This Week’s Miami Happenings: Full Moon, Rec Room, Scarpetta

SATURDAY: Lunar Activity
Full Moon Party Gets Groovy
Good vibes infused with metaphysical energy reign supreme at this month’s gathering of conscious souls celebrating the inaugural full moon of 2013. A hybrid of a traveling hippie commune and one bad ass dance party, the wildly popular Downtown Full Moon celebration takes place at the Moksha Family Artist Collective. There will be an open mic session, the opportunity to show off mad dance skills and reflect on words of wisdom spewed by those enlightened in attendance. Naturally, drums are welcomed.
The Downtown Full Moon Party is happening at the Moksha Family Artist Collective (228 NE 59th St., Lemon City) on Saturday the 26th. Check out the details by visiting the official Facebook page.

NOW: Positively Recked
Rec Room, LDV Hospitality’s latest edition to its booming nightlife division, has officially open its doors at the new Gale South Beach. The subterranean lounge – reminiscent of a ‘70s basement – will be home to the nightly shenanigans fueled by quality cocktails from the bar. All that, plus back-to-basics tunes, courtesy of Rec Room’s expansive vinyl library spun by notable DJs.
Rec Room (1690 Collins Ave., South Beach) is happening now. For the inside-info, read the listing at BlackBook Guides.

TUESDAY: Wine and Dine
The launch of the Fontainebleau hotel’s Cellar 1954 Wine & Dinner Series kicks off this week at Scarpetta, with pairings between the restaurant’s Italian menu and offerings from Bertani Winery. Dom Perignon, Kosta Browne, and Penfold’s Wines are said to follow suit. Seating is limited and will set you back $195 per person.
Cellar 1954 Wine & Dinner Series at Scarpetta (297 NW 23 St., Wynwood) is uncorking this Tuesday. For the inside-info, read the listing at BlackBook Guides. Tickets for the prix-fixe menu can be requested by emailing cellar1954@fontainebleau.com.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in Miami by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android. 

Chatting Up Lil Jon on Irie’s Wild Miami Weekend

The chat was fast and furiously fun. In a stairwell off to side of the summertime madness going down at the pool at Arkadia, DJ Irie, Lil Jon, and yours truly cracked wise, laughed loud, and caused a small ruckus. It was just us three, lensman Presscott McDonald, and ace handler Felicia Quaning. By the time we were finished, there was a break-off crowd of 50+ clicking away as if their day depended on it.

The occasion? Irie Weekend, when stars of stage, screen, and sport show their love for the Miami Heat’s official DJ. It’s all for a good cause, of course (Make-a-Wish), and it takes place in Miami’s hottest spots. Mostly, though, it’s a time for friends to get together again and remind each other what makes the world spin.

This year’s Weekend — the 7th — kicked off at Mokai, woke up on the links at (Melreese Country Club), segued through the Fontainebleau, then spent Saturday afternoon and night back at the resort’s latest great creation (Arkadia). Thursday’s launch was ostensibly private, which on South Beach means only 500 friends can attend. Jazzy Jeff and King Britt were in the booth, Alonzo Mourning (who’s got his own Zo’s Summer Groove coming up next month), LeBron James, Reggie Bush, and the like held court, and the beats didn’t stop till the proverbial break of dawn, despite the fact that a lot of folks were set to hit the links the next morning.

At Melreese the next day the mood was more club than country. Irie managed to mark 18 under par, the best score of the day even though he never left his cart (the advantage of being the host and bribing your caddy). I jest, of course. Irie’s got his golf game down, and so does the contingent that comes out to support him. Among those this year was Lil Jon, who brought along his son, DJ Young Slade. At 13, this with-it kid is already a veteran to many a mad throwdown. And he handled himself as if there’d be many more to come.

So it’s no surprise that Lil Jon was playing proud papa at Arkadia the next day. The Crunk Kingpin has a definite successor to his throne. What remains to be seen is how long it’ll be before the son unseats the father. Right now though they’re working in tandem. Lil Jon brings Young Slade to the party; Young Slade kicks it into overdrive.

Lil Jon is on the road too much to bring his boy everywhere of course. As our fast chat revealed, a couple days before his Weekend stint, Jon was in LA “hosting” a sceening for Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double (“an amazing movie”). A couple weeks before that he was in Brasilia (“it was wild, man”). Next he’s in back Chicago (“we’re doin’ Enclave”), then it’s off to Australia for a full tour (“the first in four years”).

Up close Lil Jon is all smarts and candor. Sure, there’s some of that “Yeah!” that put him on the map, but it’s less boast than swagger. He’s a lean, keen music machine, and he knows he’s got the chops to prove it. Better yet, Jon’s genuine. That’s why he not only showed to support his good friend Irie on his momentous Weekend, but why he took time out to speak to just about anyone who wanted a minute, and why he did it all with such grace and cool. It’s also why Lil Jon brought along Young Slade. And why Young Slade is already living his bright future.

