The New Carlton Hotel Brings Back Old New York

When I first started writing this column, one of my primary goals was to give my readers an insider look at some of the industry’s leaders, and how they approach the business. Some of these people are relatively unknown, as they allow the successful properties and brands they’ve created and promoted do all the talking. Most appear occasionally as a bold-faced name in a newspaper or magazine. Peter Chase is a player. He’s the founder of BPC, which develops and manages creative hospitality concepts. His concepts have included: Skybar in Miami Beach, Wunderbar at the W Montreal, MGM Grand Casinos (MGM, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Borgata) in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Atlantic City, as well as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, and the W San Diego.

When Ian Schrager needed to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber back in 2000, he sought out Peter to manage and develop bars at each of his hotels. He has overseen fourteen bars in nine hotels, spanning New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He has also overseen the creation of several new ones.

I spent three hours chatting with him at the Carlton on Madison and 29th the other evening. I could have stayed for eight hours. Peter knows what he’s talking about, and finds himself poised to do even greater things. He is very aware that the ancient, though wonderfully redecorated hotel finds itself between the uber-hot Ganesvoort Park Hotel and the seriously hip Ace Hotel. He’s gearing up to embrace the crowds that will be passing by his door: He understands their needs, and will entertain them. He is one of the unsung heroes of the industry, and today I am singing his song.

Ian Schrager brought you in to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber. How did you approach that impossible dream? Ian and Rande had a relationship going back quite some time. I respect what Rande has done, and continues to do, but I think Ian was excited to create outside of that relationship. What we accomplished at the Clift with the Redwood Room, the re-interpretation of the Morgans Bar, and the complete transformation of the Whiskey into the Paramount Bar makes that evident.

Rande and I come from very different backgrounds. Rande was a former model that got into the bar industry, and I am someone that worked within the hospitality industry, and went to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Beyond all of the extraordinary creative aspects of working with Ian, I approached the “impossible dream” from a business perspective. I set out to implement better systems, controls, reporting, and several initiatives to maximize profit from every drink served.

I worked for Ian and Steve Rubell, and learned a great deal. What did you take away from that experience, and how do you apply it nowadays? I know that many of the things that I discounted or infuriated me about their style/personally applied when I had such opportunities. I never got to meet Steve, but I feel like there were several talented people Ian employed to help him create his vision. I learned so much from Ian that it almost seems that I learned nothing. So much of what Ian does can’t help but resonate and change the way you look at bars, restaurants, and hotels, or for that matter, everything. Ian has a way of instilling in you his perspective on service, music, design and style. He often accomplishes this through intense demands, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make diamonds without a lot of pressure.” Eventually, you change (for the better, I might add) and forget what you thought was acceptable before. His vision is his own. Many have tried to replicate it, some with success, but there always remains just one original. I use this valuable resource every day in operating my businesses, and owe a great deal to Ian for teaching me to view things differently. Sometimes the fates bring the right person to the right place and time. The Carlton finds itself on a strip between the new Ganesvoort Park and the highly successful Ace Hotel. What are you doing to exploit this moment? Having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I have watched its evolution. Back in 1904, just before the NYC subway opened, the Carlton (then the Seville) Hotel opened and helped turn the neighborhood into one of the city’s most elegant locales. The original bar from the Seville is still intact, and has hosted luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and “Diamond Jim” Brady. A block away lies the remnants of Tin Pan Alley, where much of the world’s greatest music was written and produced. The Breslin Hotel, now the Ace, opened the same year as the Seville, and was part of what was known as the “Avenue of Hotels.” Today, with the renovation of both hotels, and the addition of the Gansevoort, I think that we are seeing a re-awakening of the 29th Street hotel corridor. I have always treated my competitors like neighbors. There is plenty of business for everyone, and if we support one another we all stand a better chance of succeeding. Let the Gansevoort and the Ace do what they do best, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the area, and offer a connection to its storied past through music.

Having spent countless hours in what was originally the Café at Country in the Carlton, I always knew that its center bar needed to be removed and filled with energy, be it through people, or in this case, live music. The Salon as it is now known is the entry point for all things Millesime. It acts as a portal to another time. Upstairs, we have our seafood brasserie, and across a glass bridge, Bar Millie, which will soon open. It will feature burlesque images from the turn of the century, and views looking down onto the stage. Bar Millie will be a place where you can make a reservation for a table, and come and sip cocktails with friends. A lot of places charge a cover, or pack the room to help offset the expenses of the musicians. We work with musicians, and allow them an elegant space in which to showcase their talents.

