Want Some Hanky Panky? Gary Spencer Knows Where To Find It

Friend Gary Spencer has been tasked to carve out a little slice of heaven from mega-club Webster Hall, and brand it as “The Hanky Panky Club.” As creative director, he is opening his ambitious concept with a performance by the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and my favorite DJ in this world: Paul Sevigny. For me, this is an incredible booking. The influence of the New York Dolls on NYC music, and the direction rock took from their lead, is incalculable. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I wore a suit to an office and listened to jazz. On the way to something somewhere, my cab cut to Park Avenue from another avenue to avoid traffic but got stuck again. As I glanced out the window at the very grey NYC of the early ‘70s, I saw the Dolls stumbling over each other in dresses and such with a wonderful entourage in tow. I had seen a light and got an itch that I have spent the rest of my life trying to scratch.

It was a few years later that the Ramones indoctrinated me into the life completely, but it was the Dolls who showed me the path. Rock and Roll, to its devotees, is a religion. Its anthems rarely get old, and the offerings of ancient bands and rock stars still play well to generations. Rock produced today and a zillion days ago will play well to people who aren’t even theoretical yet. It’s an "old school" genre that still delivers, still sells out stadiums. Gary Spencer is approaching the new Hanky Panky venture with an old- school mentality. I will be there to support and, more importantly, to enjoy a slice of the life I have chosen.

Hanky Panky starts with a bang, with the New York Doll’s David Johansen and my favorite DJ and (perhaps) person Paul Sevigny. Why were they chosen for this grand affair?
Friday is going to be a special night; we’ll have David Johansen from the New York Dolls performing, Paul Sevigny spinning.
I wanted to keep the integrity of not only the space but also NYC, and who better than David Johansen of the Dolls to do that? He’s New York and he’s totally rock and roll. Webster Hall is New York rock and roll history, and we have the club that overlooks it – how cool is that!!! Paul Sevigny is a quality DJ; a guy that really knows his music and is a perfect compliment for the Dolls and the room in general. He’s underrated and he crosses so many eras of music in his set. Plus, he’s an absolute gentleman. Deadbeat Darling will be supporting Johansen;  they are an amazing band whose latest album “Angel’s Share” was produced by Ken Nelson (producer of Coldplay’s “Parachutes” and “Rush of Blood”). Terry Casey, another underrated DJ, will also be spinning and maybe even you Steve, who knows? It’s all a secret!

It’s in but it’s not. The Hanky Panky Club includes the balcony of Webster Hall. Let’s face it… it’s Webster Hall, but a redefinition of part of it. Webster Hall is very music-based. Tell me about the pairings of bands and DJs at The Hanky Panky Club, and the development of a separate brand from Webster.
Lon Ballinger, the owner of Webster Hall, contacted me and said he was looking for a different demographic, a market that he hasn’t been able to tap into, and that he wanted to open the space that was above the main club. After walking through the venue on a Friday night, I was like – WOW – this is incredible; the energy on the main floor was like nothing I had seen in a nightclub for a very long time. Hundreds of people were having a genuinely amazing unpretentious night out. It was refreshing to see, but it was even cooler to see and live it from the comfort of the balcony, which is incidentally attached to – ta da – Hanky Panky!

I really feel that that’s what people will do: they will enjoy all the trappings and service of The Hanky Panky Club but also enjoy the energy that the main room and balcony have to offer, if and when they need it. In pairingup the music on a Thursday, we will have a soul evening, Fridays will be electronic, and Saturdays will be more commercial/house. The bands on these evenings will also reflect the respective genres in the main room. Your career. Tell me about it, and tell my readers about the wonderful nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow.
I was standing in Peter’s nightclub “Stringfellows “ in 1983, and his director of operations Roger Howe approached me and told me he wanted me to work for the company. I had zero experience at the time, but ended up a week later as a bartender at Stringfellows. Later on, I moved on to be the reception manager at the world famous and way-before-its-time Hippodrome. What I always remember from that is when Roger said to the bar manager at the time, “I want Gary to work at the bar,” and the bar manager said “well, we don’t have any positions available.” Roger said “Well find him one.”

Those guys understand image. They know the rest can be taught; they build all their clubs around selling glamour and image. Plus, they know all about programming. He knows his trade. Peter started off in church halls, then booked The Beatles one night and never really looked back.

