‘Sleep No More’ Production at Home in Former Nightclub Spaces

By now you’ve all heard of Sleep No More, the version of Macbeth that’s being staged in what the Times and Post both call an old warehouse in Chelsea. I guess that’s partially true – and the production is partially Macbeth and partially Hitchcock and partially Eyes Wide Shut. The spaces were, at one time, warehouses but they became so much more. Sleep No More takes place in the bones of former nightclub hotspots Sound Factory, Home, and Guesthouse.

The web site of the production describes the location as follows: “Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now. Seventy-two years later, Emursive has brought the Grande Dame back to life. Collaborating with London’s award-winning Punchdrunk, the legendary space is reinvented with Sleep No More, presenting Shakespeare’s classic Scottish tragedy through the lens of suspenseful film noir. Audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story, immersed in the most unique theatrical experience in the history of New York.”

As I wandered around the McKittrick, surrounded by masked men and women and accompanied by my visiting, beautiful, intelligent, hip, fun mother-in-law—who I dared not abandon despite the demands of my hosts—I began to see familiar sights. Firstly, the club where you are allowed to remove your masks, dance with hosts, and have a drink was Home, a joint I designed and built. The bar is still there as well as the padded columns and walls. The bathrooms feature the wallpapers I picked out 10 years ago. The hotel’s “front desk” is the old copper and vinyl clad bar from Guesthouse. I remember Jon B. asking me if the copper would last and there it was as beautiful as ever outlasting his run. The candles were in the candle wall.

The lower floors that constitute the “ballroom” were once the Sound Factory, which became Twilo, which became the very unspirited Spirit. Now actors fluttered about and spooky guests ran after them. I was happy to see the old clubs reused. Clubs are basically illusions. They often start out as old warehouses, garages, or other unglamorous settings. The energies of owners and operators transform them into the chicest places on earth. It’s all smoke and mirrors really. The Paradise Garage, one of the top 5 joints of all time, was indeed a garage and then it was “The” Garage and now it’s a garage (Verizon) again. The public is expected to buy into the new incarnation and ignore the un-cool past. At Sleep No More they do an incredible job of transforming the building—which also housed BED nightclub—into this haunted, daunted old hotel. Like the club operators before them they reinvigorated and redecorated the discarded space, creating an illusion that it was something else.

For me, I was bored of it all in short time. The performers held my attention for minutes, no more. Other guests ran after the actors as they were told to do and watched them pantomime horror, or anger, or fear, or lust. I liked it when those things were happening in real time back… in the day. I rummaged through brilliantly conceived rooms and touched and felt what I was expected to and was awed by the detail. I paused by old office on the 5th floor and moved on. I always ended up in the club, the old Home and was thoroughly entertained by the torch song singer. I wished it was a club every night that I could just come to and listen to her without the hoopla and hype and masks.

I think you should go and experience it for yourself. I just didn’t have the patience for it. After awhile, after I had opened a hundred draws and seen the players with their lemmings in tow, I wanted to actually slit my wrists just to give the folks in the masks something to chat about. Sleep No More is an ambitious and brilliantly executed drama held in the bones of four or so once vibrant joints. It was the ghosts of these joints that haunted me.

Photo courtesy of Scoutingny.com

27th and 28th Street Ghostown: Clubland’s Lost Nabe

For years the epicenter of vibrant NY nightlife, the west 27th/28th street club corridor is now a virtual ghost town. Tonight, Scores will celebrate its anniversary, with Damon Dash DJing. I’ve been facebooked, texted, tweeted, and called to attend this gala. Noel Ashman and a zillion promoters insist I attend. I might not go— never been a strip club guy. No homo, I just don’t head to that area these days. But there was a time when I was there almost every night. The core clubs of that mall, Pink Elephant, Cain, Home, Guesthouse, and Bungalow 8 are gone, as are the cops on horseback and the Kleig lights that put virtually the entire area out of business. Gone also are a couple thousand jobs in an economy that needs jobs. A visit to the M2 website revealed an ad promoting Common and DJ Funkmaster Flex on May 14th. I guess I missed that as well. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting with Joey Morrissey to find out if the mega club will reopen—if he even knows.

