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.