DJ-ing at Heathers and Reminiscing About Brownie’s

As I said yesterday my editor is off somewhere doing unspeakable deeds and I have been asked, tasked, and threatened to keep these shorter than usual. I am complying, letting some of the hot air out of the balloon (or is it buffoon?) before this gets to you. I was up late last night at the behest of old pal Greg Brier who, along with some players to be named later, is involved with Heathers (506 East 13th Street). They asked me to do the 3AM till close DJ set and I said "Yay!" or something like that. It’s 7:30 AM now as I write this … welcome to my world. As they were setting up the equipment I was informed that most of the DJ’s use vinyl, and that this bar was the notorious after-hours joint Brownie’s way back in the day. Heathers is for real. The crowd was simply wonderful and the atmosphere is the perfect mix between dive bar and trendy lounge.

I cannot confirm that it was indeed Brownie’s, as that was a long time a go in a galaxy far, far away, and my vision and memory were often clouded back then. Although I never did drugs or drank I did stay up for days at a time and did push my limits in other ways. Brownie’s was the last stop for those who desperately needed more blow or maybe a blow job. It was a place of deep desperation tucked away in an area where nobody cared or at least didn’t complain. Nowadays neighbors complain all the time and the good folks at Heathers rightfully spend a lot of energy to be good neighbors. A big "or else" hangs over that statement.

Way back when the neighborhood was rough, punks and other revelers in ripped jeans, Ramones T-Shirts, or rock and roll collars pointed their pointy shoes toward the place, traveling in packs for safety, seeking just a few more hours of fun. I went there to find someone sleazy enough to top off my night. It was easy pickings. There’s an old saying which thankfully I rarely repeat or even subscribe to anymore. It goes something like this. "In 30 years in the nightclub business I never went home with an ugly woman … but, I have woken up with a few". Such was Brownie’s and my life before I got it all out of my system.

The punk era was for me the best time of my life except maybe for this time. The streets I walked and played in then are hardly recognizable today. Crossing the Bowery on Second Street the other day I watched yuppies from Peels glaring at some rockers having a smoke outside Bowery Electric. The yuppies were thinking rudely of them, their closeted minds content with fabulous slumming in the continuously unrecognizable hood of my youth. The look on one yup’s face as she stared at some post-punk refugee was "what is happening to this neighborhood". She took the words out of my mouth. I glanced up at the Joey Ramone Place sign above and lamented his loss, not regretting a second of my misspent youth. Brownie’s was a big part of it. If you see me out and about ask me about my favorite Brownie’s story, which I cannot repeat in this family blog.

Late last night I offered up some tracks that I might have heard back then, or it least had the vibe as I recall it. The Steve Lewis Brownie’s mix: 

"Jet Boy" – The New York Dolls

"Where is My Mind" – The Pixies

"Stay With Me" – The Dictators

"New Rose" – The Damned

"Detention Home" – Dead Boys

"TV Eye" – Stooges

"Kashmir" – Led Zepplin

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" – The Tokens

The Rising Surf- The Tandems

Decoy- The Sandals

Industry Night at Highbar

Industry Night at Highbar has gotten my attention. Tonight, they’ll screen the Rolling Stones movie In The Park, which shows the return of the Stones to concert making after a couple-year hiatus. The concert took place under a cloud of grief, just a few days after the death of ex-Stones guitarist and founder Brian Jones. Jones left the band just a short while before filming began under confusing circumstances. Some say he quit; while others say Mick Jagger and Keith Richards pushed him out because he’d become a drug-addled waste of space left in the dust, musically. He was perceived as a liability. He was found drowned in his own swimming pool. Was it a suicide or accident?