Whether it’s watching Flo Rida rock LIV or chatting up Lil Jon before he does the dizzy at Arkadia, it all makes for one wild Weekend in Miami.

Photos by Presscott McDonald

Helicopter DJs & Electric Models: Hennessy Black Parties Hard in Miami Beach

What is it going to take to get you to try Hennessy Black? How about a renowned DJ performing for a party in Miami Beach while suspended from a helicopter hovering 350 feet above the ocean. Would that do the trick? Because that’s what the world’s largest cognac producer did last weekend at the Fontainebleau to celebrate its latest spirit, and frankly, I don’t know how they could top it. Your move, Courvoisier.

image Hennessy hosted me and a handful of other journalists for a series of events to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Hennessy Black, a cognac designed to appeal to younger drinkers and mix well in the kind of cocktails you drink at nightclubs where the patrons are all sexy or rich or both, and to introduce the 2011 ambassadors of the Hennessy Black Done Different DJ program. It was VIP treatment all the way, from the flight to my 28th floor ocean-view suite to the posh pool cabanas to the bottle service we enjoyed at the nightclubs Arkadia and LIV, and if the company’s goal was to position itself as the brand of choice for nightlife taste-makers, I think they succeeded. Because quite frankly, it was the wildest, most outrageous, and most expensive party I’ve ever attended, and it all but overshadowed and certainly outclassed the Ultra Music Festival, which was going on a few blocks down the boardwalk. By the end, it was clear. If this is what Hennessy Black is about, goodness what a drink! It also raised a few philosophical questions about the nature of product promotion and the sheer power of a dominant brand, but we’ll get to that after the parties.

We convened at the Fontainebleau on Friday night, fortunate to be there on time after a fire at the American Airlines fuel farm at Miami International canceled scores of flights. I checked into my suite, which was beautiful, of course, as the entire resort had recently undergone a $1 billion renovation that included the construction of the tower in which I was staying. Waiting for me in the room was a gift bag filled with all sorts of goodies, including, not surprisingly, a bottle of Hennessy Black. As a spirits columnist, I wanted to sample it privately, unadulterated by mixers and away from the scrutiny of publicists. After all, maybe I wouldn’t like it, and wouldn’t that make for an awkward weekend? So I shook up a couple of shots with ice in the mini-shaker from the gift bag, poured it in one of the two small glass tumblers from the bathroom, and took my first-ever taste of Hennessy Black out to the balcony to sip it while gazing at the shimmering blue water. And it was delightful – crisp, smooth, and well balanced, with a mild sweetness that brought out notes of fruit and honey. It has a golden color and a floral and citrus aroma, and while it’s one of the only cognacs in the world specifically designed for mixing, it also stands up just fine on its own. I swirled and sipped and watched the waves roll in for a few blissful minutes before heading out to dinner.

We had dinner in the garden of Cecconi’s at the Soho Beach House next door, and I chatted with our hosts from Hennessy and MSLGROUP and my fellow writers, who included Chloé A. Hilliard of Vibe, Dana Storm Santiago of The Source, Tyler Trykowski of Playboy, and Jim Shi, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Financial Times and Huffington Post. As we talked about Hennessy and munched on octopus and branzino, Paul Shaffer, Eugene Levy, and Martin Short sat down at the table next to ours. It happened to be Short’s 61st birthday that day, and his fellow screen legends serenaded him with rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” To cap off our meal, we sipped Hennessy XO out of snifters and picked at tiramisu, Key lime pie, and chocolate torte. One could get used to this. image

Later that evening we all went to a nightclub on the property called Arkadia, which involved bottle service – Hennessy Black and assorted mixers – along with sparkler-adorned bottles, leather-clad models, and cyberpunk dancing girls shimmying on platforms while adorned with hundreds of pink lights. The dance floor was packed, the music was pumping, and the low ceiling gave the place the feeling of a basement party on crack. Apparently the club owners have no problem with people sitting on top of the seat backs of the banquettes, putting their feet right on the upholstery. Don’t try that at my place. I also observed that at any given moment, roughly half the people in the club were looking down at their phones, either texting or tweeting or tumbling or stumbling or whatever else the tech crowd is crushing on these days. I conked out early – if 3am is early – and enjoyed a blissful night’s sleep in the suite’s big bed.

Saturday arrived with brilliant sunlight streaming through the sliding glass doors. The pool scene at the Fontainebleau is legendary, and Hennessy Black had rented out a couple of cabanas for relaxing on settees, eating snacks, and drinking cocktails. The pools – there are about a half-dozen on the ground level alone, in addition to one on the 7th floor – were packed with hard-bodied guys and sexy women wearing jewel-adorned bikinis, and they were all splashing in the water, dancing to techno music, and laying in the sun. As Chloé from Vibe pointed out, it was like a scene from CSI: Miami before the body is found.

