Jason Pomeranc on Thompson Hotels + Joie de Vivre Merger

Exciting news for fans of boutique hotel group Thompson Hotels — they’ve announced a merger with Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a West Coast boutique brand, creating a new entity temporarily called JT Hospitality. The new group now manages 45 properties, and will be based in New York City.

Thompson Hotels CEO and co-owner Stephen Brandman will be CEO, while co-owner Jason Pomeranc will share chairman duties with John Pritzker, whose private equity firm Geolo Capital acquired a majority stake in Joie de Vivre last year and brings a $150 million fund dedicated to hotel acquisitions and co-investments to the partnership. We spoke with Pomeranc about Thompson’s next step.

How long was this merger in the works? We’ve been in talks for a little under six months — it was an interesting evolution. It’s a big deal for a privately held company to join forces with another because the founders are all very involved and very passionate. It took a courting period to be sure it made sense, so we’re very excite to have reached this point.

Thompson Hotels has a strong brand identity, as does Joie de Vivre. How do you merge the two without losing anything? We’ll certainly take this time to reinforce our own brand and help Joie de Vivre do the same with theirs. Ultimately, we’ll become more ourselves, not less, and there will most likely be one or two new concepts we create together as well.

Why Joie de Vivre ultimately? How does it help Thompson expand? We’ve always had a foot on both coasts with the Roosevelt, but this venture creates a truly national — and what’s becoming an international — company. California is a very creative community right now, and that’s where our focus has always been, on cities like Miami, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles. We’re really covering all the gateways corridors to the States, and London is the next step.

This certainly helps Thompson reach the resort community; what can your business travel clients expect from you now? With the evolution of our brands, business travel has evolved as well. Business travelers are much more independent-minded than they used to be, and they want to be in a more intimate, interesting setting. Plus, the way that we all work is very different, with smartphones and laptops and telecommuting; the big business center is really a thing of the past. We create spaces where you can eat, work, play, and sleep all under the same roof, and that is what really saves time and helps business travelers.

Was there anything unexpected in the merger? What’s been the best thing about the process so far? Pritzker really came along at the right time, and he really wants to grow. The plan we’ve laid out … we have the same vision. I think we’ve both seen three stages in the hotel business: the Hilton phase, where standardization guaranteed travelers a certain kind of experience anywhere in the world; the Schrager phase, where everyone was really deconstructing that, and being independent and unpredictable was aspirational and cool; now, we’re in this phase of blending the two, being unique and hyperlocal but still giving guests a guarantee of brand identity and quality throughout our properties.

While Pomeranc won’t give details, projects are in the work for after the new year: Two hotels and a development site have recently been acquired in Manhattan, and new management contracts have been signed for hotels in Scottsdale and Chicago, Joie de Vivre’s first properties outside of California. The new entity will also be formally renamed early next year as the result of a joint branding exercise that is currently underway. Meanwhile, look for a new Thompson property in London opening in January, and their takeover of the Victor in Miami’s South Beach even sooner.

Jason Pomeranc Gives BlackBook the 411 on Thompson Toronto

In case you hadn’t heard by now, Thompson Hotels Group recently opened their first international hotel in Toronto, appropriately titled Thompson Toronto. Expect the usual swank Thompson delivers, including a rooftop bar scene with a pool and killer skyline views, a private 40-seat screening room, Chef Scott Conant’s Scarpetta, and 102 design-driven guestrooms with 18 suites all on 16 glass-encased floors. The hotel set up camp in Toronto’s emerging King West neighborhood—destined to become the Meatpacking of Toronto—which is chock-full of loft buildings, new restaurants, and fashionistas. We had a chance to catch up with hotelier and Thompson co-founder Jason Pomeranc, who gave us the dish on his new Canadian adventure.

What attracted you to Toronto? Toronto is the 5th largest city in North America, with a somewhat unknown artistic scene and its own version of Wall Street. It has a similar feeling to some of the neighborhoods in New York where we already have hotels. The emerging art and diverse culture the city has really embodies the style our clients seek. The parallels Toronto has with LA and NY and the easy access flying in from both of those places really made it make sense for us to open our first international hotel there. Much like how Soho was in somewhat infant stages when we opened our first hotel 60 Thompson, Toronto is similar—the areas are just starting to develop yet have drawn influential architects and artists as well as business people.

Did you think twice about other major Canadian cities like Vancouver or Montreal? Vancouver is a beautiful city and certainly not one we would be opposed to having a property in, as with Montreal, but this was a unique opportunity where the timing was right. Toronto is the place where Canada’s media, entertainment, and fashion business is most prominent.

