Tribute to the Late 230 Fifth Owner and Nightlife King Steven Greenberg

Man about town Steven Greenberg has passed and I’m going to put my two cents in. I’d put in three but I have a feeling, if he could, he’d scold me for overpaying. Over many years, Steven was a friend, mentor, and a go-to-guy when I needed a big brain and an honest answer. He was always more than pleased to help. A couple of years ago when I was putting together some nightlife community thing, he advised me about the people I was dealing with and why it would fall short of my expectations. He was unrelenting, unforgiving, and spot-on. I was in too deep to go back, but his wisdom had me prepared for the inevitable.

We were meeting in the office at 230 Fifth. Various managers and other thrill-seekers came in to pay homage, get approval, or just bask in his light. He stopped every now and then to answer a phone call on the company line. He told potential patrons about the place, how to get there, how much things cost, what to expect. I can’t think of another owner who would have done that. He loved this world created by him…himself, away from the pack, out of sight and mind of most of the club community. He made more loot than anyone but demanded I wouldn’t tell. It was a Thursday around 11pm and he asked someone to show me what they had grossed so far. The numbers were unreal. We walked around and I saw gigantic bars with yuppies five deep banging down drinks under the light of the Empire State Building. He catered to a crowd that wasn’t chic or fabulous or newsworthy. They dressed from work or similar to it. I imagined they would go home and take off the white shirt and put on the colorful shirt and be ready to go. He fired a DJ while I was taking a tour. The offense? He put on a hip-hop record. He wanted none of that. It was a room with a view, the best view, but only one viewpoint: his.
He had been that rich guy behind the scenes for eons. Secretive and charismatic, sometimes appearing in the tabloids for doing something flamboyant like nixing a Gossip Girl shoot which was to have Chuck Bass and the Empire Hotel claim his 230 view as his own. He fired the Apprentice before they could use his space. He was involved in some SEC scandal. He rode in his very own limo with his very own driver and the it-girl of the day enjoying the night he loved so much. I knew many of these girls, many people do. I more than once hinted at the nature of the relationship and was always told something like, "he never laid a hand on me, it’s not like that." I met him at a sushi bar in Midtown. He was with an educated Asian woman who did something fabulous and he took over my evening. My date became his new friend. He wanted to know all about her. He asked and asked and she told and told. He knew all about her field and told her he knew someone and he could help connect her. He ordered for us and introduced us to the owners and built up our importance as if we were the king and queen of Siam. I never saw a bill. He was going to meet me about something important and I’d see him at some opening tomorrow and he sped into the night. His energy was boundless. His mind curious and insatiable.
Everybody knew him or at least recognized him. At Madison Square Garden, one night I sat in some good seats at a bad Knicks game. He was in his great seats. His white frock made him easy to spot, even in the crowd. He rose and started to walk up the aisle and the Garden camera showed him on the big screen and everyone cheered. He was Ben Franklin to some. The Quaker Oats guy to others. That quirky rich guy to the envious. Someone asked me yesterday, "who’s going to get all his money?’ I replied, "surely not you."
When I ran things, he was behind the scenes only popping up at meetings a couple of times. I once asked my direct bosses at the Palladium, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who he was and got "he owned the parking lot next door" or once "he was the landlord." Other places like the Roxy or Gramercy Park Hotel or the rooftop of the Ganesvoort had him doing something as well. Owning, leasing, controlling, making money off…sometimes it was more clear than others. It never mattered to me.
He was a friend. When he called me, whatever time it was, no matter what I was doing, I dropped everything. Time with him was precious to me and no, there will be no more. Susan Anton an old club buddy, now a natural healer, alerted me to his passing. Kelly Cole, an old friend on the West Coast, heard it but couldn’t confirm. Anthony Haden-Guest called me for confirmation. I called 230 Fifth and identified myself as an old friend and writer for this magazine. I got a "we can’t speak to that at this time" response. I pressed on as I am, after all, sort of press…I asked the nice lady, "I guess if it weren’t true, you would be saying something like… that’s absurd!" There was silence on the phone and so I continued my full court press. "Is this silence like the silence in All the President’s Men where you are saying "yes" because you aren’t saying anything and not hanging up?" She repeated the party line "there will be no comment at this time." I called Anthony and told him what had happened. We agreed it must be true. I gave him the number and he gave it a try with his impressive name and accent. He told me he must have gotten the same lady as I did and got the same answer except she had added for "legal reasons" to her "no comment" mantra. Anthony wondered about that. I told him that it’s a three-day weekend and maybe they’re worried they don’t have a valid liquor license if he’s officially gone.
The news was confirmed on Facebook with old soldiers Bill Jarema, Robert Roth, and Eytan Sugarman leading the charge. Steven was dead. My great friend Christie, living now in an exotic land, reminded me that Steven had introduced us on the steps of the Palladium’s Michael Todd room back in the day. We are life-long friends and we remembered Steven’s part in that. Others called in short stories that they made long. All agreed he was a character. We are all a great deal poorer for his passing. We have lost a zillion stories which, even if retold, will have little meaning without him. His illness was a secret to many. His death was sudden for us and way too soon. It screams at me about my own mortality. I have lost someone who rarely said no to me and when he did, the advice and lesson learned made that no a yes. His eyes lit up a room. Nightlife was a toy, a board game to him that never bored him and that he almost always won. I apologize for this article being a bit everywhere and maybe a little confusing but maybe that describes Steven Greenberg perfectly.

