David Sarner on Thursday’s Opening of Pink Elephant

Nightclubs come and go and sometimes, but rarely do they actually come back. The return of Pink Elephant to our scene has me…well…tickled pink. I used to go to its incarnation on lower 8th Avenue just below 14th Street and when it was on 27th Street. On 27th Street it was one of the top dogs on a block that included Bungalow 8 (which is also making a comeback), Cain (hmmm, I hear rumblings), Bed, Spirit, Home, Guesthouse, with Mansion and Marquee right around the corner. The Outer Chelsea or OUCH club paradise was closed down by police action. There were horses and Kleig lights, and cop cars blocking the street to foot traffic. All sorts of search-and-destroy behavior, harassed clubs and customers, and it all went south… literally, to the friendlier Meatpacking District. Pink faded to memory like the day after a satisfied patron’s good time. It will reopen this Thursday at MacDougal and 8th Street and I am excited.

Pink honcho David Sarner is one of the nice guys in the business. He is an innovator, being at the forefront of high energy house music in the mid nineties when everyone else was pushing hip-hop or early mixed format. He was one of the first to push the expansion of his club brand overseas. He was, along with Jeffrey Jah and yours truly, one of the early purveyors of bottle service. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, so expect the unexpected as well as the expected great service and beautiful, sharp crowd.  As I said, the Grand Opening is this Thursday and I will sneak in before my Hotel Chantelle DJ gig.

I asked David to tell me all about it.

Welcome back! Who are the players in this incarnation? How will it be different?
It’s a lot of the same players from the old Pink Elephant. My partner Robert Montwaid, Jamie Hatchett, Stephan Seguin, Rich Black, and we have also added some new faces, including Roee Nahmani, Justin Clemmons, our GM, who comes from GoldBar and most recently, Le Baron, and several unbelievable bartenders and servers who really take pride in the art of cocktail mixology.

What is different is that the venue is much more multi-functional and will operate for longer hours. The space itself is unique because it delivers three distinctive experiential spaces: an amazing Infinity Room, a maze-like mixology bar, and a retro-style discotheque that functions as a traditional cabaret in the early evening before morphing into a dynamic nightclub with high energy dance music as the night progresses. Also, we decided to take the venue in a different direction than most clubs today in that we actually have a great dance floor. We still have VIP tables, but the majority of the people can come in and dance and have a great time without getting destroyed with table charges. 

How did you arrive at the name?
I wanted an iconic image that would transcend language because the brand has expanded into foreign markets where names might not necessary translate. As I wanted to create a brand that typified fun and exuberant celebration, I needed to find a visual that exemplified that. Pink Elephant has the distinction of having a drinking reference. It’s a euphemism for having drunken hallucinations. Therefore, the visual of the dancing Pink Elephant is jubilant, whimsical, a little silly, and most of all, happy…and as we play happy house music, the name fits perfectly.

Tell me about the new space…it’s a little up and to the right. Is its location a plus?
We wanted a venue that was easily accessible to get to and, just as importantly, leave, so we didn’t want to be too close to anyone else. The 8th street location is perfect because it’s directly between the Meatpacking District and the Lower East Side, and it’s very accessible from both 5th and 6th Avenues. Additionally, the whole block is going upscale with the team from The Bowery Hotel opening a boutique hotel on the block, the team from Masa opening an amazing new Japanese restaurant, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is opening adjacent to Pink Elephant, as well as several other places which are in various stages of development. The space itself is unique because it has a tremendous history in the annals of New York nightlife for being the home of a number of famous venues for over a hundred years. I loved the idea of paying tribute and rediscovering the history of this great venue.

In the 1920s, it was Rominy Marie’s, a club for all the great political thinkers, artists, poets, designers and bon vivants of the day, including Eugene O’Neil, Picasso, Calder, Brancusi, Duchamp, E.E. Cummings, Noguchi, Stieglitz, de Kooning, and tons of other major talents that are still remembered today by a single name.

Then, in the 1950s and ‘60s it was the Bon Soir, a cabaret that had some of the hottest talents of the day. Barbra Streisand actually got her start in this very room. Pink Elephant will also feature weekly cabaret performances that are directly reflective of entertainment from the jazz era through the 1960s, from torch song singers, songstresses, and other styles of entertainment, more Café Carlyle than The Box. In fact, in June, our first cabaret event is with Carla DelVillaggio whose Streisand-channeled performances are amazing and uncanny. 

Pink Elephant

What does the brand stand for?
The brand is geared toward high energy entertainment and exuberance for life. It is a joyful place where people come to unwind and celebrate life. The brand has come to be a favorite among jetsetters, celebrities, socialites and trendsetters alike because of the levels of service, sophistication, and the overall entertainment experience.

What has changed in the market since you closed?
In the New York market, it seems that everyone has hopped on the house music bandwagon. Club owners who focused almost exclusively on hip-hop a few years ago have suddenly shifted gears and are espousing house music. It’s very funny. Our team has focused on European house music since 1996 when we started exclusively playing house music at Chaos on Watts Street. Still, our venues are unique because we are focused on discovering and bringing emerging talent to this country, as opposed to the insanity of paying five-to-six figures for a single-night DJ performance. We want our patrons to experience music for the first time and not just get the same 20 songs each night that everyone else is playing, every night.

Having an opening right around Memorial Day is usually….dangerous. What are you doing to market yourself with half the crowd fleeing east and elsewhere?
I’ve never really been concerned about when I have opened a club – Prive, Spy Bar, Chaos, Rehab…none of these were timed. We opened when we were ready. I believe that the important thing is to provide a superior product, focus on quality, and let the crowd and buzz build.

There are so many people who try to open around Fashion Week to garner a little bit of press and get some celebrities attending third-party-programmed events, but that’s a supernova effect, something that may be hot for a moment and then burns out. We’re much more focused on a slower trajectory and building something that has longevity. If you can provide a beautiful room with amazing sound and extraordinary service, as well as great staff, people will come because of the delivery and the way they are welcomed and treated. Additionally, having a smaller venue ensures that you can keep quality really high even in slower months. When Pink Elephant officially opens this week, we will have had a few smaller events for friends and family already, which have put all of our operations systems in order and can provide a seamless and incredibly enjoyable experience.