Peter will always be legendary in nightlife. He understands what nightlife is; it’s fantasy, it’s sexy, it’s escapism, it’s what should be talked about amongst your workmates on a Monday morning after a wild weekend. But not only does he bring all of those qualities to his clubs, he does it with a swagger and a smile, whilst being able to laugh at himself which is a rare but very-much-needed quality in nightlife.

After I worked for Peter, I fell into a very successful modeling career and also produced the Fashion Café fashion shows worldwide. My modeling career led me to New York where I have lived for the past 15 years. Four years or so ago I went back into the hospitality/ nightlife industry and, before becoming creative director here at The Hanky Panky, I worked for Joe Bastianich at Del Posto.  I opened the Rusty Knot for Ken Friedman and was also at private members-only club Norwood.

You told me your approach to nightlife is old school, and you used the word "patience” several times. The need for it …not letting someone who doesn’t "belong" into a party in just because they’re buying bottles… will this fly?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it will fly. If somebody is right for the room and that person decides to buy a bottle, then that’s fabulous. But what I don’t want to do is let somebody in just because they have the money. I’ve seen too many nightclubs ruined that way.

While we’re on the subject, I think service plays a big part as to whether a venue is successful or not. NYC used to be known for its high standard of service, but we’ve gotten so used to everyone coming here for the last 20 years that nowadays, when a cocktail server comes to take your order, it seems like everything is too much trouble for them. Why would anybody want to spend money in an environment like that? That ethic would fail in any other business. The cocktail servers at Hanky Panky will not only be stunningly beautiful, but will also take your order if you are sitting at a table or not. I know many very wealthy people that want to be served fast and efficiently. They don’t want a “table” or a “bottle,” but they don’t want to deal with the bar either – so, they call a server over .

Another problem is that not enough nightlife people are operators in nightlife, so they defer to promotional teams to fill their venues up. Which is fine, but there is no easy fix. It takes just as much effort to fill a room that is promoter-driven as is concept-driven. The difference is that the concept-driven room will probably have far more longevity and be a hell of a lot cooler in the long term, but that’s where the “patience” bit comes into play, and unfortunately the world has become a little too “instant gratification” for my liking.

Tell me about future programming at Hanky Panky and where the name came from.
The evenings will always begin with a live band that will come on at 10:30pm and make way for the DJ around midnight. As I said earlier, we have a soul DJ spinning on Thursdays, so the band will be jazz or soul or maybe even reggae. DJs coming up soon will be people like Christopher Sealy, Bridgette Marie, Tommy D, John Luongo, and hopefully I’ll get some of my English-European mates here as well. And of course, not forgetting your good self, Steve.

When I did the first walk-through – walking up the marble staircase, past the distressed walls – I felt like I was being lead to a naughty secret hideaway. And then I saw this red neon light that was propped up in the corner that said “hanky panky,” and from then on, I immediately named it The Hanky Panky Club. If you read the dictionary definition of the phrase, you will know it’s a perfect fit.

What would you want people to leave HP feeling and thinking?
That they had fun, that they had good old-fashioned fun. That they were served well, and listened to great music amongst good people. There’s not enough of all of that anymore, and I, along with the Hanky Panky crew, intend to change that.

Gary Spencer

Betony & The Fourth Open, Cardamom Ganache & Herbal Beers Hit NYC

Betony, the new haute-earthy tenant in Brasserie Pushkin’s former space, didn’t entirely do away with the ornate. The chandelier is still there, as are the plush velvet banquettes. The back dining room’s concrete ceiling is etched with abstract Latin geometry, as if one of the construction workers had a Good Will Hunting moment. (Eamon Rockey, the general manager, said it came at the owner’s discretion—“he likes very opulent things.”)

The decorative posturing, which at least is tempered by some potted foliage, is more than backed up by Eleven Madison Park vet Bryce Shuman’s creations from start to finish. Pure pleasers, like the light and vinegary fried pickled ramps, or the cured pink snapper on a basil pesto, abet more challenging dishes. Flavors come in appropriated forms: cardamom is housed in a milky foam over dark chocolate ganache, tomato juice is turned to ice and “snowed” over gooseberry compote, and an asparagus pappardelle tastes of the plant with an intensity that goes far beyond the amount of spears actually in there.

Rockey, also of Eleven Madison Park, matches Shuman’s care behind the bar. An orange rind treated for two weeks with oleo-saccharum sugar tops the ice on an orange julep (“a sipper.”) An extensive beer list pulls in some beyond-rare gypsy beers, like Stillwater’s white sage Saison “Cellar Door”: an ornate herbal brew with a name like velvet.