A phenomenon in the current era is the synergy and possibly the necessity of solid NYC nightlife in hotels. Tell me your take on that. How much is food and beverage driving your hotel, and will that now increase dramatically? I operate bars in W Hotels, and consult for casinos: there are few things as important to a hotel or casino as its food and beverage offering. I do not know if Ian and Steve invented it, but they certainly exploited it to the fullest. When a new hotel opens people are not going to immediately rent a room. They will pop into the bar, or grab a bite in the restaurant, and then promote the property given their experience. This puts heads in beds, and safe guards the real investment: real estate. The press will only write about a hotel when it opens, but they’ll cover any celebrity sightings as long as someone communicates with them, be it the venue itself, a cell phone picture from a customer, or a random tweet. If it is from the venue itself, this can be a double-edged sword. As a policy, we do not actively pursue press regarding our customers unless they are at a function where it is understood that their picture may be taken. Celebrities know this as well, and use certain venues to garner press when it suits their needs. Additionally, restaurants and bars are the perfect locations for movie premieres and charity events. These bring press, cameras and celebrities, which only adds to the properties cache. In the six or so months since we have been open, we have already hosted TV film shoots for Curb Your Enthusiasm, House Wives of New Jersey, an after party for the band Rammstein, listening parties for NE YO and Estelle and the several charity events including one for Artists for Peace and Justice, hosted by Paul Haggis. The word “boutique” in regards to hotels seems to be very last century. Is there a new word? Will most hotels have to go chic to remain relevant and occupied? I agree that the term sounds very outdated, but as a concept it’s still relevant. The problem started when hotel companies and designers started calling something “boutique” but only regurgitated previous design work. Boutique should represent true individuality within its local context. This only happens when passionate people are involved in every detail of development.

Unlike the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking, the Gansevoort Park was designed and pre-engineered with hospitality, food, and beverage in mind. Carlton is a much older property. What steps are you taking to retro-fit protection for your hotel guests against the sounds and such that successful watering holes inevitably bring? At the new Gansevoort Park they have added separate elevators to access the upper bars from the hotel, and seem to have situated the bars away from guest rooms. This means no more intoxicated guests on elevators with families staying at the hotel, and no more non-guests on hotel floors causing safety issues. When they built the Carlton they constructed it in such a way that sound from the bars does not disturb the hotel guests. Bars and clubs can be a tremendous asset to a hotel, but it is vital that veteran operators and professional audio engineers are involved in the design and construction phases, or you can end up with costly renovations, or lost room revenues for decades.

Tell me about Salon Millesime. The idea with the Salon was to create a sophisticated platform for progressive artistry and extraordinary musicianship. My partners and I have handpicked our talent from all ‘walks of life’ including students of the Juilliard School of Music, DJs, and well-regarded, established artists. The Salon is our doorway into the hotel. Everyone works off of their laptops or phones, and they are doing this in coffee shops more and more. People who have been laid-off, or are self-employed, are looking for a place to be able to have a meeting or get work done over a cup of coffee. During the day we offer a relaxing environment to do this and at night, sip wine and listen to our interpretation of Voix de Ville, the voice of the city. The Salon menu features casual French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine by my partner Chef Laurent Manrique. We installed a state-of-the-art Bose sound system for an unparalleled musical experience. Nightly performers include artists from far corners of the globe to nearby neighbors. N’Dea Davenport, Swizz Beatz, Nickodemus, Estelle, Grammy winning rapper Pras, Grammy winning singer Ne-Yo, and Brooklyn songstress and Si*Se have already graced the stage. When not performing live, there is a select roster of DJs like Carol C from the band Si*Se, and DJ Sir Shorty, a veteran of the city. I invite guests to gather and sip artisan cocktails like the French 75, or perhaps the Night & Day—my version of the Manhattan—a portion of whose proceeds supports VH1’s Save the Music.

We wanted to evoke an intimate music venue with hints of the history of the area’s past. The team came from Redhook Brooklyn and was lead by Doug Fanning’s DYAD Studio. Doug chose to transform the space with stylish mix of leather banquets, tiger print chairs, and glossy ebony cocktail tables with bronze inlays reminiscent of the early Café Society interiors. He also custom designed the oversize light shades reminiscent of old Vaudeville stage curtains. Designer William Calvert, a longtime friend, created a luxe cocktail dress for the servers.