Besides, Pink Elephant is a known entity that has tremendous international recognition, so there isn’t the concern that people will be away. People have been begging us to reopen in New York for some time because the Pink Elephant itself is beloved. It provides amazing experiences and long-lasting memories and people are so happy that we’re back. I’ve really never felt so much love and appreciation, it’s amazing!

Is a brand viable if it isn’t exported, and is that the idea even at this stage? Viva Las Vegas?
Brands need to evolve and expand, otherwise they become stagnant and boring, and in an industry where venue lifespans are quicker, it’s essential to export product and introduce new ideas to keep things fresh. Our brand DNA has been built around fun, excitement, and high energy entertainment, so we need to be in places that are conducive to that atmosphere. We want to be in locations where people have a great time enjoying life. That’s why Pink Elephant has opened locations in Brazil and Mexico, that’s why we do pop-ups at festivals, and that’s why we are in the process of opening Pink Elephant locations in Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas.

What is your favorite Pink Elephant moment?
My favorite Pink Elephant moment is actually one that reoccurs nightly. It’s that moment when the energy builds up to a point and then suddenly explodes with everyone in the room going crazy at the same time. It’s palpable – you can feel it – and it’s a collective euphoria that is utterly intoxicating.

Get Bitten at the Shark Attack Sounds Party in Montauk

Montauk has enjoyed a long, tenuous relationship with sharks. People are afraid of them, of course, despite the fact that being attacked by a shark while swimming is extremely unlikely. But they are also fascinated by their beauty, grace, and raw, primordial power. This fear and fascination likely stems from the true tales of Montauk shark fisherman Frank Mundus, who is widely believed to be the inspiration for the irascible character Quint in Peter Benchley’s classic novel Jaws. All these years later, residents and visitors to Montauk still can’t get enough of sharks, which goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of the annual Shark Attack Sounds party, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Friday, July 5, 2013 at Montauk Yacht Club

The party, which is being brought to the shark-loving masses by photographer Ben Watts, Milk Studios founder Mazdack Rassi, and high-profile event producer Jeffrey Jah, promises to be a wild, thrashing affair. DJ’s Zen Freeman, Carl Kennedy, and Chelsea Leyland will be on the ones and twos, and all the culinary and mixological treats of the Montauk Yacht Club will be available to keep the energy high and body temperatures cool. Expect plenty of beautiful people, pounding beats (the song of the summer may well be anointed here), and do-not-disturb signs on guest room doors as the night goes on.

Tickets are $46 per person and can be purchased here. And the best part? Well, the best part is that it’s an awesome party in a beautiful space with sexy people, but the second best part is that a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Montauk Playhouse. Let’s call it partying for a good cause. You’d be a monster to miss it. 

Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and the fun goes on until late late late. Slather on the sunscreen and sleep it off on the beach on Saturday. 

[Related: Shark Attack Sounds Official Site; BlackBook Hamptons Guide; Listing for Montauk Yacht Club; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Avenue A Soundcheck’s “Mondays Rock:” An A-List Music Industry Event

Every Monday night, at the intimate The Double Seven club by the Hudson River, three new music talents are being heard. Here, signed and unsigned recording artists are performing private concerts to crowds filled with music industry, fashion, and the arts insiders – people passionate about music. And if you’ve ever wanted to witness an unsigned artist finally get discovered by all the right people, then say hello to your new Monday night plans: Avenue A Soundcheck’s “Mondays Rock" series.

“Soundcheck is the peoples’ champ, the underdog," says Nima Yamini, the production company’s founder. “We’re sticking up for the little guy.”
Yamini, with a team of music managers, artists, and record labels (Universal Music, Interscope, Ultra), and the support of The Double Seven’s owner Jeffrey Jah, crafted the weekly “Monday’s Rock” concept, in which talent is carefully curated, and three new indie-rock-alternative artists are showcased to a crowd of music industry executives, artists, and all-around music-lovers. Tonight’s show will feature the erotic, lingerie-clad troupe Roma! (recently featured in Billboard), while last week’s crowd witnessed a performance by electro-rock-pop artist Zander Bleck, who has toured with Lady Gaga.
And so far, the series is a hit, with past performances consistently packed. 
“This show isn’t targeted toward models, celebrities, Wall St. guys – that stuff is the least important thing to me,” Yamini says. “The most important thing is that the musicians feel like they have a home."

Industry Insiders: Jeffrey Jah, Nightlife Innovator

“One of the reasons we decided to sign on is because it’s the first building in New York that famed architect and interior designer Thierry Despont has done, not only the hotel rooms, but the hotel lobby bar, the restaurant dining room, special events room, and the lounge,” says nightclub owner and restaurateur Jeffrey Jah of his newest midtown New York eatery, The Lambs Club. With partners David Rabin and Will Regan, Jah brought on Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and his wife Margaret to concoct the traditional American menu, with a focus on seasonal items in the opulent, 1930s-inspired space. Sasha Petraske’s cocktails rise to the level of the elegant decor as well, with such singular concoctions as the Gold Rush and Cherry Fix gracing the menu.

Jah is known internationally for expanding the brand of the nightclub Lotus to South America, and now plans to do the same with 1Oak in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janiero in 2011, plus he hopes to reopen the beloved Meatpacking District lounge, The Double Seven, a project that has been in the pipeline for two years, but still hasn’t fallen off the nightlife radar. “Nobody wants it to reopen more than we do. Every day that goes by, we get a call or email or text message from someone asking when it’ll be back,” he says. “It’s amazing that in the ten months that we were open, we touched so many people.” He will also expand The Double Seven concept to Florianopolis, Brazil this year. Jah credits its appeal to his team, and a close eye for detail. “We pay close attention to the details of how a room flows, the design, and the lighting,” he says. “We know how to curate an interesting group of people from fashion, film, music, art, society, and we were the antithesis of what we started ten years prior, which was bottle service in New York.”