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At this point, we were given a chance to interview Samantha Ronson and D-Nice, the 2011 ambassadors of the Hennessy Black Done Different DJ program. Samantha was a bit tired from an early-morning flight – she had done a gig at the Borgata in Atlantic City the previous evening – but was doing her best to rally for the evening’s party. She explained how she got involved in the Hennessy Black DJ project: Hennessy contacted her, she tasted the spirit, liked it, wound up inventing a pretty kick-ass cocktail with it while in Paris, and decided to be a part of the fun. But don’t expect any compromises from the New York-born, LA-based music legend. “I’m going to play what I play and drink what I drink,” she said. Fortunately for Hennessy, she happens to be fond of the stuff.

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D-Nice, who, true to his name, is a sincerely nice guy, said that he appreciated how serious the brand was with its nightlife integration, since he himself feeds off the energy at clubs when he spins (“The music follows the vibe”). We talked for a while about his upbringing in the Bronx, his history with KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, his work as a photographer (he carries a Leica camera everywhere he goes and even took my picture), and his truly eclectic taste in collaborators, including Tom Petty and Kid Rock, before he excused himself to prepare for the evening’s set. Little did we know at the time what that set would involve. I also had a few minutes with Patrick Madendjian, Hennessy’s International Marketing Manager-Premium, who explained that the brand simply sets the scene and lets the artists take it from there, mixing up music much like Hennessy Black mixes more than 35 eaux de vie to craft its signature taste. I can dig it.

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After a blissful swim in the ocean, I showered, donned my only finest Hugo Boss suit, and headed over to La Côte, the Fontainebleau’s outdoor beachside restaurant and club, for an evening of falafel burgers, Hennessy Black cocktails (I’m a fan of the Hennessy Black Xpearience, which is inspired by a cocktail created by the Fontainebleau at Bleau Bar), house music, and one very big surprise. There were models everywhere – passing out drinks, standing on platforms, and looking generally lovely. Samantha Ronson performed first, filling the dance floor with revelers by mixing everything from Jay-Z and DMX to Bob Seger.

image It was at this point that I realized that Hennessy knows what they’re doing with their artist series. Samantha was doing more than just spinning records, she was actually creating a scene, sending a party vibe that worked its way through the open-air club. At one point she took the microphone and shouted to the crowd, “Are you getting fucked up?” A chorus of voices screamed in assent. (Hennessy encourages responsible drinking.) A sweet smell wafted through the air at times: Apparently one more thing that mixes well with the fine Irish-French spirit.

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And then our hosts advised us to make our way to the back railing for the big surprise. I was afraid they’d say “Surprise, we’re not paying for your rooms after all!” The sun had recently set, and we looked out over the dark ocean to see a brightly-lighted object approaching in the distance while the music in the club got louder and louder. What could it be? When it got closer, we realized it was a helicopter ferrying a portable DJ booth attached to it with a cable. Inside the booth was D-Nice, who was performing his set for the party while hovering about 350 feet above the ocean, a dozen or so yards from shore. The music he was playing was beamed to the party and the crowd went nuts at the spectacle. A second helicopter and a remote video camera attached to the booth captured footage that was shown on big screens positioned throughout the club. D-Nice bounced to the music himself, despite being attached to his floating booth with a safety harness. The colored lights shining from the booth reflected off the ocean waves below, and we all marveled at what we were seeing and hearing. Had this ever been done before, we wondered?

At this point, I became a bit philosophical. This started out as a standard – if amazingly opulent – press junket. But it had just crossed the line from marketing into an actual news event worthy of coverage by any journalist. So, on the one hand, I had to accept the idea that it is possible for a company to create news and shape opinion by sheer force of money. After all, how much could two helicopters, world-class DJs, a camera crew, more than 20 models, a big block of hotel rooms, fancy meals, and an entire nightclub cost? I don’t know, but I’m thinking it’s in the millions.

Yet there was more to it than a simple show of cash. The flying DJ stunt – and the artist program in general – was actually a really cool idea. (Here’s a cool video of it.) Hennessy Black wants to be associated with nightlife. Nightlife, at the highest level, is about creating a grand spectacle and reveling in the moment. And I’ve never experienced a grander spectacle and a more sublime moment than watching a major DJ performing for a party from a light-adorned booth suspended from a helicopter floating above the Atlantic Ocean on a warm, beautiful night in Miami Beach.

And so, as the helicopter flew away and lowered D-Nice onto a barge moored offshore, where a dinghy would ferry him back to dry land, I couldn’t help but joke around with Tyler from Playboy about where Hennessy – or any of its competitors – could possibly go from there. Hennessy had thrown down the gauntlet, doubled down, raised the bar, and set a new standard in drinks promotion all at the same time. “What more can we do for you people?” I imagined the Hennessy brand masters saying. “What else could it possibly take for you to try Hennessy Black? A squadron of fighter jets? A submarine? A space ship? Forget it, we just gave you the spectacle of a lifetime. If you don’t want to try our drink after that, have a nice life, because we’re done.”

