Will Back in the Day Come Back?

The other night at the Latex Ball, I had a eureka moment. It occurred to me that I was witnessing what nightlife was like back in the day; when large, mixed crowds of creative people were all getting along and enjoying each other’s company in a huge room. Out of necessity and circumstance, bottle service drove the creative types from the game. The rising costs – which include rent, insurance, DJ fees, litigation, and too many etceteras – drove the clubs that didn’t embrace the table service crowd to Brooklyn or oblivion…which isn’t another name for Jersey, Queens, or Staten Island, but could be.

Yesterday I wrote:

"Creativity on a grand scale will return to nightlife as a business decision. Creativity is hard to extinguish. It has thrived on the street and in the subways, cave walls, in prison, and in societies that have repressed it. It has reared itself at advanced ages. It has given those seemingly impaired a way to the light. It has channeled the beasts and the fears within us and brought them to survivable places. Creativity will be embraced by the bean counters because it will be useful to separate their bean machine from the others."

Many clubs seed their rooms with dressy or flamboyant people to add to the adventure. "Image" promoters are asked to bring in and babysit young model types, because that is the image that has traditionally sold bottles. Many joints have "hipster nights," where the music isn’t the same ol’, same ol’ stuff heard around the scene. These nights are usually reserved for off-nights and generate enough money to be worth opening. The theory is that it breaks up the week and, every so often, a traveling wale (big spender) wanders in and it’s a score. These nights are the more creative (as I define it) and, in a sense, acknowledge that when the crowds are smaller on early weeknights, the clubs become more creative in order to set them apart from their competition. They change their own game to emphasize that their bean machine is cooler than the next one. New music and even fashion aren’t breaking out of clubs.Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny are throwing a couple of weeklys that don’t attract the fashion-forward set, and the music is also a step ahead. Places like Home Sweet Home are pushing the envelope with great DJs and fun programming. The Box format of shock and awe still brings in a great crowd, long after the novelty has worn off. The very fact that it offers “different” delivers crowds who are bored with the top 40 sounds and condo-clone set. That club does attract the debutantes and the frat boys and black card babies who, like moths, are attracted to its flame – but its smart door monitoring understands how much of that can be let in without scaring away the core crowd. On a small scale it proves that those not starving in Bushwick can embrace a creative format, and the different mindsets can exist in the same club at the same time. The era of a large club where all types gather has passed, but is the time right again for a real monster of music and fun and new ideas?

Nearly every club for a decade or more has hitched to the "great service" wagon. The art of bottle service has been refined into a science, but the concept is wearing thin. The clueless are still all in it but the sharp set are less interested in it as an idea of fun. It just comes with the table. I can’t help but believe those spending the bucks want anything more than the same, and there is little doubt that they will demand more. They are just following their traditional leaders: the good ol’ boy owners who service them as they flit around from Vegas to AC to The Hamptons and back.

One of these smart owners will turn to creative types to set them apart. Will it be drag queens dancing on the bar?…I think not. At least not in the beginning. But nights need to be curated to keep people in their seats and spending. After all, a bottle of Goose is the same bottle of Goose at the A-list club as it is in the dive bar. Getting dollars out of the customer will, as the industry continues to expand, become harder. Every nook, every restaurant or cranny, every roof, every bar salivates over the revenue stream bottle business brings. Entertainment to attract the crowds may not be as out there as what The Box has served, but it may separate the men from the boys. Vegas slams you with the big DJ, the beautiful go-go girls, and the staged entertainment. New York rarely offers anything more than a forced smile from a waitron and a sparkler. It will happen. Managing partners will mix things up or be left behind. Eventually, a large club will be necessary. It will start with a revamping of mid-sized venues and talent bookings. Electronic dance music venues will route acts from Vegas into their NYC locations and maintain a strict door policy. Think Lavo, but on a grander scale. As soon as spectacle is embraced, the need for a larger venue will become apparent. It may not be easy or even possible for a new large venue to open in Manhattan. The existing joints that live on the "size matters" concept are set in their ways and successful at what they do. Webster Hall may not be all things to all people, but they continue to offer brilliant music programming and serve thousands of people who enjoy their version of a big club experience. Their detractors must realize that they are music-based, they do make tons of money (one of the primary reasons to be in the business), and they have been around since before your parent’s were born.

