Vasquez now almost every time he plays. David: He plays our Sunday nights.
So I’m going to end up there. Corey: He’s going be there next week actually.
I think Junior has absolutely come into his own. Corey: I’m going to come out because I haven’t heard him in a while.
The last time he played, the crowd gave him a standing ovation at the end of his set. David: Nice.
It was just the most amazing, uplifting thing. It’s great that you’re doing Junior Vasquez on a Sunday. I think that’s great. What time are you starting with that? Is it an early thing? Corey: Yeah. It’s an evening party rather than a late-night party. It starts at 8 and goes until 1 or 2.
It can go early or later if you need to? If it’s something that happens? Corey: If its something that’s happening, yeah. The crowd is definitely hitting earlier.
Let’s talk about RdV. I have not been to RDV. Why is that? You have never invited me. David: Have you physically seen it?
No, let’s walk over after this. Corey: RdV was, when we were initially trying to put together a design, supposed to the room that was the mature side of us. We had Kiss & Fly, which was our playground. And then RdV was going to be more mature — but still playful and sexy. We also wanted it to be a place where it wasn’t overly crowded and you can sit down in kind of a lounge environment. We made larger seating, larger set-ups for groups of people to gather in a very living room-type of environment. So when you’re down there, you get the feeling that this could be somebody’s wealthy playroom. The décor is set up around that. It’s elegant. It’s rich. We have lots of casual, soft light. But it also, again, has our trademark thing, which is a great sound system if you want to pump it up.
As an old-school operator, I think bottom line. If the seats are spread out and they’re really comfortable. How do you accommodate your bottom line? Do you need to get a certain amount per table? Do you have a great rent deal? As operators, how do you make money without cramming people in? David: It’s three venues in one building. RdV is really not about the bottom line … of course, you don’t want to lose money. But we don’t have to bang people over the head for table service or bottom service. In the end, it’s not about that.
Kiss & Fly is paying the bills. David: Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly are paying the rent. The success that we experienced from Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly allows us to run a more exclusive downstairs. We don’t have to apply bottle rules. We don’t have to enforce certain things. Corey: We don’t have to open the door up. David: The place is only available to a very specific demographic of people.
There’s been a big move into clubs and lounges in hotels. A hotel is blessed with the privilege or the ability not to have to really pay rent. Publicists are paid by the hotel. Insurance, security … a lot of the fixed costs of operating, the very high costs of operating are absorbed in the natural operation of the hotel. When they bring in a place like the Boom Boom Room at the Standard, it really doesn’t have to pay the bills that an Avenue or a Kiss & Fly or a stand-alone club does. There are people telling me that the days of the stand-alone club may be numbered. All the clubs at one point will move to hotels for a lot of reasons. Another reason is licensing, plus less police presence. You are a stand-alone club: You’re a restaurant, you are a club, and you are a lounge all in one operation. Are these people right? Are the clubs doomed? Is the hotel model the way it’s going to go? David: I think that we operate very similar to a hotel without the rooms in the sense that you take a hotel production, the food and beverage of the hotel. They often have a restaurant, maybe two, a club, a lounge, and then they have rooms above them. Well, we have the restaurant. We have the club. We have the lounge. We just don’t have the rooms above them.
But it’s the rooms that are making the money. Corey: Yeah, but look at Vegas. The numbers that they do off the floor — they’re astronomical. They’re making 50% of their revenue from their food and beverage. I think that you’re right … at some point I do think that incorporating yourself into a hotel gives you some protection and some benefits. David: It also helps drive business because you have people staying in the hotel. The nightclub venue and the hot restaurant also help drive business to the hotel. So there’s a synergy between them.
Are you getting offers from hotels? David:Yes. We’re looking at a couple different things. Corey: That’s a direction we would like to go, as well.