There was another movie that explored this. That movie, Stoned, paints an awful picture of the events preceding Jones’ demise. A reported 1993 deathbed confession by an assistant, Frank Thorogood, says it was murder. A gig held in London’s Hyde Park in July 1969 quickly became a memorial for the fallen rocker. Mick Taylor was debuted as the new lead guitarist. A quarter million people reportedly saw this concert, which also featured King Crimson and a slew of others. Accounts tell of an uncharacteristically disorganized Stones concert with few highlights. A little over a month later, Woodstock would happen and a half a million would show and everyone would play… except for the Stones. In response, they put together a gig that December at the Altamont Racetrack in California which was supposed to be a sort of West Coast Woodstock. It didn’t turn out real well. That concert, with its murder and chaos, was featured in another flick, Gimme Shelter, by the Maysles brothers, who also gave us Grey Gardens. The year 1969 is ancient history for most, even for me. It’ll be interesting to see this moment in time when the world’s greatest rock band was redefining itself into the act we’re familiar with. Mick Jagger was born on this date, July 26th 1943. He’s celebrating his 67th birthday. Happy birthday, Mick!

Tonight off-work club employees are to bring their employee ID or pay stubs for drink discounts at Highbar. Tommy James will DJ. Next week the movie will be Snatch, the week after Clockwork Orange followed by The Wizard of Oz. You get the idea. If they serve popcorn, I’ll be there every week. Doors open at 5pm and the movie starts at 9. I ate at Aspen Social Club (ASC), and proprietor Greg Brier joined me the other night. Yes, for those who ask me to disclose, my firm designed it. I found it to be delightful; the food and service better than ever. Greg recently sold Amalia/D’or and closed the original Aspen on 22nd street. Highbar and Aspen Social are doing very well, and that makes me happy as he’s one of the industry’s good guys. His bringing downtown sensibility to midtown twirl has found a niche at Highbar and ASC.

Speaking of good guys, I spent Sunday brunch with bon-vivant-turned-restaurateur Patrick Duffy, who continues to amaze me at B.E.S. If you haven’t been, you should, as the scene is fabulous, the food to die for, and the design breathtaking. And no, I didn’t do it. The brunch attracts all the unusual suspects, the movers the shakers, the creatives and some moneymakers. The salmon eggs benedict is transcendent. I also like Tuesday nights there. All the swells come for dinner pre-Patrick’s weekly party at The Box.

Terry Casey — ex-Le Royale — is throwing Tuesday night events at Harem on Laguardia Place. With Terry it’s all about the music, and he likes to mix it up. I asked him to describe Harem. “Harem really feels like a loft space and has a nice relaxed vibe, unlike most spaces I found. It’s Loft Space Meets Hooka Lounge. Me and Alexander are rez DJs and hosts are Rachel Landry (bday Girl), Kelle Calaco, Victor Medina-San Andrés, Jake L, Mike De Guzman and Avery Noyes.” Tomorrow he’ll have the least known of the Ronson/Jones clan, Alexander Dexter Jones, DJ’ing. He’s the brother of Mark Ronson, Samantha and Charlotte Ronson. I’ve never met a Ronson or Jones I didn’t like, and I always appreciate their talent. He’ll be joined by Roxy Cottontail and there’s a live performance by Fire and Reason. It figures to be a good time for those looking for something off the familiar bottle/model path. Harem is at 510 Laguardia Place, just off Bleecker.

Art And Art

The late great Arthur Weinstein would have celebrated his birthday today. He passed a little over a year ago. Those who were there can say that although the cancer took his life it never touched his dignity. It failed to dampen his courage or his spirit and it left so many of us appreciating our time and place on this merry-go-round. Greg Brier and I became fast friends as Arthur faded and remain so to this day. His life continues to inspire me and so many others. A wikipedia page about Art might tell you that he owned some of the best joints ever, Hurrah, The World, the Jefferson, The Continental. Hurrah was so formidable that Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager offered Art a partnership in Studio 54 so they wouldn’t have to compete.

Trigger’s joint on Saint Marks and the Bowery is called Continental with no “the” in front of it out of respect for Arthur Weinstein. That wikipedia page would say that early in life Art was a great photographer who morphed into a great silkscreen artist. Maybe it would say he was the crown prince of the Chelsea hotel when “everybody” lived there. Wikipedia would talk of scandal and dirty cops and Russian mobsters. It would call him a devoted husband and father. When the booze and other distractions prevented him from having the focus to actually own a joint anymore he began doing lights for everyone. To the club world he was a king. He was a wise guy who could read between the lines better than anyone I’ve ever met. When people complained about their troubles or bragged about success, Art would give them his trademark “shuddup, you’re making me sick” and that was that. I guess all the bullshit he saw and heard and took upon himself came back at him. Those who knew him well will start any discussion with love. He gave more love out than any man I ever knew. So even though his heart may have given out it still beats for the many of us who got to know him. Google him and learn some more. Happy birthday Arthur Weinstein.