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But they weren’t done. After the party at La Côte, we all headed to LIV, the mega-club of all mega-clubs at the Fontainebleau. I’d never in all my life been in a nightclub like that, with lights zigzagging across the ceiling, outrageously sexy servers, and a sound system that filled the place with music while somehow allowing you to talk to your seat mate if you wanted to. It was VIP service all the way as we breezed to our table, and within minutes the bottles started showing up. Hennessy Black was on the table, of course, but also Moët-Chandon Imperial Rosé, a fellow member of the LVMH family that I like very much. There was also a high-energy set from DJ Erick Morillo, and, at around 2am, a performance by the Hennessy girls (above) who danced near oversized bottles of Hennessy Black and waved their wings to the music. The music got louder, high-caliber cannons blasted black confetti throughout the place, laser beams shot across the dance floor, club employees tossed handfuls of green luminescent necklaces to the crowd, A-list celebrities mingled with the merely fabulous, and black-leather-clad girls danced on platforms. It was a wild party.

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Eventually, high-flying DJ D-Nice (born Derrick Jones) dropped by our table, and we all congratulated him on an amazing feat. He was all smiles, and, while admitting that he was somewhat nervous about the whole affair, said that he enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t help but don my Kanye West shades and get a picture with the man. I wouldn’t normally embrace the rock star look, but it was Saturday night in Miami Beach, the music and Hennessy were going to my head, and it just felt right. I have no regrets.

[Images via Seth Browarnik of WorldRedEye.com, Manny Hernandez, and me]

Midnight Mixologists: Camille Austin

Steamy, sexy, and red-hot: three words that describe Camille Austin, the city where she works, and her signature cocktails. Austin trained under a master mixologist for her gig at haute Chinese boîte Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau in Miami, where the Mexico native lives, works, and pours. The Betty Page look-alike has a flair for all things retro, and she likes her cocktails with a kick—like her White Pom and muddled apple-infused Red-Hot Passion—as much as she likes Luis Miguel.

How did you get into mixology? I had been volume bartending for about 3 years, but it wasn’t until I opened Hakkasan Miami that I was actually introduced to properly concocted cocktails. We had a European team sent from London to thoroughly train us for the opening, including a master mixologist. Alan Yau, the creator of Hakkasan, had a dream of beautifully presented, flawless food, paired with perfectly crafted, fresh cocktails in a fantasy-like setting. That vision has since been infectious to me and I have found a great passion in my craft.

What’s your favorite part of the job? Simply having someone return to see you a year later because they still remember the cocktail you made them a year before. It’s a great feeling.

How do you name the drinks you create? The names of my drinks go hand-in-hand with my character. They’re edgy, sassy, and glamorous!

How is your approach to mixology different from everybody else’s? Everyone has their individual style. Most of my cocktails are characterized by the use of fresh ingredients, such as fresh muddled fruits and crushed herbs. I am very much a classicist. Many cocktails of mine will be variations of beautiful classic cocktails, maybe incorporating herbs like cilantro, cinnamon, or tropical fruits, an influence of my Mexican culture.

What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli? Inspiration actually came from the Stoli White Pomegranik flavor itself. The rare white poms, though they are lighter on the outside, still have a deep red color on the inside and contain less tannins than a traditional pomegranate. I wanted to take this amazing red color and make a crisp, clean, sassy cocktail. I added half a chopped green apple to boost the freshness.

What’s your idea of the absolute perfect setting in which to enjoy a cocktail? That could be anywhere from a beautifully designed, sexy cocktail lounge in a fabulous city to sipping a perfectly balanced margarita on a white, sandy beach in the Caribbean.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist? I had a woman recently sit at my bar on a busy night for a few hours. She was very low-key and watched as I tended to the busy crowd. When she was about to leave she grabbed my arm and said to me, “You are very good at what you do. You made me and every person in here feel important.” It meant a great deal to me.

What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a god-given gift, or something you can learn? It’s both a gift and something that can be learned and studied. Behind the bar, we are performers for our crowd. Charisma and presence are two very important qualities to have as a bartender. People come to a bar to unwind, have a tasty drink, and at times be entertained by us. The art of the cocktail is constantly evolving as well, therefore I believe it’s important to always read about changing techniques, improved tools and great, new ingredients.

What’s your favorite go-to ingredient and why? I love using things like fresh ginger and cinnamon. They are versatile ingredients, and most times can make for a bold finishing touch.

What’s the most important lesson about mixology you’ve learned in your years on the job? A very good friend of mine once told me that no matter how hard you work and how much you know, there’s always someone out there working harder than you. It’s been the best piece of advice I’ve ever received.

Read more Midnight Mixologists interviews here.