Weekend Recap and Monday Night Parties

Around 9:30 p., on Friday night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, a modest line trickles into the fluorescent-lit entrance to see Ra Ra Riot. It’s a rather cute crowd of post-grads in bouclé jackets and tidy jeans—a far cry from the swarm of neon tank tops, striped button-ups, and gelled hair we passed at the neighboring Sea Thai Bistro just moments before. The block is alive, livelier, even, than the last show I had caught on the block a mere 4 months ago. And it’s not just the block; the whole drag is more diverse and overrun than what I had gotten used to. Punky girls still pout on street corners, and half of the neighborhood still looks as if they’re lost members of Belle & Sebastian, but for the most part, Williamsburg doesn’t discriminate. Before my partner in crime and I made it over to North 6th Street, we were lured away from an overly-crowded sidewalk by signs advertising frozen margs in Vera Cruz, a Mexican spot on Bedford. A few older, pot-bellied men sat at the bar alongside what seemed to be a sorority date function. When the food is good and the drinks are cold, the crowds don’t care who they’re sitting next to.

After fish tacos and fundito, we warmed up in the bar at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I usually get pretty annoyed when the bar is in a separate space as the show and I’m stuck making trips to the trough, so we talked the bartender into giving us Big Gulp-sized Jack and Cokes, with a price tag of just $16 a piece. By now the bar area was starting to look like the end of a successful college basement party, with boys and girls chatting in dark corners, and couples playing grab-ass as they sloppily bound up the stairs to the stage area. It’s obvious that Ra Ra Riot’s college following (the band formed while in school at Syracuse) followed them to New York this week. They had kicked off a four-night New York City run on Tuesday night, and were finishing it off at the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight, to a crowd of both dedicated, and newly found fans.

Their set, which included offerings from both The Rhumb Line, and their newest album, The Orchard, had the polish of a seasoned pop-band. The lead singer, Wes Miles, has a natural stage presence. His vocals sound even better live than on tape. But beyond the mechanics of what made the show a good one — perfect pitch, entertaining banter, interesting instrument changes — what makes RRR a powerful live band is this inexplicable enthusiasm they exude. Sure, there were a lot of Syracuse alums in the crowd, but I can’t help but feel that every show I’ve seen them play feels a bit like a homecoming show. They’re free and relaxed, they experiment and get lost in the music by accident, a quality that was especially apparent during “Ghost Under Rocks,” after which Miles giddily commented on how great of a time he was having.


After the show, and the big gulps, we slipped into Cyn Lounge to unwind with a few $3 PBRs, but the mopey crowd’s low energy level didn’t mesh with our post-show glow.

Also on Friday: Further uptown at the Chatwal hotel, Vikram Chatwal and Jeffrey Jah hosted an “Impromptu Gathering” and rounded up pals like Lukas Haas, Josh Groban, Maxwell, and Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, with Paul Sevigny playing DJ.

Saturday Saturday was a night of surprises, thanks to two pop-up parties. Over at Cedar Lake Studios on W 26th Street, Details magazine hosted their hotly anticipated DETAILS @ Midnight, an event that gained popularity because no one knew what it was all about. The invite that was sent out had no incentive to attend, other than an air of mystery: the party location was not to be released until the night before, and the special surprise performer was to be kept a secret. Enough to make tongues wag, as you can imagine. In any case, it was Kid Cudi that did the surprising, and the rapper—who once played a BlackBook party for a sack of fast food burgers—ran through a selection of new tracks off his upcoming album.

While I’ve yet to catch wind of a secret, last minute pop-up party, here’s what looks good tonight.

Monday Parties to Crash ● It’s Liiiiiiiza! Liza Minelli plays Nur Khan’s Rose Bar Sessions, 6PM. ● Party at Libation for the First Annual Bloggers Soiree to Benefit Restore NYC at 7PM. 300+ leading bloggers in the area will be blogging about their “Brick by Brick” campaign, which aims to raise $50,000 to build a safe house for sex trafficked victims in the city. Ticketed Events ● Exploring the Arts 2010 Gala kicks off at Cipriani Wall Street at 6:30PM, with Tony Bennett performing, as well as Natalie Cole. Parties for the People ● M.I.A. plays Terminal 5 with Rye Rye (duh) at 7PM for $35. ● Regina Spektor plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 7PM for $35, with proceeds going to the Daniel Cho Benefit. ● For those who like cerebral parties, VLAK launches with a proper shin-dig at the St. Marks Poetry Project at 8PM. VLAK is an international curatorial project with a broad focus on contemporary poetics, art, film, philosophy, music, design, science, politics, performance, ecology, and new media. Bottoms up! ● Opening night gala of Metropolitan Opera’s “Das Rheingold” at Lincoln Center at 6:45PM. There’s also a free telecast into Times Square with seating for 2,000 (rain or shine). Hotspots ● The East Village’s White Noise is one of those awesome bars that closes its doors at 2AM, but if you’re already safely inside, you can party all night (well, until 4AM), which carries the connotation that anything goes. Pierre Stone and Ben Brunnemer DJ the Monday night “Fever” party: “that ol rock and roll and good people, no disco shit.” ● One of our all time favorites, Franco V, DJs along with Eli Dias at the Mondays @ Kenmare party.

The Top 10 Industry Insiders of 2009

We did it last year, when this interview series was borned, and back then our pal Rachel Uchitel was #2 to a doorman. No more! Half a million pageviews later, Rachel, you’re second to none, but we’re retiring your number. It’s time to make way for the class of 2009.

10. David Chang The master of Momofuku can do no wrong. 9. Rochelle Gores Shopkeep of LA’s fashion-forward Arcade, Gores wants to close the book on boho-chic. 8. Mourad Lahlou Lahlou knocks ’em dead from San Francisco’s Aziza to Iron Chef. 7. Eddie Dean After a series of legal woes, Dean’s Pacha club in New York owns the night once more. 6. Wass Stevens Arguably New York’s most well-known and professional doorman, Stevens has transitioned upward into running the show, not just the guest list. 5. Rachelle Hruska The queen of Guest of a Guest sure knows how to get her name out there. Now quit accosting us at parties! 4. Richie Akiva, Jeffrey Jah, Ronnie Madra, & Scott Sartiano The boys of 1Oak are the supergroup of NYC clubland. 3. Paul Liebrandt The prickly chef from New York’s Corton has no time for your foolish questions. 2. Poplife Miami’s nightlife mandarins continue to throw one of the hottest parties in town. 1. Josh Wagner Our most popular interview subject for the year also hails from Miami, running the bar-side show for Morgans Hotels; he declared 2009 the “year of the bartender,” and he was demonstrably correct.