A few months ago I attended the closing night bash for Cain. Outside, a reporter from the New York Post asked me why Cain was closing. I pointed to the new building being put up across the street and told her that the Post was partially to blame. I said it was no coincidence that the rezoning of the neighborhood allowed developers to develop those luxury residential building, which resulted in the harassment and closing of the clubs. I pointed out how the Post stirred up the feeding frenzy with its call to arms after the unfortunate death of Jennifer Moore. My comments weren’t used.

Last week, the NY Times reported that the highly successful “fast tracking” of liquor licenses would not be put out to pasture. When new State Liquor Authority chairman Dennis Rosen implemented the program, almost 3,000 license applications were awaiting processing, with 9-month delays very common. The SLA is now sitting on under 900 and there are plans to go back to normal, with state inspectors doing the heavy lifting. The program allows qualified liquor license attorneys to self-certify that the facts on their client’s applications are indeed facts. The budget crisis in Albany, with a moratorium on overtime for state employees, necessitates the continuance of Mr. Rosen’s solution. This is good news for clubs, bars, and restaurants, and good news for business in general. New licensing means new jobs in construction as well as hospitality. Community Boards are severely at odds with a state that may finally be recognizing the potential in sales tax and new jobs the hospitality industry offers.

The difficulties bars and clubs impose on a neighborhood can usually be solved. A new construction project I am working on at 146 Orchard Street is engineering a complaint-proof establishment, stopping the belly-aching before it happens. A new ceiling in this establishment has a layer of sheet rock, with a layer of insulation between it and a new ceiling. The new ceiling is suspended from springs and is 3 additional layers of sheet rock thick, and that’s before the finishing materials of wood and wallpapers are applied. All ductwork is treated to a soundproof construction. Sound will be hard-pressed to find the ears of good neighbors. The problem will be when those dreaded smokers pop outside for puff-and-chats. Responsible management must enforce respect and demand soft talk. This can be done.

What’s been a real problem at hotspots is cabs honking. The clubs have lobbied for a cop from the Paid Detail Program to be allowed to work outside to enforce the quiet. You see Paid Detail cops inside banks and other businesses. Commercial establishments can hire a uniformed patrolman to act as security. Licensed premises are the exception. Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner, has nixed the idea of his soldiers working near bars and clubs. Potential corruption has been cited often. A possible solution is to use Department of Transportation employees instead of cops. A uniform with the authority to write a costly ticket may well serve the community. Sometimes it seems that a solution isn’t being sought at all. It can feel like constructive dialogue falls on deaf ears. The club community moves into neighborhoods that are so often derelict, filled with prostitution and crime, like West Chelsea and Meatpacking, and spend millions of dollars to turn these hoods around. Politicians are prompted to rezone these districts for mixed-use, allowing residential construction. The real estate industry then builds high rises and city agencies persecute the clubs until they go out of business. This is the reality of West Chelsea. It seems the city just wants the clubs to disappear or move on to another unattractive hood and start the process again.

Maybe I will go over to Scores tonight. Noel Ashman has invited me a hundred times since Friday. Nostalgia begs me to revisit the strip club that I enjoyed until just a few years ago. I’ll walk down 27th street and then up 28th. It will be a relaxing walk down memory lane and, frankly, I could use the peace and quiet.

The Closing of the Club Formerly Known as Cain

Last night I attended the wrap party of what might be remembered as one of the great clubs of the bottle era. In reality, the Cain we all knew closed a long time ago. The redux as Cain Luxe never caught on with the crowd owners Jamie Mulholland, Jayma Cardosa and Robert McKinley were accustomed to entertaining. The neighborhood, Chelsea, had died a quick death from enforcement malpractice after city zoning procedures changed the area from commercial to mixed use. The rebirth of Cain as Cain Luxe didn’t work and probably never could have. Perhaps last night signaled the end of an error.

Those in attendance were saying goodnight to Cain and ignoring the Luxe part they never cared to know. The neighborhood’s new residential high rises provided ample motivation to destroy the Chelsea club mall that stretched from 27th to 29th street. The police barricades, search lights and cops on horseback were no longer in sight. They had already completed their mission and destroyed almost all the business on the once thriving block.

