Confronting My Past, Present, and the Article in ‘Crain’s’

So a friend (who prefers to remain nameless) and great publicist from R.Couri Hay Creative Public Relations, handles Stash, a club I recently completed, and Elsinor, which I am finishing up. I’ve known her forever and she is the tiger you want in your tank when you need some ink … press (if you need the other ink ,a tattoo, then Three Kings or Graceland serve me… well but I digress) She pitched and placed an article about me which talks about her clients in Crain’s, and that’s a big deal. I had mixed feelings about the piece which, while blowing me up as this design hero, brought up my checkered past, including my conviction for being part of an Ecstasy sales ring while I was director of the Tunnel, Club, USA, Limelight, Palladium. It also mentions my year in prison. Some people thought this was an unfair attack, or old news, or unnecessary for the story. A debate raged on Facebook, on my phone, and in emails and among friends about the value of the article and whether it was actually a positive thing. I called her up and she gave me this spin: "Your past has helped shape who you are today, and it’s a testament to the quality of your work that you’ve remained a player in the design industry for as long as you have. Clearly, there’s no end in sight." I’m buying into that.

The reporter, Ali Elkin, was very upfront about her desire and obligation to tell it like it is. I told her it was quite alright because it is a huge part of what drives me and defines me and I have never hid from that past. She noted in the article my take on things: "Currently living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he denies any wrongdoing."
 
The responses and Facebook posts ranged from "Shoot the messenger," to "It’s fabulous." I responded that "I yam what I yam," quoting that great poet, Popeye. I would tell you my side of that story in details, but so many have done so already, including Frank Owen in his Clubland book, which tells a story pretty close to the real. There was a little bit in there that I objected to, and my old friend Frank and I almost came to blows, and that spat resulted in a few articles here and there. We’re friends again. There is also the Limelight documentary by Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman which is coming out any day now on DVD; it really does a great job in summarizing that circus. I’m all up in that and advise you to check it out if you want more insight into that era and the circumstances of my conviction. I didn’t participate in any Ecstacy ring. I didn’t need that to fill clubs. I and the people assembled to run those clubs were the best in the business. The creativity and results of our efforts were rewarded with tens of thousands of satisfied customers who enjoyed one of the best nightlife eras.
 
The running of clubs, the wars fought , the million smiles, the million nights, the trial, the prison stint all define me as well as my relations, friends, and my little dog too. My creative abilities, as meager as they often are, come from creative freedoms earned on a hard but rewarding road. When someone hires me to design their joint, I understand the price of succeess and failure. I bring all my experience to the table. I have made a great deal of omelettes and have had to break a great many eggs as well, but it all seems worth it when I walk into The Darby, Stash, Butter, the WeSC store, or Aspen Social Club and see them occupied by people enjoying my work. It’s been almost 10 years since my first design gig. Butter was the first place I designed for people other than myself. For many years I designed the places I was going to operate, but Butter was for others. In prison, having completed Butter, I decided to design and write when I hit the streets.
 
I practiced and studied and used the time I was given to learn how to redefine myself when I got out. Now, after a decade of doing it, I am clearly happy with the Crains article, which celebrates my attempt to get up and stand up. It’s harder than I thought to live with a felony conviction. Many things you take for granted are very difficult for me, but I have no regrets. I may have lost this or that, but I earned a lot and learned a great deal about what it takes to survive. My friends have always been there. The greatest gift has been the clarity I have when I look in the mirror at the beginning or end of every day. Many have said I should have done this or done that or said this about them or that.  A thousand "whatevers, what ifs, and why nots" have been analyzed and debated till my stomach was knotted and then un-knotted with the satisfaction of doing the right thing … I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Nothing in my life, or that wonderful Crain’s article.
 
Oh, if you are going out tonight, visit me at Hotel Chantelle, or head over to Bowery Electric for Frankie Inglese’s Beahver party. This party dominated Thursdays in NYC forever before Frankie moved to LA. I cannot recall a better party. I guess any party better leave me unconscious and without memory.

Frank Owen’s Article on Chris Paciello Reveals All, Q& A With Owen Inside

How does that song go? I can never get it right: "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind…" Something like that. I can’t seem to get away from old acquaintances and the weird thing is, I can’t remember why I should want to never bring them to mind… but something tells me I should. The Limelight movie now out on DVD has made me a movie star. I am recognized in restaurants and get a few Facebook shout-outs a day because of it. A couple of days ago, old acquaintance Frank Owen alerted me to an article in the Miami New Times he wrote about my old acquaintance Chris Paciello . When Chris got out of prison, he had a good run out in LA, did something or other in Vegas, and is now bringing all the celebs and beach beauties to the bar at the restaurant Bianca at the Delano South Beach. I haven’t talked to him in years, but remember we were on good terms last time we met. I always liked him even though it has been reported we had some beef.

