My DJ Antics & Other Things to See

I’m late writing today because I have been trying to clone myself all morning. I am getting so busy as a DJ that I may have to give up my pottery or my vegan cooking classes. Tonight I am double-booked by people who must be tone deaf. First off, I will DJ a birthday bash for my pal Greg “The Smile” Brier, who is also celebrating the 2-year anniversary of his restaurant/joint Aspen Social Club. This Times Square affair starts at 5pm for the locals and goes real late for the loyalists who love the joint. My name is listed on the invite along with other DJs, but appears 3x bigger than the rest, who are absolutely 10x better than me at making music. But I am pretty, and sometimes that will get you through the night. Shoot, it got my ex’s through years.

Real DJs Tommy James, Billy C, Justin Strauss, and Lizzy Lee will undo the damage I’ll do with my 11pm to midnight slash-and-burn set. Tommy has promised not to disconnect the equipment after my second track, as he did the last time we worked together. I guess it was a bad song. Aspen Social Club thrives in the middle of the mayhem at 47th and Broadway. To paraphrase that brilliant philosopher/poet Yogi Berra: That area has so much going on that there is nothing happening there. It is not exactly a scene-friendly location, yet Greg has thrived there and at his other joint nearby, Highbar. He is, despite what many say, one of the real gentlemen in the business. I will absolutely strive to embarrass him tonight.

After that I will whisk down to White Noise to join Goldbar guru Jon Lennon on the 1’s and 2’s. Jon is another one of those real DJ-types who must tolerate the insanity of my musical offerings. I had fun last week.

Also tonight – I send my regrets for not attending – is Music Maestro…Please, presented by NY-LON and Spontaneous Underground. My bestest friend and another real DJ, Jennifly, will host this. It’s a Brit-centric dance-a-thon, and one of my favorite parties. It is at my hallowed haunt subMercer, and I may sneak in late.

Last night I judged a mini ball hosted by Princess Xtravaganza at Patrick Duffy’s Tuesday night soiree’ at the Box. It was rad, mad mayhem, as strutters walked the walk, and vogued, and all that. The crowd screamed in delight as pretty and talented folks bent all the rules and their body parts in an attempt to sway the judges. The ball culture, which has been around before even me and my dad, is readily enjoyed by the masses that packed the room last night, and so many other nights. It is often a cult-culture, with its own rules deities, and even gods. It has a deep history of over a hundred years. Pattrick Duffy and Princess are proving that the brilliant spectacle that is “a ball” should be seen by more people—a broader audience. How to do that without diluting its purity is a question, and an opportunity. It’s real deal fun and creativity, and I try not to miss any of them.

Friday Good Units will host the 6th Annual Halloween affair hosted by Yoni Goldberg, Damon DeGraff, and their DJ talent firm dGi. Yoni chastised me for not showing up last year, even though I did. I was in my super-realistic old, fat Elvis outfit, and he must have thought I was the real thing. I hope he didn’t tell his friends. I will try to attend again this year and enjoy the real DJs he and Damon have slated for the event. The Misshapes, Rev(run) and Ruckus will be on hand with some promised—wink,wink—surprise performers.

Last but certainly not least is the charity affair my friend Unik is hosting this Saturday. An A-list crowd, which may include: “Gerard Butler, John Legend, Rhianna, Petra Nemcova, Wyclef and more.” The crowd will limo:

“To Ajna, the old Buddah Bar, as a prelude to the annual New York City Halloween parade, which has chosen to promote Haiti’s cultural roots as the 2010 parade’s prominent theme. Haitian Artist Didier Civil was invited to bring his Voodoo flair. Prominent charity organizations Edeyo and LakayPAM are leading this Haiti rebranding project, and will benefit from the $25.00 entrance fee. Time: 10:30pm Place: Ajna Bar, 25 Little West 12th Street”

NYC Try Outs: Natasha Huang’s West Coast Sensibility

It’s always intriguing to watch a former West Coast denizen make their way in the Big Apple. Their itineraries have a slightly sunnier edge, quite literally. They seek out roof tops and tiki bars, their drinks are sweeter, their style is fashionably laid back – they’ve mastered that whole California-cool thing that’s a stretch for the native New Englander. Natasha Huang is of the West-turned-East school. A native of the Bay Area, she graduated from the University of San Francisco and worked in health care for hospitals before moving to the city as the Director of Marketing for Encore Magazine. Shortly thereafter, she struck out on her own to start a company: NH Media. As an entrepreneur in the PR field, Natasha is often out and about, raising her public profile and collecting business cards with the best of them, while still maintaining her distinctly relaxed, and, let’s face it, friendly West Coast nature. The places she’s deemed her favorites reflect her sunny disposition.

