Jon Lennon’s Gold Standard

Nightclub 101: the door is everything. This lesson learned over many years was taught to me by all the great ones. Steve Rubell, Ian Schraeger, Maurice Brahms, Peter Gatien, Eric Goode — every legend that ever lived and ran clubs understood this. The modern sharp guys — Noah Tepperberg, Richie Akiva, Scott Sartiano, and Paul Sevigny — have also embraced this theory. So many other operators just don’t get it, and in time their places are in shambles. I won’t name names here today; I’m saving that story for another night. Doormen become legends. Guys like Wass and Bin and Angelo don’t have last names … they’re like Cher, one name will do. A notable exception is my boy Jon Lennon who carries a familiar and weighty two-word moniker . I often stand in front of GoldBar and watch Jon work. He is the consummate pro and one of the main reasons GoldBar is still golden.

GoldBar has an extremely unusual door as far as I’m concerned. I see people that would get into almost every club in New York not getting in. Give me the criteria — how do people get into the GoldBar? What are you looking for as a doorman? It’s weird to say I look at it, but I go for the energy. I see how you’re acting with your friends, if you guys were wrestling on the corner a block away. I see you come up to the door and put on your “I’m not drunk” face. But if somebody presents themselves properly — they’re dressed properly — you get into GoldBar. If it’s a super busy night and I don’t personally know you, I can’t let you in, but I adjust what I do every single night for the success of the place.

That’s the mark of a good doorman because every night can be different. You understand that money has to be made, but every night is different. Right. Money has to be made, but the integrity of GoldBar is what makes us money, so I have to walk that line every night. So some nights we’re not as busy, I put a couple of extra people for those who are spending money. And some nights we are super busy, and I can’t let anyone in.

I did the Palladium door when I ran the joint at the behest of Steve Rubell. Steve described it to me as drawing the line. Those were his words, and I imparted those words to everyone who’s ever worked with me at the door — the line moves every single night. It’s a place where the integrity of the club meets the economics of the club, and it’s a very hard thing to do. Anybody could stand at a door and choose 80 percent of the people that come in. Anybody could say “this girl’s hot,” “that guy’s cool” — it’s understanding the margin of profit. And you know there’s that vision of the room and what it’s supposed to be, and how do I my best to keep that ratio equal — the right people, a couple of hoodlums could be in the room, there’s a whole table of hot girls — you could have anybody in a room

With Rubell ,my idol, it was the most important thing. If you see pictures of the Studio 54 days, Steve was at the door. I personally think that if I owned a place, I would be at the door of that place. I can’t see somebody else controlling the door of my place.

I was always at the door. I would never allow anyone else. I remember you being at the door.

I had to be. In fact, many people think I was a doorman, which I don’t mind — it’s not an unflattering position. One of the things about being at the door at a club is you’re outside, and you see everybody coming in, and you also see everybody leaving. Sometimes you see people go in, they’re in one condition, and they leave in a completely different condition. That’s the truth of the business. Now touch on this because I knew you for many many many years — and the first few years I’ve known you, you were an alcoholic, a drug addict. Heavy.

Heavy. And we all loved you, and you tried many times to straighten out your act. And you have — now how long are you sober? Now I’m sober about five months.

Pretty good. I did a couple of years sober, and then I started drinking, and I never went heavy again after the last rehab.

GoldBar is hot. I think it’s actually hotter now than it was. Some people disagree, but I think they’re wrong. When I walk in that room, I see a mix. I see the money, and I see the hot girls, and I have fun. Why would I hang there? Cuz Jon Lennon’s there! It is sort of a neighborhood bar — I mean you do have that like Nolita/SoHo, those people that we walk around and see all day, you hang out with them at night, people come in and some of them come in and have a seltzer water, they’re not even drinking, they just want to have a little conversation, hang out, see people. I think it’s that mix. And I think the reason why maybe it’s better now than it was when we first opened is because we lost a little of the pretense that went along with “Gold.”

I get treated well everywhere that I go — doormen say hello, security guards shake my hand, I get a table, I get drinks, whatever you want. I’ve earned that I guess over many years, but at GoldBar I feel like it’s my home. I think that’s Jamie and Jayma’s way of doing things. Jamie, Jayma, and Robert I think specifically designed GoldBar to feel like that. Like they don’t call it a lounge, they don’t call it a club, they call it a bar. It’s a neighborhood bar. You know it’s almost like the “Cheers!” of nightlife.

