Life After the Hurricane & the Marathon Conspiracy

We were better than most in our 4th floor loft atop a hill in Williamsburg. Our new apartment didn’t have cable yet or heat for that matter as those companies were busy elsewhere. We had bins filled with water, flashlights, food, everything we needed to weather the storm. Many of our friends were less fortunate. We took in a couple of strays, fed them, and thus beat the boredom of the silent night. On Tuesday night we went on a safari to Manhattan. The car loaded up with stir crazy women heading into a dark unknown place reminded me of the opening scene of a monster movie. I could hear a voice from the audience saying “don’t go there, you idiot!” but onward we sped. When we got to the center of the Williamsburg Bridge, the light went out and we plunged into the surreal. A candle in a window here, a flashlight off to the side told us the zombies hadn’t eaten everyone. The cops were serious, their flashing lights creating surreal shadows and illuminating thevoids. There were hundreds of thousands in those dark monoliths but there was little sign of them.

Wednesday night was Halloween and we went to Manhattan again. More was lit up but not that much. We went to the Tribeca Grand in search of a couple of friends who worked there. The bar at Tribeca was lit with candles but had no humans so we headed to the Soho Grand, where a party was happening. We embraced our pal Dean Winters who plays Mayhem in those insurance commercials and avoided making a bad joke about his role in all this. Matt Green was holding court over a fast crowd that was slowed down just a little by the crisis. The hotel’s generators kept one soda gun going and a few lights. The trademark under-illuminated stairs were dark. We had a blast as everyone was happy to have something, although we were all aware of so many who had nothing. Our smartphones told us about Lit Lounge, Erik Foss’s joint, which I love more than any other. Eric, of course, got Lit, lit and we all gathered into our clown car and navigated the polite streets. With no traffic lights, everyone gave everyone right of way. It was grand.

Lit had a party. They wrangled up a generator and had the DJ booth going and a few soft lights. Nick Gazin of Vice was DJing, spotted by Ben Rayner and Dj Mell (Cerebral Ballzy).The brilliant artist Chris (Spam) Martin and Foss threw this shindig. It was a super hip and beautiful crowd, happy to be anywhere, and ecstatic to find themselves at such a fantastic gathering. Foss got boxes of pizza from God knows where and fed the masses. When he offered one dude a slice, he replied, "No thanks, I’m good, I live uptown .We headed into the dark for little trips and met no monsters but helpful friendly people everywhere. Intrepid bodega owners watched their shops and sold warm beers and snacks. We popped into strange bars illuminated by melting wax and were greeted with cheers for just showing up. It was mad fun.” Back at Lit, I told Erik that this is why I say his is the best joint in town. My DJ gigs at Hotel Chantelle and Griffin were cancelled as the plans of millions took a break. Old friends Facebooked and called from all over the world to make sure I and mine were OK.

The Marathon debate raged on Facebook and I used that medium to scratch my writing itch. I ripped Bloomberg for his audacity and wondered if he canceled so very late in order to ensure the runners came and their money boosted our economy. I got a Sandy tattoo when my artist managed to fly back from New Orleans. My pal Matt De Matt who owns Gaslight and some other joints hooked my refugee tattoing pals up down in Louisiana where he is totally connected. It was and is a time for friends to help friends. As the city sputtered back to light, the clubs threw "stir crazy" parties and Sandy parties. Nothing too clever, sad to say. This week promises to be more "normal," but problems for nightlife still remain. The subways are not quite right and gas is so rare that few can venture in from suburbia. The loss of Halloween revenues is staggering. Clubs and staff won’t recover quickly, but the busy season of nightlife has begun, and in a week or two, cash should be flowing. The local bars and coffee shops are collecting necessities for our neighbors in places that still are under the thumb of destruction. Do what you can to help.

Tonight I should be hopping around town as the election that never came has actually arrived. Tomorrow will be a day off for most, a day to take a deep breath and get ready to return to the routine. Voting and watching the results will dominate Tuesday. I, of course, endorse Obama. I think the other guy represents the Dark Ages, and I am fearful of a return to the religious and greed-fueled policies of Bush. I urge all my readers to contact friends in swing states and get them out there voting and motivating.

The Day After Birthday Bash: Feeling Like a Million Yen

My birthday bash at Avenue last night proved to be more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I am limp and drained and wonderful. I feel like a million yen.  Avenue asked me to throw my party there and I couldn’t say no. The good people at Avenue/ Tao Strategic Group have been work associates, friends, and family from the good old days when I was that maniacal Steve Lewis guy. They put up with me then and celebrated me yesterday… in style.