Pacha serves those who want their brand of music and crowd. District 36 isn’t often on my radar, but it does offer a simple, classic, house-head purity. All of these joints are not part of the club social set scene. They don’t care much about that. Off-parties are wonderful fantastic experiences, but the jet-setters, the bon vivants, don’t consider them since they are putting on their shoes to go out. The cops and their puppeteers probably wouldn’t allow a new mega club in Manhattan, but Manhattan is not everything anymore. The high-rises of the Brooklyn waterfront, the $28 entrees at new nearby restaurants, the baby strollers on Bedford Ave., tell me that a ginormous joint could thrive in an old warehouse in Greenpoint or near there.

I have been hearing rumors and have sat in on a few meetings – I believe that this will happen. The next big thing most likely will be born outside of Manhattan and could redefine the scene to what it once was.

It’s Been Said Before: Greenhouse & W.i.P. Have Reopened

The news that Greenhouse/W.i.P. has reopened for booziness is welcomed. Although there will be future legal back and forths, for now it can serve its adoring public which includes the fabulous Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s Sunday night soiree. Last Sunday it was emails and Facebook messages and texts proclaiming it "on" and "off"… "on" and "off" until that game of musical chairs ended with…"off." I’m not a big fan of Greenhouse; I never go there, but I firmly believe that a club should not be held responsible for the bad behavior of its patrons unless management is either ignoring or complacent. Humans often behave badly… drunk humans more so. Bad behavior is to be expected on occasion. Accountability is important, but it is impossible to expect multi-million dollar investments in tax-generating, job-creating enterprises if a sword of closure hangs over operators’ heads for actions they may not reasonably be able to control. As much as I don’t listen to hip-hop or enjoy hip-hop-heavy parties, I surely recognize its impact on club culture and life in America in general. It is enjoyed by all demographics. The 800-pound gorilla that isn’t really spoken about is whether or not Greenhouse is being persecuted because this is an “urban thing.” A prince gets into a brawl at a chic meatpacking joint and closure isn’t an issue. Hey, this has been said before.

The city is scheduled to rule on a controversial plan to expand NYU’s village campus. According to many residents, this expansion will destroy the character of the neighborhood which has, of course, been a creative cauldron for NYC life as we know it for eons. We’re talking two million square feet in tall buildings with apparent loss of green areas and such. Worse than all that will be the expansion of the population of frat boys and frat girls and the changes their needs will bring. Mom and pop restaurants and quaint coffee shops will be gentrified out to accommodate student-friendly shops like 16 Handles and chain stores.

NYU is a dark force that should be pushed to areas like Wall Street or Brooklyn or Queens. The city has lost so much of its core character and can’t afford to be further compromised. Why do I care? Every few days I walk past the NYU Palladium Housing on 14th Street which once was this incredible theatre that I attended and then operated during my club years. I knew it as The Academy of Music where I saw The Clash, U2, The Cramps, and a long list of etceteras. I hung out there when it was the Palladium – the club – and saw early rock and dance. I operated it for Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager and came back to fill it a few other times for other moguls.

Once, when I was remodeling this beautiful 108,000-square-foot facility, I was prevented from nailing things into most walls or ceilings. I can’t find any official landmark references, but I was told at the time that it was one. It was protected because of its ancient and significant beauty…its recognized importance in design and architecture. I got married to my first wife there. I think it was its only wedding.

NYU came along…needed it …tore it down. The ultimate indignity is that when they built the Palladium Housing, they used the same logo or similar font as the legendary club. It’s fucking Mordor. This too has been said before.

Tonight I’ll be at White Rabbit DJing with a host of wonderful folks at the Tattoos & Art show at White Rabbit around 9 or 10pm or 10 to 11pm…you know how these things go… and, of course, this has been said before.