As I strolled down 27th street you could hear a soggy pretzel drop as I passed by the bones of once thriving clubs. Gone were Bungalow 8, Home, Guesthouse and Spirit. A few long-legged ladies approached the door where Pink Elephant once roared as if they were lost in time. They must of come a few years back and thought it was still a relevant club. The Elephant has left the building and only Pink remains as management changed and the old owners moved on to friendlier ‘hoods. There were more security and support staff outside than patrons. There used to be lines of hundreds.

I was greeted at the door of Cain Luxe and treated like I was Elvis. Jamie Mulholland greeted me inside enthusiastically, smiling like I was delivering him his morning coffee and croissant. I congratulated him and he looked at me like I was going to deliver a punchline. I told him he had so much to be proud of. The smile he had practiced all week faded. I said that club god “Steve Rubell couldn’t have made Luxe work” he almost offered a “but” but I wouldn’t let him. “You did a great job no one could have made this work with the police and the constant harassment, Cain will be remembered as a great club.” It was hard for him to accept this praise. Club moguls never want to close the doors. This crew still has GoldBar, which is still so fun after 3 years. The Surf Lodge in Montauk is brilliant and set to reopen with the season. The Bahamas is said to be beyond cool. As hard as it must be for Jamie to say goodbye to his baby in reality it will give him so much more time to excel at these places and elsewhere. I almost asked him who he sold the place to as if you my readers might care who or what will be there. I didn’t think you were interested.

He got me and mine some waters and got me to PR guru Steve Kasuba and we worked the room our way while Jamie went off to do the same. I saw real estate honcho Steve Kamali, who was just named on Societe Perrier as number 5 on the “The 10 Most Beloved Nightlife Impresarios in New York City.” I came in at number 8. I asked to be removed due to technical difficulties, but no one was amused.

The crowd was confused. They couldn’t decide whether they were at a wedding or a wake and I finished my exercise of shaking hands and straining for names and went towards the door. As I was leaving a security guard, with a rubber stamp in hand, asked me if I was “coming back tonight.” I looked him in the eye and said “No and never again.” He was not amused. Outside the New York Post hit me up for sound bites. As usual they were interested in what Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton did when they were at Cain. They asked me why they closed and I pointed to the new residential buildings going up across the street. I told them that the New York Post had spearheaded a campaign of bad publicity about the clubs on the block, a campaign that eventually helped drive the crowds away. I turned them over to the always dapper Cain alumni Randy Scott and slipped back into the present.

We hit the quiet streets and stopped at Marquee to see how the SL design was holding up. It looked good, still crazy after all these years. We strolled down 10th Avenue to Avenue, chatted with actor/door god Wass and popped inside the bottle-popping Mecca. Noah Tepperberg and I talked shop and exchanged inside info that’s so hot-to-tell that I wont tell it. The crowd at Avenue was stunning. Wealthy, dressed and having fun like those types like to have fun. We made our loop and went to 1Oak and chatted serious chatter with the players who play there. Again we were off into the night. About once every week someone asks me if I miss it. The glamor the clamor, the riotous nights. I do sometimes, but walking towards 9th avenue holding hands with a person who only knows and likes the person I am and doesn’t know the person who used to be Steve Lewis, I felt very warm fuzzy and satisfied. I had done the best job I could have back then and like Cain, I think I will be remembered fondly. After all, I am the 8th most beloved nightlife impresario in NYC.

HoHo Rising

A while back the often maligned but generally easy guy to deal with Jon B of Home/Guesthouse fame was looking for a new spot to hang his hat. I steered him into what is now the Greenhouse space. I had been designing the property for the shelter crew of Timmy Regisford and Merlin Bobb, and it turned out they needed a partner. I felt strongly that the space, which has been a nightspot since pre World War II, was ideal — an easy-to-get-to cabaret downtown with few neighbors. A home run. Jon told me I was nuts for a couple of months, but then moved in.

I didn’t end up doing the design, as Jon brought in his guy Antonio Di Oronzo. I did do much of the layout, bar placements, and such, but this award-winning design is all Jon B and his vision of a “green” club. Dipster-hipsters don’t necessarily embrace the joint, but it does make money — not an easy task — and downtowners swarm to Kenny Kenny and Susanne Bartsch’s “Vandam” parties every Sunday. For the fashion-gay crowd, it’s the only game in town.