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The club scene is a trap for many. For every successful owner or operator there are a thousand failures, a thousand caught up without a viable exit strategy. Bartenders and waiters making beaucoup bucks often have a hard time working in careers outside the biz where salaries don’t afford them the same lifestyle as night work. When I ran places I always hired just actors or singers or musicians or artists. I felt it was my part in the scheme of New York culture. These people needed support so that our local culture was vibrant, without the clubs and restaurants and hotels supporting these peeps could Broadway even exist? Could there be an art scene? John Perry hovered around my joints worked in others and is a familiar fellow to clubdom. With his new show at Gallery 199 he proves to all that he isn’t just a pretty face. I grabbed a few seconds of his time while being awed by his art.

The work looks great. How did nightlife influence your art? Well the connection between my work and New York nightlife, has been two-fold. One of the first jobs I had, after had got my MFA from Parsons, was working as a manager at a club called Sybarite, which was on Wooster Street and owned by Grace Jones. While I worked there, I always had a sketchbook with me, and would draw incessantly, the people dancing, talking in groups, making out, generally doing what people do at clubs. It forced me to work quickly and develop my eye to the point where I could capture the essence of a form, with a minimum of means. Also living uptown and working downtown, meant that I spent a lot of time on the subway late at night, when people would be sleeping. I started to draw those people as well. Though I don’t work in clubs anymore, drawing people on trains has stayed with me over the years.

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How did nightlife influence and support your work? Well, less directly, but probably more profoundly, is the fact that being in clubs led me to a lifestyle that, as it can do for some people, was down a dangerous path. I ended up spending quite a few years living in a way that allowed me to break with many preconceptions I had about life, and therefore art. As a result, my work became, and remains to this day, raw, and in my opinion, without pretense. Spending time in clubs, and nightlife in general, allows one to develop a sense for what is genuine and what is not.

Your work, no matter if it’s the cityscapes, the subway drawings, I believe you call them the Series Subterranea, your nude figure paintings, and your portraits, all have a kind of quintessential New York feel. For me, what makes New York what it is, much less than the physical space, is the people. Having said that, if you spend a lot of time in clubs, and I don’t mean just a certain type of club, but if you go to many different spots, in all boroughs, you get a chance to see people truly being themselves. I feel that sort of thing cannot but help get into a person’s work, perhaps through osmosis, no matter what kind of art they do.

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John Perry’s exhibition “An Allegory of The Last Ten Years of My Life in New York” runs till December 29th at Gallery 199, at 199 Lafayette Street on the corner of Lafayette and Broome. Contact Gallery199@gmail.com.

Extended Stay & Ajaxx

The Stay Hotel opened up just as the economy sank, but through a series of adjustments it has managed to stay ahead of the recession. New still sells, and Times Square ain’t what it used to be … it’s stocked with a steady stream of tourists. It’s better in many ways than it was before the sanitization, but I, of course, miss the old Times Square. When I was young — yes, there was a time — I had a strange hobby: I would put on some very old clothes, a hat to cover my face, and put a bottle of Welch’s grape juice into a brown paper bag, then lay down or sit propped up in a doorway in a very dangerous pimp-thug-whore environment and listen, watch, and absorb street life. No one ever noticed me. I was invisible. I absorbed the jargon, learned the rules, and saw incredible things. Later, Times Square would become Disneyfied, and the old ways were exiled to another Main Street. The Minnesota strip where pimps would turn 15-year-old runaway farm girls into women who were never saved by Travis Bickle has been converted to some Midwesterners’ vision of Times Square, with new neon and less risqué messages. Girls, girls, girls turned into McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ruby Foo’s.