Our Man in Miami: Basking in the Beauty of Miami Horror

Incongruity becomes me. I drive a ’76 Buick Regal and use a 4G phone. I wear suits and ties where shorts and sandals are pretty much de rigueur. I dig listening to The Archies while reading Nietzsche, and reading Mickey Spillane while listening to Wagner. When most of the land lies down to bed for the night, I rise. When everyone’s hell bent on heaven, I’m among the heaven-sent who descend. So it stands to damn good reason that I’d dig Miami Horror, the nightmarishly-named Aussie outfit who make music so beautiful it hurts. I can’t recall exactly when or where I first came across the name, nor what went through my mind in the nanosecond it took for me to click back and see if I could believe my eyes. Some kinda tragic headline, I surmised. Most certainly, I didn’t think music, let alone a sound so robust it makes the disco it emulates almost pale in comparison. And when I did find out Miami Horror was a man (now a band), I figured he’d cribbed his moniker from a tabloid a la New York’s legendary 3 Teens Kill 4. You know, the kinda front page story that grabs folks by the throat.

Alas, as you’ll read, I was wrong, way wrong. In fact, I was so far off base I may as well have been on another playing field altogether. And when a know-it-all like me so completely misses the mark, well, getting to the core of the matter becomes of paramount importance. So when I heard the man (now band) would be holed up at The Fontainebleau and staging at LIV, I set my sights on a sitdown. And when I found out the man (and band) had barely left the grounds in the two days they’d been in town, I insisted we preface said sitdown with a drive around.

That’s how I found myself playing tour guide for Miami Horror’s main man, Benjamin Plant. The rest of the band had gone to the frolic in the sea, but managers Jerry Soer and David Kirkpatrick were courageous enough to jump in and join me on a whirlwind look at South Beach.

Backed by a monologue that must’ve sounded as mad as the cat in the hat who was uttering it, I pointed out local landmarks like The Octagon, where my French designer pal Daniel Venissac lives in Muhammad Ali’s old apartment, Frank Gehry’s soon-to-open New World Symphony complex, which bookends nicely Cesar Pelli’s Arsht Center across the Causeway, and our once dearly beloved Burdines, Florida’s first department store, which has now gone the way of Macy’s. I took ‘em on a stroll down Lincoln Road, and told of its boom and bust and boom again history, and how it was designed by the late, great Morris Lapidus, the very same mind behind The Fontainebleau. And after a dynamite meal at Rosinella (where else?), I dropped off the now fully-informed trio at Mac’s Club Deuce, the dive bar to end all dive bars, and the one remaining element of old South Beach.

It was while we were breaking bread that I managed to shut up and let Ben get a word in edgewise. Here are a few of them.

It just so happens that both Massive Attack and MGMT will be coming to Miami on the same date. If you had choose one of the two, which would it be? I’d have to say Massive Attack, because I’ve seen MGMT.

Really? How were they? A lot of people were disappointed by their show, because they basically just stand there and do nothing. But that’s exactly what I expected. Everyone else thought that because their music is so unique, they’d have this really crazy show or something. They don’t.

What other of the new crop of bands do you dig? There’s another Australian group called Tame Impala, and they’re pretty much Psych Rock with Cream influence and John Lennon-like vocals.

They’re also from Melbourne? No, they’re from Perth.

Is it something you might wanna remix? They wouldn’t really want a remix, because the music is so organic. There are a couple synth noises here and there, but it’s mostly all guitars, heavy phasers…

What about dance music? This guy Lindstrom from Norway, he has some pretty cool stuff. It’s not that dancy, but it’s that kinda new disco that’s goin’ on now.

You know, I interviewed Calvin Harris when he was in town last year, not that you sound like Calvin Harris, but there is a similar slant. And it always puzzles me how this strange blip in the aural cosmos – ’77 or ’78 to ’81 disco – got a hold of you guys. Obviously you weren’t around then. What happened? Did you hear an old Donna Summer record and go nuts? Yeah, I think so. Pretty much. I tried to keep Illumination influenced by disco, but not really disco. I think what happened was that for 10 years there was this house thing, which was obviously influenced by disco; in fact it’s probably more disco than all this new stuff, just a newer version of it. And that’s where the influence first came from. Then people started looking into house’s influence, and that led back to original disco. Okay, you’ve probably answered this a million times, but where did the name Miami Horror come from? I was looking at visual words. I wanted something that had more depth to it than just a word, i.e with a more visual aspect. Miami was quite colorful. It was probably when I was into more ‘80s sounding stuff, too, so that made it appeal to me even more. Horror was a nice contrast with Miami, and both words together have a lot of repetition, you know, two i’s, double r’s, two o’s. Horror can almost be mirrored. It’s just a visual thing really.

So you didn’t come across some tabloid headline that led with “Miami Horror”? No, nothing like that. It’s just two words that happened to come together really well.

So what do you think of Miami anyway? Well, we’ve seen more in the last 40 minutes than we have in the entire two days we’ve been here.