How does Millesime and the other food and beverage spots in the hotel interact with each other? We chose to create one iconic name, Millesime, with multiple concepts feeding into it. Since no two guests are alike, we created an offering that appeals to each guest’s unique needs and desires, as well as those of our local community. Beyond the Salon we have the Lobby Bar, a dimly lit saloon where you can “belly up” to a magnificent mahogany bar dating back one hundred plus years to the original hotel. Order a scotch, eat a burger, catch a game on the flat screen TV, or just people watch as hotel guests arrive from near and far. Just around the corner from Millesime, across a 30-foot glass bridge, will be Bar Millie, a reservation cocktail bar. Reminiscent of an old French sitting room, it is an ideal perch for relaxing, chatting and drinking with good friends. Leather-bound chairs, metal screened burlesque images, a handcrafted marble bar, and traces of the past hang in the air like ghosts of prohibition. It’s a nostalgic portal to an era when automobiles had curves, women were dames, men wore hats, and a deal was sealed with a handshake. The room, with its vaulted ceiling and wood panels, is a place that encourages you to linger over drinks and trade glances as music wafts throughout. Seven hard shakes with a cocktail shaker and you’re transported back to the splendor of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and luxurious hotel lounges. It’s a trip back to the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby,, and watching William Powell coach the bartender on the proper way to shake a martini in The Thin Man.

Industry Insiders: Jeffrey Chodorow, Fusion Fan

Jeffrey Chodorow, owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries, dishes on Schrager, disses on DiSpirito, then row-row-rows his colorful boat ashore. Point of Origin: I was born in the Bronx, but my father died the year I was born, so my mother and I moved to Miami. I grew up in Miami Beach, where we lived with her sister. They were both manicurists in a Cuban barbershop, and they used to go to Havana for the weekend — which, incidentally, is how Asia de Cuba eventually came to be. I opened China Grill because I knew the Asian and Cuban pantry, so it seemed like a natural. I grew up very poor in a very wealthy Miami area where we went through school drills, hiding under our desks during the Cuban missile crisis. Some friends built a bomb shelter in their property which was nicer than our apartment! This was before Castro came in.

Occupations: With my very logical legal background, I got seduced by the restaurant business in Los Angeles. I was supposed to buy a football team, and I met this guy at Spago. The next day, I was having a meeting with the bank that had the stadium in Foxboro, and we stopped at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. Next thing I knew, I was back in New York, opening China Grill. The guy who had the lease where I wanted the restaurant at 20th and 6th reneged, and another friend who was a broker had a space available immediately under the CBS building at 6th and 52nd. I hated it. It was shaped like a dumbbell, a big barn with a narrow corridor, but the architect said we could make it work. I made two decisions that, in hindsight, were the major factors in the success of China Grill: I moved the entrance from 52nd to 53rd, across from MoMA and the Hilton. At that time, all the customers came from the Upper East Side for the nighttime business. All my friends in the restaurant business said “Four restaurant have failed there,” and I was obligated to be open for lunch. I figured the way to get people in there for dinner was to exempt the first six months from lunch, so when it opened, it only opened for dinner. All the people at CBS complained! I needed to force people to come for dinner, and eventually opened for lunch.

Everybody in the industry speculates that you and Ian Schraeger met in jail. Yes? No? This whole episode is a weird story-in-a-story. By 1987, Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell were already out of the Morgans Hotel and into the Royalton; their financiers were doing a building up on 6th Avenue. They were supposed to do the restaurant with Brian McNally, but they couldn’t get a liquor license (Brian didn’t have any money at the time), so they wanted to meet me. They came and asked if I’d like to do 44 in the Royalton for them. I met Steve first. We share a passion for Twizzlers licorice, and there was a jar in his office. Then I met Ian. They both told me the story of how the Royalton was going to be the next generation of a social gathering. The whole thing sort of seduced me into the mix. It was like oil and water, but they put up all of the money for everything but the liquor license. I don’t know why this was, but Ian said, “We’ll put up all the money for the hotel, and you put up all of the money to open the restaurant (payroll, graphics, etc).” There was a hitch. They wanted me to buy a Phillipe Starck hostess stand, a kind of Winged Victory of burled walnut that was tapered from the top down. It cost $30,000. Ian said, “Look, Jeff, if you want to do the deal, you’ve got to buy the stand.” It was impractical, there was no top, there was no drawer space, there was no place for the phone — I had to put Velcro on it — but it was a gorgeous piece of furniture. I put the stand next to the hotel column, so when you enter the hotel, you look down the blue carpet and see this beautiful piece of furniture.

