There is a new sheriff in town and everybody best shape up. Gabby Meija has returned from the void (Miami) and threatens to make the Meatpacking District-nightlife relevant to an adult and musically cognizant set. Gabby was the force du nuit at subMercer, a place that for years was the go-to for those who didn’t go anyplace else — at least without being paid, dragged or sentenced. It was grand; a perfect blend of sophistication, debauchery, great underground music and Gabby. Gabby was the face of the place. Think Rick Blaine from Casablanca. Her enemies, of course, were fewer, but still she had to fight off the encroaching boredom of a scene obsessed with bottle service and Top 40 music. subMercer was all that it could be and it was all Gabby Meija and her team, including door legend/artist Richard Alvarez. They made everyone feel that this was their own special place. We are so blessed that she has returned and at a new gig at Bar Naná (63 Gansevoort Street).
This Friday will be a special night as old friends and new welcome her back home. DJs slated — and there will be surprises, I’m sure — are Edda P., Beto Cravioto, Justin Strauss. Eli Escobar, and Sameer Umar. I caught up with Gabby and asked her all about it.
You were the face and soul of subMercer, one of my favorite haunts. You split to Miami and now you are back. What you were doing down south? Why you came back?
Aw, what a gem sub was! Great because of wonderful folks like you who frequented and filled it. And, last but not least, because of all the exceptional DJs (again, like yourself) who played the music — it really came to define the place. Those were the days!
After three nocturnal, subterranean years though, I needed to resurface, reset, get some Vitamin D, and see the world again. I made sunny Miami my home-base, perfected my tan, DJed occasionally and racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles – there’s nothing like Cuba or the Galapagos to really put things in perspective. New York can really make you feel like you’re living in the Matrix sometimes, no? But then you miss it. Thankfully, though, I missed all that miserable Polar Vortex business.
What is your new position?
Director of Operations at Bar Naná, which is English for “la grande doyenne” 😉
Tell me about the space and its operators.
It’s intimate, well laid out, and really gorgeous — smart and sexy with tasteful restraint. I love that nightlife seems to really be thriving again in New York, but I’m amazed (and fascinated) by how “Miami” or “Vegas” some of the new spaces are. We run a strong cocktail program, and will also soon be serving delectable nibbles as a café of sorts during the day, and will offer late night lounge bites. The partners are all very pro; Jimmy Haber is a successful restaurateur, David Rabin is a nightlife boss and former head of the New York Nightlife Association, and Kyle Hotchkiss Carone is a young, clever and very connected man, whom you should keep an eye out for as a new, notable player in the game. He’s got his finger on the pulse with all things cool, and has some other good collaborative projects in the works.
At sub, Andre Balazs wasn’t all that hands on, at least on the day to day. David Rabin is probably different.
Well, Andre Balazs, first and foremost, is a hotelier, so keep in mind that bars and restaurants are just one facet of a hotel’s many operations. I think it’s also hard to remain very hands on as your portfolio of properties grows. That said, I was always amazed by how often he actually frequented each property, quietly observing every outlet with his meticulous attention to detail. He always checked in, asking our thoughts and encouraging dialogue on how to improve or elevate service. What I loved the most was the creative autonomy he entrusted me with. That’s rare in this biz.
David Rabin is a true nightlife vet, having owned some of the city’s best clubs over the years. He “gets it” and knows the business inside and out, so he’s incredibly savvy and very involved in the day-to-day operations of each of his properties, but also gives a lot of creative freedom to let his spaces evolve organically and naturally develop their own distinctive style and feel. David is super cool, laid back and very sociable, so he has also fostered many positive relationships over the years, and you see that pay off by having a loyal following and many good, willing collaborators.
At sub you programmed the music and Djed as well. What are you trying to do with the music at the new spot?
I wouldn’t say I’m deliberately trying to do anything per se, except not be run-of-the-mill and let the DJs express themselves freely. It’s a neighborhood saturated with bars and clubs, all vying for the same crowd and playing similar Top 40 or EDM. I plan for us to be a bit divergent. Music is so precious and key though that I am adamant about only leaving it in the hands of truly, dedicated and passionate DJs who care about their craft and music deeply. Don’t expect to see many moonlighting, press-play type of DJs, but do expect exceptional music that will leave you reeling. Also, expect some great live music. It makes for a really beautiful, intimate live music venue.
Tell me about this coming Friday’s party.
It’s the usual Camp Gabby production, showcasing some of the best DJs on the local scene, but it’s more concentrated this time — meaning it’s five and not 25 DJs this night. David wanted to do a homecoming party for me and to invite all of our friends to experience the space, so it should be a fun, happy reunion for many of us. It’s going to be heavy on hugs. I guess I should mention we’re clearing some of the furniture that night.
I also wanted to introduce some of the brilliant resident DJs on our roster, most of whom I’ve had the privilege of working with before. I’m particularly excited about Edda P, who’s been on the downtown scene for a long time, living it up as a model, but whose recent transition to DJing is something I’ve been waiting for now for a while. Edda has incredible taste and an innate sense of music. It’s been a long time coming.
You once paired me as a DJ with the legendary Mark Kamins. What did he do wrong to you to prod you to punish him like that?
What did I say about all the self-deprecating humor, Steve? I loved that night. It still sticks out because it was so positive and there was so much love and special history in the room that night. There was you and Mark (RIP), Justin Strauss, Richard Alvarez, the Walters, Maripol and so many others. Watching you two ribbing each other was a trip! I loved Mark, he was so loving and jovial and supportive. He really wanted to do an early jazz night at sub, which I loved the idea of I’m sad we never got around to doing it. He is much missed.
Who are some of the DJs you will be bringing in?
Edda P, Beto Cravioto, Justin Strauss, Eli Escobar, Saheer Umar, Lloydski, Stretch Armstrong, Lindsey Caldwell, Ge-Ology, Kamala Jefferson, Darshan Jesrani, Lauren Martinez, Max Pask and many more. And if I’m lucky (fingers crossed), Steve Lewis!! 😉