That’s my fault. Had I known you’d be in town early, I would’ve snatched you up sooner – or at least given you an itinerary of hot spots to hit. There’s always something goin’ on. Next time, for sure. We’ll be back.

I’m gonna hold you to that. Please do.

Industry Insiders: DJ Reach, Beat Boy

Semu Namakajo, a.k.a. DJ Reach, is Manhattan’s very own household name when it comes to the world of nightclubs. Bringing his gift for musical mish-mashing to haunts across NYC, Vegas, the Hamptons, and Miami, Reach is best known for being one of the nicest dudes in the biz — just ask any club owner in town. In a city where the sincere have dwindled down to a mere few, this New York native brings nothing but the realness in his music as well as his life. That’s because the music undoubtedly is his life.

How’d you get your start DJing? I was one of those people who saw the craft and got the fever for that cool activity when you see somebody at the nucleus of the party, who is able to dictate the direction of the vibe for the night. So, whether you were coming in from having a hard day at work or celebrating the greatest day of your life, you’re at the mercy of the DJ. I thought that was so powerful. It just drew me in.

The first place you DJed? It was at a junior high school dance at the Cathedral School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I literally had a couple of records and cassette tapes. I went back and forth from a boom box and one turntable that was my brother’s.

What about your first paying gig? I don’t really remember my first paying gig. I feel like I should. It should be like when you go to one of those bodegas and they have the dollars on the wall. I should have my first paycheck on my wall.

What’s your weekly line-up? Tuesday’s at Brother Jimmy for an after-work party followed by late night at Southside. It’s a down-low hipster spot. Wednesdays I do Avenue, which is a sceney spot and all the celebs are there. That’s my image night. Thursdays I can’t even reveal. On my Twitter, I call it the “secret spot.” So, you have to follow me on Twitter to find out about it. It might move around a bit. Fridays I jump on a plane and I go to Las Vegas to spin at Tao, which is like doing a concert every week because 2,000 people come together under one roof, and the DJ booth is right in the center of the dance floor. If I’m not in Vegas on Friday, then I’m at the Hotel on Rivington. On Saturday’s, I’m anywhere from Vegas to the Hamptons at Dune. You can catch me all over. Miami at Fontainebleau, maybe I’m in London … who knows?

Who do you look up to in the business? Because I have a marketing company as well called Big Picture Marketing Group or BPM, plus I’ve been a promoter and a DJ, on the business side I look up to Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss. They’ve been like mentors to me, as well as big brothers. I’ve worked for them for seven or eight years now since the very beginning of Marquee to the number-one grossing restaurant and nightclub in the country, which is Tao Las Vegas. On the DJ side it would be DJ Stretch Armstrong. I used to stay up way too late taping his late-night show, and then I ended up interning for him.

You also DJed on a late-night show for Carson Daly. What was that like? TV is totally different from any nightclub experience because so much is scripted and planned out, and there are retakes, and even though you’re in front of a live studio audience, there’s still a general path that your producers want you to follow. Carson is such an amazing and generous guy. He really loves music, and he gave me some creative license to play what I wanted to play as long as I stayed attuned to the general vibe and atmosphere he had going on. If it was Gwyneth Paltrow and she was talking about growing up on the Upper East Side in a townhouse and how she used to listen to the Beatles, I might play some Beatles songs and go into commercial with that.

What’s your favorite kind of music to play? I’m known for my musical palette, my repertoire, and it’s just a variety. I don’t want to use the term “mash-up” because I think it’s played out. I play the music that is representative to the soundtrack of the lives of the people who are in my generation. I play legends like Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain and Jay-Z. But it also includes anyone from The Cranberries to M.IA.

Does your line of work get you lots of ladies? It has its advantages. It’s a testament to the fact that you are in a category of performers, and if you do what you do well, you could be a rock star. You could be somebody’s hero, whether it is for just one night or for actual love.

Does it get annoying when people make requests? It opens you up to a challenge. If someone wants to hear Ritchie Valens, I have to figure out how to blend that in with Nas. I have to be like, “Okay, let’s try it.” Sometimes it’s annoying as hell.

Where do you go out? I’m such a foodie. You’ll catch me at La Esquina, Blue Ribbon Sushi. I also like hole-in-the-wall places for having beer and wings like Brother Jimmy’s.

What sort of negative trends do you see in the business? A lot of trends people tend to say are negative, I see as positive. They say, “All the DJs now use lap tops and Serato, and it takes away from the creativity and the craft of using vinyl.” I have 10,000 records in my house to this day. I’ve gone to the deepest, darkest crevices of record shops around the world. I value all of them. People think it’s limiting to have all the same music all download-able. You have to challenge yourself as an artist and as a creative thinker. You have to decide how you’re going to put it together and how you’re going to let your identity show despite the fact that everyone has access to the music.