There was a time when he reportedly wanted some guys to beat me up, but even then I understood his side of it. I wanted his partner Ingrid Casares to open up Studio 54 with me and not him, and the compensation I offered him wasn’t sufficient to justify my approaching her. I knew the playground I was playing in and I knew the rules and the resulting confrontation wasn’t a surprise. We talked it out a few months later and that’s that. I read Frank’s story, which is amazingly detailed. It paints a not-too-flattering picture of Chris in straight-up black and white…mostly black. Somewhere near the end, a Delano publicist offers this spin from Chris: “I regret the mistakes I made in the past. I am working hard to make a positive impact and to build a new life for myself in Miami. I am grateful to the many people here who have welcomed me back with open arms, and look forward to a positive future.”
 
I think I said the same thing once or even thrice. Chris and I have learned from our past mistakes; mine was mostly hanging around people like those "co-starring" with me in that Limelight documentary and people like Chris. Hey, I used to be 3-foot-6… but I grew out of it. No one understands the club world of that era except some of the players who created it and wallowed in it. Even then, they only have their own perspective. It was big, there was a lot going on. The Limelight movie can try to summarize 10,000 nights, millions of partying people, and the actions of differently motivated players but it can’t possibly bring you there and into the minds of the players, the whys, and what for’s in a couple of hours.
 
Frank’s article takes it farther than before. It paints a picture of the forces I was dealing with when I was director of some famous clubs back in the day. In a game of musical chairs, I got left without one and did my piece. I stood up mostly because back then, when pressed hard, I chose to stand up rather than sit in a chair I would feel … "uncomfortable" in. Do I have regrets? Yeah, I have a few. If Chris can run joints after murder and other such bad play, I guess I could have done some things I was denied if I had decided to tell a few lies. "You don’t rat against people," I was told growing up and during the ordeal. "When you become a rat, it’s your very soul that you are ratting on"…goes the mantra that I agreed with at that time and now. I didn’t, others did. For now, like Mr. Paciello, "I am grateful to the many people here who have welcomed me back with open arms, and look forward to a positive future.”
 
Frank Owen was running off to give the keynote address at a criminology conference in Missouri in the morning. I asked him what was new in his Killer Comeback story, and this is what he said. I then followed up with a little Q & A.
 
Frank Owen – Here are some of the never-before-revealed highlights:
 
*A 1997 plot involving Paciello and Colombo crime family boss Alphonse Persico to murder a dissident mafioso.
 
*Another murder plot, this one to kill Paciello, which was nixed by Bonanno captain Anthony Graziano.
 
*A 1994 kidnapping of a Staten Island businessman from an auto body repair shop by Paciello and a Bonanno family soldier.
 
*A million dollar robbery of a Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn that provided the start-up capitol for Paciello’s first Miami Beach nightclub.
 
*The burglary of more than 30 bank night safety boxes in four different states by Paciello in alliance with members of a Bonanno-affiliated gang called the New Springville Boys."
 
 Why do you keep digging into this story?
I didn’t. I haven’t written a major clubland investigative story since I Ieft the Village Voice. Actually, Lera was the one who rekindled my interest in Paciello. She became friendly with a Lord Michael associate and I reunited with Lord Michael after not speaking to him for well over a decade. Plus, there was the Limelight documentary, of course, which brought back a lot of old memories.
 
What has been your personal relationship with Chris? How has he reacted in the past to your articles/book and how do you think he will react, if at all, to these incredible new disclosures?
I don’t have a personal relationship with Chris. I know his brother, Keith, just de-friended me on Facebook because of the story. Keith is a good guy. He’s twice the man his brother is. Over the years, I’ve contacted Chris a number of times but he’s always refused to be interviewed.
 
How does he get away with it after all is said and done? How does he still operate?
I don’t know. In LA, after he was released from prison, he got involved in two major nightclub brawls and was arrested for felony assault and assault with a deadly weapon while he was on parole. For most parolees, that would mean being sent back to prison – not for Chris. A couple of LA defense lawyers I talked to firmly believe that Chris is still working for the FBI.
 