Today, my firm Lewis and Dizon was awarded the design gig for the three-story roof lounge at the Stay Hotel. The other day I wrote about Griffin, and a loyal reader named Doyle thought it inappropriate that I write about what I’m working on. He thought it was a conflict of interest. I am a prolific designer of hospitality spaces because there are those who think I know what I’m doing and trust me with their projects — which in many cases means trusting me with their lives, or at least livelihood. BlackBook hired me to write for them because they think I’m connected to the scene. I use this rule. If I would write about it if I wasn’t involved with it, then I should do so. On these projects, I’ll try to just lay down the facts. However, if I didn’t think it would be great, I wouldn’t do it, so it’s a de facto endorsement.

The three-story roof lounge at the Stay Hotel will overlook bustling Times Square below. It will be operated by Greg Brier, who also handles the ground-level restaurant Aspen Social — Marc Dizon and I designed that joint. He is also the operator of Highbar around the corner. The roof lounge will be called Ajaxx, a reference to one of the big ski-sloped mountains that tower over Aspen, Colorado. Greg wants a retro-Times Square feel meets Tokyo in 2088. It’s Blade Runner with Club USA mixed in (or do we say mashed-up these days)? Club USA was a spot I was involved with before my design days. My one design contribution was finding a rather brilliant guy named Steve Dunnington to build that fabulous blue slide. Ajaxx will serve hot dogs and those famous Highbar signature sliders to a crowd that wants a great view, fresh air, and a tasty cocktail. They want to open the joint one June 1, so I have less than a month to pull this off. Usually a month or six weeks is spent just on refining the design, so I’m in for a wild ride.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Nobu’s Richie Notar, from Busboy to Dubai

imageI sat with Richie Notar in his fabulous and famous restaurant Nobu 57, and as we talked, it felt like I was just catching up with an old friend from the neighborhood. The amazingly accessible Richie gave me an hour just before he set off to open more Nobu franchises in exotic places far away from his Queens roots. His partnership with Robert De Niro and his relationships with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager may have kick-started his career, but success on this level is the result of someone who has given his heart, mind, and very soul in the pursuit of greatness. Working his way up from dishwasher — and not ashamed to say it — Richie is what this town is about; his hard work produced an empire. I am reminded of Caesars riding in triumphal chariots while a slave whispered mortality in their ears. Richie doesn’t need anyone to remind him from where he came from; he keeps his past real close, and despite triumphal success, remains humble and down to earth.

Steve Rubell once told me not to be “Steven,” he said to be “Steve.” He said “Steven” is too formal, and it puts people off. Is that the same story with Richie Notar? You know what? It kind of is. When it’s formal, it reminds you of when you were in trouble as a kid. And you kind of want to believe — whether it’s true or not — that if someone is saying Richie or Steve, there’s more of a familiarity with it.

So you’re accessible, people can talk to you? Yes, we’re in the hospitality business. Why not?

I worked for Steve Rubell, you worked for Steve Rubell, we have this in common. It’s funny, the movie 54 … Harvey Weinstein (who knew about my background) says to me, “Do me a favor, I want you to view this movie,” and I think this is going to be fantastic. So I’m sitting like a little kid in a screening room in Tribeca watching it, and I wasn’t liking it at all. It portrayed Steve to be a buffoon, with money sticking out, etc. And I thought, “This isn’t cool.” So how am I going to tell Harvey? I ended up telling him, “Well it’s great that you got the film there, the music is timeless and great.” I was kind of giving him backhanded compliments, and we left it at that. Steve was a brilliant man. It’s true. Steve had this lovability about him. He’s a little guy, he’s cuddly, and he’s everyone’s buddy. He’d even say it if he was being heavy with you: “Well, you know I can’t, buddy.” We had this love/hate relationship, because I was a brat, I was 15 or 16 and I drove for him. I worked at Enchanted Gardens, their first club in Queens, driving a beat-up old powder-blue Lincoln Continental with dents all over it. I probably couldn’t even really see over the wheel, but he just wasn’t interested in driving, and they liked having young people around.