Name: Natasha Huang Professional Resume: I own and run a social media public relations company called NH Media, where I work in the fashion and social media arena in one of the greatest cities in the world. One Word to Describe Nightlife in New York City: Infinite.

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City Loves • Favorite lunch spot: Mamoun’s Falafel or La Esquina. • Favorite dinner spot: DBGB. • Favorite nightlife trend: Rooftops and tiki bars. • Drink of choice: KGB – apparently it’s orange vodka, soda, splash of orange juice, and a slice of orange. • Meal of choice: anything raw – oysters, tuna tartar, sushi, beef carpaccio. • Favorite group of people to bump into: housewives, socialites, fashionistas, diva’s, models.

City Loathes • Nightlife trend: Anything with a line or cover charge. • Drink: Cosmo or Sex on the Beach. • Meal: Baked Mac and Cheese. • Group of people to bump into: Fist Pumpers, girls who can’t walk in high heels, hoochies, club promoters.

Her Hotspots • Monday: Salud. • Tuesday: HighBar. • Wednesday: Le Bain. • Thursday: Ulysses. • Friday: 230 Fifth. • Saturday: Hudson Bar @ Hudson Hotel. • Sunday: Pastis.

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• Wouldn’t be caught dead here: Quo, Marquee, Greenhouse. • For special occasions: Per Se or South Gate. • Brunch is usually: Bagatelle.

Over the Rainbow

Tonight’s ROOFTOP DRIVE-IN movie at Highbar will be The Wizard of Oz. The W of O is one of my favorite flicks and I’m going to rush over to Highbar right after that Pharrell N.E.R.D thingy at Irving Plaza. My dear pal Greg Brier, the wizard of Highbar, is wonderful because because because because because because of the wonderful things he does. I’ll be there to support and ooh and ahh and tell how I met actual Munchkins at the 70th anniversary party at Tavern on the Green. Tavern was a bit like the Emerald City, a place where dreams were fulfilled, but is now for all intents and purposes buried under a sea of bureaucratic red tape, in-fighting, bad intentions, and greed.

Last September when I wrote about the impending doom, I said, “Tavern was made of steel and concrete and glass for sure. It was decorated with fine chandeliers and moldings and furniture, but its soul came from dreams, and soon—January 1—those dreams will move on. It won’t be the same without the magic, and you can’t buy or outbid for that stuff.”

I love quoting me. Sometime tonight a nine-foot projected Dorothy will say those magic words “Toto, I’ve a feeling were not in Kansas anymore”. New York isn’t quite Kansas yet but the city that never sleeps sure is yawning a lot these days. I would love to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain but Mayor Bloomberg just doesn’t seem to get the underbelly of New York. He just hasn’t spent enough time there. The great and powerful Oz said about himself that he was a good man but a bad wizard. Our billionaire Mayor may indeed be a good man and even a good mayor most of the time, but he’s lacking in his understanding of the symbols and distractions the hoi polloi need to just get by. Without billions of dollars to entertain ourselves, we seek refuge in bars and clubs and have romantic attachments to places like Tavern on the Green. It’s been a summer without Tavern. A summer spent without cool breezes and cocktails, starry skies and topiaried trees. Dean Poll, that boathouse mogul who would have been the new wizard, couldn’t make a deal with the wicked witches at the Hotel and Motel Trade Council, and Mayor Mike couldn’t successfully intercede .The Donald waits in the wings to help if called upon. I read in The New York Times that Mr. Trump, who sometimes understands the stuff that dreams are made of said, “If I could help the city and the city wanted me to get involved, I could be open to running Tavern.” He added: “It really is a special place. Only a person with a lot of money can rebuild and resurrect Tavern. And I have a lot of money.”