What’s your dream project? It’s a project I’m working on right now. I’m approaching my 30th birthday, and every year I throw a huge party. All of my friends as well as celebs show up. We’ve had a thousand people come in the past. This year I’m taking 30 artists that I respect and have influenced me in some way and asking them to pick 30 songs, one per artist that has impacted them in the past 30 years. It will be a compilation of 30 artists who have influenced me and the songs that have influenced them during my lifespan.

Vegas Casinos Crapping Out on Recession

The crapped-out economy has hit Las Vegas hard. With the city’s industry crashing like casinos were Chryslers, everyone from CEOs to chambermaids is muttering that “It’s never been this bad.” And, well, it hasn’t. Gambling revenues tumbled, with the take on the Strip’s tables dropping 15% in January (compared to January 2008). Moody’s Investors Service has repeatedly downgraded virtually every casino company — MGM Mirage twice in a week! — citing “aggressive and substantial debt-financed development activity and earnings pressure from slowing consumer spending trends that began in fiscal 2008.” In short: Casinos went into massive hock to expand extravagantly. Then everyone got The Fear, and blowing five grand on blackjack and bottle service became less appealing. Well, not less appealing, but more difficult to get away with on a regular basis.

MGM Mirage (MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, etc.) is struggling to complete its sprawling City Center project. The company was forced to sell the Treasure Island casino to a Kansas billionaire when banks refused further construction loans. The complex’s centerpiece was to be the Harmon Hotel, a shimmering boutique tower designed by celebrated architect Lord Norman Foster — which was chopped in half in mid-build, reportedly due to construction problems and evaporating condo sales. Even with cutbacks and postponements, MGM Mirage is scrambling to restructure debt and float this thing until it opens in the fall.

The Fontainebleau — a sister property to the Miami Beach hotel — is believed to have enough cash to complete construction and open in October. But both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are going negative, and some wonder whether the high-tech, high-style resort will sell enough of the all-important condo units to survive.

Another project in limbo is Echelon Place, which was to have contained Vegas’ very own Mondrian and Delano Hotels. Boyd Gaming (Sam’s Town, Orleans, Gold Coast, Main Street, etc.) had to suspend the project when a chunk of financing fell through. Man, they better not have torn down the Stardust for nothing.

The Sands Corporation (Venetian, Palazzo) has been ousting executives and cutting costs — but it’s also opening casinos in Singapore and, erm, Pennsylvania. CEO Sheldon Adelson (Forbes’ third-richest man in America — last year) has expressed confidence in thundering tones, but he’s already had to pour a billion dollars of his own money into the company to meet loan requirements, and may be looking to offload some of his interests in Macau.

Station Casinos (Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock, Aliante, Boulder Station, etc.) is scrambling to renegotiate with bondholders as the clock ticks toward an April 15 bankruptcy filing deadline. Boyd Gaming offered to buy most of Station’s properties, but Station’s Fertitta family rejected them. Boyd persists, meaning we may have a good, old-fashioned casino family war between the Boyds and the Feritttas. Station’s plans for a luxe Strip property — Viva — have died quietly.

So, who isn’t putting a poker face on panic? Well, Boyd Gaming has enough cash to buy other casinos, even if they have halted new ones. Hilton announced that it will take over the foreclosed-upon Cosmopolitan Towers project as one of the launching pads for its new Denizen hotels brand. Wynn Corporation seemed to be weathering the tsunami, but Steve Wynn’s just-announced divorce from wife (and longtime boardmember) Elaine Wynn could cause chaos. Both have lawyered up — Elaine with Don Schiller, who got one of the biggest divorce settlements is history for Juanita (Mrs. Michael) Jordan. Nothing like watching billionaires divorce to take everyone’s mind off of their own bottom line.

Industry Insiders: Alfred Portale, Top Chef

The 25th anniversary of Gotham Bar & Grill finds Alfred Portale, the executive chef and co-owner, celebrating his restaurant’s continued success but also reflecting wistfully on his own beginnings. He sounds off on the evolutions of both his career and the industry, oversized pork sandwiches, and Top Chef.

How would you describe your role in the kitchen? In terms of the day-to-day operations, that’s my role. Twenty years ago, I would cut fish, butcher lamb, get on the line, and cook. Now it’s more or less being in the restaurant each night and overseeing the service. Spending time in the dining room and greeting guests. We have a huge amount of regular guests and friends of the restaurant who come each night. I’m now sort of splitting my time between here and Miami. I opened a new restaurant in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau. It was re-opened after a billion-dollar renovation. It’s a wild culture down there.

Do you have any partners? The restaurant was originally opened with my partners. There are four: Jeff Bliss, Jerry Kretchmer and Rick and Robert Rathe.

What’s changed in the past 20 years? I’m more of a global operator now. My role was very much kitchen-centric twenty years ago, but it’s changed.