Wass Stevens in a leg and foot cast, making it look sharp, greeted my mixed bag of guests and let most of them in. We chatted at the front door, where he counted his blessings, which included surviving his terrible motorcycle accident, good doctors, and the love of a great woman, Lydia Rivera. Lydia slept on the hard hospital benches, waiting to be there when he woke up. They have been dating for a while now and I am so happy. I have known Lydia for years and she is simply wonderful. Guys like Wass need women who will be there when it counts. Lydia is a keeper.
 
Inside, I was greeted by a giant silver mylar "STEVE" balloon which made me laugh and smile and swell. The Avenue staff all were expecting me and all took the time to say hey, tell me they were there for me and mine. A flashing Mr. Lewis sign designated my tables. Their tech person had everything I needed for my DJ set. In short: it was perfect.
 
Every operator talks service and organization, but few come close. Sometimes they are organized but miss the most basic necessity for success. For me, that is the family or team spirit that is instilled in the entire organization. Noah Tepperberg sat next to me, introduced me to his fabulous friends, and told me that the staff was excited that I was having my party there; it showed. Andrew Goldberg was the point man. I asked him to sum up his approach to throwing a good party. He said, "We focus on passion, enthusiasm, and we strive to have the team concept which we hope will translate into a great guest experience."
 
The cake was amazing. They sent over some Artichoke Pizza (Noah is a partner). They delivered bottles with a fun, not forced demeanor. The honchos in the organization took the time to send me an email or text congratulating me and thanking me for doing my party there. My DJ set was 30 minutes of raw, hard rock. The equipment, booth, tech support and sound in general were perfect. Club God Danny A introduced me to Stella Keitel and told me about his new movie project. Promoters seeded tables near mine, to mingle some beautifuls in with my crew. They all paid respects. I felt…respected. This is the art and science of nightlife at its best. I chatted up Lulu Johnson about her new line and her famous mom who I have always loved. Dean Winters, now known to the world as "that Mayhem guy" came by and hugged and chatted and promised to meet up for dinner soon. Blasts from my distant past chatted up new friends. I went home all warm and fuzzy.
 
For one week in a row, Le Baron is the greatest club in New York, the world, the galaxy. I know they  will thrive and lead us to a better place and mindset. These guys are pros. The New York nightlife bubble keeps expanding with fabulous places opening up in every corner, catering to all sorts and situations. Players from everywhere and lifestyle are plotting for a bigger piece of this Big Apple pie. I go out almost every night and I observe a great deal of mediocrity making great deals of money. I think everybody in the game right now is doing well. This may change. As real players open up more and more new spots, the phonies will be left more alone. I walk into places and the staff is miserable, being treated like slaves by owners or operators who think thats how things work. It may work for a minute or two longer, but those that run a place like it’s an army will soon lose to those that run things like its a family.

From Avenue to Bantam to the Diner: The Never-Ending Night

I try not to write too much about what you already know. Everyone knows the bottle clubs, the scene clubs, the celebrity, the jet-set joints where money is no object – but then again, it is the object. These places are often considered commonplace by the common man who dwells in hipster havens and dive bars. That perception is wrong. There is validity to what these operators offer, although they aren’t all things to all people. Most people can’t afford to party there or they lack the looks or connections to pass through their velvet ropes. Once inside there is always action. Although the bottom line is the bottom line, as it is in most businesses (including the nightclub business), these clubs deliver a quality good time to their often well-know audiences. The DJs often play a set that contains crowd-pleasing, familiar tracks, but the DJs themselves are great DJs and giving the people what they want makes it fun -and what in the name of God is wrong with pleasing a crowd?

Last night I whisked myself to Avenue for club mogul Noah Tepperberg’s birthday. He co-owns a lot of places. Off the top of my head, he has pieces of Marquee (NYC, Vegas, Australia), Lavo (NYC, Vegas), Tao (NYC, Vegas), Marble Lane, Ph-D Rooftop, the aforementioned Avenue, Artichoke Pizza. There are all sorts of pool entities and spin-offs of these places now. He has many reasons to be cheerful, despite being half the man he used to be. Well, not exactly half, but he has lost a lot of weight by watching what he eats and drinks, and working out with a new trainer who Noah introduced to me last night. Avenue was packed with the beautiful, the rich, and the famous last night. The energy was through the roof. I’m not going to mention the celebrities that I saw, as that comes with the no price for admission. Avenue is a gossip-free zone and those that go know that.

