Tenjune door sentry Aalex Julian dishes on the K-Mart of nightlife, the old chicks and thugs who don’t make the cut, “animals” who grab asses, and why some nightlife vets are toast.
Point of Origin: I’ve been working the door at clubs in Manhattan for almost six years. I started doing a lot of special events, for Lizzie Grubman, other PR groups. I did the Jay-Z event in the Hamptons. I knew people like Jeffrey Jah from going out. Some people resent me because I befriended the right people.
Instead of starting off as a security guard or something, I started off at a good level. A lot of people get hired and fired, are around for three or four years. When I started, I was working at Rehab, which was one of the top places at the time. The first door that was my door was Below, on 19th Street in 2002. Then I went right to Rehab. Then Bed, Cain, Guest House, Pink Elephant twice (on 13th Street and when they opened on 27th Street). I opened Home, I opened Guest House. There’s been a few more, but that’s the chronology. I chose to leave 27th Street before it got as bad as it’s gotten.
What do you think changed? I think [Home and Guest House owner] Jon B is the K-Mart of nightlife. When I started at Guest House, we decided with his partner Ronnie [Madra, now of 1Oak], we all agreed it would be a high-end, selective place. Within two months, Jon B started flipping the switch, letting in thugs, letting in a guy who was threatening people. It sounds like you’re very into keeping your standards. You have to be. I have a lot of friends, but I have even more enemies because I hold my ground. With every team that I’ve worked with, the fact that I hold my ground [at the door] has either been what they respect the most or what leads to a parting of ways. I’ve worked with everybody. But now I don’t need to go through the headache of opening a place unless I’m sure it’s going to be a hit. I believed in Tenjune from the beginning. Without getting into specifics, I make a good living, I get a lot of perks. During Fashion Week, I’m one of the first people they call, and I’m shopping with editors and stuff. I get a lot of free stuff. Everything has evolved now from only nightclubs, to more of a lifestyle. People call me to ask where to take their clients. Is that just you, or Manhattan nightlife in general? I think for the higher-end, yes. There are some people, without naming names — [unlike] the people at 1Oak — [these others are] high-end people but they’re sleeping till 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they’re drunk five nights a week. You know who works hard and who’s just passing the time. Nightlife is really reflective of society in general. You have your slackers, and you have your hard workers. I have my differences with Noah [Tepperberg, of Marquee and Tao], but I can’t deny the gentleman that he’s a hard worker, and that’s why he’s successful. I can’t deny that. At the same time I can look at someone like Rocco Ancarola [of Pink Elephant] who’s been in this business forever and is just barely hanging on. There are people who have been doing this for way too long and they’re burnt out, and it’s obvious to everybody. I tell some of the waitresses [at Tenjune], this business is like a ferris wheel: It’s a great ride, but you want to get off before you get thrown off. If I turn away a beautiful girl one night, there are gonna be two more the next night that are younger and prettier. We’re probably the only city in the world that has that. So you don’t buy into the notion that New York is over and London is the new “It” city? I haven’t had the urge to go to London. There’s something about New York that makes it what everybody else wants to be. You can go to Toronto to fake the backgrounds or whatever like they do in movies, but you can’t fake the Lower East Side, you can’t fake Soho. I can say that because I’m a New Yorker. We have something that just can’t be duplicated.
Occupations: I’m director of VIP services for Tenjune. Eighty percent of the night, I’m at the door expecting celebrities, clients, models. I do the seating arrangement of the floor. I keep track of the minimums (who’s spending $1,000, who’s spending $4,000). A lot of this business is based on the come-back. If you have someone spending $1,000 every once in a while, that’s one thing. But if you can keep that person coming week in and week out, that’s how you make your money. We just happen to do it better … well, Marquee does it as well — they’ve been at it longer — but that’s what sets us apart from other clubs. We have so many repeat [guests]. The main reason I do this job is the freedom it allows me. The only regret that I have is that I’m the only person in the industry that gets paid to say “no.” I’m respectful about it, and I don’t talk down to people, but people think I’m nasty or rigid — but I’m not. I’m playing a role.