The area is so isolated from Manhattan civilization that it doesn’t really have a name yet. Realtors often dub it Hudson Square. I have seen HoHo, which stands for Houston/Holland, as in the Clifford Milburn Holland Tunnel. BrooHoHo includes Broome Street into the mix. North Tribeca, West Soho, and South Village are also tossed around. My favorite is WeVar for west Varrick. Whatever it’s called, it’s about to be a different hood real soon. A half-dozen or more projects in development will give Jon B’s isolated outpost some company

The well-documented Trump Soho collaboration with Miami superstars Nicola Siervo, Karim Masri, and Rony Seikaly will bring the sexy set to the hood. Quattro and all the food and beverage joints at the Trump will skew the monied jet-set crowd a little down and to the left of their current Meatpacking District haunts. Four-star chef Daniel Boulud will open on the corner just north of Greenhouse with his new restaurant. City Winery across the street is open, attracting a mixed bag of yuppies and confused revelers now … but it could easily attract dreaded promoter types to its comfy confines and make a statement. Even the Vandam Diner has a liquor license, and there’s a buzz about it too. Up the road a bit at the Sheridan Square, an Egyptian crew headed by Mino, Romy, and Greenhouse bottle host Sammy is gearing to go. This is supposed to be super hush hush, or hu-hu as we say these days. Also very hu-hu is the forgotten Movido space. It’s getting looked at, my source tells me, by a French crew. This group is giving it a shot despite being saddled with a 2am liquor license. They are trying to get the 4am working but are running into HoHo community board opposition.

That’s a lot of activity for an area without a name. Maybe that’s the way it has to be. New development is everywhere as the banks see fit to contribute cash once again. Operators must look at the elbows and corners of Manhattan where developers aren’t digging in if they are to obtain licensing and stay in business. For potential residents, this Vandam strip is a horror during the day, as hundreds of thousands of cars make their way back to mainland America. But the honking and pollution are almost gone by the time the party people are going out. Whether it’s WeVar or HoHo, it figures to be the next MePa (Meatpacking) or OuCh (Outer Chelsea) in time for Christmas. We will all ho-ho-ho-ing in HoHo.

Pacha’s Back, Plot Thickens for Home & Guesthouse

The good news came via BlackBerry from Eddie Dean in Ibiza. Pacha won its hard-fought battle against the NYPD, who seemingly would stop at nothing to close the club down. I had sat in the back of the courthouse and listened to arguments from both sides, and although I was extremely biased towards the defendant, I tried to be objective. But I couldn’t find a case in the government’s case. It all seemed to get down to the concept that although Pacha was taking extraordinary measures to prevent drug sales on its premises, the sales continued. The police case seemed to be that the continuing operation of the mega-club was a drain on the department’s resources. These resources would be better spent patrolling the nearby hood. All doughnut jokes aside, the argument didn’t seem to impress Judge Joan Madden, who threw it out. I read the verdict, and indeed there are stipulations that make this less than a 100% victory for New York’s last real mega-club; but for today, it’s a reason to be cheerful.

Monitoring, continued searches, and security cameras are required, and this seems to be a reasonable course of action. I have obtained the verdict and offer it you here. Oh, and Eddie says the good folks over at Pacha Ibiza read this column, so here’s a shout-out to them. Pachas thrive in 25 or 26 cities around the world. It’s nice that Judge Madden says we can keep ours. Although Ibiza may be an extreme case, a great many places in this world embrace nightlife as an integral part of their fabric and tourist culture. Overseas house-heads coming to New York this summer have had virtually no outlet since Cielo was shuttered till September. Lets hope the police will play fair. They have in the past had their undercovers call drug dealers to make buys in clubs, then busted the club for allowing sales. That’s un-American and unfair. They have allowed known dealers to operate in clubs to “prove” that they could deal without getting caught, putting patrons at risk. That is unbelievably dangerous. What if someone had died from these drugs?