The Darby Gets a Name, Carnival is a Hit

Sometimes, wearing two hats doesn’t stop the rain. I was kept late at job sites yesterday evening, as my designer hat kept me deep in sheetrock, dust, and paint fumes. My firm is currently finishing four venues that will open between now and Labor Day, and I don’t have enough hours in the day, or showers, or clothes, stashed around town. The Richie Akiva/Scott Sartiano restaurant on 14th and 8th has been named The Darby. I’ve known this for a while, but needed it to break in The Times, first. That’s where the two hats get into arguments with each other. I am so excited about this project, as each day the place looks more like the vision my partner, Marc Dizon, and I developed months ago. I’ll talk about this more in the coming weeks. Next door, at the old Country Club/ Dirty Disco space, now known as Snap, a woman and celebrity-friendly sports bar/restaurant is shaping up. The restaurant at 146 Orchard Street is in its final stages of construction, and looking like a winner. Stand Up New York, our first comedy club, is open to the public, while final finishes make it sweeter every day. Needless to say, my schedule is hectic, and I missed two events that I swore I’d attend last night.

The Jersey Shore soiree at Marquee was my biggest loss. I was promised access to the “talent,” and I was preparing questions all week. Most started with “YO!” In what had to be the biggest cultural ying-yang in quite some time, the Paul Kasmin Gallery next store opened David Lachapelle’s “American Jesus” exhibit. No press flack had the gumption to drag The Situation next door to the gallery, nor did David go to Marquee. Combining these two crowds would have been a snap. The images at David’s show, available online, feature an angelic Michael Jackson—with wings and all. They looked insanely hot. My Blackberry screamed to me that Julian Schanbel and Lenny Kravitz were there, and everyone who was everyone, as well. Afterward, the swells took their boom boom to the Boom Boom Room, which I hear will go private in a snap of Andre Balaz’s well manicured fingers. To almost everyone, that means very little access granted, and while people are always denied, it will discourage the mediocres from even trying to get in. I’m sure the fabulous aren’t affected much.

I was motivated by midnight, and headed to Amanda Lepore and Kenny Kenny’s Big Top party at Carnival, held at Bowlmor Lanes. Now, that’s a mouthful of candy corn for sure. I wanted to say hey to David Lachapelle, who I haven’t seen in a few years. It was advertised he would be there, and everyone knew he would. He has been mussing around with Amanda forever. I found David surrounded by a sea of paparazzi and iPhone photographers by a throne in the big room. He was wearing a gray Shepard Fairey T shirt, and a red baseball cap. Drag queens and flash dancers vied for his attention with big—real and store-bought—grins. Everyone was smiling, as “good nature” is considered classy with this fashion gay crowd. David posed with everyone. I saw photographer Roxanne Lowitt grab a few minutes while adoring fans jockeyed to be next. This scene latches onto its home grown celebrities like David and Richie Rich and Ru Paul and others who, for so long, have sipped cocktails in the same places and have now achieved international celebrity. The dress, style, and sensibility of this crowd loves to be validated with these success stories. Dressing up in fantastic costumes is high fashion, and high style, when one of these ambassadors “sells” it to the larger culture. The way of life has its own rewards, for sure, but it’s nice to be recognized. David is the real deal and it was nice to have him home again. I said hi, and we exchanged the “how good you looks” and all. He was always there for me over the years. He provided beautiful floral images for use on invites when I opened the Palace de Beaute with Larry Tee and Michael Alig. That was where the PetCo in Union Square now lives. Andy Warhol had his Factory upstairs. When my ex wife was putting out a record on Next Plateau Records, David shot it. He was always around to lend his brand to fabulous events, or have his after-events with my crew. He was always a wonderful, fun, and intelligent person—great to be around.