I was talking about Wass recently regarding his exit strategy, which is his acting. You’re are a musician — tell me about what music means to you. Well music actually brought me to nightlife. My big dreams when I was a kid were to play CBGBs, but you know I liked punk rock music and hip hop growing up, whatever was going on early 80s. I started going to places like CBGBs , I thought, I could never play this place, and then years later I was a resident there and so those types of dreams I already accomplished. Music for me has been everything, it’s my sanity. To me it’s like this universal thing, it’s like this universal energy that comes that I translate, I love it, it’s what keeps me sane in nightlife.

And do you still perform? I do — I played like two weeks ago. We sold out the Knitting Factory. .

Let’s get back to the neighborhoods. I lived in a spot right up the block from you guys, and some guys wanted me to design it, and at one point it was something I was really interested in but I just felt it was too close to that last remaining strip of Mulberry Street. And the neighborhood has certainly changed, but there is that strip of Little Italy, that tourist strip or whatever you want to call it, and GoldBar is right around the corner. Yet somehow I always associate GoldBar with the Police Building which is on its west side, and SoHo which begins a block away. So GoldBar has managed to maintain that identity as not really a Nolita place and not really a Little Italy place but really a SoHo kind of place. I think it’s a SoHo kind of place.

The door. It’s celebrity-driven. A lot of celebs.

A lot of beautiful people, but I don’t read about it in Page Six. You don’t have to brag. Yeah I think when you remove the ego from the equation, word of mouth is worth so much more, and mystery is worth so much more then press, I believe. And so do the owners. That mystery is what we have.

So I don’t know you, I’m rolling up to the door at GoldBar, a decent-looking guy with a decent-looking girl. If I give you respect, I get in. You’re in.

It’s all about respect I think it’s all about respect.

From when you were a little kid till now, it’s about respect. Yeah I just think there’s a way of talking to people. Like a recognition, even between celebs and the doorman, where historically I’ve been at other doors where a celeb won’t shake my hand, will look down at me, you know?

I would have kept them out. What are the requirements for a great doorman? One, I think you have to have a diversity of character, which I think we all share, where you could relate to different types of people and their perspectives walking up to the door. And how to treat them and address them accordingly, because like you said, you want to be respectful of people even while saying “no.” I have people saying, “Jonny thank you so much” — I said no to them, and they’re thanking me. And it’s because I recognize their situation, I see also that they’re not appropriate for the room on that given night or whatever the situation is. And I can’t let them in.

Maybe never. Yeah, maybe never. But I’m not judging them personally. I’m not judging them as a human. But there’s a concept for the room and that’s my job — to keep that room what it is. But also you do have to avoid those potential situations — groups of guys who are bigger than my security team that that I have to say no to. I have to let them know that — there has to be an element of respect, a little element of fear, and I think that’s it. I think we have that mystery — me, you, Wass, Kenny — you don’t really know what we do all day. You know, for people who just go walking up, I’m sure we’re very mysterious to them. Me and you, we’re just normal guys.

Oh, I don’t think we’re normal at all, Jon. I mean, I feel normal. But I feel like you’re normal.

Jon, we’re freaks. We can pass in normal society, but our heads tilt. We do have a spirituality, all of us, all the good ones, every single one that was ever good at the door loves people. When Steve Rubell did the doors at Studio, he felt bad when he was turning people away, he loved people. We do it because we love people. And we have a great knowledge of humans as a whole. The diversity of humans. And we respect people. I do, I do, I do. And I do feel bad a lot. I’m not of that personality where you could stand there and I don’t want to address you. I can’t stand that. I’m conscious of you. You know. I know you’re there, and I know I need to professionally address everybody.

We used to educate our crowd. Is there education going on at the door of GoldBar? Tons of education. Tons.

Tell me how you educate a person. I just have a brief conversation with them. I even have taken people to the side to do it, where I say, I know you’re a nice guy, your girlfriend is very beautiful, your two friends I can’t do.

You’re telling people — how about their clothes, and their hairdos, do you go that far? I don’t like telling people how to dress because I hate people telling me how to dress.