Maybe those involved should click their shoes together and repeat “If I only had a brain… a heart… courage. In 1939 director Victor Fleming directed a story that told of brains, heart, courage and the meaning of home. Dearest Dorothy and her entourage fought off demons, witches and even those scary monkeys to get things back to where they should be, and more importantly, with a greater appreciation of them. That same year, Victor Fleming did another very similar film, Gone With the Wind, which is at it’s core about the same thing. That Victor Fleming had a pretty, pretty, pretty good year. The costumes were tweaked but the message was clearly the same. Home and the values it represents are our heart and we must fight and prevail, to preserve them. Dorothy and Scarlett O’Hara were young women who came of age chasing and eventually finding their dreams. Somewhere out there is Jenny Oz Leroy, the daughter of the Warner Leroy who’s dream took Tavern over the rainbow. Tavern wasn’t much before Warner Leroy invested millions into it, and more importantly his heart, his brains, his courage and his love. Now that the Leroys have been kicked unromantically to the curb it may never return. Warner Leroy’s dad Mervyn Leroy produced the Wizard of Oz. His dad Harry Warner was one of those Warner Brothers who founded the movie studio. All of them understood how to mix magic in with the money and stir it up to make something special. The hallowed grounds where so many memories of engagements and weddings and birthdays and events and anniversaries and dreams were made lays decaying. So many people from all over the world continuously returned to Tavern because like a very few icons, the Empire State Building and it’s King Kong, Radio City and the Rockettes, the Plaza and it’s Eloise and so very few others, represent the soul of New York, the legend of the great town. Tiffany’s without breakfast (at Tavern) is just another jewelry store.

The union seeking to restore the nostalgia and their jobs is appealing the ruling of federal judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum. Judge Cedarbaum ruled that the all important name, Tavern on the Green, does not belong to the Leroy family, who copyrighted it, but to the city which had prior claim. Judge Cedarbaum doesn’t make too many mistakes. She was the judge in that Pacha case and I watched her work. She’s a very bright woman. She was on the bench for Martha Stewart as well. The city will most likely retain ownership of the name but the pending appeal will surely delay a final settlement and deter new investors and operators. While the crows pick at the carcass of the great place Jenny Oz Leroy stands ready to restore the dream. Mayor Bloomberg needs to lease Tavern back to the Leroy family because they’re so much a part of the dream. Mayor Bloomberg must understand that all roads that lead to restoring this important part of the fabric of New York City to legendary status are yellow brick roads. Corporate interests must be tempered. Dreams must return to the formula or we might as well be in Kansas. Mayor Bloomberg must recognize that generations of people from everywhere came to Tavern not for the food or the union service but for the dream. Mayor Mike does great things for the air we breathe and the traffic, and I’m sure he’s brilliant at keeping this town running, but he needs to step up here and show some heart and courage to go with his big brain. Maybe Tavern was a bit imperfect and maybe there are Trumps, Cipriani’s, Dean Polls and Seth Greenbergs who could be more efficient. Give it back to Jenny! There is a time for efficiency and there is a time for dreams.

Later tonight, my goose bumps will have goose bumps as Judy Garland sells it. Maybe Judy’s voice wasn’t as efficient as others but her heart, her charisma her persona made her better than those other sweet voiced sirens. Judy always spoke to us down here in the cracks. Tavern, the Leroy’s magic kingdom, took us on a magical journey over the rainbow. The other would be operators will just give us a nice meal. There are plenty of places in this town to get a great meal … very few understand or offer dreams. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, watch The Wizard of Oz tonight at Highbar or Youtube this part: “Someplace where there isn’t any trouble… (tossing a piece of her cruller to Toto)…do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or train. It’s far, far away… behind the moon… beyond the rain.
 (singing) Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
 Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue,
 And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

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.

Mid-Summer Dreams: What’s to Come in Nightlife

For many, the summer means long romantic walks on the beach, working on tans, and romance under the stars. For me, it’s long walks on hot concrete sidewalks looking for furniture and fixtures for places opening in the Fall. It’s getting a tan as I lean against scaffolding while sipping a coconut water, escaping a 100-degree job site. It’s summer in the city with my constant companion, a fly swatter, as the only creatures that want to sleep with me are mosquitoes. It’s even too hot for baseball, and although I tried to get into it, I find soccer—or whatever they call it—to be a colossal bore, punctuated with moments of extreme excitement. It’s exactly like my second marriage. I rushed home for the 4th as I was invited by my friend Matt DeMatt to view the fireworks at Lucky Strike Lanes. Alas, traffic and obligations wouldn’t allow me to get there. I viewed the rockets’ red glare at Greg Brier’s Highbar. I love the Highbar crew: Greg, Holly Roberts, and the staff have seen me through the best and worst of times. DJ Tommy James played an incredible set of Independence Day themed music in sync with the explosions. It was surreal and sublime.