RDV opens tonight with a John Legend party. According to co-owner Corey Lane, the new lounge is an “exclusive venue under our highly successful restaurant Bagatelle.” “RDV” is short for “rendezvous.” The style is a hip, chic mix of classic Victorian and modern art. I’m sure partner and designer David Graziano will kill it; Pink Elephant and Kiss & Fly are perfect. The new space will have a separate entrance from both Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly. There’s a team of powerhouse players involved as well: Randy Scott, Aymeric Clemente, and Remi Laba bring more to the table than just tables. This is a sharp, mature crew with a great crowd. It looks like a home run — yet another small lounge with big players.
Point of Origin: My dad’s American, my mother’s French. I was born in the US and raised in France. I can’t seem to negate my origin for some reason. Nightlife was an accident, to be honest. I was working for a liquor company, Pernod Ricard, and people were constantly asking me for sponsorship, and at one point I said ‘You know what? I’ll comp your sponsoring if my friends can come to your events.’ It grew from there until club owners starting saying they would pay me to bring people to their club. And that’s how we [partner Aymeric Clemente, formerly of La Goulue and Le Bilboquet] started, ten years ago.
We did it for fun until we realized it could really become a business. Everything we do resembles us. We try to create something that embraces the Jet-Set lifestyle in which we were brought up. When we started at Lotus, 8 years ago, Lotus was known for its hip-hop, models, whatever, and they called us and we brought in something very different. We brought DJs from Paris that were more focused on European house, and that brought the whole European crowd in and it became some of the highest generating sales ever for Lotus. We took that concept and moved it to our next venue, Marquee. We were part of the opening team at Marquee, then we did the Deck with Jeffrey Jah and Mark Baker and all those guys. We took it to Bed Roof. We always take that same concept and each time make it a little more complete. Then we opened Pink Elephant, as promotional partners with those guys.
Occupations: Aymeric and I are the main partners at Bagatelle, we’re the partners here at Kiss & Fly, and I’m in charge of all the marketing and PR aspects of the venue. What Aymeric and I do better than anybody else is bring the French ambiance and atmosphere into the venue. So it not only looks French, but it feels French. We’re taking it to the level: the St. Tropez party lifestyle. It’s for people who like to drink great wine, eat great food, and like great parties. Go to Bagatelle on a Monday night and you’ll have a peaceful environment with great food. Then the vibe builds on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then by Saturday brunch we move into a full-blown party. But we’ll never compromise the food.
Side Hustle: Aymeric and I are partners in marketing company/DJ agency called In The Buzz, that does promotions at all the top nightclubs across the world and also represents some of the top talent when it comes to DJs. We also do consulting in the hospitality industry. That’s what brought us to owning our own venue. There’s 13th Street Entertainment, which basically owns Kiss & Fly, Bagatelle, and our new lounge opening the first week of September tentatively named Bagatelle Lounge. We represent Mitch LJ, who’s the resident DJ at Nikki Beach. Jacques Dumont, who is an older DJ, probably 47 years old, and was the resident DJ at Nikki Beach St. Barths for years. Now he’s our resident DJ here at Kiss & Fly. We’ve had David Guetta play here. It’s not exclusively house music, but the crowd they’re playing for likes primarily house. I think for all of us our side projects are our personal lives. It’s hard to balance that in this industry.
Favorite Hangs: The Hamptons are a big market with high visibility. A lot of people go there, and there are very few clubs to go to. Pretty much only Pink Elephant, Cabana, and Dune. We have a very good relationship with Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss and we host the Saturday night Kiss ‘N’ Fly party at Dune Southampton. But when I go to the Hamptons, I don’t go to socialize. I enjoy the beauty of the nature there. I love the beach at Flying Point, and off Route D in Southampton. In the city, I love going to Bar Pitti. It’s very unpretentious, a great terrace, and always good food. If I’m with a group of friends and want a good, fun dinner, I like Indochine, Bond St., Le Bilboquet; Aymeric used to be the GM there for several years. Bagatelle is a big version of Le Bilboquet. If I’m going to dinner with my girlfriend, I want to go upstairs at Le Colonial. I’ll never have dinner downstairs, it’s too formal. But the lounge is unbelievable.