Now, here you are, you’re a great success, you’re a partner in Nobu, which has 17 locations worldwide, and you’re opening more. And you carry with them the hospitality lessons you learned from Ian and Steve; at what point did Ian Schrager stop looking at you as the busboy or the driver Richie, and more as the business Richie? That’s a very interesting question, because a wise man a long time ago said, “You’ll always be thought about how you were when you walked into the equation.” But there was a time about three years ago when he came to Nobu in Tribeca, and he stopped me in the middle of it, saying, “I want to tell you I’m very proud of you.” It was almost like your dad finally recognizing your accomplishments. “I want to just tell you I’m very proud of you, look what you’ve done, I can’t say enough, buddy.” He used the “buddy” term, even though he knows my name!

It was a safety net. But it was also a reminder of those days, because he would say ‘buddy’ to everyone, but there was a different tone. There was “buddy” and then “buddy.” You would get it.

I know what you mean … But there was a certain way you would say “buddy,” and he used the “buddy” in a way that was just a memory, you know? And funny enough, about a year later, he started calling me for advice and asking me what I do at Nobu, or “I have a concept that I need in the Gramercy Park,” and I knew at that point, to answer your question, that I was a made man! I was respected.

I knew that I had arrived with them when one day Steve told me that he wanted me at the door. And that to me, because I knew that Steve has always been at the door, that was big. Yeah, he was so protective.

Yes, so protective. And he put me out there. And for me to be at the door at the club that he was running, it was almost like a passing of the torch. But really, I couldn’t walk in his shoes, and I don’t know if anybody else ever will. There’s only one of everyone, but you can pass the knowledge, and only a select few can absorb it.

Back then, art was a much more important part of nightlife. Ian Schrager has done that over at the Gramercy Park Hotel, and it’s brilliant to sit there, amongst those paintings. I mean, how can you be pretentious when you’re looking at great art like this? It humbles you. That’s a subtlety that’s missed on many people. He’s not out-spending, he’s out-tasting, and that’s important.

You made a statement in the New York Times, which I love: “Money doesn’t buy fun like it used to.” I thought it was brilliant. You know, there was a time that I had just come back to New York. I was in Paris, and I love going to a place like that where whether you’re 5, 6, 15, or 80 years old, it’s just fun. And it’s more of an event, you don’t get a bunch of people on their phones, trying to be the next billionaire, and it just struck me — no one’s really having fun! So the Times asked me about nightlife, and what’s going on, so maybe I was a little more passionate about my remark then.

And you made another statement saying, “Nightlife is filled with poseurs and inebriated youths.” I might’ve been referring to the Meatpacking District a little bit.

I think it’s club life in general. I think it’s a very very telling statement that in our era, the artist, the person who had arrived creatively was the VIP. Nowadays, it’s the broker with a black Amex. You get it. I was reminiscing about what Steve would say was “tossed salad.” Too many straights, get some gays, too many gays, get some straights, too many guys, get some girls. And with this mix, eclectic mix, once you’re in the club, it didn’t matter if you had a pot to pee in or not, you were in for a reason. No one cared, because you were in there and you were christened that you’re either cool or in the arts or there’s a reason you’ve been invited to this party.

When I taught doormen the business, I always said, “You can always judge a book by its cover.” Now there are a very few exceptions — cops and robbers are professionals at hiding who they are — but for the most part, the public is screaming who they are, in their clothes, the way they carry themselves, the grooming. This was an important part of nightlife, and it no longer is. Nowadays it’s just uniforms, cheap clothes or expensive clothes that are just uniforms. You can’t buy taste.

Now, I want to go into the Nobu experience. We’re sitting in Nobu on 57th Street. This is a highly styled David Rockwell-designed place, every inch, every detail is covered, and he’s a brilliant man, one of the best designers out there. This place has gotten critical acclaim for design. The design is part of an experience; Warner Leroy was one of the originators, and he was on this block with the Russian Tea Room and of course Maxwell Plum, in this neighborhood; he taught us about the experience of nightlife. Tell me how you balance food, design, attitude, and service in your restaurant. My philosophy is you can put a great, grand design, and that’s fine. For ten minutes, you look at the design, and then you go onto why you’re there, eating with friends and so forth, and you don’t want to outshine that. I’m trying to sell an experience. You could fill your stomach anywhere, so why’re people going out? It’s for another reason, whether it’s to entertain, whether it’s to impress someone, whether you’re showing someone off, so I didn’t want to get caught up too much in this remarkable design because I didn’t want it to outshine what we were doing. Being up on 57th Street, I knew there was a little bit of a challenge because I didn’t want to be stereotypical or touristy. So how could we bring a little downtown cool uptown? I wanted to marry that downtown experience — which made us kind of famous — and bring it up here, and let people know they’d be safe and know that it’s not like a lot of people perceive. I knew there was a stigma, but I wanted to chip away at that a little bit.