We bolted into the night and popped by 1OAK, which was just getting started. A late-night rush comes from sister space The Darby Downstairs which closes early by NYC standards. The Butter Group operators, which own these properties and Butter, understand that after a while, crowds want to hop, skip, and jump elsewhere, so they engineer that hop-over to another one of their spaces. Thus, 1OAK gets a big late boost. We chatted up a looking-real-good Richie Romero and said hello to all the familiar faces of the vibrant staff as we headed into the night. We strolled to No. 8, where Amanda danced with Amy Sacco who was simply being wonderful. I hadn’t been before, as I rarely get over to this hood during the week. Currently, they aren’t open on Saturdays, but will be when the summer spins away. I loved No. 8. The music was amazing. Amy, one of the best operators in this business, was an active part of the action. At 8, I saw countless familiar faces. The crowd was mixed and adult and I loved it.

Still, the night had me moving, and we headed to The Electric Room, where Angelo made sure we were happy. Nur Kahn is in Italy with The Kills. In the past, when Nur traveled, The Electric Room often lacked…electricity. He and I talked about that a couple months ago. Last night, the place was pumping. Amanda said, and I quote, "The thing about this place is that it never compromises. When you walk in the door, you always hear great music and find yourself amongst a cool crowd.” She isn’t taking over this column, but she is spot-on about this spot. The Electric Room was fabulous.

Outside we ran into pal Dean Winters who was out causing mayhem but not as seen on TV. We chatted him up in front of the Dream Hotel, where we also ran into Limelight producer Jen Gatien. Jen, me, and mine spent an hour trading war stories and catching up. I told her she gave me yet another 15 minutes of fame as Limelight is now On Demand on Showtime. I am getting stoppedeverywhere. Someone asked me who I wanted to play me in the sure-to-come epic movie about my life, and as I looked at this silly person, I reached into my bag of stock answers for occasions like this and deadpanned the answer: “… Denzel.”

After the very brief chuckles, we headed to The Darby. I just wanted to see it in action. I occasionally pop in to see how it’s wearing and tearing. Designers do revisit their babies just to see how the fabric is holding up. Design is theoretical until a place opens. I like to see what I could have done better and what is working just fine. Dean Winters joined us at the bar and we toasted to something important to that moment. I stopped by Bantam as I headed to the Bridge. It was a classic 3am crowd of revelers enjoying the moment and the sticky liqueurs. Bantam is great for that first stop or that last stop, and not bad if you’re caught in between.

After we left and had our late-night meal at a diner, we arrived home just as the sun was coming up. We got the leash on Lulu and went to stock up on diet sodas and popcorn and such. As usual, my head hit the pillow at 6am and here I am at 10am talking to you. Someone told me yesterday that not needing sleep is the sign of a genius. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but if it is true I suspect that he’s a very tired genius.

From Bartender to Mayhem Man: Talking to Dean Winters

Dean Winters is living that dream. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he was a NYC bartender pursuing an acting career. He worked all over town and everybody knew him. He was and still is one of the good guys. In the mid ‘90s he broke out big with numerous TV roles. His Ryan O’Reily character on Oz had me tuning in for years. His Johnny Gavin on Rescue Me kept me glued to the set. Now, because of a TV commercial deal that he almost turned down, he is recognizable to everyone. He is Mayhem, that Allstate gremlin of a man that shows us how dangerous and unpredictable our world can be. He knows a little about that. He had a near-death experience in June 2009 that left him little short in some areas but certainly long in experience and self-awareness. He has always been a friend and supporter of mine, and when he sent me the following e-mail, I gladly gave him this space to tell us all about it:

"Hi, I’m a big supporter of The Heroes Project and I’m excited to finally share the campaign we’ve been working on. I just launched a Wish on Facebook Causes to support the organization. The funds raised will go toward The Heroes Project’s upcoming Indonesia climb with US Army Retired Sgt. Noah Galloway who lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee in an IED attack in Yusufiyah, Iraq. You can check out the Wish page and donate here. This project is near and dear to my heart so I’m trying to get the word out wherever possible. Any love you can show on Facebook or Twitter would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Dean"

How did you get involved with The Heroes Project?
I was introduced to ‘Big Tim’ Medvetz by my L.A. family Richard and Laurie Stark, creators of the Chrome Hearts dynasty, a couple of years back. Tim and I immediately became fast friends. He had been a bouncer at Hogs ‘N Hefers back in the day and a former Hell’s Angel. A number of the Angel’s had been on Oz and I had bartendeded in the clubs so we had immediate common ground. The guy is built like a brick shithouse: 6’5" at around 250lbs – the kind of guy you want on your side, no matter what. Cher, who is also a member of the L.A. family, was an early advocate of The Heroes Project as well, so all of their passion for this project was intoxicating. Having a climbing background as well provided this whole experience for me to be a no-brainer.