Downtown also gains an elaborate new hang with the arrival of The Fourth, an American brasserie at the new Hyatt Union Square fit for townies and tourists alike. In keeping with the hotel theme, a helix of dangling bunk bed frames by the artist Brinton Jaecks fills a 25-foot tall dining room. Downstairs, a South American restaurant called Botequim with an open kitchen is set to open later this year. The co-ed restroom, which made for some fun exchanges, shares a door with the Hyatt’s gym. Don’t steal the towels. 

Del Posto vet Michael William Davis serves both classics—bi-coastal oysters, shellfish cioppino, a wonderfully juicy pink salt, roasted-brick chicken breast—and more creative fare. A thick piece of hake comes surrounded by tender chunks of pork cheek. The Fourth’s burger arrives on a tomato bun with a sunnyside up egg. For dessert, the Fuller’s London Porter ice cream is as crisp and frosty as a mug of the good stuff. Fennel-sage chicken meatballs and a poached egg are available for breakfast, if the night took you upstairs. Don’t steal the shampoo.

National Spaghetti Day Exists, So Fill Up On Carbs

We aren’t entirely sure where these national food days have come from, or who decides what each day means for what day. But for today, since its National Spaghetti Day, it’s a great excuse to eat a bowl of pasta or two.

The most recent addition to the land of pasta is Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, an Italian pasta company that opened a restaurant in the Chelsea Market in November. There, you can get an array of dishes including ravioli with artichoke and smoke mozzarella, and chestnut tagliatelle with guinea fowl ragu. Or get fresh pasta to go like the chili-garlic pappardelle or lobster stuffed mezzaluna.

For an old school Italian experience, the 30-year-old Marco Polo in Brooklyn serves scrumptious plates of squid ink tagliolini and fettuccini with red wine sauce, which gets tossed in a wheel of Parmesan. In the same vain, the king of Italian cuisine Mario Batali serves luscious bowls of pumpkin cappellacci and spaghetti with Dungeness crab and jalapeno at the popular Del Posto.

Scarpetta too makes a mean spaghetti with tomato and basil, and you can’t go wrong with a plate of linguine with clam sauce at Esca. If you want to go for the stars, celebrate this pseudo holiday at Robert De Niro’s Locanda Verde, where you can get a plate of papperdelle with ragu or lumache with duck sausage and broccoli rabe.

Of course, today, and any day, is a good time to hit up Il Buco Alimentari andVineria, which is one of the best new Italian spots to open in 2012. Fuel up now, you can start you New Year’s diet tomorrow.

Where To Eat Post-Hurricane Sandy

Now that the city is trying to get back in the swing of things after Frankenstorm, restaurants too are reopening their shuttered doors to diners sick of chowing on canned beans and tortilla chips. But not every eatery is in on the game, for some, Sandy was one guest they could have done without.

First up, the scenic River Café, which, while the view is lovely from its waterside vantage, proved devastating during the storm. The estimated damage is in the millions, and owner Buzzy O’Keeffe said it would be weeks, even months, until they are able to open again. The Huffington Post has a detailed slide show of the spoils.

Speaking of spoils, the food that went bad when the power outage in Manhattan was another causality. Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali’s six restaurants were all shut down, including Del Posto, Eataly, and Babbo. The food loss on that hit—around $50,000. Secretly, I was glad the Waterfront Ale House in Kips Bay lost power, since, in my selfish brain, that meant my boyfriend who is the sous chef there couldn’t work. But, since owner Sam Barbieri has a Brooklyn Heights location to schlep the food to, the boy will be cooking up a nicer, more people-friendly storm there today, which means you can go eat there, too.

Don’t expect to be hitting up Red Hook’s Fort Defiance, Red Hook Lobster Pound, or Brooklyn Ice House. Unfortunately, that area was beat pretty hard. DUMBO also received damage as long-standing Bubby’s is hurting today, as well as newcomer Governor, which won’t be opening any time soon and a rep reported they estimate there is $200,000 in damages.

Now, the good news. While there were plenty of Sandy casualties, and power remains out in some neighborhoods, many places are up and running. Both New York Magazine’s Grub Street and Eater NY have maps and updated lists of open restaurants. Also, I know for a fact bars and eateries in Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, and Prospect Heights are all fine and serving. If you are in Queens, or can get to Queens, Studio Square is open and advertising its available space for any post-apocalyptic parties you might need/want to have.  