It’s happening more and more; Greg Brier, who has the Brier Group, did Amalia and Aspen Social uptown. Even Danny A. went into the Plaza! That’s groundbreaking.

At one point, I was doing promotions and being very much involved in the running of four nightclubs — Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and USA — and I had a hard time cloning myself, just in New York City. You have 17 locations, you’ve got London, Hong Kong, Dubai, you’re everywhere, you’ve stretched far. You and I have the same problem; how does Richie delegate, and who is that person that you delegate to? Who are these people? You know Steve, it’s probably the hardest thing. First of all, it’s not a cookie-cutter operation … each one’s a little bit different. But there’s an experience and a familiarity people want when they come into Nobu, and that’s really worked in our favor. So I’m very proud of the fact that anyone who’s running a restaurant for me started as a waiter, or a host, or a reservationist.

Is that because of your past, having to work your way up? Yeah, I started out as a dishwasher. The first time I was in Enchanted Garden, I was 15 minutes into the job, 15 years old, I’m loading the racks, it’s a quiet night, and this little guy walks in, and he’s like, “What’re you doing?” and I said, “I’m washing dishes,” and he goes “No, no, no,” and I’m like, “Did I not put the glass in right?” And he goes “You’ve got a nice smile, buddy, (that was my first “buddy,” by the way), you should be out with the people. Bus, do something.” And it was Steve, and he plucked me out of the kitchen. And I realized that you have to do all of those things in order to be a good manager. And I’m very proud because they think I’m doing them a favor, which a little bit I am, but they’re actually doing me a favor because I’m keeping the consistency. So if you’ve been dining in New York and you go to Miami and you see a guy that used to be a waiter here and now he’s a manager, you go, “Wow, he knows me, he knows what I like,” and all of a sudden your experience is going to be better because that ties into an experience somewhere else. So all around the world, that’s how I try to keep the consistency.

Tune in tomorrow for more Richie Notar action.
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Good Night Mr. Lewis: Coming Home for the First Time

Last night a DJ saved my life. Marky Ramone, my old friend, was kind enough to display his considerable skills at a party BlackBook threw me at Aspen Social. (Be sure to check out the video.) There were many reasons to be cheerful. First of all, I’m very comfortable with BlackBook. I have been treated like gold and, although the decision to leave JoonBug was difficult, I am very convinced it was the right move. When I asked Marky to deejay, it was because I didn’t want to forget where I came from and wanted him there spinning music that I love in a place my partner Marc Dizon and I created for our friend, Greg Brier. It was a two-and-a-half month build-out after a couple of months of prep — about half the minimum time usually allocated for such a gig. I’m exhausted and need to thank all the craftsmen and artists who made it possible. Marky pointed out to my beautiful young girlfriend that he’s known me for 30 years. I pointed to young Vance Brooking and Mey Bun, budding nightlife stars and funsters, that I was thin like them back then, around a buck thirty-five, and had my hair. Mey said I still got the hair, but I explained how the illusion works.

My favorite non-Ramone DJs, Miss Guy and Lily of the Valley, brought Debbie Harry with them. I chatted her up and talked about the times I booked her to play at clubs I ran. She was always great to me; always made it work. This gathering was the biggest flashback I’ve had since I licked that aluminum foil in the bathroom of Save the Robots. Funny thing about Marky Ramone is he can actually spin. I had my boy Tommy there ready to help, but Marky slayed them.