Who’s Who in Brantly Martin’s ‘Pillage’?

Author Brantly Martin, once a wonder boy of New York City nightlife, has returned from exile, purgatory, marriage, overseas, and five or six other speculated places armed with a 200-plus page book that’s is the buzz about town. “Which is worse?” a savvy pal asked me, “To be in it or not be in it?” Pillage describes some days and some nights in the life of the model/promoter/owner club set in decidedly non-PG rated terms; there’s more sex and drugs than Woodstock. As I read it, I became increasingly revolted, then jealous, then revolted, then I laughed and was revolted again. It’s a rollercoaster ride through the world of the young, rich, beautiful, and passionately immoral. Brantly seems to have come to terms with his demons. He is actually married to a beautiful Italian woman and lives in Rome. He admits to being the main character of the tome (“Cracula”). He is super hush-hush about the identities of the other characters and wouldn’t give me even one. In this case, the names have been changed to protect the guilty — but I managed to poke my rather cute nose in some of the right places and came up with a few reveals.

The Reverend – Scott Harrison, Brantly’s ex-partner and Water to Africa crusader. Eroneous –: Eric Hower, who used to be known as Fat Eric (until he wasn’t anymore). Shout out to Colleen for making a man out of him. Lark Taker – Mark Baker; how did he find time to actually work? The Fireman – Adam Hock, because the Griffin honcho pisses on everyone.

I did get the names of the models who had drug smoke blown up their cute butts and other humiliating things done to them, but since we all imagine our models as beautiful, pure, and innocent, I decided to be a gentleman and not list their names here. However, the phrase “model behavior” needs to be rethought. I caught up with Brantly and threw him a few softball-like questions. I was sweet — after all the man’s been through a lot.

Why did you write the book? I tried to write a novel for years, but New York City, my profession, my habits, and excuses were more powerful than my desire. I’d bang out 15 pages, 20 pages, just start to understand the voice, the characters, the story, and then … one late night leads to another, which leads to painful days and the draining of creativity. I ended up bouncing around Southeast Asia for four months, first with a friend, then alone in Cambodia, where I wrote every day for five, six hours, and finished the first draft. Then it was back to New York, with a pit stop in Austin, for the rewrites and edits.

Some of the characters seemed to be based on real people around town. Who’s who in the book? To me the characters are the characters. It’s a novel, fiction, a satire. More caricature than realism. It’s not as simple as this character is X and this one is Y. If that were the case, then I suppose I’m Cracula — and I wouldn’t want that. I realize that people like to simplify things, look for shortcuts, find the lowest common denominators. I’m sure there will be some speculation around town about what’s true, what really happened, and whom did what to whom. What’s more, some people are bound to be offended and feel that the portrayal of a character is an attack on them. The truth is the actions, traits, and motivations that are highlighted and parodied as the most despicable in the characters are all part of my opera of failures and mistakes as a man — misplaced ambition, hypocrisy, disloyalty. As a writer, I don’t feel bad calling someone out for their actions and bullshit because it always stems from my own bullshit. The book is fiction, the events are fiction, but the rhythm and emotions are honest. How did you come to work in New York City nightlife? I grew up in Houston, went to college in Austin, and moved to New York in 2000. I showed up with one bag full of clothes, $500, and not one friend. I slept in Central Park the first night, ended up crashing with a friend of a friend for a few weeks (in a depression-era brothel, some of the whores still alive, paying $50 a month, rent-controlled), somehow ended up working in the nightlife. Jeffrey Jah and Mark Baker gave me my first job at Lotus. Karim gave me my first night — Tuesdays at Halo. I have a love-hate relationship with clubs and nightlife. But I have a love-hate relationship with all things, including myself. The one thing I have more than ever, though, is a complete respect for the folks around town who have been working and grinding in the scene for years and kept their sanity. It’s not easy — you know better than me. I haven’t always gotten along with everyone else in the nightlife, but I respect anyone that’s pulling it off (not that such respect is always returned).

Do you see Pillage as a film? I do, though it’s not a dream or a goal. I wrote a novel, not a screenplay. If the right person has the right vision, why not? I wouldn’t want to be involved in the process. I lived with Pillage enough.

I found the book funny and disgusting. What sort of reactions were you expecting, and what has been the feedback? I see it as a comedy. Yeah, even a disgusting one. Being my first novel, my expectations were all over the place. Chest puffing, insecurity, nausea, etc. The first reaction is always to the style. It’s not like most other novels — either in rhythm or formatting. It takes a few pages to get used to. After that, people seem to be responding to the humor, honesty, and visuals. Until last week, I hadn’t opened the book for about six months. I’ll be reading from the book Thursday at the Powerhouse Arena in DUMBO, then Book Soup in LA. on the 12th, and I needed to choose some parts. Jumping back into it after that much time off was a trip. I found the words creepy, sad, vulgar, desperate, and yes, disgusting. In a life with many ups and downs, Pillage was written during the most desperate and hopeless downturn. I think that’s evident. Two and half years later I’m happy, married, and living in Rome. It’s an odd life. What place does literature currently have in New York nightlife? I don’t see it playing a part at all right now. Maybe Pillage will change that. Obviously it used to, from Fitzgerald to Capote to the fellas in the 80s and early 90s. The books seemed to have gotten safer along with the city. Maybe the recession will bring out some fresh voices addressing things other than martinis, high heels, and pseudo-spirituality. If you lived anything close to the way Cracula lives, how are you still here? It is fiction. But … yeah. I haven’t always been the wisest of decision makers. You live, you learn. I’m a lucky bastard What’s next for you? The wife and I are launching a magazine, Grey. The first issue is out in September. I’m about halfway through a book of short stories, I’m really amped for these to get out. They’re in an entirely different voice than Pillage, different style. After that I’m writing a full-on science fiction novel.