What can people do?
People can simply go to The Heroes Project website and donate 10, 20, 50 bucks, any amount helps really, to help fund Tim’s next climb. It is Tim’s sole mission to help restore the confidence in America’s finest young soldier’s after they have suffered these debilitating injuries, by getting them to face their worst fears realized and helping them to climb these peaks all over the world. Watching these young soldier’s summit with prosthetic arms and legs has been a life highlight for me. I’m hoping it will be for other folks as well. Like so many others, you were a bartender in NYC chasing a dream to be an actor. I guess nowadays you are recognized as “that Mayhem dude.” Tell me how you worked at being an actor, your breakout, your career, and where you are going? Also… do you miss bartending sometimes? 
I have had a very rewarding and a very peculiar career, one that I could never have come close to predicting. I have been fastidious to a point of nausea by trying to remain a NY actor. I like L.A. but only for a quick wind sprint, but I also realize that that is really where the business is so I am planning to spend more time there in the future. When we did Oz, which was the first drama series on cable, it was so raw, in-your-face, and new that I think we were all scratching our heads when it was over and thinking “now what?”

Tina Fey and every single faction of 30 Rock has been an absolute gift to me; that cast is one of the fiercest casts in the history of television. So with Oz, 30 Rock, Rescue Me and Law and Order: SVU, I have been spoiled in NYC. Everyone in this business knows that to be spoiled as an actor in NY is the Holy Grail. When Allstate first came to me with the Mayhem campaign, I was reluctant. My smartass answer was no because I became an actor so I wouldn’t have to put on a suit and sell insurance. My dumb ass. My managers – Bill Butler and Sandra Chang – quickly steered me in the right direction. I’m lost without them, and this campaign has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. One of the smartest decisions anyone has ever made for me (wink*). The sheer talent behind the people at Allstate and Leo Burnett (the ad agency out of Chicago led by Britt Nolan) is mind boggling. The creativity in the campaign is beyond what I would ever have expected.

As for bartending, I worked in 17 bars and clubs in the ‘90s. I do miss it sometimes. The music back then – the actual clubs – nothing like that will ever happen again in NY. You can thank the real estate market and a few no-fun politicians for that. With bartending came a certain amount of power and control – two things I am missing in my career these days. It was fun to be the captain of a crazy ship every night, never knowing where your actual destination was or where you were going to possibly be shipwrecked. Wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

I still run into you on occasion at a club or an event. Where do you like to go and what is it about the night that still draws you to it?
It’s always a pleasure to run into you Steve. I feel like I’m not the only one looking around wondering “what happened?” It’s different now, yes, but you have to admire the moves these young guns have made. Richie, Scott, Jason, Noah, Satsky, Ronnie, The SL crew. I mean I remember when those guys all reported to you. Now they have legitimate empires. Very impressive. I’m an old house-head and that music is slowly disappearing into this new horrible cesspool of dance music. You couldn’t fuck with the likes of Junior, Danny, Frankie, Little Louie, Victor, Boris. And sometimes they all played on the same night at different clubs around the city. Insane. I’ll dip into Provac or Pacha for the house. Ritchie, Scott, Noah, and Jason seemed to have pinned down the baby giraffe crew.

God bless Amy Sacco and David Rabin, true warriors if there ever were any in NYC. David was actually the first club owner I ever worked for, back at Rex. I’m also real happy in my hood. A pint of Guinness at Ear Inn suits me just fine these days. Don Hill was a very close friend of mine and his passing rattled NY nightlife to the bone. I truly miss that man. NY is NY though; it is the greatest city on the planet, nothing even comes close. I am very proud to be from here; I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Daisy Days: Hot Time in the City at 305W16

Last night saw the launch party for 305W16, a.k.a. “the Daisy,” a sleek new midrise condo building in Chelsea. New York’s magnificent moneyd class turned out to ogle the property and sweat profusely in the early blast of tropical summer.

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The rooftop daisy sculpture (from artist Robert Bucholz) was in full effect as partygoers guzzled booze and knocked back Mercy chasers (the latter allegedly combats hangover symptoms) in largely futile attempts to re-hydrate.

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Nevertheless, citizens schmoozed with abandon while enjoying the imperious DJ and silvery body-painted naked statue people, not to mention the crane-mounted alien guy who was on fire, juggling fire, something with fire? Local actor-celebrity-insurance pitchman Dean Winters circulated affably, as is his wont. The new building is meant to evoke an artsy cultury vibe, so a little affectation was well received. The condos themselves should be quite slick and right up the alley of your average well-off creative city dweller.