What’s your worst experience with jilted clubbers? This is the first summer in four years I haven’t been at Cain and Pink Elephant in the Hamptons. Last summer I had an issue with this one thug-type guy who showed up with a couple other people. I let him in, but one of his friends was this big, sweaty, 350 pounds — it just wasn’t a good look. Anyone who was inside wouldn’t want this guy rubbing up against them. I didn’t let him in. He said, “Look, I know you’re here, and you’re gonna catch a beating for it.” Two weeks later, in the Hamptons, I’m inside looking at the room [before the club opened]. And one of the security guys runs in and says, “Listen, don’t go outside.” The guy was out there with 15 guys waiting for me. These guys aren’t kids, they’re pushing forty. It’s like, grow up already.
Everybody always talks about how it’s all about money, and if you can buy your way into clubs, you can always get in. And that’s not true. I can’t tell you what Wass Stevens does at Marquee, or what Armin [currently of Socialista] used to do at Bungalow 8. I can only tell you that … well someone commented on my New York magazine interview that I’m the “King of the Bottles.” I can tell you flat out that’s not the case. I’d much rather sell a table for $800 that’s gonna be a good crew and be respectful and fun inside than someone who offers $5,000 and behaves like an animal and pisses off tables around them or starts fights. Frankly yes, if I see a beautiful girl outside, I’m going to let her in, and I’ll buy her drinks all night because she’s going to add something to the party whether she’s buying something or not.
So the goal is the party as a whole? Yah. Tenjune is almost two years old, but it’s still a viable product simply because it’s a good party. Yah, there might be smaller places that are more selective, and bigger clubs where you’re not going to have a problem with anyone you walk in with, but I think most people are going to pick Tenjune over most other places because it’s always a good party. You might go to 1Oak and see 50 people, and then what? You have to get in a cab and go somewhere else.
I’m not a promoter, I’ve never been a promoter. It’s a very different role. The job of promoters, whether they’re owners, managers, whatever, is to get people to the door. I can’t go to work unless they bring me a good crowd of people [to choose from]. The owners have to trust me, and they do, to let in people that are going to add to the party and not detract from it. In almost two years at Tenjune, we haven’t had a single fight. If you look at the money that we’ve made and the money that 1Oak has made … in fewer risks that [we’ve both] taken because [we’re both] so selective, well, they wanted to be so selective, they’ve had more problems than we’ve had in two years. Some promoters and I argue that they’ve brought all these people and I’m not letting them in, and my answer to that is look: The checks never bounce. I have a proven record. My job is to gauge who’s coming in and who’s not. I do seating too. Working with Jayma [Cardosa of Cain, GoldBar, and Surf Lodge], I went from just running a door to seeing how critical it was to know how to sit a room. I decide where the promoters sit, where the big clients sit, who goes to VIP, who doesn’t. It’s a lot more than Ben does at 1Oak who just lets people in and then there’s a manager inside and then a floor manager. I make much more of a hybrid decision. But it’s critical.
Side Hustle: I’m exclusive with Tenjune. A lot of friends ask me, “Why don’t you work at different clubs on different nights?” and yah, maybe I could make even more money doing that. But clubs are all about consistency. Let’s say I work Tuesday/Wednesday with someone, and Friday/Saturday with someone else. When I get back on Tuesday, I don’t know who they let in on Friday and Saturday. Then I have to either clean up their mistakes or make up for people they didn’t recognize.
Favorite Hangs: I love to travel. I’m looking to go to South Africa, I’m going back to Brazil in October. I just bought an apartment, so I’m going to go look for some art. Asking me if I like to go out in the city is like asking the chef if he likes to go to restaurants when he’s not working. Going out can feel like work. It’s flattering [when people recognize me from Tenjune or other clubs], but still. Then there’s the other side of it. I was in Williamsburg at a deli getting apple juice in the winter, and the guy behind the counter’s like, “You’re Alex, that doorguy for that club in the Meatpacking.” We [at Tenjune] had just done the victory party for the Giants for the Super Bowl, and I guess I didn’t let this guy in. People take [getting turned away at a club] like I’m slapping their little sister around or something.