And while we are on the subject of parties, it is Halloween (even if the authorities say they postponed it), so work off some of that cabin fever and celebrate. Personally, since I am stuck in Brooklyn, I plan on making the trek to Williamsburg for a little spooky skeeball and canned beer at Full Circle Bar, after that, wherever the non-threatening wind will take me. 

Mystery Chef Revealed: Exquisite Corpse at Le Grand Fooding NYC 2011

You know that mystery chef we mentioned — the blind recluse opening a 52-hour popup restaurant in Chelsea next month? Well, he doesn’t exist. Or rather, he does exist, and his name is legion. That’s because he’s a culinary amalgam of 13 for-real superchefs, all contributing their talents and grub to 13 individual seatings for Le Grand Fooding NYC 2011. You would be well advised to buy from our special allotment presale tickets, available as of right now. But who exactly makes up the exquisite corpse of the mythical Nikoalan Nselurfueymardcora?

That would be Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde and The Dutch in New York City); Hugue Dufour (M. Wells in New York City); Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf, of Dranouter, Belgium); Armand Arnal (La Chassagnette of Arles, France); Ana Ros (HiSa Franko of Kobarid, Slovenia); Sat Bains (Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, UK); Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington State); Fulvio Pierangelini (Hotel de Russie, Rome); Brooks Headley (Del Posto in New York City); Mauro Colagreco (Le Mirazur of Menton, France); Adeline Grattard (Yam’tcha in Paris); Corey Lee (Benu in San Francisco); and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy).

Quite a lineup, brought to you by sponsor dollars from the lines of Veuve Clicquot, Mastercard, and San Pellegrino. Now you can only buy tickets for the 9/24 and 9/25 seatings via our link, but you only miss out on Carmellini; everyone else is working round the clock on the other days. There’s only a handful of tickets available for each one, so act fast.

Hogging the Spotlight: The Cosmopolitan’s Summer Festival of Pork

No hotel in Las Vegas is bringing the proverbial heat quite like the Cosmopolitan this summer. Their club Marquee is luring the biggest names in dance music on a near-nightly basis, and they’ve even secured Adele to drop by next month for an intimate gig. But the hotel offers a lot more than pop icons and DJs. Later this month, the Cosmopolitan will host the rock stars of the food world at a new event, the inaugural All-Star Cochon.

On July 24, chefs such as Mark Ladner of Del Posto, Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura of Lindy & Grundy, Michael Sullivan of Blackberry Farm, John Sundstrom of Lark, Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, Jeremy Fox and the 2010 “King of Porc” David Varley of Michael Mina, Alex Seidel of Fruition, and Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat will descend upon the Strip’s hottest hotel to cook up all things pig.

As part of the three-year-old Cochon 555 competition, the chefs will dream up new ways to roast, chop, broil, and fry the swine in ways previously unknown to man. Not only will chefs fly in from all over the U.S., but the Cosmopolitan’s own dream team of pork participants will be in the mix as well. That means kitchen pros from restaurants such as Comme Ça, D.O.C.G, Estiatorio Milos, Holstein’s, Jaleo, STK, Scarpetta and more. While the series has toured before nationally, the July 24th event at the Cosmo is the first ever “all-star” event, with acclaimed butchers and 14 whole heritage hogs. Naturally, packages are available for those looking to pig out later this month, many of which also include special tastings of Domaine Serene reserve wines paired with Spanish pork variety Fermin Iberico de Bellota.

Watch a trailer for Cochon 555 to get a sense of why hogs have been all the rage recently.

Del Posto’s Executive Chef Mark Ladner on Life After Four Stars

I once overheard a guy say, “The only thing Italian in New York is pizza.” Either he’s regularly hitting bogus Italian joints or he’s a culinary philistine. Probably both. Real Italian dishes have hard-to-pronounce names like garganelli al Ragu Bolognese, caccuicio, or bucatini all gricia. If you’re a foodie, you know where I’m going with this. These are some of the classic dishes found on the menu at Del Posto, which recently received a four-star review from The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to be handed the rating since 1974. Executive Chef Mark Ladner – the man largely responsible for the coup – says phones are ringing off the hook. Where it used to take months to get a table, the wait-time at Del Posto will most likely double. Here’s Mr. Ladner on life after four stars. 


   

How did you celebrate after receiving the Times rating? We had a quiet dinner with Mario at Del Posto. Then we threw a huge party for our staff at our pizzeria, Otto. It was a blast!

Can diners expect anything different at Del Posto? Just the usual evolution, as well as incorporating seasonal ingredients and introducing new dishes as we get into the fall and winter months. We changed to a fall/winter menu after the New York City Wine & Food Festival.