China Grill in Manhattan was on fire, too and before long, Ian called me, “Nobody said the idea wouldn’t travel; how about you do the space in Morgans Hotel? I know it’s a bad location, but I’ll give you a fabulous deal.” I only made one condition after the Royalton: I wasn’t enjoying it because I felt pigeonholed to do a hotel restaurant. I called Ian and told him that I wanted to do a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant. The deal was done. Jefferson Carey was my first chef of Asia de Cuba, and I felt the menu had to be a certain type. At the time there was no fusion, so it was revolutionary in those days. But I thought if I could create demand from outside the hotel, it would work. I was set on Chino Latino restaurants. He was amazed. He had just gotten engaged, and his fiancé was Cuban. Later, the New York Times said the newest thing was a Nuevo Latino restaurant — mine. Meanwhile, Brian had opened in Ian’s Delano in Miami, and it was doing good business, but doing no money. So Ian asked me to take it over in 1996. It became Asia de Cuba.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I would say, I’m interested mostly in food related things, my other big interest is IICA contemporary art at [alma mater] Penn, and I have donated a reasonable amount of money to the school. My son was also at Penn and is interested in contemporary art, plus I thought it was an opportunity to do something. Also, there are a lot of creative people out there … great cooks who aren’t chefs. Ask Rocco [DiSpirito], one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars!

Favorite Hangs: My favorite hangouts are not all in New York. I love some of the Cuban places in Miami like Yakosan, a place in North Miami Beach, a Japanese tapas bar with all small plates. I like quirky things. They also have spaghetti bolognese; all of the sushi chefs hang out there. I like Versailles; Ciochi, the place on Sixth and Collins, a Cuban hole-in-the-wall for the Cuban sandwiches and black bean soup, and the Latin American Cafe. In New York, the Cuban hangouts like Park Blue with its list of half-bottles of wine and phenomenal drinks; Sakagura on 43rd between 2nd and 3rd, on the north side of the street, in a white office building … on the floor there’s a little sign for Sakagura. You walk past the front desk to the fire exit and down the stairs to the wooden door that leads to the sake bar. No sushi, just small plates of Japanese food, across from Sushi Yasuda. In the basement, it’s all surprise. I like the old style places. I love Dan Tana’s in LA. I love Nanni’s on 46th. Old time places … they’re not trying to do anything modern. There are certain dishes on the menu where the food is great. They’re hangouts I gravitate to — the old stuff. I try all the new stuff.

Industry Icons: I think the reason my relationship with Ian works so well is that we had so much mutual respect for each other. He gave me the ability to think beyond what I knew. I realized when I got back together with him that if you looked at it objectively, it would make no sense, but he was so successful that you couldn’t pick it apart as to what made it so successful. When I opened Asia de Cuba in Morgans Hotel, he wanted to send out a postcard. So I get the mock-up, and the front is like a beautiful photo of Morgans with three doors, a great postcard. The estimated price was $80,000 — and it was 1997! I almost fell off my chair. That was why our relationship worked: It may not have made sense to me, but if he felt passionate, I respected his vision and he respected my business acumen. Ian Schrager and Drew Nieporent, we’re all battling the same battles. I have tremendous respect for them, and I don’t view it as competition. I feel that we’re just up against the same thing.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I think I’m kind of a private person. I’d rather spend time with my family than anybody. Of course, we socialize, but there’s nobody in particular that I spend an inordinate amount of time with.

Projections: Right now, I’m very focused on international, and I want to do India and China. I just got back from Monte Carlo. It’s such an international place, and you wouldn’t know there was a global community there.

What are you doing tonight? Last night, I took my wife to Georgica Pond for three hours with lobster. I was on the phone the entire day and I was actually impressed that I could row that far! But I was an Eagle Scout and had a canoeing badge. Tonight, I’m having dinner with my eldest son who graduated from Wharton last year, and is going to law school. I’ve offered him a job! We opened the Kobe Beach Club in the Hamptons next to the Lily Pond, and he decided to open Kobe Hot Dogs! When I was doing Ono, he was closely watching! He went out and got the equipment, brought the chef and the relishes and these special iced teas and a papaya drinks … he’s a bright kid. I have a 19-year-old who wants to be a sushi chef. He’s at his first year at Boston University. A few years ago he wanted an apprenticeship in Tokyo in a sushi restaurant in the Chanel building. So being a foodie has really paid off for the whole family.

Industry Insiders: Michael Achenbaum, Haute Hotelier

Michael Achenbaum of the Hotel Gansevoort puts down The Law, emerges a towering hotel titan, and reveals what’s in the works for Park Ave.