The first party I ever threw was Dee Dee Ramone’s birthday. It was in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, and I never looked back. I was friends with all four of the Ramones. Marky’s long-term better half, Marion, pointed out that, “it was not an easy task.” I learned my craft from these pro punks. With them, it was all about the crowd — giving them what they came for, making sure the experience was all that it could be. They were always true to their school. So there we were: Marky, Lily, Guy, Debbie, Studio 54 muse Edwige Belmore, and so many more denizens of another era which still seems to have so much relevance. The young ones came to shake hands, meet an icon.

I went to Butter to after party. I designed Butter and finished construction on the day I left for prison. I remember the crew saying loud and clear that there were other things I might be better off doing than working to get a joint open; they didn’t know me. I went in and I’ve come out, and now it’s many years later and it’s still there and doing real well. Butter was the first place I designed for someone else. In the joint with time to ponder, I decided I would design as a career. I’ve made that move and redefined my brand. Marky came by to keep it real for me. The fundamental things apply as time goes by. You can run clubs, you can build them, or even write about them, but whatever you do, it must be with passion and you must be true to your school. After a party with 30 years of friends, I’m going to crash. Thank you all for the support.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Eyeballing the Ivory at Cain Luxe

imageI, like many club people, have rules that I try to live by. Things like: Never turn two parties into one; there are no enemies you can’t reconcile with; check references; or, when in doubt, keep them out. One of my rules is that when the belly dancers start their thing, I leave the building. So I ran out of Aspen Social as the awful wenches embarrassed birthday boy Greg Brier, who must be very old at this point — not Steven Lewis old, but old.

Steven Kasuba dragged me out to Cain Luxe, where I was to inspect the elephant tusks. They say they’re fake; I needed to know. Jamie and Jayma greeted me and assured me — a quick look seemed to prove that they aren’t evildoers after all. They are indeed brave souls who have re-launched Cain smack dab in the middle of the club mall 27th Street has become. Although the night was a little slow — blamed on the rain and proximity to Halloween, with all its special expenses — the block seemed a lot better. The thirty-odd cops eating halal and drinking coffee had lots of babes to ease the boredom. Pink Elephant had a real pretty crowd and so did Home, and it seems that the addition of Cain helps everyone. Marquee consistently brings good people. These peeps now hop down to the new Cain and, on the way, they pass by door legends Kenny Kenny, Stephan, and Disco, and many stop in for a drink or two. This relatively high-end crowd makes all the difference.

Designer Robert McKinley (GoldBar) murdered it. No, not the elephants. Pay attention: the design. Reportedly done on a dime and faster than a rhino ducking from a poacher’s bullet, Cain is stunning; Rob is one of my favorite designers, and the move of the DJ booth seems to correct a flaw that I had noticed previously.

I attended a dozen shows at a Webster Hall awash in the CMJ ’08 music conference. My favorite act was Lissy Trullie. I think I’m the last person in the free world to hear about them — super hot band. Speaking of, upstairs, as the joint had like three bands performing at any given time, Bloody Social performed to a stupidly beautiful crowd. They are one of those scene bands that just can’t miss. When I ask rock club owners what kind of music or what kind of bands they’re booking, I often hear, “You know, scene bands — like Bloody Social.” They are the team leader of their genre. Nice guys, too.

BlackBook Tasting Menu: Amalia, New York

imageAmalia, brainchild of Greg Brier (also of Aspen Social), Vikram Chatwal (also of Dream Hotel and Night Hotel), Chef Adam Ross (of Salts) and BlackBook’s own Steve Lewis (also of Aspen Social and Webster Hall) announced a new menu this week. We tried it. We liked it. We think you would like it, so we created a special BlackBook prix-fixe menu at a special price for BlackBook readers. From now through November, drop our name at the door, and you can sample the BlackBook-tasted and -approved off-menu menu. Five courses, all-inclusive for $35; read on for details and pics of the spread.

image 1. Tuna Tartare

image 2. Corn and Tarragon Fritters with Maple-Ancho Syrup

image 3. Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon Yogurt, Tomato-Cumin Sauce, and Mint

image 4. Sautéed and Crispy Calamari with White Beans, Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, and Garlic Toast

image 5. Greek Cheesecake– Feta Cheese Cake, Blueberry Port Sauce, and Black Olive Gelato