Will reservations be harder to make? Our phones have been going bananas! We’re going to be adding more phone lines and receptionists, but for now, we are doing the best we can.  

What truly makes your cuisine unique? We focus on clear, clean, classic, traditional, familiar flavors. Our ideology is the promotion of hospitality and the client. It’s not about us, it’s about them. We have a painstaking respect for time and tradition. Our cuisine represents this place, New York City. Yes it’s Italian, but mostly we are an urban Manhattan fine dining restaurant.

Any noteworthy experiences since you opened? The most memorable experience was about one year ago. The Michelin Guide stripped us of a star, setting us on the course toward the restaurant that we have now become. We were forced to make some very serious decisions about which direction we wanted for Del Posto. Quantity and quality are rarely the same thing. We more tightly focused the concept, removed a third of our tables, and invested heavily in service and hospitality. Finally, now everybody wins.

Where Celebs Go Out: Mario Batali, Mayor Bloomberg, Danielle Staub

Mario Batali at the opening of Eataly: My favorite places to eat are generally downtown in the Village: Pearl Oyster Bar, Spotted Pig, Grand Sichuan. My favorite thing to eat is anything anyone else makes! Da Silvano has an octopus salad and octopus grill that’s really beautiful. ● Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the opening of Eataly: There are 20,000 restaurants in New York City, and I try to eat at every single one of them. ● Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: wd-50, and in Brooklyn, Pacifico, the Mexican restaurant on Pacific St.

Drew Nieporent at Travel + Leisure‘s World’s Best Awards party: Restaurants that are owned my friends—Jean Georges, Daniel, Mario Batali, the usual suspects. And El Bulli in Barcelona. My favorite dish is anything that Mark Ladner makes at Del Posto. ● Bethenny Frankel at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Trump Soho, Abe & Arthur’s, STK. ● Johnny Weir at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Cipriani Downtown has the most amazing vanilla meringue cake. ● Tinsley Mortimer at her handbag launch party at Samantha Thavasa: Avenue and the Biergarten at the StandardBryan Greenberg at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: The corn, the tacos, and the margaritas at La Esquina. ● Danielle Staub at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Cafeteria for the little sliders, the mac and cheese. For dessert, their Everything But the Kitchen Sink. ● Lamar Odom at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. ● Mick Rock at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: Kenmare. ● Richie Rich at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: At the The Lion, the champagne’s my favorite. I like the atmosphere and the food’s amazing. The energy’s amazing at the Boom Room Room.

5 Reasons Why Food Halls Are Better Than School Cafeterias

1. You’ll never get stuck eating lima beans and cabbage, unless you want to. Everything at the Plaza Food Hall by Todd English is fresh, gourmet, and made in front of you, even the sushi. You have a choice of goodies from Murray’s Cheese or Balthazar bakery, the Ocean Grill or the Dumpling Bar. Rectangular cardboard pizza and meatloaf Tuesdays not on the menu.

2. Long gone are the days of awkwardly scanning the cafeteria for a place to dine in social anonymity. You can get your food to go! Recently inducted Chelsea Market vendors Bar Suzette (for crepes) and People’s Pops (for gourmet popsicles) offer completely portable snacks. This also eliminates the possibility of bullies knocking over your lunch tray and you inhaling your inedible fare in a bathroom stall.

3. No more ex-convicts slapping mashed potatoes on your plate. The new Mario Batali/Joe Bastianich (Del Posto, Esca, Babbo) Flatiron food hall complex, Eataly (opening this fall), is looking for professionals with at least 5 years experience in fields other than hospitality (like finance). Let go of the anxiety of wondering whether those lunch ladies pay attention to the ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ signs before digging in.

4.You can consume alcohol. As much as you want and/or can afford. Hudson Hall at the Hudson Hotel presents a swank rendition of your typical cafeteria. Perhaps because the masterminds here modeled the joint after an Ivy League Mess Hall (How New England of them), they have versions of the same disgusting concoctions you drank in college (Lynchburg Lemonade, Gin-N-Juice, Lemon Drops) and maybe high school (if you’re from Mississippi) but with quality liquor and less hangover-inducing ingredients.

5. There’s more to explore than the mystery meat. At the church-turned-club-turned-bazaar Limelight Marketplace, there’s a green market, yes, but also a slew of shopping options and a J. Sisters salon. And it looks like a mini-Disney, much better than bologna, I think.