How did you get your start and eventually end up at Gotham Bar & Grill? I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, and then I got recruited. While I was at school, they opened up a gourmet food shop in New York City from Michel Guérard, who at the time was one of the greatest chefs. I saw it as my ticket to France. I came to New York and worked for Guérard for a year. Then I was invited to cook for a year in France, and later returned to New York. I did a year as a sous chef for Jacques Maxima, another great chef at the time. And then was looking for a chef’s position. I had heard this place made a big splash. It was a unique restaurant. This is essentially the way it looked 25 years ago — a fun, large, cavernous space that got a lot of attention for the scene and for the architecture, but not for the food. So, I was attracted to the space and the opportunity.

What are a few of your favorite places to wine and dine? Fishtail by David Burke, the seafood restaurant. It’s on the Upper East Side in a very elegant townhouse. It’s not a late-night cool kind of place, although they do serve late. I also go to places like La Esquina. I still love going to Balthazar and getting the seafood towers. I often start with cocktails at Soho House. I also like places like the Gramercy Park Hotel. It has remained really, really hip and cool.

What about guilty pleasures? In Italy, you’ll see these stands where they have a whole pig essentially on a fantastic piece of bread — some meat, some of the crisp skin, some of the heart and the liver. They chop it all up and pack it into the sandwich — it’s extraordinary. It’s called porketta.

Who are some people you admire? The first guy that comes to mind is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He was so creative and unique when he opened JoJo many years ago. He had two or three restaurants in New York and somehow maintained the quality very well. I thought Greg Koontz was a great chef — I have great respect for his food. Of course, I admire Thomas Keller. It takes so much work and pain and suffering to really accomplish what he does. The demands he places on himself, the kitchen and the staff is extraordinary. I admire hard work and success. I grew up in a generation where if you wanted a culinary education, you had to go to France, back in the 80s. So I was influenced by French chefs and continue to be. Now the big restaurants are in the United States. So if you’re a young cook and you want to be inspired and get great training, you can go to San Francisco, Chicago, or New York.

What’s the one common trait among all these people? They’ve all achieved a level of success through extraordinarily hard work. You need to have a skill level and be creative. There are enough chefs that try and take the fast path to success, more driven by public relations and self-promotion. These guys come in quietly through tremendous hard work and talent and create what are now empires, through perseverance and passion.

What positive trends have you been seeing? Tremendous interest in cooking, chefs, and restaurants in this country. You look back 25 years — which I’ve been doing a lot of lately — and it’s a different landscape entirely. There are chefs and restaurateurs who have gained a lot of respect and popularity. We don’t have the same culture in this country about food or wine that they do in, for instance, Spain and Italy. It’s great to see how far we’ve come in such a short period of time in terms of the restaurants and the fantastic products we’re producing and an appreciation for fine dining.

Do you think reality TV has helped this? Well, it’s had a profound effect. Television and TV stars have raised awareness for sure. I think that I’m speaking about chefs who just embrace farmers and sustainable agriculture, organic and all these things that have crept into and are part of everyday life. I think that was all mainly chef-driven. But certainly the Emerils and Tom Colicchios have turned it into a spectacle.

What else can you say about the 25th anniversary? We’re offering a $25 prix fixe luncheon — which is a bit of a bargain. It’s composed of six dishes from our past, and they all carry the date when they went on the menu. It’s turned out to be a lot of fun for guests who recall, “I remember this dish.” In the evening, we’re doing a five-course meal for $75. We created a champagne that carries our name that we’re pouring freely with that. It’s been great. In these dire economic times, it’s perhaps not such a great idea to have a massive celebration, but to keep it low-key. We’ve invited lots of our old guests and old employees and customers to come back in throughout the month. And there are new faces too.

What was it like overseeing wannabe Top Chefs as a guest judge? I had a lot of thoughts about that. There are two challenges. I was quite impressed during the Quickfire at how free-thinking and spontaneous they were as a group. I was a judge early on, and there were at least 10 chefs I was judging. They had 30 minutes to put something together, and the results were stunning. The next day after they were given a whole night to think about it, a couple hours at night and couple hours the next day to prepare a dinner, they pretty much all fell flat on their face. It’s a funny thing — it’s like if you have to think too much about it, you screw up. I don’t know if that’s real life. I think some of those guys are good chefs. I feel like I oversee the aspirations of a lot of young chefs in the kitchen and have over many years. I’ve seen lots of talent come through the kitchen and gone onto being successful. There’s been a dozen or more stars. That’s been a really nice thing to be a part of.

Do you think that turning it into that kind of competition is a negative thing for the field? No. I don’t. I think in order to be successful in the kitchen or this environment, you have to be extremely competitive, driven, and focused. I’m not worried it’s a negative thing. Chefs, more than any other profession, so often come together in charity situations. I just can’t think of any other profession where we are called upon. We get asked almost once a week to do something for the Opera, C-Cap, City Harvest, or Citymeals-on-Wheels. I think it’s good. We share employees and ideas. Sure there’s a lot of competition, but it’s a close family.