With an eclectic background that stretches from Belgium to Ibiza to New York City, the multi-talented Henri Binje has seen nightlife from every angle, which probably explains his gracious approach to working two of the tightest doors in Manhattan, the Double Seven and Jimmy. We caught up with Binje to talk about nightlife, his acting career, his new clothing line, and a few other secrets of his trade.
Where are you from, and what were you into as a kid?
I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium. I was a very social kid, had lots of friends, and was into sports, soccer, tennis … and partying.
How did you get involved in nightlife?
When I started going out at the age of 17 it was the beginning of the house music craze in Belgium — it was called "new beat" back in those days — and people were coming from everywhere in Europe to dance to it because the house music scene was huge in Belgium (not to mention that there were ecstasy labs all over the country). I discovered Ibiza with my twin sister and some friends during summer vacation in 1990 and it changed our lives. We had such an amazing time there that we decided to come back the following year to start working for clubs promoting parties on the island during our school breaks.
How long did that last?
We were so hooked on the magical island vibe that we end up doing full summer seasons in Ibiza for the next eight years. It was during one of those seasons that I met some friends who were managing Spy Bar in New York [the first club to introduce bottle service] at the time. They invited me to work with them in New York. At the time I was going out with a girl who was from New York as well. And that’s how it got started.
What was it like going from working at clubs in Ibiza to New York?
The nightlife scene in New York was a lot more fun at the time. In 1998 clubs like Limelight, Twilo, Shelter, Vinyl, Life, Chaos, and Lot 61 were still around, and after-parties were still happening all over the town. New York still had a lot of glamour and decadence. Doing the door of a club at that time was mind blowing. Every night was an adventure. Now things have changed a lot. It’s a lot more commercial out there.
What is it about nightlife that you find so enticing?
Music has always been a part of my life, especially after all those years spent in Ibiza. It became a lifestyle for me and my friends. We always had a dream of opening a club here in New York that would bring that Balearic house vibe, and we actually ended up realizing it when we opened Cielo in 2003. Unfortunately, business and friendship is not always the best mix and we ended up splitting a couple of years after that.
You’re also an actor, with credits in such films as Zoolander and Hitch. When did you begin acting?
I caught the acting bug very early when I had a role in a primary school play called "Le Petit Prince de St. Exupery." That led to other plays. I loved being on stage as a kid. So acting has always been a dream of mine. I had been taking some acting classes in London before I arrived in NYC. When I booked a job at my first audition (Zoolander) and become a SAG actor in the process I realized that I could really do this. I had to do an improvisation scene on the call back with Ben Stiller, who was directing and was my actual partner in the movie. It was awesome.
What exactly do you do now?
After taking nearly a year off from nightlife and traveling in India to recharge my batteries I came back to New York to run the doors of the Double Seven
. I also decided to focus a lot of my energy on my acting, as well as Young Liberators
, a T-shirt line that a friend and I created last year.
What my average day like for you?
Depending if there’s a casting or an audition I’ll either wake up really early or else at around 11 am. I have a class of some kind almost every day. It might be an acting class, a yoga class or a Muay Thai boxing session. Even if I am working in nightlife it’s very important for me to still wake up early enough to get things done during the day. I am not a vampire. I need my daily sunlight.
What do you enjoy the most working in nightlife, and what are some of the challenges?
The social aspect of it is really amazing as you meet people from so many different social classes and backgrounds. The challenge is definitely dealing with the rejection process when I work the door. People are not always very understanding when they can’t get inside, and some take it way too personally, which is never the case.
When you work the door at a place like Double Seven, how do you decide who gets in and who doesn’t?
On a regular night it’s like creating a mixed salad of interesting people. Believe it or not, beauty is not the most important thing, it’s a lot more about personality and the way you present yourself. Humility and kindness go a long way.
How do you let people down gently?
Turning people away is never easy. As humans we are all sensitive, and many people have big egos. You can be as polite as you can be, but some people have a hard time hearing that they can’t get in and take the word No as the ultimate insult. I always try my best to be as polite, understanding, and compassionate as I can be. It’s a very delicate process sometimes.
Tell me about Young Liberators.
is a T-Shirt line that my partner and I had the idea of creating about two years ago. It’s about raising our level of consciousness through liberating the spirits and strengthening the minds of the people. It’s about uplifting, reaffirming, and enlightening. The idea came from an old magazine about Harlem in the ‘70s that we found at the Brooklyn flea market. The goal is to create a full clothing line and make it global.
What acting jobs do you have lined up?
I just booked a part in a French movie called "PEPLVM" by Christophe Perie. It’s a survival comedy. They’re still financing it, but hopefully that will be complete this summer and we’ll start production soon after.
What advice would you give to a young person looking to follow your footsteps?
Believe in yourself, become your dreams, and never let go of them
What are your plans for the summer?
I’ll be taking a month of vacation to go visit my twin sister Shanty and friends in Ibiza! It’s an annual ritual. There is nothing like going back to the source.