The police have been accused by many of punishing Pacha for hosting the after-party for the Puerto Rican Day parade; this annual party follows a city-sponsored celebration, yet an incident three blocks from the club brings the wrath of the police, who say that party should not have been booked. This, many say, is racism — and I agree. Judge Madden seems to have discounted the police theories of what is happening up on West 46th Street, an area devoid currently of neighbors but not developers’ ambitions. By the time the celebration for this court victory subsides, the weekend will be upon us, and invariably the police harassment of a lawful, tax-paying business will continue.

Moving on: Word comes of the raiding of super-exclusive very hush-hush after hours spot Serpentine. A special friend sent me the word:

the place got raided gay pride weekend after a belligerent friend of a guest got nasty and started spouting homophobic rants. He’s the one who called the cops. Patrick ended up spending the night in jail. It’s too bad some asshole had to ruin it. I went a few times and really loved it – thinking – this is exactly what ny needs right now.

The backlog of liquor licenses has reached a point where the governor’s office is stepping up. As reported in DBTH, a bill to allow joints to operate while their permits are pending is on Governor Patterson’s desk. DBTH made the observation that community boards would be up in arms over this. To clarify, the fast-track temporary license is only for those places that have already received community board approval. An attorney in good standing will self-certify that the financial disclosures and background information and other important stuff are in order. This is an intelligent reaction to a bureaucratic backlog

There is more to the Jon B closing of Home and Guesthouse than previously reported here and elsewhere. Good old Jon just didn’t turn in the liquor licenses. He cooperated in the transfer of these licenses to landlord Harlan Berger in consideration of a reduction of back rent. The community board approved this transfer. Behind this whole thing is real estate developer Igor Ger of East 11th Street. What is to be done with the 530 West 27th Street property which once simultaneously contained Home, Guesthouse, Spirit, and Bed is unclear. “A fabulous concept” is in place. I asked who the designer might be (fishing for some work) and was told “you are, you dummy.” Ah yes, I remember it now. My partner Marc Dizon has been developing the space. We had a bunch of sit-downs and did a presentation a while back, but we do a lot of these and only about a third ever get past the concept phase. It indeed slipped my mind. Marc was laughing at me all day yesterday. Late night dates are distracting and confusing me he claims. When my design hat allows my writing hat to speak more of this, I surely will.

Full Circle: Boom into Bust into Boom

I awoke to the sound of CNN blaring great economic news to my Martinez Brothers-blown ears. Cielo is winding down its summer programming, and as reported earlier will close August 1 until September by court order. The Martinez Brothers are no longer the new kids on the block and seem destined to become legends before they reach 21 years of age. As I write this, the good people over at Pacha are awaiting a decision by Judge Joan Madden regarding the fate of the last mega-house club this town can boast. I have heard unsubstantiated rumors of economic troubles over at M2, and to me, Webster Hell is not a consideration. Home and Guesthouse just shuttered under the weight of enforcement, and the question “who’s next?” looms large. Is it a coincidence this latest round of crackdowns by the powers that be is happening just as an economic recovery is waking me and the whole country up?

“The GDP lost a meager 1%!” screamed the talking head as I wrote this piece, and that’s way better than expected. It was just a few months ago that the sky was absolutely falling and half the town was looking for club jobs. Now those jobs are easier to get. Traditionally this is one of the worst times of year to get a club gig, yet I have gotten foul-weather friends some pretty nice jobs lately. In years past no one opened a joint in the summer, and no one quit a job before the fall season. Come September, all the best club staffers return to grab their old jobs back, so hanging on to the job you have is a great idea.

In September the club economy traditionally slows. Although September brings people back from the Hamptons and other retreats, they are short on cash after months of partying. September brings the flu, baseball season winding down (those important games), the end of tourist season, back to school for the college kids, and some short-term dedication to studies for the students coming in. September brings rain and cold, and much money is spent on new clothes and paying bills before holiday shopping. It gets dark early, and people are depressed thinking of the winter ahead. Fashion Week and some new club openings help a bit, but things generally don’t get better until Halloween.