Industry Icons: Jeffrey Jah and Mark Baker were the first guys to understand the European factor in nightlife. They kind of made us who we are today. I’ve really enjoyed working with those guys. I don’t know if I look up to anyone really. If there are two guys who have had a memorable career so far it’s Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss. We worked with them at Marquee, then at Tao in Vegas. They are very, very hard workers, and what they’ve achieved is remarkable. I would never work the way they do. The way they work is very American. The way we work is more passionate, less driven by numbers.
Known Associates: My current associates are Aymeric Clemente, Corey Lane, Lionel Ohayon, David Graziano, and Jonathan Segal. My past associates are Richie Akiva, Scott Sartiano, Mark Baker, and Jeffrey Jah, Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg. We’ve promoted for Jamie Mulholland and Jayma Cardosa at Cain. We’ve basically crossed paths with every major person in the industry. It’s a small town.
Projections: We’ve established Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly in New York. Our next project is due the first week of September, fashion week, which will be the Bagatelle Lounge downstairs of Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly, at which point our 13th Street project will be complete–one restaurant, one nightclub, and one lounge. From there, we’ll move on, not necessarily with the same partners, but we’ll open Bagatelle restaurants and Bagatelle cafes in different cities. Ultimately our dream is to open a Bagatelle boutique hotel.We’d love to open something in Tulum (we’re looking at a property down there). We’d love to open Bagatelle, the restaurant as you know it, in London, Vegas, and San Paulo. We have offers in South Beach, but I don’t think Miami Beach is what it used to be. Though we did go to the Winter Music Conference in Miami for the past two years and did ‘Fuck Me I’m Famous’ with David Guetta at Cameo; that’s very successful.
Do you cater to a different crowd in the summer in the city than the rest of the year?
There’s definitely a different club crowd in the summer, not necessarily in quality. Most of your regulars go to the Hamptons in the summer or travel to St. Tropez, Ibiza, Croatia, etc. But there’s also a lot of tourists coming to New York in the summer who have read about venues and will come out. The truth of the matter is, if you have a good product and run your door properly, you can have the right crowd in your club every single night. If you focus on only celebrities and models and there are eight clubs going after the same clientele, there will be one winner and a lot of losers. But if you say, “Ok, I want my venue to be fun, I want the crowd to be pretty, and I want to generate dollars,” the way you look at things are going to shift. Some people say “Oh, my club is so great, we only have models.” Great, models are pretty, but are they the most fun girls you’ve ever seen in nightclubs? Not necessarily. Energy’s also a very, very important factor. If 1Oak says, “Oh, in the summer we have to sell out because all the good crowds are going away,” well, I’d rather sell out my crowd a tiny bit, but still maintain the level of energy.
Considering you’ve worked with Scott Sartiano and Jeffrey Jah, etc. in the past, do you see Butter as an influence or a competitor?
Butter is known for their Monday night parties. What Butter does on Monday nights, no one else does. It’s a concentration of models and celebrities in a very small space. Those guys have done great at it, they own Monday nights, but that’s not what we do. We’re not model-driven. [The Butter guys] aren’t competitors, they’re friends. We actually go to Butter on Monday nights when we can.
A lot of reviews of Bagatelle are calling you the next Pastis. Do you see yourselves replacing Pastis ever?
No. I think Pastis as a French bistro has had a lot of recent competition in the neighborhood, but we are very different. Most of the restaurants in Meatpacking, their concepts are big. We are very different; we’re small, 90 seats. We have a very personalized welcome. Aymeric and I are here every day. You can create an intimate relationship with the owners, which no other restaurant in the meatpacking can offer. At Pastis the food is average. At Bagatelle we pride ourselves on great food. Our chef Nicolas Cantrel, (who we “stole” from bobo), is a gift from God.
What are you doing tonight? I’ll be at Bagatelle caring to my guests and then dinner with my girlfriend later on.