Why did you choose the King West area rather than the emerging West Queen West neighborhood to build the hotel? It reminded us of the meatpacking district in New York before all of the nightclubs and hotels were being built there. The energy of the emerging area is similar to many of the areas we believe our clients travel to and where we see the future of the city moving to.

What can guests expect at Thompson Toronto? Like all Thompson Hotels, Toronto provides an urban resort, meaning you have the energy of the city but enough to do within the property to keep you entertained if you don’t want to leave, including three restaurants — one of which is Scarpetta (a taste of New York) — a rooftop pool and bar with city views, a screening room, basement lounge, yoga and fitness studios, and even an ice-skating rink in the winter to create a “boutique resort” that also attracts locals. No other hotels in the city offers the same style as our hotel, and I don’t think they are trying to cater to the same type of traveler. While those hotels are all great for a specific type of guest, that guest is typically not a Thompson client.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Toronto? I enjoy going where the locals go and getting a flavor for the various areas in the city, exploring the art scene, small galleries, museums, as well as the restaurants and nightlife.

Chuck Bass Joins the Hotel Gold Rush

TV is simply a place where people go when they get tired of thinking. — Kevin Devitte

The three-day weekend left me limp but bored, so I attended a Gossip Girl dinner with friends. I have an impossible work week ahead of me and wanted to get my mind out of the business and back in the gutter where it belongs. However, there was no escape for me, as the storyline of “the greatest show ever” had Chuck Bass buying a club. He spends the show trying to obtain a Patrick McMullan photo of the king of nightlife, Sean MacPherson. In the real world, Sean and partner Eric Goode are building one great place after another. The Jane Hotel, the Bowery Hotel, and the Maritime, as well as B Bar and the Park. These joints will soon be joined by a couple of new locations. A very secretive pal of mine tells me that Sean and Eric very secretively just started building something on the southeast corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue. My source is a very quiet guy. It’s as if every word spoken takes a day off his life. If that was me, I’d have been in the ground 25 years ago.

Anyway, I asked my source if he was sure it was Eric and Sean, and he answered “yes.”

Sean had a couple of lines in praise of the prized Patrick McMullan photo presented to him by the ambitious Mr. Bass. He also stared wide-eyed at his devious assistant when Chuck exposed her as the “blank” she truly is. The best way to describe Sean’s acting ability is to say he’s a really good hotel/club/restaurant operator. In the end, Chuck Bass decided: why just buy a club? Why not go for the whole thing and buy a hotel? So he snatched up the Empire Hotel. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I want to be on Gossip Girl and write how fabulous Chuck, Blair, and Serena are. Or maybe I can redux that pool deck.

If Chuck gets his hotel, he will be joining an elite group of educated and savvy operators that are now changing nightlife as we know it. Not content to sell rooms with views, room service, and minibars, they are snatching up nightlife to drive their hotel brands. The old hotels only had tourists who needed a bed and such. The new hotels are for New Yorkers. We New Yorkers make the hotels chic, and the tourist crowd brings fresh meat to the table with rooms and room service just a button-push away. It’s all very sexy and chic.

Ian Schrager leads the pack simply because he and his partner Steve Rubell did lead the way. These post-Studio 54 players gave us Morgans, the Paramount, and the Royalton long before the term “boutique hotel” was invented. Ian’s Gramercy Park Hotel set a new standard, as the Rose Bar drove the brand to the New York crowd. André Balazs and his Standard join his Mercer and other properties — he is the big man on campus right now. His Cornell and Columbia education are typical of this new group. The previous generation of club owners have business training instead of André’s humanities degrees. The generation before were dropouts with eyes towards art and women and other distractions. These hotel groups have layers of lawyers and designers and professionals at their fingertips. Thus you have the Donald and his Trump Soho joining the hunt, while Paul Stallings teams with the Eldridge’s Matt Levine to drive his Hotel on Rivington. Jason Pomeranc with his Thompson Hotels makes for a formidable force . Then there’s the Ganesvoort, the Cooper Square, and even a Robert DeNiro entry on Greenwich. And now we have Eric Goode and TV star Sean MacPherson.

Our future nightlife experience will now be accessed by elevators. Will chic elevator hosts be far away? Will table arrangements be made while you ascend ? Will there be keypads in the elevator allowing you to order the Goose on the ride up? Don’t worry too much — there is bound to be a backlash, a return to the intimate and slimy. It always happens. In fact, I’ll tell you all about it real soon.