Tomorrow night I will be co-hosting Matt DeMatt’s birthday soiree over at Lucky Strike. I used to bowl fairly often—I was good at it. I bowled a 253 one Sunday afternoon, had my own ball and everything. Back in the day, when I worked on that Club Camel program, we sponsored club leagues on Monday nights over at Bowlmor on University Place. We brought in DJs and celebrities. Clubs bowled against each other with shirts advertising their joint’s name on it. It was pitchers of beer, french fries—good ol’ American fun. It was also nothing new, as some club god of a previous generation had done it in the early 80’s. Matt took it to another level with Nightstrike in the mid nineties, which still reigns at Bowlmor.

Club people are restless. They are looking for something more than the whole “model drops the bottle and then we throw napkins in the air” shtick. The fall will bring change to nightlife, as operators looking for competitive edges will surely make changes. The long-legged doll with the sparkler in the champagne bottle will no longer be confused with real fireworks—real pizzazz. The music must morph, as there’s certainly new stuff out there. Owners must push the envelop musically, and embrace new sounds, as only a few joints are pushing anything but the scripted sounds of handsome lads that “play” a DJ, rather than get a day job. Entertainment may be in order: the experience must grow. While bowling certainly isn’t anything new, it certainly is fun, and fun is what I believe the people will be looking for, come fall. The Box led the way, and it’s contribution cannot be underestimated, but it’s act eventually seemed desperate or forced after awhile, as it didn’t progress to a level above the shock-schtick. Still, it was new and it was embraced. It got an “A” and a “$” for effort. It still delivers, and I believe it provided a glimpse of a future where club entertainment moves beyond the Serrato, the napkins, and the sparklers.

What is happening at Lucky Strike for your Birthday, Matt DeMatt? Every year I think about not doing my birthday party, and then I start getting phone calls in May that makes me realize my party is not only for me, it’s really an event where all the nightclub owners, employees, hoteliers, and restaurant people want to go, so they can have an enjoyable place to see each other, tell stories, and relax. It makes us all feel good about what we do for a living. Last year I had my birthday at Gaslight and it was a collage of old and new friends. This year I have teamed up with Lucky Strike to create a very different kind of event. I have felt for quite some time that clubs in the city have taken on a Starbucks mentality. As a result, I enlisted some great talent from the 70’s and 80’s, through today, as well as some unique talent like magicians, burlesque acts, and dancers to create an event reminiscent of Studio 54, mixed with a carnival-like atmosphere. Dean Winters will be hosting and Mark Kamins, Freddy Bastone, and Eddie Baez will be DJing, as well as some up-and-coming DJs. Gerardo Velez, 7-time Grammy nominated percussionist who played with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and collaborated with David Bowie, Sir Elton John, and many others, will be playing percussion alongside the DJs. Melle Mel and Randy Jones will each be performing a medley of their hits throughout the night. A video montage will be shown with over a 100 pictures of the friends, celebrities, and good times I have had in my life.

What is your role with Lucky Strike, and how will you change what’s going on there? Lucky Strike is a beautiful and unique venue that I really feel will be able to give people a lot of things to break up the monotony of the club business. The staff is young and fun, the management is talented and there to help. I was contacted by the owner, Ethan Hunt, to try and do something new. He was aware of the fact that I had named and started Night Strike at Bowlmor Lanes in the 90’s, and that is still going on today. Every Wednesday, we will be bringing in special DJs, acts, events, charities, as well as theme nights. The basic science is to give people an affordable night, where the norm is not the norm. We start with $15 bowling all night, as opposed to $10 per game, and pool table discounts, great music, in an upscale nightclub atmosphere, with reasonably priced food and drink.