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Greg Brier, Midtown Maestro

Greg Brier is the man behind Highbar, Amalia, Aspen, and the soon-to-open Aspen Social Club in Times Square, designed by yours truly. Greg is a very dear friend of mine. Of course, he hires me once in a while to design his spaces. I’ve done two and half spaces for him so far. I did Aspen initially, then Amalia. Now we’re sitting in the Aspen Social Club at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

First of all, Amalia and Aspen Social Club are in this Times Square/Midtown area, and Aspen is really in the Chelsea thing. And instead of being downtown or in the Meatpacking District where everyone else is, you’re in Midtown. Explain what you like about it. Well, I mean in addition to that, we just opened Highbar in Midtown as well.

That’s right. I forgot about it because I didn’t design it. [Laughing] You’re right, it’s not as beautiful as all the other places, but it’s successful, and it is in Midtown.

I hang out downtown and have always been a downtown guy. I started to realize there’s no dividing lines in New York. People live in Midtown, they live Uptown, they live on the East Side, they live on the West Side. A lot of people claim they live Downtown, but nobody can afford to live Downtown. So they’re all living up here anyways, so our whole ideas was to take this kind of downtown cool aesthetic … a more artistic, creative aesthetic, and put it into a Midtown environment and see how it would work. And it’s been incredibly well received, because these guys are so used to seeing this cookie-cutter design in their restaurants.

In this area? In this area. And all their restaurants and all their nightclubs. We knew that if we came up here and developed and created stuff with you and really kind of redefined the lines of what’s cool and hip, making Midtown just as hip and cool as downtown. By creating the right elements with design, our staff, music, etc., it would be successful, and it has been a huge success.

Well, the W Hotel really broke through many years ago. They broke through with style, some sort of style, some sort of programming. The Whiskey and Randy Gerber have been up in this area for a very long time. So there was a successful precedent, and certainly you are capitalizing on that knowledge. I remember you and I having conversations when we were designing Amalia and talking about whether people would come or not. Specifically to the downstairs, which is like nightclub or lounge for Amalia. I said to you that I believe many people live uptown, and if they’re going to the other clubs downtown, they need a place to go before and a place to go after. So you’ll do well. Yeah, it’s a great stop-off before you start heading downtown for a late-night space. I think in addition we really need to talk about the fact that right now, the economy is in the shitter, and basically we are going to depend on our tourists to an extent, and we’re in the right position to be to be depending on tourists.

I hadn’t heard that! As a designer, I designed this wall [at Aspen Social Club] to be visible from the street. The idea was that there’s thousands and thousands of people walking by this restaurant every day, and you just want to grab them and have something visual for them to see. And the foot traffic around here is unbelievable. Absolutely, but the tourists we’re going for are the high-end kind of European tourists; people that can really appreciate this design. You know, they walk by and see these cookie-cutter generic spaces, and nothing really impresses them. When they’re coming from Europe, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or wherever they’re coming from, they’re used to very high-end materials and cool stuff happening inside their restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. And we’re one of the few people that are actually doing that in the Midtown area. It’s really attracting those people.

When you stand outside, you basically have Pig & Whistle to your left, a deli to your right, and of course this beautiful restaurant. Back in the old days, in the early 1980s, when 44 was open at the Royalton, Conde Nast used to hold court there. Some of the coolest professionals in the fashion world are working in this area, and they’re looking for a cool place to hang out. And I think it’s so refreshing to them that they can walk out their front door and they have a very cool place, like they did back then. So again, it’s not a brand new concept — we’re bringing back basically something like you said that started back in the Midtown area and re-creating it.

Back when the economy was crap also. One of the things that we want to talk about is the versatility of the space. It does function as a nice place to sit and enjoy an informal dining experience or lunch. But in addition to that, the lounge has a DJ. I think what will end up happening is that promoters and nightclub people who end up going to Marquee or 1Oak may come here, have dinner, and they may stay later. I think more people will come by later at night — it’s a sexy enough space. In the 1980s you used to have a model next to a drag queen next to the guy in the business suit. And that’s really what made the party fun. That’s what we’re re-creating. There are times that I look over and I’m like, “What is this, 1989?”