Speaking of slimy:. The following conversation appeared on my Facebook page. The names have been removed to protect the innocent:

Person c) friends of mine hold the liquor license to the limelight space and are in the process of trying to reopen it. If anyone is serious and knows investors with real money and are willing to see a business plan and hear a proposal let me know. But like I sad please serious people only!

Person b) limelight is going to be an 80 shop shopping place.. Super lame

Person c) that’s what the landlord is pushing for however its not going to happen. like I said if there is anyone with real money willing to speak to myself and my partners about this project let me know! Don’t believe everything you read in the press!

This is meant for those serious investor types cruising Facebook for opportunities. You know, the guys with “real money.” The return of the Slimelight will never happen, and the we need not worry about that. It was a great club for a moment. This thread continued to speak of it and that time as being the greatest days of nightlife. It just isn’t true. The period before — starting with Studio 54 and including Area, Danceteria, Paradise Garage, Mudd Club, and Max’s Kansas City — was far more fun and relevant. The Limelight was a great club, but it had a soulless center of greed and power; it lacked a base in the art world and was far more drug-fueled than most places. Its time has come and gone. I’m going to go visit and buy some socks or something as soon as I can. For the lost souls who want to relive it, I suggest opening up a concession stand in the new Limelight mall. Sell t-shirts and memorabilia and such to those who care. Alas, I suspect few will answer the call . It’s over.

Also: Today is the runoff election between David Yassky and John Liu for the Democratic nominee for controller. Whoever wins today will surely win in November. There will be a very small turnout, so your vote counts. David Yassky is great for what ails us. Please get out and support him.

Industry Insiders: Med Abrous, Mile-High Mover

Thompson Hotels’ director of promotions and entertainment Med Abrous, on his once-in-a-lifetime guest performance with Prince, bringing movie night to clubs and the bright side of the bottle-service decline.

What’s the best night you’ve ever had at one of your venues? A little over a year ago, I put together some concerts in the Roosevelt Ballroom for Prince. He performed six shows for about 300 people per show. It was so intimate, and he put on such an amazing show. During the third show, I’m sitting with a group of people — the crowd was almost more famous than he was, which is really weird — and he starts playing this riff, then calls my name and says, “Yo Med! Get up here.” So I get up onstage with Prince, and he’s playing “Play that Funky Music White Boy,” and I basically sing onstage with him playing backup guitar. It was amazing. I have a picture to prove it because it sounds like such a tall tale. I think that was pretty much the highlight of my life.

Was your performance any good? You know what? I have moves. I’ve really got moves. I was even doing mic stand tricks; I was milking it. Can I sing? Not really. But I put on a show — I was very entertaining. It didn’t help that I didn’t know all the words, but he was helping me out a little bit. It was one of those things where it’s like, okay, try to top this.

How many Thompson properties are you responsible for? I’m based out in LA right now, and I take care of all the front-of-house stuff for the Tropicana Bar, Teddy’s, Above Beverley Hills, and our new property Above Allen, which I’m really excited about. I’m responsible for programming the music, hiring the DJs, hiring promoters where they’re needed, and coming up with creative ideas to drive business.

How did you get into the hotel business? While I was going to Parsons, a lot of my friends were DJs and into nightlife, so to make some extra money I started throwing parties, and I got pretty good at it. I’ve always been interested in hotels, and even though I run the bars, it’s really all-encompassing because bars can be very much one-note, while hotels are multifaceted and have a more interesting operation. Jason Pomeranc, who owns the Thompson Group, was a good friend of mine — we had some mutual friends — and he hired me to do the Tropicana Bar, then we started to do Teddy’s and … voila! Who do you admire in the industry? I think somebody who’s really done it right is Sean MacPherson. He seems to have a great sensibility and great sense of timing for all the places he’s opened. I really respect his work — he’s got a ton of places, including The Bowery Hotel, Swingers, and a great tequila bar called El Carmen in LA. They’re places that last because he makes them accessible and not too exclusive. He delivers a great product with great service and a cool aesthetic. I would definitely use his career as a model.

What’s the best part of your job? I actually enjoy the creativity behind coming up with different concepts that people would like. For instance, in the summertime at the Roosevelt’s Tropicana Bar, which is kind of an oasis inside Hollywood, on Sunday or Monday we’re going to be doing movie nights. We will have different people curate the movies, and we’re building special menus with truffle popcorn, colby hotdogs, etc. It’ll be a night when people don’t necessarily want to go out and rage, but they’ll go and see a movie in a bar. Finding different ways to find revenue is something I really enjoy. The second thing is that I actually genuinely like people. Some people in this business actually don’t, but I tend to get along with people and enjoy most of their company.