Why is the city of Miami in love with him? What does he represent?
He represents South Beach when it was really happening — the fabulous ’90s, when South Beach became a beacon of international glamor. People down here miss those times. A friend of mine said: "What is wrong with people in South Beach? They think this guy is God." They do. As Paciello’s friend Michael Capponi once told me: "Party people will forgive anything for a good time." Especially in South Beach, the Land of the Lotus-Eaters.

Frank Owen Calls the Cops on Steve Lewis

imageNew York nightlife chronicler Frank Owen was none too appreciative of beloved nightlife columnist Steve Lewis’ hyperbolic, cartoonish wish to pop Owen in the nose at this past weekend’s Paper Nightlife Awards. So concerned is Owen about the entirely metaphorical nose-popping that, according to an item shaping up for tomorrow’s Page Six [UPDATE: here it is], Owen will be pressing charges against Lewis. Says Steve, “Owen is half my age and twice my size, so I guess it would be a fair fight. But he’s so drunk all the time, it really wouldn’t be fair, so I’d never actually get into a fight with him.” Should law enforcement apprehend Steve Lewis in days to come, we’ll set up a pledge drive here to bail him out. Meanwhile, after the jump, enjoy a transcription of the angry voicemail Owen just left us! Uh oh.

“Hello, this is Frank Owen, author of Clubland, who Steve Lewis threatened in his blog yesterday. I just want you to know I just filed a complaint with the local police department. You know, I don’t blame him, because he’s not a journalist, and he doesn’t know any better, and he’s an idiot. But I blame you, especially since you put that ‘popping’ [unintelligible] in the headline. Look, I don’t want to see Lewis arrested, he may still be on probation, he’s a convicted felon, right? But if this happens again, right, I will sue you. Do your job, for Christ’s sake!”

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Looking Good on ‘Paper’ & Popping Frank Owen

image[UPDATE: Frank Own is not amused.]

Paper Magazine’s 4th Annual Nightlife Awards seemed to me to be a must-attend event. Still, it was a cold Sunday night, and Mansion is way over there, and it was hard for me to get going. My “dates” for the evening, my lovely girlfriend Nicole and the beautiful blogger Brittney Mendenhall of Chichi212 opted out, and so I tivo’d Entourage and went alone. Mansion was a madhouse, packed with nominees and their followings. It was a party like 1994. I ran into Guest of a Guest blogger Rachelle Hruskas’ special friend, Olympian rower and all around good guy Cameron Winklevoss, as he smuggled a turkey sandwich into the joint. Rachelle’s table was packed with the beautiful Princeton types and fabulous funsters that have adopted my wonderful blogging buddy. Rachelle was all dressed up with a great place to go, as this event had everyone dancing on tables. It was one of those times when the potential of a new nightlife, of a new era in clubbing, seemed possible. I wrote a long time ago how this was possible, even inevitable, and I thought Mansion might be the club to do it. Mansion really hasn’t done that, but it has survived and thrived and is generating tons of loot, which is more than something in this day.

I ran into Mansion honcho Mark Baker, my dear friend. We looked around the room at the splendid crowd, and it seemed clear to me that Mark was very comfortable with this mix. Mansion came up a little short on the fabulous end. With all the politics and ghosts of dead clubs still haunting the place, it never became all things to all people, but it is printing money, and the crowd isn’t bad by any means. It’s just not the mixed bag and banging like the days Mark and I remember well. I asked him what he’s going to do after this. He asked, “You mean tonight?” “No,” I said. “After Mansion.” He said, “That’s a while off,” and then talked about exotic and warm places, and we chatted about one day working together again. Mark’s a gentleman, and I think if Daniel Craig gets tired of his Bond gig, Mr. Baker should step right in. Tia Walker towered over me in higher-than-a-club-kid-at-the-Tunnel heels, and she was awed by the pretty people in their pretty clothes. I offered that “this might be the best night Mansion has ever seen.” She agreed and posed with me for a photograph.