Point of Origin: I grew up on Long Island and went to the University of Michigan. Then I went to NYU for graduate school for a JD and MBA for law business. When I was in school here and in Michigan, I began to concentrate on children’s charities. I worked at a Japanese bank and Bear Stearns doing commercial mortgages — an industry that’s just falling apart right now, and the residential component is now affecting the commercial component. I left to go and work with my father in commercial development as he had his own construction company. Prior to my involvement, my father was responsible for developing thousands of apartments and several million square feet of office space. After I joined the company, we decided to take a few projects in a different direction, including high-end hotels, and we ended up picking up the property that would eventually become the Gansevoort.

Occupations: Socially I was going out to the Meatpacking District and saw the importance. If they could draw people to that market in the state that it was in, crunched in between Chelsea and the Village with cool restaurants and the impossible cobblestone streets, far from the midtown grid pattern, it would be an up-and-coming neighborhood. Did I expect it to top out? Not then. Obviously the rise of that area was far quicker than I had imagined. Socially, there was a great reason to be there. Ian Schrager had made hotels epicenters — hearts of the new nightlife in New York — so I figured if I built a great hotel with great food and bev component, with easy access to fabulous restaurants, there would be a great upside. Gansevoort made it. Now one of the best hotels in the world — we’ve made our mark by offering something of a high level of service to our clients, on par with the midtown hotels. Having cool bars and restaurants and a spa gave it a youthful, stylish element.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I give to charity and to my graduate school, but still concentrate on children’s charities. In college we did the Big Sibling program and I continued with it post-graduate and turned into a Big Brother in Michigan and formed a charity for children who wanted to go to college. Now, we’ve formed Camps Catamaas for after school, and camp facilities where kids have the opportunity to go to two-week sessions for a vacation. I work with two young men from the Bronx — and I’m putting one of them through college right now. Now, I’m a mentor through social services.

Favorite Hangs: I love La Esquina for late dinners, rather than to clubs or lounges. But I love a lot of European-style music. Still, the primary focus is work and sitting through nice dinners — when I have time.

Industry Icons: Ian Schraeger has tremendous vision and created the chic hotels that people had dabbled in Europe, and made them stylish with great public areas, unique environments. He continues to be very visionary, as Andre Balazs and the Thompson Group do. They all create a buzz-worthy environment.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? Generally, you’d see me with industry people in the nightlife or hotel industry or lending industry or with law school friends — people who I’ve known forever. Right now it’s the hotel, but we’re really building developers.

Projections: We’re working on a ton of stuff beyond hotels, now we’re taking on more technical assistance and management roles in Toronto and Chicago. We’ve been hired for long-term management arrangements. We find talented local developers. Miami’s Gansevoort South opened in April, and we’re finishing the project over time. We have STK, Philippe, David Barton, Inca for resort wear and BoHo chic, Bustello in their first high-end coffee shop-cum-Cuban lounge for home-grown atmosphere. Cutler the hair salon with great products. We’re firm believers in branding benefits to have unique entrepreneurial companies in the mix. We’re also in construction at 29th and Park [in New York], so we’ll be in business in 2010 — a big hotel with a special pool area. Our signature element is a rooftop pool and bar. The rooms are huge! We’re doing a small bar with the One Group for a high-end lounge.

What are you doing tonight? I’m in Miami at 512, then probably to our rooftop bar, Plunge (my sister’s idea), and to a club run by the Opium group called Set.

Industry Insiders: Richie Notar, Concierge to the World

He’s literally run the gamut from shirtless busboy at Studio 54 (identified in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book on the disco as “Pecker 54”) to white-tie hotelier to the stars. Richie Notar is a hometown boy made good.

Point of Origin: I was born in Jamaica, Queens. I used to play ball on the Trumps’ lawn, and now I know all of them socially. When I was about 15, the owners of Studio 54 — Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell — had a place called Enchanted Garden in Queens, their foray into the club business … a little-known fact. They wanted to upgrade from guidos to celebrities. A friend asked if I wanted to hang out there with him for, like, $2 an hour, so we were washing dishes! This little guy comes in and says, “What are you doing?” and I said “I’m washing dishes.” And he said, “I like your style, so you should come out and meet the people.” It was Steve Rubell.

Before long, I was driving for him, and then he asked me to work at their new place: Studio 54. Nobody knew the magnitude of what it was about to become. So I started as a busboy there. And, incidentally, the reason we didn’t wear shirts was because I was wearing the uniform — shorts and a vest — and about half an hour into the opening, a girl “borrowed” my vest, so I was shirtless. Steve went nuts. He kept saying, “Those outfits cost us a fortune, blahblahblah …” And then a light bulb went on over Steve’s head. He realized that he had some of the cutest, hottest boy bodies in town in those vests and ordered everybody to take them off.