You’re a bi-coastal boy. Where do you hang out when you’re in New York? I love to eat. I’m a closet foodie, so I have some go-to restaurants whenever I come to New York. I love Frankie’s in Brooklyn on Court Street, and I’m always discovering new places like Inoteca, which I really like. Frank, I’ve been going to forever on 2nd Avenue and the Corner Bistro to get my Bistro burger on — it’s the world’s greatest burger. In terms of bars, it all depends on what neighborhood I’m in, but there are a lot of great bars on the LES (besides Above Allen, of course) like Pianos and a lot of little local joints. But having a lot of friends in the business means that I have friends who own bars, so when I’m in New York, I usually do the rounds of all my friends’ bars, like 3 Steps on 18th Street, and then the bigger, popular spots also.

And in LA? In LA, the closest bar to me is the Chateau Marmont, so I like going there — the Bar Marmont is really great. There’s also been an emergence of a lot of really cool dive bars like The Woods, El Carmen, and Bar Lubitsch that I enjoy.

Which of your bars do you spend the most time at? Teddy’s. It’s kind of like my baby. It’s something that I work really hard on and has managed to stay successful for a long time. It’s a great space. In LA, a lot of places tend to be really slick and overdesigned, but Dodd Mitchell designed this space, and it really has a lot of character. The Roosevelt is already a historical landmark, and the design really lends itself to that. It has kind of a wine cave kind of feeling — it’s dark and comfortable — and we have great staff, great service, and it’s become kind of like Cheers, where people know each other and know that there will always be a good crowd and great music. We have great DJs that we always rotate, in addition to live music, so it’s become almost an institution at this point.

What positive trends do you see in the hospitality industry? Well, it’s more of a reality and not a trend, but the state of our economy is forcing us to do things differently and more efficiently. I think it’s actually a good thing that for the first time in a long time. People are going to actually have to live within their means. People are really tightening up their belts and trying to find interesting ways to still be successful in this economy. Bottle service, for example, is starting to fizzle, which I think actually has a good effect in the long run. I remember when bottle service first started; I was talking to Steve Lewis about this earlier. I remember that Life was one of the first places that people actually didn’t have to be cool to get in … they didn’t have to be artists anymore. And all of a sudden the investment bankers and hedge fund guys could come in and buy bottles and be in an exclusive place, and I think it hurt nightlife in a huge way. Now, with those people not spending as much money, and bottle service not being as prevalent in New York especially, I think it’s coming back to cool people coming together. Artists, etc. People who didn’t necessarily have money before the crash, and can still go out. I think that’s had a positive effect on nightlife.

Where do you see yourself in the future? I think the natural progression of things is to open my own place, but I’d definitely like to be in the hospitality business. I’d love to start with a small hotel and see what happens.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going to my parents’ house and having a home-cooked meal.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Why We Worry

imageI’m designing a couple joints down on Orchard Street; both are restaurants, and both are looking to cater to a high-end clientele that “slum” in the area on the weekends. Both are also gearing up to service a slew of tourists being brought to the area by Jason Pomeranc’s new LES Thompson Hotel (which will also feed the locals who continue to gentrify the LES). So there I was on Allen Street looking for a cab when I get waylaid by my pal Julie Ex of La Esquina. Julie Ex, of everywhere-I-ever-wanted-to-hang-out, standing on the corner with her Cheshire smile. She asked me if I’d seen the new hotel and dragged me kicking and screaming to the Thompson.

Twisted arm aside, I was dying to get a sneak peek at the place. My boy Jim Walrod designed the interiors — Jim and I are neighbors and old friends, and I’m used to seeing him every day, but he’s been so absorbed by this project and his other work for Jason that I haven’t seen him around. For my money, he’s the best hospitality designer in the business — no AvroKos about it, not Rockwell, not Stark, not Jeffrey Beers. Incredible as they all are, none are nearly as hip and now as Jim. If you don’t believe me, just pop by the Thompson LES and check it out. When your jaw gets off the floor, have something to eat (at Shang). I’ve been told that the stunning restaurant serves serious grub.

I shook Jason Pomeranc’s hand and was directed to Jim, who took some of his crunch-time time to give me a tour. He showed me Andy Warhol’s image engraved into the bottom of the pool staring up at me through new water. The place was swarming with models, photogs, stylists, and assistants gathered for a Vogue shoot. Jim showed me another room, and I saw a sad Manhattan in an optimistic light. I’m building. Jason and Jim are building. There are ventures going on out there. I stared down at a city that hasn’t stopped worrying for weeks amidst the wondrously innovative furnishings of the new hotel, and I was able to take a deep, maybe-it-will-be-all-right kind of breath. Jim and I talked about how optimism is becoming so much a part of our design philosophy; modern and inspiring are what the public wants to embrace. At the two little joints I’m building on Orchard Street, color and vibrancy are design intent. Jim and Jason’s achievement towers over my little spots, but they all mean jobs, creative vigor, tourist dollars — and more importantly, they bring “new” to a neighborhood and a downtown overwhelmed and obsessed with making ends meet.