The crowd swarmed, posing, selling their fabulousness to him and each other, swarming his candle light. It was nice to be in a club where the idols were artists instead of moguls. Nearby, muscle queens took exaggerated hammers and rocketed energy up a 14 foot shaft to ring a bell. Others stood by with admiration while sipping vodka through straws. A successful slam had a huge LED sign begging, “HIT ME AGAIN.” All were delighted by this spectacle. Delicious cotton candy was being hawked by delicious young men, as a gymnast-type hoola-hooped in short shorts. 7-foot drag artists, with air-brushed makeup, air kissed each other and exchanged pleasantries. Gym-built bodies hawked games of skill and luck and distributed stuffed purple prizes, and sexy smiles to winners. The carni-shtick made wallflowers into entertainers. It was smiles all around, and forward music for a forward thinking crowd, who remain years ahead of it all while, doing much of the same as 10 years ago.

Kenny Kenny was pleased as he surveyed the room with me. He knows that he, Amanda, and Joey have created something that can be built on. “It’s good,” he humbly proclaimed. The crowd is fresh, unjaded, and uber friendly. They dress the part, and are aware that something is happening here that borrows only the best parts of the bawdy past. It is respectful of the legacy, and embraces the success of what came out of that era that broke it all out, but they don’t relate to the pitfalls of that time. David and Amanda, Kenny, and so many others from long ago bathe in the new light. I love Wednesday’s at Carnival.

Paul Alexander, who has always been an oracle—a person to ask when you want to know the story, the scoop, and what’s really happening—is hosting a Sunday night shindig at the Pearl lounge on 17th and 8th avenue. It’s an early gig, meant to fill those hours between dinner and Suzanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s late night affair at Greenhouse. It’s cocktails and flirtations, 10 to 1am at Pearl, and then everyone heads downtown. Paul’s parties at Jackie 60/Mother, Caine, and so many other places, have been reliable fun for the sometimes, somewhat unreliable set.

Kenny Kenny: Not Overexposed

I met Kenny Kenny 25 years ago in London. I was there “buying” talent including fashion shows for the Palladium on East 14th street. It was $25,000 here for a Katherine Hamnet fashion show or $20,000 there for a body map show. A lot of the fabulous of British “downtown” culture waited on line to see me to peddle their art and export it to America. Palladium was the biggest club NYC has seen. It was 108,000 square feet and needed to be filled with at least 4000 people nightly. That was in a time when you could get 4000 or even 8000 great people to an event. People of all types mixed in a joint so you would have 1000 of these and 2000 of those and it was more fun than a barrel of monkeys… or any club out there today. Kenny waited to see me and when it came his turn he revealed he didn’t actually want anything from me. he just wanted to ”meet the asshole giving out the money.” I immediately adored him. In a few years he came to NY and worked with Susanne Bartsch. I hired him to be my doorman and so he was throughout most of my club career. He was Kenny Kens to the Brooklyn kids who he taught not to be afraid of people like him.

He was an inspiration of fashion to those who found inspiration in clubs. He was a teacher more than a doorman and when he turned someone down you could see it was always with reservation. He could see potential in people often when they didn’t see it in themselves. To owners he was a money making machine as he turned rejects into next week’s valued customer as he told the unwanted how to get past his ropes next time. They so often Returned. Many became regulars. Many got themselves together in club life and regular life. He also dealt with the mass messes and the superstar messes. He recognized that the edge has its distractions, infractions and pains. He was always a rock for these types, an honest and strong voice in the dark of the night. Kenny is showing his photographs this Sunday, May 9, at Collective Gallery, 173-171 Canal Street, 5th floor from 6-9pm. The exhibit benefits Ghar Sita Mutu house. Photo shown here is Taboo.

I’ve known you for 25 years mostly as a friend/doorman and party host/promoter. Now you are showing a different side, Kenny Kenny the photographer. How long have you been taking photography seriously? I guess I stared taking photos in India 5 years ago and I got the bug. I just thought I would take photos when I traveled because other cultures seemed so beautiful to me, then I realized there was beauty on my door step and I needed to embrace it.