You’re wearing a beautiful t-shirt today, jeans, New Balance sneakers. So are you a metrosexual kind of guy Jon? I’m not.

Do you have a private life? I have a major private life that I keep super private.

It’s hard, right? Do you get that same experience that I used to have where some guy you don’t recognize says hello to you, and you can’t remember whether you let him in and he thanked you, or you didn’t let him in and he cursed at you? Yeah, it happens to me a lot.

Do you look over your shoulder a lot? I don’t. I don’t like to live in fear. But I’m very conscious of what’s happening around me at all times, I’ve always been that way.

Just the way it is, It’s part of the trade. I see people, I sit certain ways in restaurants, I like to see the door, the whole room, in every place I go. If I’m on the street, I see faces from down the block. I wanna see who I’m going to bump into, possible problems, possible ex-girlfriends, I like to know at all moments

You wake up in the morning and you’re doing the door, and you’re thinking … Always. That’s my personality anyway, thinking about it. I try to remember, “you’re a doorman, as much as you’re in a powerful position, you’re still just a doorman, you’re everyone’s equal.” It never gets to my head because I’d rather be a rock star. So it doesn’t equate really.

Well, you’re a rich man if you’re happy with what you’re doing. I am super happy with what I’m doing. I feel super blessed.

Industry Insiders: DJ Cassidy, Celebrity Choice

DJ to the stars Cassidy Podell started on the turntables in fifth grade. Since battling club owners for entry into venues (to work, of course) as a teen, the UES-born mixmaster now works with a list of clients on the level of: P Diddy, Jennifer Lopez, Jay Z, Kanye West, Oprah, Barack Obama, and Mariah Carey. And if that’s not enough, the 27-year-old has recently discovered and produced new club-track sensation O’Neil McKnight (the album drops later this year). Cassidy acquaints us with humble beginnings, a first meeting with P Diddy, and his rom-com guilty pleasure.

Were you a club-hopping New York kid at a young age? I was not. I didn’t really go to clubs until I DJed at them. The first real club I went to was called System, and I DJed there when I was in 10th grade.

How’d you get that gig in 10th grade? I got my DJ equipment when I was 10 years old for my 10th birthday. By the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, it became known around school that I was the man to go to for music and for all of your party needs. As I progressed into high school and kids started to throw parties and promote parties around town, I was always the go-to guy to have DJ. Once I was in the 9th or 10th grade, it just kind of snowballed from there. One party led to the next.

Any unfortunate mishaps when you were working as a teen? There were many times the clubs didn’t want to let me in. New York City was a different place back then, and clubs weren’t as strict with the IDs as they are now. But not only that I wasn’t 21; I looked extremely young for my age. It didn’t really matter what kind of fake ID I had, it just wasn’t going to work. Every time I went to a club to DJ, it was almost a battle between the promoters and the nightclub owners. The promoters were trying to sneak me in the back door, and the owners were trying to catch them and say, “Hell no, he’s not coming in.”

When did you start doing A-list party circuits? The summer after my senior year of high school, I met a promoter named Jon Lennon. Jon Lennon was — and still is — a very hot promoter in the city, and he hired me to do a Friday night party at Float, which was then on 51st and Broadway. I did the VIP room upstairs. He liked me, and he gave me a chance, and I remember he paid me $150. That Friday night at Float was really my first hot party. Right at that time, I went away to college to GW in Washington DC, where there were no opportunities for me to expand my now-blossoming DJ career. Quickly I realized that I had to transfer and come back to New York. NYU accepted me, thank God, and I came back to New York as soon as the academic year was over. I spent all of my year at GW scheduling my classes for the middle of the week so I could fly back home every weekend to play at Float. By that time, I had jobs on Saturdays and Sundays and flew back on Monday. So thank God for the people in the admissions office at NYU, or I wouldn’t be talking with you right now.

When did you start producing? Producing came much later on. While I was in college, I bought my first drum machine and my first keyboard, and they pretty much stayed in the box in the living room of my mother’s house. She’d always scream at me to take the stuff out of the box and put it in my room and threatened to throw it out. When I graduated college, I said to myself, I think it’s really time to take producing seriously. I’d been a DJ since I was 10 years old, I had been making money as a DJ since I was maybe 13 years old, and the career is still continuing to grow every day, every year. Creatively, I thought now is a good time once I finished school. It was hard to go to class every day and do my work and do well while having my gigs five, six, or seven nights a week.