What else are you working on? I am working on bringing a theme night event to Atlantic City with Harrah’s and Caesar’s. I am collaborating with Dr. Nick Kardaras, former owner of Mr. Fuji’s Tropicana, in writing a treatment about two guys from Queens that get drawn into the nightclub business. The story line will reveal interesting characters, true-to-life events, and life-lessons learned. I am an investor in Wodka, a triple distilled vodka. I had hoped to be a fabulous salesperson for them when I made the investment a year ago, however my back injury has kept me from that. As a result, my partners, James Dale and Shu deJong, use me as an “ambassador” when needed. They have been wonderful in keeping me involved, despite my back problems. I am Co-producing a Theatrical Concert with Gerardo Velez, entitled Woodstock–You Should Have Been There. My Uncle Neal, who founded Scunci, always told me he would not come out of retirement unless there was a billion-dollar opportunity. He has found a very unique and patent-pending advertising tool that I have also invested in. The product is an interactive advertising mirror that displays any message or brand until it is engaged by the consumer which triggers the image to instantly convert to a traditional mirror. My partners and I at Gaslight, G2, and Gaslight Pizzeria, are looking to expand upon the Gaslight name with additional locations in the near future. I have formed my own company, The DeMatt Group. We help start up or in-need restaurants, clubs, etc., with everything from menus, to traffic flow, to back office setup. We provide cutting-edge designers, industry expediters, marketing expertise, and additional tools needed to be a success. I believe you follow your dreams and help people and (Karma says) money will follow. I have great relationships and respect from people I have worked with in my industry, and will use those lessons learned to help people help themselves.

You’ve been around for eons. What were the best of times and what can be done to bring them back—or are the ‘best of times’ really here now, for a younger generation? I want to bring back club courtesy, and make everything I do in night life friendly. The night life scene has never been more ready to get some new infusion of ideas and energy—the baby boom is in full swing! Not people trying to push bottle service while sacrificing the crowd and any chance of fun. Your designs, for example, have given club owners the ability to have a unique quality product, but if they prostitute the crowd so that anyone who buys a bottle gets in, and the others who get in are promoters who get everything for free, why do it? There is no creativity. We need to incorporate great lighting for movement, good music, and excellent service with a nice blend of people. The nightlife is here for all generations and the best of times are ahead of us.

Photo Via DarbCU

A Gift List for Clubdom

The ghosts of Christmas past drive me to self-analytical frenzy, that gets mixed in with the shopping and the holiday greetings whirlwind. Then there’s the, “I love her, she loves me not, she loves me, I can’t stand her 75 percent of the time” pantomime. That leads into who? what? where? New Year’s Eve desperation. With work and traffic, money runs and non-stop Christmas muzak, I think I’m starting to lose it. Gonna leave you to your thing and I’ll go do mine. Before I go, I’m going to give some clubs some uncle Steve advice: What “should” each club want for Christmas?

Avenue: A deep breath. 1Oak: Another year like this one. Or better– like the year before, as the recession comes to an end. Boom Boom Room/18th floor: A laugh track and a high-speed money counter. Bungalow 8: A real deal redux and a neighborhood revival. The Jane: Another chance! The Beatrice : Clarity. Rose Bar : A Basquiat and a big hug. Provocateur: Patience and humility. Simyone: Diversity to go along with all that quality, good looks and charm. Rdv: A “stay true to your school” t-shirt. Cielo: A moment away from cops and courts to concentrate on the real club side of things. Pacha: The same plus a VIP host who knows everybody in clubdom and gets them to come. Lit: A clone for Mr. Foss and a swiffer sweeper. Apotheke: More of the old (crowd) and more of the same (delicious cocktails). Greenhouse: One clear public message besides the green thing or the green thing and chain of command. Juliet: A new lighting concept and lots of fabric. Hudson Terrace: The Copacabana. The Eldridge: 25 more square feet. M2: A real good old school club night with lots of familiar faces. This place rocks when filled with good peeps. La Pomme: Time to build its own crowd. GoldBar: A gold medal for Jon “the legend” Lennon and a little more light. It’s too dark to appreciate the crowd. Marquee: Glass and maybe a once a month huge DJ and a clearing out of the furniture. Webster Hall: Convictions. Southside: Brotherly love. Ella: A little respect. Gansevoort Roof, Highbar, Empire Hotel: Eternal sunshine, endless summer. The Box: Moist towelettes and more Patrick Duffy.

Who am I to tell all these young studs what they may or may not need. But I do remember something James Brown once said: “I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know.” Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

The Party Moves: GBH’s Tom Dunkley & Alejandro Torio

Tom Dunkley and Alejandro Torio of GBH have established their brand over a dozen years by consistently producing a party which pushes the envelope of music to a hip, interesting, and interested crowd. They aren’t promoters supporting a night at a club but directors who create a weekly event. Their Saturdays at the Tribeca Grand sink the great lie that there is nothing to do in this town. Nightlife is as vibrant and relevant as ever — it just doesn’t live in one space every night. There may not be a true great club at this time, but there are great parties every single night of the week. For instance, tonight I am visiting Emma Cleary at her “Don’t Feed the Models Party” at Katra, James Coppola’s “Cool Jerk” soiree at Sin Sin, Mey Bun’s birthday bash, “Monarch Mondays” at Above Allen, and then to the Jane for Greg Lucas’ birthday gathering. I may even stop at the still fabulous Butter to say hey to the fast-lane crowd.