After being away from New York for almost a year, how does the nightlife look? Promising. From about 2004 to 2008, there was so much mediocre crap out there. Everyone became a club owner, promoter, or self-appointed superstar. It seems there’s been a cleaning of house, with the veterans surviving. The bottle backlash is a good thing. When I started promoting, text messaging didn’t exist, and not everyone had a cell phone. If you did have a cell phone, it only held 50 numbers. You had to call people at home, have a conversation, then take care of them when they came out. If I did a party, I did the party. There were no “hosts.” And this was just in 2000 to 2002. You and all the folks I referred to were in the game much before then. My point being, it doesn’t matter how many mass emails, Facebooks, texts, or whatever other technology pops up … when times get tough, people want a real experience.

Industry Insiders: 1Oak’s Woodsmen

At the tastefully burnished 1Oak, four vastly different drivers are at the wheel. Richie Akiva, Jeffrey Jah, Ronnie Madra, and Scott Sartiano, partners in the timeless, game-changing venue. “You have a southern boy here, a bred New Yorker, a Canadian and an Indian” says Akiva, one quarter of the 1Oak braintrust. The diversity of its management has proven to be key in building 1Oak’s wide-ranging clientele. “We wanted 1Oak to bring nightlife back to what was fun about New York” he says. “An eclectic mix of people — gay, straight, artists, celebrities, yuppies, blacks, whites.” The result? A $3 million lounge filled with everyone from Jay-Z to Giorgio Armani to Union Square skateboarders, and happily turning a huge profit. “The fact is,” says Sartiano, “we’ve paid back 110% of our investments in one year.” Avowing that culture could never be wiped out by a weakened Wall Street, Akiva harkens back to the disco era: “I sometimes refer to myself as the new Steve Rubell.” Here, the gentlemen talk the talk to shed light on how they walk the walk. How did you guys all come together? Scott Sartiano: I think we all met and we all came together working at the same place — called Life — years ago. It was maybe the last great nightclub. We all just sort of kept tabs on each other for years. Then Richie decided to open up Butter, and he asked me to get involved with him. Then we asked Ronnie to get involved, and it just kind of grew from there. Richie Akiva: It was a good working relationship that we had together. I had asked him to start something on a Monday night, because that was our slow restaurant night. I told them, “I think should really start a party,” different from all of this stuff that was going on in New York City that was just like, way commercial.