Rachelle then took me up to meet Down by the Hipster blogger Scott Solis. I like Matt and I love his blog; although we’ve traded potshots, I think it’s all been pretty civil. I had made a ridiculous statement last week, which I had thought was off the record, but my lovely assistant Nadeska (a.k.a. Nasdaq) Alexis decided it was blogworthy. Scott ripped me on it, and I thanked him for that. I deserved the slap. As we were chatting, DBTH target extraordinaire Matt Levine came up to me to say hey. I introduced him to Scott, and the exchange was uncomfortable. Matt kept on insisting he is “a nice guy” and undeserving of the treatment he gets at Scott’s hands. Scott insisted the treatment was fair. In a short while, a semi-truce was negotiated. Matt Levine is a nice guy who has opened a nice little joint for his friends, the Eldridge. I go there. I like it. But since it’s around 900 square feet, it really can’t be all things to all people.

I went over to my assigned table, which was hosted by Paper honcho David Hershkovitz. He thought I wasn’t coming, as I had declined my nomination for Best Blog. I told him I felt that Paper Magazine skews more for other bloggers, like Guest of a Guest and Down by the Hipster. I totally support the awards but didn’t like the format of “People’s Choice” when any motivated citizen could vote for their favorite club category a thousand times. Besides, my blog had already been awarded the Village Voice Best of 2008, and my ego is big enough. I had thrown my support behind Guest of a Guest. At table 33 was Frank Owen, the author of Clubland, a book which tried to give an accurate look into the world of Peter Gatien, Michael Alig, and myself and the events that caused our hard fall from grace. David H. sheepishly tried to introduce me to poor Frank, who I considered a friend at one time.

Frank immediately reported to me that he had heard from “at least two sources that [I] had said some unkind and unfair things” about him. I told him I don’t like talking behind people’s backs and got into his face. I recalled how in his book he told of a confession I had made to the DEA. This confession was thrown out of court, as it never happened. I had turned myself in to the DEA guys and had a lawyer five seconds after they called me on the phone telling me to return to New York to meet them. That “confession” was merely a script that they wanted me to repeat in court. I was promised freedom if I played along. The script was lies, and I never agreed to play ball and took the shot. Frank knew this and put in the lie for sensationalism. When the book came out, I confronted him. He promised to correct the mistake. He never has. Last night, he denied it was ever written. I said, “Read your own fucking book” and got really close to popping the fool in his nose. But I am a kinder, gentler Uncle Steve and left the ass to go hang with the fabulous. He pleaded with me that he was my friend, and I told him he was no friend of mine. I should have popped him. Oh well, maybe next time. Frank can’t be too far from the Heinekens, so I’m sure I’ll see him again.

Paparazzo Steve Sands told me of a dispute he was having over at the Eldridge and how he might need me to mediate; then he said he probably had it covered, as Matt Levine really is a nice guy. Patrick McMullan took a zillion photos of me posing me with various beauties, as I was solo, apparently a major faux pas in nightlife photography. Patrick told me that last Friday was the 25th anniversary of the opening night of the Limelight. He also told me his son Liam had turned 21. I remember Liam as a baby being shown off to my generation at places like Mudd Club and Danceteria, back when crowds looked like this one. I asked Patrick why no one thought of doing an anniversary party for the Limelight. His head tilted, and he gave me that, “I thought you were a smart guy look,” and I remembered Frank and the book. Q-tip was on stage getting his best party award. He seems so comfortable in his present career. He’s a really nice guy too. I then posed for my favorite nightlife photographer, Gina Sachi Cody. She dragged some smiley people over to pose with me as well. She tried to teach me how to smile. I told her two wives tried for decades to no avail.

Kenny Kenny, presenting the Best Promoter statue, pointed out that there were no gay promoters nominated, and there were certainly a few good ones that should have been considered. He is surely correct. He also shamelessly promoted his own new Sunday party with Susanne Bartsh over at Greenhouse. Michael Musto, announcing the Best DJ category, noted that Samantha Ronson could not attend as “she was busy inside Lindsay Lohan and that I’m happy if she’s happy.” I think most of us are happy for both of them. Lindsay was such a mess when I used to see her out. Samantha is a really nice … well, I’m so happy they’re happy too. Spencer Product, who’sSantos’ Party House won Best Club, dedicated his trophy to my late friend Arthur Weinstein, and that made me happy. Still a little miffed because I didn’t pop Frank Owen, I recalled Arthur’s famous mantras “forgetabout it” and “shut up,” so I did and will now.

Oh I forgot — the statues by Kid Robot were amazing, and now I want one. Alas, Down By the Hipster won Best Blog, and I congratulate him. In his speech, which could barely be heard above the Mark Ronson beats, Scott thanked Matt Levine for providing him with so much fodder. Matt Levine is really a really nice guy, and I’m happy he and Scott are chatting. Really.