GBH has events all over town and forgoes the trouble of owning anything. They don’t need to pay rent, kiss community board ass, or go through a licensing process. They can leave a sinking ship and move to a new venue anytime they feel like it. The owners have done all the heavy lifting but are more than happy to host their events because GBH is the rarest of promotional entities: They bring people. Most promo groups are good for 50 people, sometimes 51, while the GBH crew delivers a thousand. Their crowd is hip, forward, attractive, and not easily impressed. Plus, Tom and Alejandro and company do another thing so rarely found in club types … they work.

Tell me about the GBH name. What does it stand for? Where does it come from? Tom Dunkley: We started 11 years ago. And the first party we did, we called GBH — which stood for “Great British House.” Our first parties were all house music. We don’t really do house music so much anymore, but we still keep the name GBH. But now, it doesn’t really stand for anything. It’s just who we are.

It stands for excellence. Dunkley: Yes, thanks.

It is a brand. It’s a brand that means a few things to me — it means that the music will be good, and that the crowd will be a mixed crowd, and not stodgy. You’re not necessarily found in nightclubs. You’re in places like the Tribeca Grand, which is where we’re sitting now. What other kind of places do you do? Dunkley: Well, right now we do a big night at Webster Hall, with a lot of big name DJs. And we do Sundays at Highbar. And the big thing for us is Tribeca Grand, on Saturday. Sundays at Highbar we do something that’s more world music, which is a new direction for us. Thursdays we’re doing Thom Bar. Wednesday is Kiss & Fly.

Alejandro, I’ve known you forever. Alejandro Torio: Yeah, we worked together in other venues. I think Marquee was the last place.

What was the first place? Torio: Maybe Spa.

Was it Spa? It wasn’t Life? Torio: No, no. I think I first met you at Life, back in the day. That was when GBH was really getting going. When Tom and I met about 12 years ago, Tom had a great idea for a party — he wanted to call it GBH. I’m like, “Well, what the hell does that mean?” “Well, it’s GBH — Great British House.” Then I’m like “Okay? How do we like British house music?” In the beginning, it was more like a novelty, where we were trying to invite a lot of British people, who were more like expatriates. Dunkley: Well, it was more like, when I came here, I was fresh off the boat 12 years ago. Torio: He’s still off the boat (laughs). Dunkley: And Alejandro used to do some promotions back in the day before I met him. And when I came here, I kind of knew him. And I wanted to do something that was house … I wanted to do bring some of that clubbing experience that I had over in London to New York. I came here expecting to find it, and it just wasn’t here.

With notable exceptions, New York has not embraced the purity of music, like London. Take David Morales — he goes to London, and they line up around the block. Dunkley: They go crazy for electronic music over there.

When I used to hire DJs, and I got up to like $700, I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of money for a DJ.” Now DJs get $50k or $60k. There’s been a revolution in that. Of course, the crowd has wanted it. In a place like Webster Hall, you book the big talent, you get the big results. Is that the same case? Is the party standing on its own? Or is it very DJ-oriented? Dunkley: I think sometimes you can do an event that’s DJ-oriented, and it can stand alone just on the talent. But I think in general, if you’re doing a weekly party, it’s gotta be a combination of the different ingredients — the promoters you work with, just the base crowd that comes every week who comes for the kind of music that you’re doing, rather than just the individual DJ. Plus the crowd that comes for the individual DJ or band. Torio: It’s also the kind of artists you try to find out there that no one really knows about, and that you get ‘em here first. Three or four years ago, Tom was like, “There’s this group from …” what was it, France? The name was Justice. And I was like, “Never hear of ‘em.” Tom says, “They’re getting a lot of buzz. I think it would be good.” I said, “Oh really? How much do they cost?” And Tom was like, “Don’t worry. It’s not a lot of money.” Dunkley: We ended up paying them $500.