What kind of stuff? RA: I’m not going to say names of places, but other people that were running their parties and running their clubs in New York were making it really overhyped. And since we started as a restaurant, I thought we could keep it more exclusive than a bar, and not whore it out as a full-on club. Eventually everybody else involved at first kind of fell off the map as we were doing this party, because I guess they just couldn’t hack it with us. And Ronnie, his relationship with us grew stronger as everyone else’s kind of disintegrated. He stuck with us for so long, and he’s a very loyal guy, and he’s very good at what he does, and he matched us and what we do, very well. Ronnie Madra: Well, we’re friends first. Do you think that has a lot to do with your business success? RA: Yes, I think our friendship is important. I think what has the most to do with our success is that we’re all really different. We have similar friends that run in the same circles, but we also have our own lives and our own friends, and our own people that support us and love us, and take care of us. So, it’s kind of like we bring all these people together, and since we’re all different, and coming from different worlds, it went well. I find, from my point of view, that there seems to be a lot of backstabbing, and just poor business ethics, in your industry. Do you think that trust is a big element of the reason why some places work out and some places don’t? Is it that working dynamic which ultimately has a lot to do with the success? SS: Well, I have to say, we come from a different school in a way of doing business in this industry. We come from a time where your word is your word, and a handshake is where the trust is. There were no contracts. I think the newer people in this business — they’re the ones that are more back-stabbing than anybody because they didn’t start where we started. This business has gone through a huge change, and before, it was more about your word and a handshake was everything, and if you didn’t trust that, it wasn’t good. Going on that, how has your point of view on basically the climate of the nightlife industry changed now, compared to when you first started? RA: First, it’s not about the quick hit, you know? I love what I do, so does he [points to Madra]. You have to love what you do, and if that’s the pattern that you put yourself into, I think it will be great. I love walking through those doors at night, knowing everything is lined up perfectly, from start to finish. SS: I think it’s gotten way more corporate. The whole business is built on relationships. If you screw somebody over at age 22, at age 32, you’re not going to be friends with them, so it’s like you lose a potential client-friend-customer, for life. And I think a lot of guys would do that — they’re usually young guys who are new to the business. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years, and we’ve built ourselves as a business. We have guys who went from being a bar back, to bartender and now he’s a manager of the club, and he is doing it well. You find people to grow with. Anytime that you screw somebody over in friendship, or business, it ruins this business. And you see a lot of people who have maybe a two-, three-year lifespan in this business, but they’re not around longer than that. RA: I think people took the handshake more seriously than they take a contract, these days. SS: And we don’t use contracts for people who work with us. And everybody else, they sign contracts. It’s like, do you want to imprison someone? Or force them to come to your place when they don’t want to be there? The whole purpose of a place being successful is to get people to want to come and have a good time. So now you’re going to pay somebody who doesn’t want to be there, you’re going to make those people sign a contract? It’s backwards. What do you guys think of the current economic times? Not business in general, but what you see as far as the clientele coming in, or the way people are approaching the idea of nightlife, spending money on alcohol and going out? RA: I can speak for myself — I kind of live in a bubble over here. I don’t really go to many places anymore that I don’t own, and the only effect I see is the corporate business tour, and the marketing dollars, and the corporate dollars, and the sponsorships. In terms of our regular day-to-day business, we haven’t really taken a hit. RM: There was times in New York when it wasn’t driven on people to present their credit cards at the door to get in. We didn’t say, “Oh, okay, we’ll just bank people at the door, and have them come in and take their money.” SS: We don’t have a bottle minimum. RA: We never said, “This is how you get in. This is buying your way into the club.” We wanted it to be back to something that was really fun about New York, you know, an eclectic mix of people — gay, straight, artists, celebrities, models, yuppies, blacks, whites — whatever it is, we wanted them all through those doors. It’s not like you’re pigeon-holing yourself into this, “Oh, that’s a yuppie club, or that’s a hip place.” People have been saying that because of the economy, we’re destined to go back to pre-Giuliani New York: people going out a lot more, and staying out until much later, and basically getting back to a certain level of debauchery. RA: I do see that, without a doubt, I see that. Like I said, I can’t say for any other place, because I don’t really go to many places, but I can see the energy is getting better. There’s a new attitude focused onto going out again. I think alcohol is up, and a lot of things are going down, so it has a lot to do with it. I think people lost a couple million dollars, or this, or that, and they don’t mind going out and spending a little money at night just to forget about the economy, and let loose a little, and let their aggression out, in terms of fun. You have all pretty much said that you don’t really go out to other places. Jeffrey, I know you are pretty vocal about never setting foot in other clubs. The question that comes to mind is how you are able to gauge the competition, or the atmosphere that other places are bringing to the table. Or, is the idea of being involved with competition just sort of stifling? Jeffrey Jah: I read a lot, but mostly I feel that I depend on Scott, Richie, and Ronnie — they go out a lot. I don’t go to other clubs, but I go to other restaurants, and other bars. To me it sends a message that if I’m at somebody else’s club, it shows that my club isn’t hot. So you’re not going to see me sitting at another club. RA: But also, like we said before, we’re very dependent on relationships we’ve built in the past. Jeffrey’s relationships go back 15, 20 years, and they still support him. And they’ve gotten bigger themselves. So, he has his ear to the street, and they tell him what’s going on. JJ: But I also rely on people that aren’t in the business. Twenty years ago and today, you still see creative people, these young artists, young designers, young photographers — those people don’t go away. The models come and go, the girls come and go, the young guys come and go, but people in the arts — they’re here for the long run. They have more of a creative run. Take a stylist. They start out as a young assistant to a stylist, and by the time they’re 25 they’re a stylist, at 30 they’re a senior stylist, at 35 they’re an editor, and by the time they’re in their 40s, they either become a fashion director, or a creative director. They’re here to stay. And they might be more interesting and they have their own context, and their own sense of style, and that is timeless clientele to you … JJ: And I think that’s what we all agree on, and we take pride in. When other people are doing things way more corporate than us, we’re doing things way more artistic. And the people who we know and who come to our place. If Richie doesn’t know one person, Scott will; if I don’t know, Ronnie will know. So, between the four of us, you’re going to find that one of us will know one of those people. And because of our ages we span different generations. RA: So, that’s and edge, you know? You have Southern boy, over there, and Canadian, and an Indian. What the fuck? How did that happen? How the fuck did four guys like us get together? I was actually talking about that the other day. You guys all bring a different perspective and point of view because of where you come from your roots. RM: Yeah, that’s part of the key, because when decisions are made here, there’s never anything done unilaterally. There’s respect enough to say, “You know what — ” SS: ‘”You know more about this than I do, so you take care of it.” RM: I’ll never say, “Richie, this is what you should do,” when he knows exactly what to do, and it’s his area of expertise. RA: If one of us is tired, than the other one is working harder; if one of us is sick, the other one is there ten times more. There is, obviously, an incredible amount of design in the space, and attention to detail. Do you guys ever think that the great attention to detail that’s gone into this place was ever lost on the clientele? JJ: Hundreds of times. RA: We’d been doing the clubs for so long, and from being at everyone else’s clubs, and working, and making other people millions of dollars over the years, we thought, “What can we take, and what can we learn, from all the mistakes they’ve made?” We decided to really pay attention to detail and say, “You know what? It’s all about the details, at this point.” It was a complete decision, from the beginning, to pay attention to detail. Some people are oblivious to the details, but the people who matter, and the people who understand design and taste, and class — they understand. SS: People go out to nightclubs all over the world. You sit in a Ford, and then you’re in a Bentley the next day — you notice the difference. Even if you’re not really looking for it, even if you aren’t an expert. We want our place to be nicer than every where else, we want it to raise the bar, we want people to come here and say, “Wow, that place is really nice.” That’s where you notice it a lot; it’s not here, it’s when you go somewhere else. RA: We never wanted it to feel like a nightclub with lights, and flashings, and strobes, and all that craziness. We wanted an older person in their 30s, 40s, 50s — 60s, even — to accept this place. I had Giorgio Armani in here not too long ago, and he stayed all night. His assistant says, “Armani’s never stayed at a club this long in his entire life. He doesn’t even stay at Armani Privéin Milan that long. He’ll come for a drink.” But here he didn’t want to sit down, he stood in front of the table all night just looking around. And he was in awe. JJ: Same with Dolce and Gabbana. RA: Yeah, and Armani had to go to the Oscars the next day in L.A., and he stayed until 4am; he stayed literally until we turned the lights on. He said everyone in New York was at 1Oak, and he said it was the best place. I mean that night was very crazy. We had Leonardo DiCaprio here. See, when you look at 1Oak, it doesn’t look like a club, it looks like someone’s home. You’re not being thrown into a nightclub atmosphere. You want to stay. What are you guys really impressed with right now, in terms of restaurants? SS: I like Waverly. RM: I like the Minetta Tavern; it’s actually very nice. JJ: But I’m really old school. I go to the same places. I go to Bar Pitti. RM: We’re creatures of habit. We’ll go to like, Blue Ribbon Brasserie. SS: I go to the Spotted Pig. RM: Lure Fishbar. I like to go where we can listen to music and just hang out. RA: We go to Butter all the time. Monkey Bar. I check out everything when they open to see if I like it. RM: Other clubs don’t impress us, really. I walk into a club, and we’ll dissect it completely. “Oh, they didn’t do this right, they didn’t do that right. How could they do that?” It’s insane, in a way. But that’s why it’s hard when we go out. So, how do you guys go out an let loose? RM: Not in New York. JJ: I leave the country. RM: We go to Europe, or somewhere else. We’re very different when we’re not in New York. RM: Here, we are in the service industry. We’re all in hospitality mode. JJ: I’m 40 years old — I wouldn’t live two minutes, after 25 years, if I didn’t love what I do. RA: You’re 40? Damn, old man. I’m right behind you.