Yeah? At least I didn’t steal your socks. Thanks! It’s basically like a gym. We had these tube socks, gym shorts, and a vest. The vest went, and the rest is history. Showtime is now doing a series on Studio, and the writer is calling me this week to consult. I’m in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book as “Pecker 54.” I remember Disco Sally and all of the regulars. The nightlife thing was strange in the Seventies. You could be doing anything in town — charity gigs, dinner — but after midnight, you had to be at Studio 54 every single night, and Sunday was the best. It is really remarkable that the psychological timing was right. After Studio 54, I worked at Morgans Hotel — the first hotel that they gave their employees designer clothes by Armani and Calvin Klein (they were often better dressed than the hotel guests). New York was very staid by the Eighties, and I think we’re going to see a transformation in every aspect of fun now. In a year or two, people will break out again. Everyone is so busy on their Crackberries that nobody has time to have real fun. There may be three or four hot venues, but you’ve got to put in the work to make the great place where everybody has to be like Studio … the add-a-link tour with 20 minutes everywhere, and then a place to meet up.

Occupations: Socializing is a lot of work. I’m out at the each venue, and from what I see, I’d like to make it fun again. Today, it’s like keeping up with the Joneses: If somebody misses a party, they consider the whole evening a failure! For some, it’s never enough to just enjoy an evening spent at one place. That’s why I like staying at one person’s house out at the beach — like Peter Beard’s place. And that’s why this was the summer that wasn’t. I work every day … besides the maintenance on the Nobu restaurants, we’re staffing Dubai, which is opening next month. It’s like Vegas on steroids. We’re in the Atlantis with Sol Kirsner, and the most difficult thing we face opening anywhere is finding employees. Whenever I open a restaurant, I take a key employee — a head chef, a head waiter — and work around them. Anyone who is running a restaurant for me started as a waiter or a host. “Luke” was a waiter in Vegas; I moved him to Hawaii to be my manager, and now he’s committed to go to Dubai for a year.

Then at the end of December, we open in Moscow — it’s like the Wild West. We get so many Russians at the place in London: price is not a thing for them, and it’s good for us. But we need consistency there and everywhere. We have a great following in London, and I think it’s going to work in Dubai and Moscow. These are already locked-in. I just had a meeting at the Bel Air Hotel about the new hotels. I loved the old Brown Derby and Chasen’s. I love old Hollywood — and I’d like to put “newness” into Sardi’s. We’ve got two new Nobu Hotels — one on Wall Street, the other in Herzliya — not as far apart as they look. We did an event for the Children’s Hospital in the Holy Land, and after the fundraiser, I had my first watsu massage right by the Dead Sea. Herzliya is the St. Tropez of Israel, and the hotel will be right on the marina, overlooking the sea.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I’m really involved in animal rights, and I have four dogs and am into dog walking. What I’m trying to do — as time gives us more power to do good — is to set up something that is good for the ocean. We make our lives out of fish now at Nobu. But I have a two-year-old daughter, and I want to put something together for her that will preserve the oceans, the fish, the mammals, the sea life. It’s important to get more knowledge about the environment we all share, above and below water. We’re all now just putting fences around things under water, just making too much of an underwater zoo for my taste. We have a restaurant in Malibu, so while I was there, I fell in love with ocean life. Dolphins are very holistic, and I’m becoming more and more aware of what we have to do to promote life in the future. I take the blue kelp supplements grown underwater in Monaco.

Favorite Hangs: I don’t have a favorite anything, it’s like asking you which kid is my favorite. I like the neighborhood joints. I would like to have been a part of the beat generation in the Village. I live by Central Park in Manhattan. It’s my oasis. I love 103rd Street and the Gardens, and the turtle pond at 109th. My wife is currently training for the marathon, so I occasionally run with her. She’s from Dublin and is over there now in training — and trying to keep it together with all the social stuff, which isn’t helping with the marathon training. Out here on Long Island, I go out for Montauk eats, meaning that I like the cooler and the hipper. I tend to adhere to artists, creative people out here.