What’s going on with O’Neil McKnight’s career now? O’Neil and I met through Puffy. I was doing all of Puffy’s parties, and he was a stylist working for Puff. One night, I came home from the studio — at this point, I had a studio and a partner [Dub-L] — and O’Neil came over and we started playing some beats. O’Neil just started to hum, and I said, “What is that?’ and he said, “I don’t know, I’m just humming,” and then I said, “What is that?” and he was like “I don’t know, I’m just free-styling.” I just told him to keep going and got my iPod recorder out. That song — which we finished writing that night — became the first single that we ever put out, which was “Check Your Coat.” That quickly became the hottest song in the clubs in New York and was on the radio every five seconds. O’Neil wasn’t even signed. That occasionally happens with a rapper, but for someone like O’Neil, who was really kind of like a genre-less artist where you couldn’t really place what it was, it was very rare. We quickly got signed to Universal Motown, and his album, Prom King, is coming out later this year. Dubs and I produced the entire album. It was all so natural. O’Neil never planned to be a singer, he was kind of a jack of all trades, and I never planned to get him to sing. It just happened one night and really became something very special.

Is this something that you want to continue and expand on? Absolutely. I’ve spent the vast majority of my studio time in the past two years producing O’Neil and working on all things related to him. We just finished the album, and now Dubs and I are certainly going to get working on some other projects. It’s a very exciting time in that sphere of my life.

What, in your opinion, is the difference between a good DJ and a great DJ? I think a great DJ knows what to play, when to play it, and how to play it. I really can’t say it any better than that. It’s a skill you either have or don’t have, and when you have it, it can be honed only through experience. I don’t know if I had it when I was 10 or when it developed, but I certainly feel I have it now.

Did you ever have an epiphany moment when you realized that you had the skill? There are many moments where I’ve been reminded why I do what I do and why I love it. A very significant moment in my career was when I met Puffy.

Where did you meet him? I met Puffy DJing at Lotus one night. I was downstairs, and it was empty on an off night. Around 3:30 in the morning, when I was counting the minutes until 4am, I see Puffy and Kim Porter walk out from a dark corner of the room. I hadn’t even realized they were there. They apparently liked what I was playing and came to the center of the dance floor and just danced by themselves for about an hour and a half. I was 18 at the time, and on his way out he came to the DJ booth and said, “Where’s the DJ?” and I said “I’m the DJ,” and he said, “No really, where’s the DJ who is playing all this old shit?” I was playing all these soul classics from the 70s and the 80s. He asked me how old I was, and got a napkin and a pen and he wrote down his number. I procrastinated calling the next day for the whole afternoon, I was so nervous. Finally I got out of class, took my cell phone out, called him, got his voicemail, which said “God is the greatest, leave a message.” So I said, “Hey, it’s DJ Cassidy, met you last night …” He called me back himself the next day, and a week later I was DJing his party for the VMAs, and I’ve DJed every party that he’s thrown since. He was the first celebrity to really take an interest in me, and it was before I was getting props from anyone else. That was definitely a big break in my career.

Where do you hang out? Sushi Seki. Sushi, as much as it kind of sounds like a cliché, is my favorite food. I’m a sushi snob for sure. Sushi Seki is open ’til 3 in the morning, which is not why I love it but it certainly helps me out. I go there after gigs a lot. I also go to 69 Bayard, which is a cheap, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant on Bayard and Mott that is open until 5 in the morning, which also helps me. My third favorite restaurant is Pink Tea Cup, which is a soul food restaurant. It’s home cooking with a jukebox full of soul, so it’s perfect.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Upper East Side JAPs.

Any DJ’s you look up to? Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Jam Master J, and Funkmaster Flex. Since the day I got my turntables and mixer, those four have been the people I’ve looked up to. They’re all from slightly different eras, and all were reasons why I asked my parents for my equipment.

Best summer party you’re looking forward to? I’m most looking forward to my birthday party, which I don’t perform at. Every year — this will be the ninth one that I’ve thrown — I throw a huge birthday party. All my friends come and DJ, and it really is — with the risk of sounding easily self-indulgent — the most fun party of the year. It’s highly anticipated and by far my favorite night of the year. I have amazing things in store for this year that I cannot reveal. July 8th.