It’s amazing, right? Dunkley: Yeah, it was crazy. Torio: And it was for a room that fit maybe 100-150 people. And it was mad packed. I couldn’t believe it. Now they’re going out for like enormous amounts of money. They sold out Madison Square Garden their last show. Dunkley: A lot of people come to us to break new talent. We got the Ting Tings for like $500. We were the first ones to do them here. It was literally like a room of 200 people at Le Royale.

Is it easier if an owner knows his shit and gets involved or is clueless and leaves you alone? Torio: It depends on some venues. Obviously the Tribeca Grand here, the creative director is Tommy Saleh. He’s a music guy. He’s a fashionista.

Tommy’s been here forever. Dunkley: Which is great — with someone like Tom, he has connections up the wazoo. I mean, you want to be working with someone like that. In this business, when you’re trying to birth the best talent that you can, and every week you’ve got to be coming up with someone new, you want as many people on the team as possible. So it’s all about working with other people. Like another person we work with a lot, who’s great, is Alex English. And he’s very very knowledgeable. He’s our resident DJ.

I know Alex really well. Alex DJed for me at that NPC event, and he literally blew it out. He was just amazing. Dunkley: Yeah, he’s a great DJ and an experienced booker. And he’s a really big part of the team.

I don’t know anyone in the scene that doesn’t like him. Dunkley: Yeah, he’s out all the time. He knows a good bit of people. He’s friends with everybody.

You guys don’t own a club. Most of the people we talk to are managers or owners of clubs. You move. And therefore, the party can be the same party week after week, over many years, even though the venue changes. Do you think of a club in the future? Torio: I don’t think Tom and I would ever think about ever owning a club. Dunkley: No, I don’t see us as club owners. Torio: We see ourselves as more of just always trying to find great music, the great talent, to be ahead of the game. Dunkley: I think what you’re saying about being able to move around is key. You can only stay at a certain venue for a certain amount of time Torio: We were at Central Fly nightclub for three years. We were at Lotus for like four years. Most of our history, once we started a party, we stayed a pretty long time. Because our clientele, our following is definitely the kind of people who enjoy the party. It doesn’t matter where the party is or what the venue is.

How long have you been going to nightclubs, Alejandro? Torio: I’ve been going out since I was 15, 16.

So that’s 10 years? Torio: I can’t tell you my real age…

Well, if you went to my clubs, then you went to the old school clubs. Torio: I was going to your clubs, but I was underage probably. Dunkley: Alejandro’s age is one of the best-kept secrets in nightlife.

There’s a change in the way clubs are run now. And that’s one of the reasons you move around. Because in order to have that bottom line, you have to sell more bottles, you have to let people in you don’t necessarily want. You’re picking your spots. You’re filling in blanks that you might have. Torio: A great example — when we were at Central Fly, everyone there was in the young 21-, 22-year-old demographic, and when we left there, and we were doing that Friday party, and we went to Lotus, saying maybe that older crowd might enjoy booking the house DJs, but still might buy a bottle or two. And back then, it worked. Dunkley: People grew up with us through Central Fly, and then we moved to Lotus.

Is there a record label involved here? Dunkley: We once had a compilation CD, which actually the release date of that was September 11th, 2001.

That’s brilliant. Dunkley: Yeah, solid mark for that one. Sales were terrible that day. Sales just dipped for everything around that time. We’re talking to a new label called “The Hours” right now about doing some kind of deal, which I think is going to happen. We work with so much new talent, we want to be able to work with talent not only just booking them, but actually being able to give them some kind of record deal as well.

Do you get tired of the party? Dunkley: Sometimes I get tired, and I want to go home,

So it’s work. Dunkley: Obviously it can be. But we don’t both go to all the parties that we do. The parties that I really enjoy, I’ll stay there all night, and I really don’t mind. I have fun. You know, when something’s your “job,” you know when to leave.

Do you travel? Do you go to parties in other cities? Or is the last thing you want to do is go to a party? Dunkley: I go to just my own parties. Alejandro, he’s more the guy that will go to every single party he can possibly go to. Me? I’ll take a night off. Torio: I do go out more than Tom. I’ll go to every genre, every kind of different scene — from the New Jersey nightclubs. to the Long Island nightclubs, to the different promoter clubs.

I’m the same way.

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.