New York Openings: Anejo Tequileria y Restaurante, The Bowery Diner, King

Añejo Tequileria y Restaurante (Hell’s Kitchen) – Angelo Sosa is back in Le Cocina Del Infierno. And he’s got tequila.

The Bowery Diner (Lower East Side) – Diner 2.0 for the modern Bowery.

King (Soho) – Gracious European dining. Listing in Burke’s Peerage not required.

Industry Insiders: King, Regal Rejector

Bouncer-cum door legend King doesn’t like rejecting people at the velvet ropes, but explains why some nights his own sister won’t make the cut, while a dude in a blue whale suit breezes inside.

Point of Origin: The first nightclub I ever worked at was The Building. It was a second job, I was already working during the day as a bartender, and I wanted extra money. A friend of mine was dating a guy much too old for her who was managing the club, and through her I got the job. They actually got married, so I guess he wasn’t too old for her, and she is still my friend, so I probably shouldn’t say shit like that. He’s a good guy. He is one of the guys who runs Waverly Inn. I met with him and he said, “We will give you a job as a bouncer, you have broken up fights before?” and I said, “Yeah, sure.”

It can’t hurt that you’re a big guy. I have always been big, and my father taught me to use it for good — not evil — so I had broken up fights that I had nothing to do with. My first boss told me when I come into work to wear six or seven sweatshirts. I thought he meant because it was going to be cold … but what he meant was that I was actually the small bouncer, even though at the time I was 6’4” and 270 pounds. I was the little guy, so I had to wear the five sweatshirts to look even bigger. Within two weeks, I had broken up more fights without incidents than anyone who worked there all combined because I used my brain. This was back when bouncers could beat you up and not go to jail. I would just tell the guys who were fighting they could walk out of the door with me — like a gentleman — or these other gorillas are just waiting to stomp you. What do you want to do? So they would all walk out with me and I would never tell the other guys what I had said. They were like, “How do you do that? That’s amazing! How do you get them to walk out voluntarily?” They would shake my hand for being thrown out of the club. I said, “It’s just what I do.”

Job Description: Even though at a lot of these places I’m just the doorman, and that is what I like to be, I am also generally a consultant. I give ideas and let other people take credit for them. As long as they pay me, I don’t really care. Now I’m taking a little break, ‘cause I decided I didn’t like the way the business itself was heading. Also I had some other opportunities to do some interesting things. I’m consulting in clubs around the world right now, in Japan, in England. I don’t have to work the door, or tell anyone no. I’m a man who takes rejection horribly, but I give it tremendously.

Notable Rejections: I turned down my own sister [once] ‘cause she was dressed inappropriately. She wasn’t an ugly girl, it was a special party, and I said, “You can’t come in looking like that. It would be an embarrassment to me.” All the security heard and were like, “King turned down his own sister. We better not let our friends show up.”

So who gets in? One night when I was working, a guy came up in a blue whale mascot outfit, and I opened the ropes immediately and gave him a ticket to let him in. The owner was standing behind me and asked why I let him in. I said, “Because he is a guy in a blue whale costume.” “I don’t understand,” he replied. I told him, “The real important person that I let in here tonight for you was some baseball player. When people are at work on Monday, and they are talking about being out over the weekend, do you think more of them will say, ‘I was at a nightclub and so and so from the Yankees was there,’ or more would say, ‘I was out and saw a guy in a blue whale costume drinking at the bar.’ I tend to think more people will talk about the blue whale. Maybe I am wrong. I don’t think so.”

It’s Friday night; are you going out? Friday and Saturday nights are not typically the nights a true New Yorker goes out. Those are still amateur nights. Where the B & T show up. Thursday night is always the best night to go out. It always has been. My favorite night is probably Monday.

What’s something people don’t know about working the door? I’m not here to insult you or make you feel bad. Rejection is bad enough no matter how it comes. I can be the most polite, most well-mannered person rejecting somebody. Somebody is still going to hate me for it ‘cause I’m still telling them no. Nobody likes to be told no. I would say please and thank you, and still stories would come back to me that I cursed them out. I was brought up by an English mother who would wash my mouth out with soap if I used inappropriate words. I rarely do. It’s not my nature.