Nightlife is sometimes a game of musical chairs. Sometimes those chairs move around, go up and down, disappear two at a time, or even come back. As my 8- year-old-niece might say, "It gets wonky." That Travertine, XIX space is being redefined once again. As reported here earlier, Mark Baker and Artan Gjoni came on to finally get the restaurant working right, but now we learn that main man Ruben Rivera has quit and moved over to W.i.P., which just gets better and better. Ruben will man the door and add his flair to the totally hip spot. He is the real deal, one of the most talented people in the business. I adore Mark Baker and Artan, but am leery about them going forward without Ruben.
Ruben took Traverine/XIX from the throes of defeat into the winners circle. It was a great place to hang. The crowd, music, and ambiance were exactly right—hot, cool, forward, new, and yet real old school New York nightlife. It was all Ruben. The new investors brought into to invigorate the space proved to be less than cool. I met one of these dudes in the kitchen space for a little meeting a couple weeks back. His language was "Jew" this and "Jew" that about some problem he was having paying off a debt that affected his credit with a liquor distributor. It was quite surreal. I looked at my watch to see what year it was, and pondered if I was in NYC or a lot south of the Jersey Shore. Suddenly, he realized I might be Jewish. I saw the revelation hit his addled brain and made it easy on him. I looked him in the eye with a wry smile attached and said, "Oh don’t worry, I’m not Jewish." I let a pause get ripe, and then stared into his eyes hard and said, "But my mother was." This dude may prove to be a problem, as Mr. Baker and Artan bring their brand of sophistication into the space. Ruben had to leave. The atmosphere was a little too weird for me, and I can handle most weird. I’d ask for an apology but then I’d have to communicate with this fellow again and anyway, I’m pretty thick-skinned. I wasn’t surprised yesterday when I heard Ruben had enough. I caught up with everyone except that Jew-spew guy. I understand his point of view already. First Ruben, then Baker.
You left XIX. Why?
I simply felt like I created a brand that had legs and value, and the new investors/partners had a different plan that did not coincide with my vision, or the vision and reputation XIX stood for. In other words, XIX represented me. Yt represented what NYC nightlife used to be when it was free and live. Their new vision had nothing to do with that. My feeling was, why fix something that ain’t broke? But you can’t win ‘em all.
It was a tough haul, but you really did well there. What were your greatest accomplishments?
It was rough at first, but thanks to the help of Jonny Lennon, 4AM, and DJ Sinatra, we pulled it off. I sat in that empty room and thought of all the amazing parties I’ve been to in NYC over the years, and what they all had in common was the energy. I feel like if you let people feel free, they have less frustrations. The purpose of a nightclub is to leave your worries at the door and have a great time celebrating life. Why not do it in a welcoming environment instead of the normal oppressed setting? I feel like I proved to myself that I can do something different in NYC. I didn’t have to do what everybody else was doing. The response has been amazing. Bespoke group Cody, Doug and Brooks Rand believed in the venue and pushes it hard. Not many people involved, but always the right people. That’s what counts.
Is that hood viable? Kenmare goes, now this—although Jonny over at Goldbar is still good.
The hood is great, but it’s a lot different from any other hood in NYC that offers nightlife. It’s a real community. People know each other in the east side of town. They support each other. A great percentage of XIX’s success last year was the fact that I catered to the people in the community. I didn’t flood the place with out-of-towners. Bottom line is Jonny Lennon was there first he worked out the kinks established himself at Goldbar and allowed me to eat there with him. I’m forever grateful to that man.
How would you describe the nightlife brass ring you are looking for?
I will own my own venue outright, with no other opinions on how to do it but mine and my team’s. There’s no better gift in life then to be able to afford to be free creatively. Oppression is the enemy for people like us, Steve, but you already know that. A very important lesson learned is never partner up with people that are not on your level. It creates jealousy, and be careful who you throw a bone too—it’s a business filled with opportunists. Most people are trying to use people to get what they want. Me, I always thought it was about the love and music.
I caught up with Mark Baker, who is in Indonesia doing Mark Baker things. It must be noted that both Mark and Ruben and I are close friends and I hate to see this kind of stuff happening.
Tell me about this power move. You and Artan at XIX/Travertine. Ruben is out. What’s up with that?
I wouldn’t call it a power move. It’s quite simple. Artan and I have always loved the Travertine space. It was beautifully built and the food was good, but way too fussy and with expensive ingredients. A less than perfect marketing/PR plan and some plain bad luck, and it was destined to close. There was no way it could have survived in that hood—the lounge was always an afterthought for them and didn’t have any synergy with upstairs, so all in all, the whole thing didn’t gel and the restaurant closed. Ruben put his heart and soul into managing and promoting XIX, and had some great nights going, but in the bigger picture of creating a profitable biz without the restaurant, it just wasn’t realizing its full potential. An investor was brought in to redo the space, take out the current owners, and the plan is to renovate, bring a great chef in to make a tastier, simpler, and less expensive menu, make the restaurant accessible to both locals, late-nighters, and a cool, chic clientele that can enjoy the lounge too. A great cocktail menu, parties, events, and a fashion week launch will bring this venue to where it should be. Ruben was asked if he would like to be a partner, but I think his history with the previous owner was so strained that he just didn’t want to deal anymore. It’s a shame. I love Ruben and his efforts at carrying XIX were immense. I think he just burnt out on the whole thing, so he quit. Life goes on.
Is it going to be renamed?
It will be renamed, redesigned, exorcised (to get rid of the bad energy, lol) and relaunched with a fresh new look and some exciting stuff. All will be revealed closer to fashion week when we relaunch. It’s a diamond of a venue, intimate, sexy, cool and the right size and layout.
Any players besides you guys?
I don’t really want to name names right now, but all the usual suspects are inquiring. We will be putting a fresh new team together with a couple of surprises. I think the space needs a break from the attention its been getting. It’s cold and it’s January. Spring will bring a fresh new outlook.
Now this sounds really cozy, but it actually is kind of not. My sources say Ruben was doing great in the XIX lounge space, but the upstairs restaurant needed some real players. He solicited Mr. Baker and Artan. Now he’s out, and that doesn’t sit right. Somebody convinced management or management convinced Baker and Artan that life could go on without Ruben. It was clearly Ruben who made the connections. He’s too much of a stand-up guy to complain.
A few years ago, I was brought to Vegas by a major NY club player to design a restaurant at a famous casino. A few weeks in, my boy was out, but he didn’t know it. The casino went behind his back and asked me if I would go on when they booted him. I replied with only a strange story:
"A man walks into a bar and sees a hot girl and sits next to her. After a few minutes, he asks her, Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? She stares down her swizzle stick and replies, For a million dollars I would. He turns away, and a few minutes later, he turns to her again and asks, Hey, would you sleep with me for a hundred dollars? She gets agitated, and asks, What type of girl do you think I am? He calmly replied, We already established that, now we’re just negotiating price"
They understood that it was a no go for me. I wouldn’t betray my friend for a fee, hefty as it was. The story said I was willing to sell my soul and be a whore if the money was undeniable because then a friend would understand. I’m not sure what went down behind the scenes, and Ruben’s back. I do know that he is out and they are in. Maybe Baker’s and Artan’s price was met and Ruben will understand. I’m weird though with shit like this. Sometimes people refer to me as a stand-up guy. The thing about being a stand-up guy is sometimes you got to stand up and walk away when a stranger is trying to separate you from a friend for a few bucks. Be careful, Mr. Baker and Mr Artan. If it was done to Ruben it can be done to you. Mark, what happens when they come for Artan? Hey, no worries as you said—life goes on.