Summer Nights: Changing of the Guard

A game of musical chairs is being played by most of the major promotional entities as the summer roof season is upon us. While the highly successful 230 Fifth will still dominate this market just as the Empire State Building dominates its incredible view, some places remain unsettled or don’t have a clear opening date due to a myriad of problems. Highbar is getting a quick polish, while the roof at the Stay Hotel is still under construction. Mixed reports come from Cabanas and The Park, and the highly-touted Above Allen will finally get to open its windows amidst hopes that the sound spill doesn’t disturb too many hotel guests and nearby residents. Daemon O’Neil, Rose Bar’s patient, sweet, and very good-looking door guru (not to be confused with Damion Luaiye), is packing his clipboard and heading over to the Bazaar Bar at the upcoming Trump Soho hotel. The economic downturn, a weak dollar, and a laundry list of safety issues make travel abroad a lot less attractive this season. I hear reports that Hamptons summer rentals are sluggish, yet the Surf Lodge in Montauk is riding high.

I caught up with super duper and uber owner/outdoor space promoter Jeffrey Jah of 1Oak and other fabulous places, and he told me he was bringing back the “changing of the guard” at Groovedeck at Hudson Terrace this summer. “With Groovedeck, we’ve assembled an insane team from Bijoux (Dimitry and Francois) to Pavan and the 1Oak team. We’ve booked the Hamptons Magazine summer kick-off party as well as Lydia Hearst hosting the last International Film Premiere event.” I asked Jeffrey how the whole outdoor summer club thing started for him.

It’s pretty simple … the first real outdoor parties were “Groove on the Move,” with Mark Baker and I back in the early 90s, moving from the Central Park Boathouse to Tavern on the Green, and then permanently at Bowery Bar with Eric Goode and Serge Becker. There really were no other outdoor parties; then in 2000, I moved to Pier 59 Studios and created the deck with Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva — that’s where Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente were given their fist taste of club promotions. They were low-level maitre d’s. In 2003, we were forced to move it to BED (the same team), and then they tried to get smart, and Baker, Remi, and Karim sold them on a cheaper deal without the 1Oak crew, but they were done after four weeks. We missed two seasons, and we’re now back at Hudson Terrace.

I asked Jeffrey if the problems with international travel these days, the weak dollar, and pandemic diseases would keep people closer to home. “Yes, the economy will keep people here. New York is the capital of the world. What’s more important is that Europeans will venture more to America with the weak dollar and get more value for the buck. We will see a lot of Euros this summer. New York is resilient, we’ve seen worst times apres 9/11. People want to blow off steam, and if the product is good, they will come again and again. A lot of people are not taking houses in the Hamptons this summer because institutional money and jobs evaporated over the last half of 2008 and first quarter of 2009. Hence I’m betting that we will see a much stronger city summer.”

I also asked Hudson Terrace co-owner Michael Sinensky about the economic impact. “If you can build one of the nicest venues in New York City, people will come out to escape what’s going on in the world. In this economy, you have to really service the customer and think outside the box to keep your patrons entertained, happy, and feeling satisfied enough that they’ll come back. I don’t think it’s all about having the best promoters and DJs and strictest door anymore — I think that’s a formula to stay open 6 to 12 months. Hudson Terrace wasn’t built to follow the models-and-bottles formula and meet their steep table minimums. Instead, we’ve taken pages from our other successful eating and drinking establishments such as the Village Pourhouse, Sidebar, and Vintage Irving, with offerings like pitchers of sangria and margaritas.” They’re pitching a happy hour concept from 5-7 p.m. I’m proud to say that Hudson Terrace was designed by my partner Marc Dizon.

The roof parties and a stop-start economy will get us through the heat of summer. An added value is that outdoor parties are generally blessed with quieter music, as sound travels and Manhattan gets more crowded by the minute. The music played in most clubs theses days — especially the clubs catering to these particular crowds — has stagnated. The isolation of Hudson Terrace and Jeffrey’s commitment to play it a little forward should educate a crowd to new tastes. Steven Greenberg’s 230 Fifth bans hip hop altogether in favor of mostly rock fare. This space is the highest-grossing joint in New York nightlife history. I know only a little about music made in this century, but I do know this: The crowds I DJ to these day are growing, and my CD collection isn’t. I play almost an entirely rock set, and there seem to be a lot more people interested in it than a year ago. Oh, if you want to hear me DJ or toss an egg or discuss clubdom, I’ll be at 38 Howard Street off Broadway tonight; I go on at 12:30 a.m., right after the bands.