Yet Andrew Cuomo tells me as I eat my morning bagel with my old friend the New York Times that last year in the worst recession since World War II, Wall Street gave 5,000 people bonuses of $1 million or more. Nationwide, the financial community got $20 billion in bonuses. With the coming boom, will bottle service be revisited? For the A-list clubs, it never fully went away. Clubs have learned to do business the old-fashioned way over the last year-plus. As the bankers and brokers buying bottles for and from models business plan disintegrated, clubs were forced to be more inclusive and more inventive. Avenue sells cute skewered food in little boxes and hawks table service instead of bottle service. Specialty cocktails at especially high prices get the buck from the chump almost as fast as the Goose drop. With the Dow on the way up and optimism bringing sunshine on cloudy days, things are looking too good to be true. The club world has gotten better during the bust; the music not having to cater to the frat-boy big spenders is more eclectic. The downtown sensibility is everywhere. Even Avenue has Paul Sevigny and crew on Tuesdays, and for many its the most habitable night. I’m getting calls daily from people about to open a spot and in need of a designer. I’m also getting calls from operators looking for a new spot to open. There isn’t much available. Nobody is selling what they have. Everyone is seeing the money coming and gearing up to take it. They’re building new or refurbishing old spider webs, anticipating an explosion of flies.

The kicker is the police/city crackdown. The boom makes the real estate valuable once again. Developers will invariably eye the properties occupied as clubs and want to make them condos, or they will covet the property down the block. The thought of blaring taxi horns, drunken fools, flyer litter and lower classes wandering through their neighborhood is abhorrent. It could get even worse — the club may put in an “urban night” and their property values would surely plummet. This is the mindset of the community boards and the politicos that listen to them. The boom may bring bust as cops and other officials are unleashed on the club community. Round 1 is this week as we await the Pacha verdict. Even if Pacha wins and is allowed to operate, it seems the city will never sleep in its quest to turn the city that never sleeps into a bedroom community.

Foreclosure: Home & Guesthouse Close

Exactly five years to the day after opening, Jon B’s 27th Street mainstays Home and Guesthouse have closed. The presence of mounted police, klieg lights, and general harassment by authorities of all patrons wanting to party in Outer Chelsea (OuCh) proved too much. Almost 100 employees found out yesterday afternoon that they were no longer working at the venues. I caught up with Jon and asked him why he closed so suddenly. “I feel terrible. I took care of everybody as long as I could, even when times were tough for me. Yesterday I had to pay a bunch of fines, and I didn’t have money in the account. I had to close — there was no other option.”

He took me back to 2005. “Between Home and Guesthouse, Spirit, Bed, Cain, Bungalow, Pink Elephant, and whatever they called that space where Suzie Wong’s is, we had over 10,000 people on a weekend night visiting the block. Now it’s down to about 2,500 … that’s not enough to sustain a business. We were open seven nights a week for almost five years. I wish it could have lasted longer.” I asked what happens to the license and the lease. “I guess it goes back to the landlord.” Jon’s original landlord was Robbie Wooten, who opened the megaclub Spirit in his newly acquired 530 West 27th Street building. Spirit was a disaster. It wasn’t embraced at all by New York clubgoers, even though the formula was a smash back in Robbie’s Ireland. Massage tables and candles and all sorts of positive vibes and good karma didn’t excite anyone. The restaurant and healing center soon gave way to Jon Bakhshi, a self-proclaimed B+ promoter, who came in and almost saved the day(night) at the doomed club. Spirit would re-open but was such a bane to the area that transfer of the entire space to Jon B was denied. The local community board thought reducing the number of people coming to their precious OuCh district was necessary. The reality was that Spirit had gone “urban,” and neither the community nor the local police precinct was going to allow that.

A few years before, when Amy Sacco boldly built Bungalow 8 where no man or woman had built before, the block was the home of D+ hookers, pimps, and johns in cruising cars. The city granted fast-tracked cabaret and liquor licenses to owners and basically shut down access to these licenses everyplace else. The clubs in turn brought the fast lane of C-list celebrities, models, and bottle buyers to a block which had been a pimp and ho track. There was an excitement, a vibrancy — new construction everywhere. Licenses were given to anyone with a pulse. The city had solved its clubs-in-residential-neighborhoods problem by creating OuCh club ghettos in the Meatpacking District. These derelict neighborhoods would be gentrified by the multi-million-dollar investments in nightlife. They were basically killing two birds with one stone. The clubs wouldn’t be waking up the old ladies in the neighborhoods because new club investment would be drawn to the easy licensing and one-stop shopping of the disco-light districts being created. This would turn what was essentially red light districts into areas for art galleries, restaurants, and nightlife.