What are some of the projects you guys can talk about now? SS: We’re trying to open more Butters, as well. We have one in North Carolina. It will probably be complete in September. What made you attracted to North Carolina? SS: I’m from there, so it’s kind of almost like a personal project with the developer. JJ: This guy’s the Mick Jagger of the Carolinas. RA: The Southern heart-throb. North and South. SS: We’re just focused on really, here, with the economy, and everything. I think we’re all really happy, and we’re fortunate with how well this place is doing, and how well our hard work is paying off. The recession is kind of filtering out the corporate backstabbers that you spoke about in the business. RA: I think that’s really what the recession has proven: All the real artistic people, all the people who are doing something cool, and fun, and new, and real — they’re going to be around for a while, and I think the people that just come in don’t really understand the business, or have just decided one day that they want to open up a club just because they had money, or just because they wanted to be cool, those are the ones that are going to fail, and I think the recession is weeding out all the bullshit. Back in the 70s, when there was disco, and Steve Rubell, and the people in that industry, today have earned themselves a certain notoriety; it’s legendary. I know it’s hard to look at the work you guys are doing, in hindsight right now, but do you think you guys aspire to that kind of iconic nightlife representation? RA: I sometimes refer to myself as the new Steve Rubell. RM: [Laughs] I’m going to start calling you Richie Rubell. RA: No, I’m serious, I am the new Rubell. SS: I think more than anything else, sometimes, it’s hard to step outside of yourself and say, “Wow, what I did is really cool,” or, “Wow, we’re living in a moment.” Sometimes, when I’m in a cab and I’m saying, “Take me to 17th and 10th Avenue,” and the cab driver says, “Oh, 1Oak.” I know it sounds stupid, but when you hear from someone that’s never really been to our place, that really knows nothing about it, to have heard about it, that kind of makes you say, “Hey, what should we do next? What are we going to call it? What’s it going to look like?” I think years from now, I will look back and say, “Wow, that was a lot bigger than anybody had ever done before.” At the same time, the one thing about us is that we’re fighters, and we want to do good things and be successful, and when you do that, you always strive to be better tomorrow than who you are today. And as great as that is, I think we all have much bigger plans than just Butter or just 1Oak. What are your aspirations? SS: We plan on doing hotels, and resorts, and luxury condominiums, and things like that. And we’ve had these ideas in the works that we’ve had for a long time. It doesn’t stop at just 1Oak, it’s going to continue to grow. Everything’s been a step further, from the day we started; we take one step back, and two steps forward. RM: But we are aware that things are working well for us, especially with everything else going on. We all wake up and say, “Wow, luckily, our place is doing really well.” There’s a lot of places that people think are doing really well that aren’t. RA: And just to add, we’re kind of like a band. We’re kind of like a U2 band, you know, like, none of those guys do the same thing — we play bass, we’re on guitar, we’re singing, we’re drums. There’s a mutual respect, and there’s a talent and there’s a team, and I think the team is what makes it stronger, because we’re not going to be this one-dimensional group of guys, all going for the same shit like it’s a competition. RA: I actually have something to say, I have something to add. We have been a little bit cocky, because we’ve done well, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve paid back 110% of our investments in one year. And that’s very hard to do, for any other place, in the worst economy. And that’s why I wanted to tell you we paid 110% back, because we’re a little bit happy, in a good place, in our minds, because everyone, since this recession started, has been cutting people, has been firing people, closing — so while everyone is like this, we’re moving up.

Photo by Scott Pasfield

Sound Ideas: Daniel Agne of Funktion One

What clubs offer that bars and lounges generally don’t is sound and DJs. There are a few guys at the top of the heap in the sound world, and Daniel Agne is one of those guys. If the sound is crisp and clear, chances are that the club owner spent a great deal of cash to make that happen. As a designer, sound considerations are a day-one thing. The open entrance to the mezzanine level at Marquee with no apparent break to stop the bleed from the main floor was a major design move. The padded ceiling and columns and front of the bar at Home overcame the tremendous bounce from the hardwood floors, brick walls, and concrete ceilings. Joe Lodi hid bass speakers behind banquettes and added a scoop that pushed the sound where it needed to be. The club world is never as easy as people think, and I hope this interview with Daniel gives you insight on the process of sound installation

You do the sound at premier nightclubs, putting in DJ booths, speaker placements, etc., making the room sound great. What’s the name of your company? The company is called Sound Investment and Divine Lab, and we’re often regarded as Funktion One in the US. We do sound, video, lighting, and entertainment technology

People say places like 1Oak have a great sound system because it has a Funktion One system. What is the history of Funktion One? We have access to essentially every type of loudspeaker, amplifier, and processor in the market. We’ve done many AB tests over the years and continually do them when new products are released. We base our company on the confidence that we are designing using the highest-performing equipment possible within the design budget allowed. Funktion One loudspeakers are the core of our systems because we feel that they are the best possible speaker available. Period. They are the result of a holistic design process that prioritizes overall system integrity as apposed to monetarily based design directives. In Funktion One, we found a philosophical approach that runs congruent with that of our own. Tony Andrews and John Newsham at Funktion One have achieved audio excellence by combining decades of technical experience in cabinet and speaker design with a passion for fidelity. By fabricating the speaker drivers in-house, Funktion One is able to precisely tailor the response of each loudspeaker model, using mechanical adjustments to cure mechanical problems instead of leaving it to electronic equalization after the fact, which does not address the root cause of the problem.