What are you doing tonight? Tonight, to be honest, I am probably going to get the movie He’s Just Not That Into You on demand. I’m probably going to be watching that alone on my couch.

A Big Who: Civetta Opens

I have some history with 98 Kenmare Street, the address of chef Ron Suhanosky’s new, “real” Italian restaurant, Civetta. I tried to broker a deal at that space between “fiends” — oops, that’s a typo but let’s leave it — I meant friends, Todd English, Joe “Viagra” Vicari, my boy Igor, and some other chaps. People with Igor as a first name invariably have forgettable last names, and anyway we made up as he apologized to me on his wedding night, and so he gets a pass. I saw The Godfather 50 times. A public bitch-slapping match between myself and super duper chef Todd English happened in all the funny papers some time ago, but even Todd I forgive, as I hear through channels that he is sorry. The problem with Todd in the first place is that he does everything through channels. He negotiated in bad faith and blamed the “channels.” He bitch-slapped me in the papers through his publicity “channel,” and I guess with 20 restaurants under his wing, he even cooks through a “channel.” Well, the deal fell through, and fast friends have slowly become less hateful to each other. Anyway, I’m not here today to talk about old beef. I’m here to talk about new beef, in the form of Civetta owner and chef Ron’s grilled sirloin alla pizziaola, rughetta, sea salt, and other delectables.

My old co-worker and fast friend Dirk Von Stockum is on board to steer this ship. His trademark belly laugh and James Bond-ish accent are familiar to the fast-lane crowd. With a wife and a four-year-old kid, Dirk will find a quieter happiness in this beautiful downtown restaurant. Years at Life, Spa, Crobar, and a dozen other joints bring an A-list rolodex of patrons to Civetta. My old pal Michael Benett, (“the good twin” to the club world) is also on board. My “old number 2” bartender from my Life/Spa days, Drew “Z” Zechman is slinging cocktails and is in on the drink menu. They make their own sodas, and they have a state-of-the-art water-purifying system, which is all the rage about town. Those nasty water bottles are petroleum-based and plastic and have to be shipped — but you know all of this. Cocktails have never been better in this town as the Milk and Honey types and chefs everywhere take this very seriously. Yet no one has shown me an improvement on Jamesons — oh, oops, I’m rambling again. Roberto Scarpati, late of Le Cirque, is the wine director. Wines will be accessible, low-production, paired, and readily available with solid organic choices.

“Civetta” means owl, or in Italian slang, a flirtatious owl or flirtatious woman. The up and down movement between the dining room on the street level to the casual dining lounge below is designed as dynamic for socializing. It will be a place to see and be seen for a flirtatious Nolita crowd. La Esquina, a short flight west. has done all the heavy lifting and still caters to a very sharp set. The Civetta menu is dominated by a ginormous list of antipasti and has 30 wines by the glass. I love ordering lots of small tasty things, so if you’re looking for me I’ll be there, albeit with my seat facing the 50-plus feet of open French doors. An old menu from 1937 is framed on a column, and it lists bottles of classy champagnes for around six bucks a bottle and a spaghetti Bolognese that goes for 35 cents. Today’s menu has a rigatoni Bolognese for $28 and lists some very wonderful “Rari and Unici” bottles for non-1937 prices.

Times change and so does my old neighborhood. New cuisine comes with the new inhabitants and visitors. I asked chef Suhonsky why he would open an Italian place so close to the hundred other such places of Little Italy. He told me that they were “not serving real Italian food.” I asked him if he had discussed this theory with anyone in the neighborhood. He answered that he “didn’t feel that Civetta was really part of Little Italy, but skewed west as part of Soho.” I quipped that it was sort of like an Omaha beach, a foothold of his “real” Italian food for the gentrified set. He explained that what was served around the corner was “spaghetti and meatballs, American-Italian food.” I ate at Umberto’s last night with GoldBar door concierge Jon Lennon, and I don’t know what to call it, but it tasted good. I can’t argue with Ron. His massive success at Il Buco and Sfoglia here and in Nantucket means he’s right. With the Bowery booming with life and new construction, a serious “real” Italian menu, amazing wine list, dedication to cocktails and service from proven veterans, and two floors in a location I almost died for — I see this as a hit. I’m going to find myself some flirtatious owl and check it out next week.