A couple years ago, the area was rezoned so that developers could build condos. The clubs were now a nuisance, and a tide of police and civil authorities used the unfortunate but vaguely connected death of Jennifer Moore as an excuse to get this real estate back into the hands of the developers, who saw the clubs as a non-selling point. Robbie Wooten sold his 530 property, once the home of Bed, Spirit, Home, and Guesthouse, to a group led by man about town Harlan Berger. There were stories about a film center, a hotel, and even a real nice club where Jon B’s “B crowd” would not be welcome. These A-list plans had Mark Baker and other A-list operator types swirling all around. The last few years have seen allegations and litigations between Harlan and Jon B, as the precious liquor licenses rested with Jon. Now Harlan has them, and the economy seems right, and that Highline thing is really bringing flocks of nice day people to the hood.

There were many flaws in Home and Guesthouse. I designed the places with my partner Marc Dizon with a total budget of around half a million dollars. Jon got a lot of bang for those few bucks. The legacy of Home and Guesthouse will be their survival for five years. They rode the wave of the model/bottle boom and crashed into the beach when the economy sagged and fair play and decency lagged in club/police relations. They were the last of the clubs to make “no fur” part of its dress code. They never were great clubs, but Jon B would always tell me that he was making more money than those more celebrated joints around him. The bottom line with Jon was always the bottom line. Why shouldn’t that be a reason to be cheerful and a mark of success? I will say that Jon prides himself in always paying his employees and honoring his debts. The closing of his clubs hadn’t really hit home to him as we spoke throughout yesterday. “I can’t believe it, but it’s been a pretty good run, and I’m proud of it,” he finally said.

Remembering Laura Garza

imageMy intern Mary Wolff and I were on our way to a New York Nightlife board meeting being held at M2 on 28th Street when I noticed what looked like a protest outside of Marquee nightclub. I told the cabbie to stop, and we bolted out to see what the ruckus was about. A dozen people were holding up banners and posters about Laura Garza, a Brooklyn woman who was last seen leaving Marquee exactly six months before. I asked Awilda Cordero a few questions, and she told me it was important to keep people aware that Laura was “still missing and to come forth with any information they may have.” The high June sun washed out the light from the candlelight vigil underlined the washed-out hopes of the gathering. Laura’s fate is, unfortunately, probably a foregone conclusion.

I noted to Ms. Cordero that at first glance the gathering seemed like some sort of protest. “Oh no, the people at Marquee have been very cooperative from the beginning. Owners and management have done all they can.” She said that there was “no problem with the club, it’s just that this was the last place Laura was seen”. Laura Garza was by all accounts a “friendly, open and kind person,” who had come to New York to pursue her dream of being a dancer. She met 23-year-old Michael Mele at Marquee; Mele, a multi-convicted sex offender, is described as a “person of interest” by the police. There was no way for Laura to know this. There was no way for Marquee’s ultra-professional door staff to see his demons. Maybe the world has gotten too PC and some sort of mark needs to carved into these grunts’ foreheads to show us their intentions and past deeds, but no sort of warning sign was there. Ms. Cordero told me that “he was supposed to take her home to Brooklyn, but instead he took her upstate.” It is in the woods of Northern Orange County where the volunteer firemen, police, friends, strangers, and family looked for Laura. “We’re going to have a float at the Puerto Rican day parade. I’m Puerto Rican,” Ms. Cordero proudly told me, fighting back tears. After six months she’s gotten good at it. “We gotta keep people aware of Laura.”

I’m just a nightlife blogger, and in that limited scope I’ll make a few observations. Marquee, by all accounts, did everything right, cooperated with all involved, and showed a degree of professionalism that is very common in nightlife today. The meeting I went to after this chilling encounter was a large group of nightlife people headed by the tireless Robert Bookman and David Rabin. The agenda of this meeting basically boiled down to promoting cooperation between the police and community and the powers that be within the nightlife community. The great majority of the people running the shows at venues around town are solid people like those at Marquee. However, a few rogue types and greedy yokels who have no business being in the business have hurt everyone. There is no doubt that police commissioner Ray Kelly has reached out, and a new era of cooperation is at hand. In the past, police crackdowns after similar incidents have crippled business. Although there are some obvious differences, The Falls was closed after the murder of Imette St. Guillen. Yes, it was at the hand of an employee with a record — Darryl Littlejohn, who was convicted earlier this month — but the question lingers about what could have the owners done to prevent this. The answer — mandatory background checks for security — might have helped, but maybe it could have been a bouncer with a clean slate who did this horrible deed as well.