Industry Insiders: Chris Barish, Martini Park Ranger

Martini Park and Marquee co-owner Chris Barish on underage promoting, the power of the water-sipping celeb, bringing club culture to suburbia, and growing up with the Governator.

Point of Origin: I’m from New York. I started throwing parties at my parents’ home when I was young. We’re talking really young, like 15, 16 years old. You know, there used to be fun clubs in New York. They would have an off night, and I would come in and make a deal with whomever the owner was, because either they were failing a bit or they wanted to make a little extra money. I’d promote to the various people I had met in grade school who had then graduated to high school. When you think about it, we were really young, and I can’t believe these clubs would let us do it. It was New York, and it was a different time, different era, different laws, and a different mayor.

Occupations: I started off investing in Moomba because I just knew that it would be a great success. Jeff Gossett (Moomba owner) had become a good friend and asked me to invest. It became my little playground. In the last 18 years nothing has reached that level. It was celebrity heaven. You had to be in in to go. Which was the opposite of what I ended up doing with Light in midtown.

Light opened September of 2000. I remember we opened on a Tuesday night. There were maybe 20 people in the room. I was nervous. Then Thursday night, Charlie Sheen, who had stopped drinking, did me a favor and came in and only drank water. By 5:30 that evening, there was a line wrapping all the way around the block.

We opened Light Vegas a year later in the Bellagio — same name, but a nightclub. We did something that Vegas had not done in a long time. We flew in over 30 movie stars, athletes. We got a business Boeing jet and flew up Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Gordon, and Sting. Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards were there and happy. We got press everywhere [for that]. We then opened up a place called Caramel at the Bellagio and a place called Mist at Treasure Island. When I turned 30, I got a nice offer by the Bellagio to get bought out after only being open two years. By 2005, I started scouting locations around the country (for Martini Park). I felt like there was a need in the marketplace for people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and on for an upscale nightlife experience that starts after work and leads into the rest of the night. We’re a hospitality-driven nightlife experience for everyone — for people like me. It’s a playground for grownups. We opened in a [Dallas] suburb called Plano, Texas. Then opened up in Chicago and now we’re about to open in Columbus, Ohio, in late October. We will open three to four next year.

Side Hustle: I love film. I produced a short film [called “Kill the Day”] for a very talented friend. I like to play tennis. I’d like to be a yogi, but I can’t really find the time. I’m a new daddy now so everything changes.

Favorite Hangs: When I’m not traveling, my home away from home is Da Silvano. Besides Silvano, I’ve been a fan of Raoul’s for 20 years. When I did go out before [my wife] Michelle’s pregnancy, I’d go to Soho House, Rose Bar, and Waverly Inn. I know it sounds predictable. My favorite old school bar is Merc Bar. It will never close. John McDonald is the owner and a good friend.

Known Associates: I admire, respect, and am good friends with Mark Packer, the owner of Tao. I think he’s one of the best operators out there. Noah [Tepperberg] and Jason [Strauss] from Marquee are colleagues and great friends of mine. Also, Steve Hanson from B.R. Guest Restaurants. He owns about 17 restaurants in the city. He’s a friend who I can email or text, and I know within an hour he’ll text back. Also, my father (Keith Barish) was in the film business and produced 18 films. When I was 12 years old, I walked down the stairs, and there was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He and Dad did The Running Man together and became partners in Planet Hollywood. He did this great thing for my engagement party. He warned me, “First come the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, then suffe-ring.”

Industry Icons: Steve Hanson is someone I want to emulate. He works day and night. I’m naming friends, but they are also people in the industry. I’ve seen a younger generation do great stuff. For example, I’ve watched Jason Pomerantz from the Thompson Hotel do his hotel expansion and he does a very good job. Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson. I don’t know Sean, but I know Eric really well. Here’s an example of someone who started off in nightclubs, had success in restaurants, and now has the Bowery Hotel and the Maritime Hotel. His taste is unbelievable.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going home early from work and I’m testing out our stroller. My wife and I are taking baby Bea out and seeing if we can get our Yorkie to fit in the undercarriage so she doesn’t feel left out.

Photo by Chelsea Stemple.