Industry Icons: I was very obligated to Steve Rubell and Ian Schraeger: I absorbed their personalities, but incorporated what Andre Balazs has done with his hotels and there’s Jeff Klein’s Sunset Towers: it’s small and he’s kept the integrity of it, besides: he reminds me of Steve Rubell — he’s very in tune. I’m fascinated by hotels, just because there’s so much that goes on there, not just the restaurants and the lobbies and bars. I don’t like what’s too overdone, or where the service is crap, or where they have idiot models behind the front desk.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with, other than every model in the city, of course (who doesn’t work the front desk of a hotel, that is)? My wife and daughter, but it’s not that I want to be seen with anybody, it’s about my agenda. I like creative people: Howard Stern is my best friend. Every night at one of my restaurants, there’s something going on, and just being at one of my restaurants satisfies my social life. At any one of them, for instance, you might see the agent for the Williams sisters who invites me to a party, or there could be some guys who were friends with me long ago who invite me to join them. I like eclectic crowds, nothing obvious. Something that’s made my life interesting is that I can be sitting on the stoop drinking beer, then join a bunch of people at Nobu to drink champagne. Locking yourself into a particular crowd is too limiting. In Europe, they turn their phones off during weekends. I like the mentality!

Projections: I want people who know the trend to work for me, but I don’t want them to get swept up in it. Trends change. Go back to the formula that’s made you successful. You have to expand and keep edgy — to experiment. But go back to what made you successful. We’re going to embark on a great hotel division. My focus is to create a lifestyle complete with pacifying every one’s highest iconic ideals. At Nobu, we’re kind of allergic to the economy: we’re fine; we’re great. Best grade of sushi, best grade of clientele without hurting the environment.

I want to be doing resorts. We were in the Japanese mountains at the mineral baths, the most soothing place I’ve ever been in my life. I was looking at Ram’s Head in Shelter Island with Andre Balazs and at a place down the block. You want an oasis that’s achievable to go for a weekend. With everybody stressing about being the next millionaire, we need a hotel out there like any from the Aman chain in the Far East, but with the best service and much better food. I love that whole vibe with a great spa, meditation, yoga. We work really hard, but we’ve got to calm down very hard, too. I want to know what the next Hamptons is going to be. Offshore? A skiing place in Idaho? You’re almost a victim of your own fabulousness in a place like Aspen. I’m like concierge to the world. I don’t have to be in the right restaurant and have the right table to have fun.

What are you doing tonight? I’m decompressing out East before my family arrives on the Island tomorrow, so I’m going to the Clam Bar in Montauk and having a glass of wine with something grilled, then going to bed early to rejuvenate. I’ve got my laptop and am doing work, but I’m trying to relax, be healthy. Right after Labor Day, I’m just screwed work-wise with restaurants and hotels openings. We’re injecting capital into the group from London to Dubai to Moscow. I’ve been beating up my body for years, so now, I’m in post-Olympics, pre-marathon training!

Industry Insiders: Mark Grossich, Uptown Gentleman

Mark Grossich is the refined CEO of Hospitality Holdings, owner of elegant haunts like the World Bar, the Campbell Apartment, Bookmarks and Madison & Vine at the Library Hotel, and the Carnegie Club. He tells us of his mission to bring the sophisticated dram back to New York, holds forth on coke spoon hijinx, and caps off the night with a Shirley Temple.

Point of Origin: I’m from the Midwest, raised in Chicago. I did a lot of things before I came into the hospitality business, like washing the pots and pans in my family’s neighborhood restaurants when I was about 12 — casual places, the names of which I can’t even remember. My background is in marketing, and I have a masters degree from Northwestern, which is how I got into the business. I owned an advertising agency, a modeling agency, and a public relations agency, another owner of which wanted to partner up for a cocktail lounge; he found the location, and I founded what would become Hudson Bar and Books. It was such a success that I transitioned out of the PR business and into upscale cocktail lounges full time.

You also transitioned out of Chicago and into New York. Where I’ve been into it for quite a while now, like 15 years, and have done some interesting things. I built places I’m comfortable going to; it’s nice to have an elegant lounge to go to. They were absent from the New York scene for decades until we brought them back. Lounges then became a part of things here. Hudson Bar and Books was unique 10 years ago … we put sofas where barstools used to be. We had a dress code, so the clientele tended to be better dressed, more sophisticated — and they wanted a more sophisticated experience than dribbling beer on their running shoes. Not only did people read the books — they wanted to buy them! Someone would arrive, pick up a book or one of the newspapers, and read while waiting to meet somebody. Afterwards we created Beekman Bar and Books (that became the first Cigar Bar) and Carnegie Club.