Who are your artistic inspirations? I have so many inspirations. It used to be more focused around fashion, but now I feel that has lost it’s impact and doesn’t say much culturally anymore, though when I see good photo journalism it makes me speechless. I find it so powerful, emotional and beautiful. It has something important to say and is a form of art, people like Ara Guler and Eddie Adams and many more. Also John Dugdale who is a fine art photographer and is blind, just the fact he’s doing his work blind is so powerful. Brian Kenny painting, Gio Black Peters painting are both full of energy and life. I love both of their work.

As one of the greatest door persons in New York club history you must possess a great eye for detail and what lies beneath the surface. Tell me the message you are trying to show us and the process. I want to tell a story. I want that story to be interesting emotionally and in its own way beautiful. I am in awe and revere the people I photograph as an extension of myself. In a way I love them and respect them so much, I think most of them are so brave and talented. They’re usually relegated to the term club kid, which the press really made up to negate people who they found disturbing, I’d like to shed a new light on them and show them in a positive way.

Tell me about the subjects of your photos. The subjects are the others in society, they’re very much part of the puzzle, the mystery of life. Although society thinks of them as a lower caste, they defy gender and social norms and so I think they are like shamans, part of society though still separate, being the “others” they mostly follow their own rules and are an example to society to question its own norms. These people love to laugh, dance, dress up, celebrate, even though some have nothing and some are doing incredibly well.

You have spent many hours telling me about your journeys to India and the things you learned there, especially about the poorest quarters and of course the spirituality. The orphanage that is associated with your photography showing is in Nepal. How has it caught your attention and tell me what you are trying to do with Bon Vivant. The orphanage “Ghar Sita Muta” is a home that is run by Beverly Bronson who has a small store in the East Village. I am overwhelmed by what she does. She started the orphanage from scratch after finding two abandoned babies in a dumpster. She runs the house like a home and the kids thrive. She creates employment for local women by selling the creations in her store. Someone once said to me they realize there is nothing you can really do after seeing the overwhelming suffering in India. I think this home says there is something you can do and Beverly did it.

Tell us about the transition from the door to hosting fabulous events and weekly parties? When I started doing doors in New York, it was considered a fabulous job. It was the 80s and New York was a very fun town. There were the people who got in and people who didn’t. There were so many amazing people going to the clubs, even the bathroom attendants were fab. Then the tide began to change and it became hard work, there were less amazing people going out and more… well you get the picture. I wasn’t enjoying it any more and you gave me a job hosting promoting at spa and I stared to enjoy clubs all over again.

What is the difference between this generation and the infamous club kid generation when we were growing up? I think it was a pretty hostile environment. Most of us were outcasts and being different was a tougher sell. We all fought to be who we were, and with that came some baggage and defense mechanisms. I guess every new generation breaks new ground. I think we broke our fair share. Only 20 years ago my friends were dropping like flies, there was a lot of hate. The new kids are more open, they don’t have that baggage. They’re inspired by us and are creating their own way. The new kids will make their mark, it will just be different. I am excited for them.

How does Kenny Kenny want to be viewed by both the general public and by this new generation? A lover. In the end it is how I view myself. I am basically a shy, introverted extrovert, an artist who does give a shit about the world and people. I am a lover and a fighter

You have over many years talked to me about transgender lifestyles and particularly Amanda Lapore. We both agree that Amanda transcends traditional or even non-traditional labels and is indeed a living art form. Tell my readers about that, and also is Kenny Kenny a living art form? Leigh Bowery, Michael Alig, who else? A big part of me views life as art, living as an art form. I am not part of a traditional gender. I am my own gender really, as I feel gender is a continuum, so I am pretty free from the confines of society. I am a lifestyle artist and my other art comes from that. I think there are many others: Joey Muffinhead is living art and a great painter, Joey Arias, Brandon Oldson, and many more. I do think it’s become harder in some respects as gay people have gone closer to the mainstream we largely lost them as a support group, the world has gotten more generic so we really stick out. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve learned so much and grown so much, I can’t say it’s an easy life though it’s a great life.