In the last ten years, we’ve seen a breakout of DJs and talent, so instead of getting $5,000 to $10,000 a night, DJs are now getting about $40,000 to $50,000. How is sound technology keeping up with the DJs, and how do inventions like Serato and the fade away from vinyl affect what you do? It makes it much more difficult to produce a quality result because technology was once difficult for the common man to obtain. You used to go to a recording studio as a privilege because it was an expensive and exclusive process. You would be there with trained professionals with standards and experience, so you had great quality equipment in experienced hands, and only the best of the best got there. Now, every busboy and their brother is a DJ because the cost of producing music at home is cheap, since they’ve found ways to make the products inexpensive. With all of these mass-produced, lower quality products, on the professional end we have more availability with producing higher quality and better sound systems. But we’ve also been crippled because with this highly accurate, super-loud system that can reproduce whatever comes into it accurately, we have loud distortion and poor-sounding tracks.

What’s the solution? The solution is education, as with any sort of technology. New technology can come in and dilute the waters, but there will also be a backlash — a purist approach that promotes the philosophy of “Well, okay, that’s great that you all started downloading and transferring diseased tracks everywhere.” It’s an education process, but it is starting to be socialized and realized, so there is common knowledge now that when you’re downloading the tracks at low bit rate and you’re paying less for it, that’s not a good thing. That’s like being a race car driver and buying a cheap engine.

What places have you done sound for in New York? Cielo, 1Oak, we just finished the Griffin with you and Marc Dizon, and we did the Crobar system when it became Mansion (M2). We work with Sean McPherson and Eric Goode. We do a lot of their hotel work; we just did the Jane Hotel with them, The Bowery Hotel, The Maritime Hotel; we worked on Mr. West, and we did the basement for APT.

You did Cielo, which is one of the premium dance clubs, and you did 1Oak, which is a different type of club — it’s a lot of mash-up, hip hop, and not as house-heavy as Cielo. Are there any adjustments you make for a club like 1Oak as opposed to Cielo? For Cielo, I have the luxury of tuning for complete accuracy and that’s what my approach was with it. With a venue where you are going to have a more eclectic DJ pool and format, you have to tune your systems to take out some of the things that would be adverse depending on what they are going to play. So if I knew on a system that everyone was going to play good music, I would tune it a little bit differently.

What do you mean by “good music”? I’m talking about the quality. When you get into mash-up and stuff like that, it’s absolutely highly diseased tracks that are being transferred. It’s like the plague — this person now has it and 37 people have transferred it — it just doesn’t sound great. It’s compressed, and it’s cheap downloads in the first place. To a certain point, there’s nothing you can do; we are working on a certain proxy to reintroduce and grab elements that are salvageable, but it’s difficult. 1Oak is more consistent than other places with having good DJs, and obviously Cielo is also because Nicholas Matar had a rhyme and a reason when he set out to do that and he did it. My design firm Lewis & Dizon just did Griffin with you, and when they brought you in, there was a conversation about how the sound was going to work within the design of the room. I’m sure that Nicolas Matar of Cielo was designing the shape of the room and seating with sound in mind from day one. Was it the same with 1Oak? Ronnie Madra, Jeffrey Jah, Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva were both very very adamant that it had to have a great sound system. I think that our company takes a tremendous amount of pride in working with designers. We appreciate the aesthetics of a room, and we’ll go to great lengths to try not to violate that. Sometimes it’s a wrestling match, but we try to come up with custom and unique solutions that would not violate what the design and functionality of a room needs to be. With 1Oak it was actually quite a process with the design to get to where we were, but they did the things they should have done; there were a couple things we were fortunate about, and they did allow me to put things where I needed.

1Oak has a vibrant social scene, and the seating area generally has less sound so that people can speak, while a place like Cielo has great sound in every spot of the room. How do you do that — is it a challenge for you? What you do is have your main focus area, and then off of that you’re doing fills and trying to timeline it to be coming off of the main system. It’s a delay, when you timeline something — you have a system that is going to be your main system, it’s going to be the loudest area, and you’re just trying to accent that.

So what you’re saying is that even in a small room, if the sound is not properly balanced, you’ll hear echoes? Yeah, shorter distances show up as confusion because your brain doesn’t process it accurately, and it’s a disruption instead. At greater distances it’s actually referred to as the Haas effect, but you start to then discern that there are different starting points, or it’ll be like an echo, or it has its own beat to it because it literally starts to get disruptive.

You hear this in a lot of big spaces like Capitale, where you have high ceilings and hard surfaces. Yeah, that’s a room slap echo, where it bounces of the walls.

Clubs are being built everywhere in the city, residents are moving into club districts, and the co-existence of clubs with communities is becoming a big issue. How much consideration is given to the leaking of the sound to the street? It’s important for every single job, and the earlier on in the process that we can get involved with the design and the layout, it really benefits the project. It is obviously a really heavily weighted factor, and every club owner does know that because it is an Achilles’ heel. It can put a club out of business sometimes — does so even if they are running it properly. There’s an issue of how you can achieve that unless you’ve really painstakingly designed the space, or if you have the luxury of sound space within the venue.

You fortunately work for good people; do you turn down a lot of jobs? I do, more often today than I used to, because I’ve learned that despite your best intentions, your efforts are going to end up being inhibited by the personality of the owner. You have quite a reputation; there are two or three people in the city who are talked about in the same breath as you, but sometimes people buy you only because they want your brand, for the vanity of having it. There will be pitfalls. I’ve learned that through Spirit. I was promised a lot when we started that I never got. He [Spirit owner Robbie Wooton] didn’t accept our input, and I should’ve turned that job down. He made a promise that he didn’t keep as well. When I said, “This isn’t enough sound,” he said, okay, “I’ll tell you what, when we turn it on, we’ll have some time and if it’s not right, we’ll get the rest of the parts.” And then when it got to that point, he didn’t do what he said he was going to do, and none of those factors come up when people talk about it or. People don’t consider that part; it’s just your reputation.

When people come in and they hear you did the sound, they’re expecting value, and if you can’t give it to them, you shouldn’t be doing the job. Yes, he turned around and spent three times as much for a different sound engineer and also used the equipment that I already had in there. So he had mine, plus three times as much, so I thought, okay … that’s fair. So, in that I learned a valuable lesson, which is to understand what the result is going to be for the risk you are incurring and figure out if it’s really worth it. Because it took me a lot of time to repair what the impression was of that work.