But at the World Bar (in the Trump World Towers, opposite the United Nations), the barstools are so high you have to have hiking equipment to reach them. The Brazilian designer envisioned a stand-up bar, but women don’t’ want to climb the heights. My Portuguese and his English resulted in a particularly high bar, but that’s on our list to change. We did the Patio on East 47th Street, where the initial operators had a coffee bar. We served Moet, instead. The community approached me about taking it over, so I bought the license and got a liquor license. The park district assured us that we were a shoe-in to re-operate there, but we lost the space to operators whose only experience was failure. I have a penchant for the city’s landmarks, so when I was approached by the MTA (the landlord for Grand Central Station) to resurrect the Campbell Apartment, I took a look. We had the right concept for the place, but you should have seen it! The first thing I wanted to do was restore the space, bring it back to the 1920s. (Campbell was one of the money men for Commodore Vanderbilt’s terminus: he took the “corner office” on 42nd and Vanderbilt as repayment). The concept resonated with them, and with the hundreds of millions they were spending restoring Grand Central, another mil was a drop in the bucket. Now, people look at it and say “Wow!”, but the place was a wreck. The leaded glass windows were boarded up; the massive ductwork was hanging from what had been an elegant ceiling; there were workers’ cubicles all over the place. We hired the guys who paint federal buildings here and put them to work as if they were painting the Sistine Chapel, on their backs. We asked Mina Campbell (no relation to the original Campbell) who worked with Mark Birley on his clubs in London to do the restoration we wanted. We matched the colors and patterns of the original room to create an elegant space with the best of service, a quiet space inside city-within-a-city that is Grand Central Station. We attracted a significant destination crowd who wanted to take a train back in time.

Bet you wish you could get your hands on the Cloud Club. I wish. I was up in the Chrysler Building years ago where the Cloud Club was (railroad magnates made an exclusive club at the top of the building where Phillip Johnson’s architectural office is now), but the closest thing we could create in the neighborhood was the Bookmarks rooftop lounge in the Library Hotel at 41st and Madison. We were so successful at it that the owner asked us to take over the restaurant, so now we’re doing Madison & Vine. We’ve resurrected the wine bar, much as we brought back the upscale cocktail lounge. Now it’s time for a renaissance for the wine bar.

Any non-industry projects in the works? We do a lot of charity events, and I’m on the board of the Vanderbilt YMCA and the Grand Central Partnership. The hospitality business is an excellent conduit to all kinds of other businesses because it’s not just a business, but a lifestyle. Because of the World Bar’s proximity to the UN, there are a lot of charity events there. In fact [an artist] has a kind of melt-down fundraiser there, usually on the first Tuesday of the month where she melts weapons into works of art. It’s not like the old days when you were constantly out at every venue. Fortunately, we have 100 employees now, and longstanding people in senior management, so there’s more time to devote to good causes. There’s nothing like starting something, but now it’s exciting in a more businesslike way. Now, it’s a significant entity, so priorities change. We’re always looking for the next great space.

Favorite Hangs: My places, of course! I’m having dinner tonight at Madison & Vine for business, and pleasure, and I’m talking to somebody about a new space over drinks at the Campbell Apartment. But I don’t really drink; it’s business.

Who are your industry icons? The late Mark Birley in England with a long track record of Annabelle’s and the Carlton Club and, of course, Mark’s club. I have tremendous respect for Ian Schraeger — not only has he been a visionary, but he has exhibited impeccable taste. Um, like the “Man-in-the-Moon” with a tasteful coke spoon at Studio 54? It was a great idea at the time, of course both he and Steve Rubell went to jail.

And it’s rumored that he met his next partner, Jeffrey Chodorow, in prison, no? My antennae went up on that one. It’s a rumor everybody’s heard, but Schraeger has transitioned from the hottest place in town to soignee hotels and residential real estate.

Who are some of the people you’re likely to be seen with? Out and about with my gorgeous wife, Elizabeth, and our teenage daughter, Katherine, who is not old enough to drink anything but Shirley Temples. I suppose that having a parent in this business is either a deterrent or an encouragement. Her classmates think it’s cool that we had her Sweet 16 party at the Campbell Apartment.

Projections: More and more we’re actively looking for the next great space, the next best place for an upscale cocktail lounge, the next wine bar. We’d like to strike more management deals with hotels to operate their lounges, and we’re looking through the softening economy to buy existing property that needs help. We’ve become pretty good at this business through the years, and businesses with a lot of vitality that have potential, but are badly run or have cash flow issues, are really attractive to us. I’m living my dream. I love coming to work because I love what I do. My staff is exceptional … I have busboys who have worked with me for 10 years. It’s nice to be able to offer good people opportunities they couldn’t find elsewhere.

What are you doing tonight? Meeting a new possible landlord for cocktails and meeting a possible business situation for dinner. And because my wife and daughter are in Spring Lake, New Jersey for the summer, and as I’m not much of a drinker, I’ll cap off the night with … a Shirley Temple.