Do you think that’s indicative of who’s going to clubs in Manhattan now? They’re a more aggressive group of people? I think it’s indicative of people who don’t get in, who shouldn’t get in. And that reinforces the need for people like me who will stand their ground and be selective. I have had people come up to me and say “Oh, you have to let this guy in, he’s a super VIP,” and I didn’t. They got mad, but an hour later, in line, the guy is grabbing girls’ asses. I’m not going to take chances. I’d rather know who someone is.
Industry Icons: I have a lot of respect throughout. I’ve learned a lot from people like Steve Lewis, Jeffrey Jah, Dirk Van Stockum, Mark Baker. There’s a bunch of other people. I mean this respectfully, but truthfully, as much as I’ve learned from [other nightlife people’s] success, I’ve learned even more from their mistakes. It’s like if you’re walking up an icy block, and you see some people make it, and some fall, I know where not to walk. Sometimes you need to see someone you look up to fall, so you can say, wow, if he can fall, I can fall too. There’s someone I won’t name but who’s stuck around [in the business] way too long. You can only be in this business if you’re going to exit gracefully. Otherwise you’re like the girl who’s gone out too long, who was cute at 22 but now she has the injections and the lifts and is mad I don’t want to let her in anymore. It’s one thing when you’re 23 and you’re tipsy and giggly — it’s another when you’re 43 and sloppy drunk. It’s not a good look.
Frank McCue who runs the place under the Gansevoort [G-Spa & Lounge] for Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva [currently of Butter and 1Oak], he’s great at what he does. He told me one time, “I respect you and I respect Armin, but you guys do a thankless job. If you let someone in nine times, they may never thank you. But if you don’t let that person in one time, it’s like ‘you’re such an asshole”’. It’s just thankless, but you have to deal with it. Known Associates: This is the first time I’ve worked for Mark Birnbaum and Eugene [Remm]. I’ve known Mark for six, seven years. I just met Eugene when we opened. Working with them happened over three or four days. It was very quick. I had told Pink Elephant like a week before that I was leaving, then I opened Tenjune two weeks later. I didn’t like the direction 27th Street was going. Even though I know everybody [in the nightlife business], that’s not who I hang out with. You’re not going to catch me at Butter on a Monday night. Partly because of the drama I get when I go out. It’s embarrassing if I go out on a date or with friends and have to deal with that. I love Jayma Cardosa. I’ve know her about eight years. We happened to work together at Cain, but it was a genuine friendship. We like each other.
Projections: A lot of people with financial backing have asked me over the years when I’m going to open up my own club. And my answer to that is: I like the freedom that my job allows. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a very comfortable living without having to spend all day in an office staring at a computer screen. I take three or four weeks off during the winter and go to Brazil or Southeast Asia to hang out. You can’t do that when you have a 9 to 5 job. It’s not for everybody.
The dilemma for me now is, do I open my own place, or not. There might be a chance for financial growth, but at what cost? [At my own place] maybe I couldn’t take a month off a year. If someone falls at a club now, they don’t sue me, they sue Mark and Eugene. They have to put the fire out. That’s a lot of weight. That’s a decision I have to make in the next year or two. I’m not going to be doing this 10 years from now. Where do you hope to be next year? In nine months I’m going to do something new, and it’s going to be a hit. I hope that it’s going to be with Mark and Eugene, but my deal’s up with them in September, so we’re going to sit down then and make some decisions about the future. I do have two other projects I’m looking at. One in the Meatpacking, and one here [in Soho].
What are you doing tonight? Tonight I’m going to the screening of Pineapple Express, and then we’re hosting the after party at Tenjune.