Jennifer Moore’s death after a night of underage drinking at Guesthouse caused a blockage of 27th Street, continuous police presence, and a change in the quality of the nightlife on the block, and not for the better. Jennifer Moore used her sister’s ID; she could have gotten past airport security with it. She left the club, found out her car was towed, and went to the pound, where police, seeing her in a drunken state, didn’t give her the car. She wandered out onto the West Side Highway and was kidnapped and killed. They didn’t close the police pound or fire the cops who let her drift away; instead, Guesthouse and the neighboring clubs took the heat. Even though she was never sold a drink and no summons or even a lawsuit resulted, the 27th Street nightlife mall was virtually wrecked.

A responsible and cooperative nightlife community working with New York City agencies can help the public protect themselves from all sorts of predators who see the crowds as opportunities. Distribution of information — like the police department’s “Nightlife Safety Tips” pamphlet may indeed help some poor soul down the line. Anyway, let’s take a moment and pray for Laura Garza, and may her family and friends and all of us find some sort of comfort in God’s love.

If you have any information about Laura Garza or her disappearance, please call Jan Golding, (845) 344-5300; or Awilda Cordero, (718) 401-4192, {encode=”awildacordero@emergencyrights.com” title=”awildacordero@emergencyrights.com”}, www.emergencyrights.com.

The Bungalow 8 Blues

imageI got this story secondhand — and like sweaters I get that way, it’s bound to have a few holes in it. It seems that Bungalow 8 was closed for ten days, and excuses like “Amy isn’t around” and “They were taking a break or renovating” were thrown out for their adoring public. A source with some chops told me it was the collapse of parts of the roof that caused the closing. Plexiglas panels came detached, and in a sky-is-falling late night incident, the party came to a stop. Repairs were long overdue, and staff did their best to control the elements with strategically placed buckets and such. Amy is indeed traveling some, but my source revealed that with only about a year and a half left on her lease, Ms. Sacco has decided to ride it out. She has some money put aside from the sale of her West 23rd Street boîte as well as a flow of consulting fees from the Griffin, the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, and the “Living by Amy” condo project on John Street. Bungalow 8 London, which according to another source isn’t hitting its marks, is still another revenue stream for the queen of nightlife.

This second source — a Brit with firsthand knowledge — says that though the membership thing is very common for upscale London clubs, in this case it wasn’t as successful as projected. “She should have gone with a strict door policy and doorman New York style; she would have made more money and been cooler.” I don’t like these secondhand, heard-it-through-the-grapevine stories, so I called up Amy Sacco confidant Tiana Reeves for comment. Tiana would neither confirm or deny the validity of the story. She would only volunteer that “Amy is very happy.”

There is little doubt that Bungalow isn’t what it used to be. One of the main reasons is that none of the feeding clubs — i.e., Marquee, Cain, Pink Elephant, Home, Guesthouse, or M2 — are supplying the A-crowds like they used to. In fact, Scores may be the best source for Bungalow 8 clientele. Scores is bringing people in, these people are spending money, and the girls are doing well. My source said that, “The Bungalow New York City is being treated like a stepchild.”

The realities of the woes of 27th Street have indirectly brought the sky down on Amy’s gin joint. A continuous police presence, the distractions of Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss with Tao Vegas and their new spot, Avenue (which is in previews), Jon B’s good crowd moving to Greenhouse, Cain’s crowd to GoldBar, and the change over of the “trying to be great Mansion” to the “trying to stay crowded M2” has drained Bungalow of its crowd. As I said, some of this was from semi-reliable sources and should be taken as just that — secondhand smoke. For instance, one of my contacts reached over to my friend’s hair, tasted it, and correctly diagnosed it as Sebastian with a little Paul Mitchell molding wax. With sources like that, how could I go wrong?