I was walking my dogs past Café Habana when I ran into a group of old friends. The conversation centered on the 675 spot where Level V should be. The crew — which included a few ex-Steve Hanson employees — were talking about how “675 makes no sense” and that “another wave of contraction” of Steve’s B.R Guest properties was about to happen. I was told it’s “common knowledge” that the Starwood acquisition of B.R. Guest was “one of Starwood’s worst deals ever.” In between bites of crisp, cheesy corn, I was told that “at least one of Hanson’s properties was on the verge of closing, maybe more.”
The pal told me that these properties probably should have been closed during the last wave of shutterings that included the famed Fiamma and others. I asked which ones will be closed and was told that “Primehouse is new but doing so poorly.” He shook his head and continued, “there is so much money invested in it, it’s hard to believe it will go down, but I think it has to — that’s what I hear. I think he will retreat to just the Dos Caminos and Blue Water Grill, and I’m sure Wildwood is doing well.”
Steve Hanson looks at promoters like I look at that closet filled with my ex-wives shoes — a terrible and flamboyant waste of money. Yet promoters could have easily turned Level V into a very viable spot. “Steve was always so concerned with his image and feels that promoters are really bad for that image, but is it as bad as shutting places down, or worse, a quick fix into this 675 thing which makes no sense?” I bought him another corn, and he volunteered, “At its worst, Level V generated $30,000 on its three good days without promoters. Can 675, without bottle service, hope to generate that much?” I put in my two cents with “That’s a lot of beers,” and he replied, “Yeah, that’s what I mean.” The female corn-eater added, “It really doesn’t matter to Steve … he took in all that money with the merger.” But my corn-husking pal disagreed. “Sure, the money is always important, but Steve is so driven by image, it’s sad that it has come to this. At least with promoters there would be somebody to point a finger at.” I saw the decor of 675 online, and frankly I didn’t see much worth talking about. There was that fabulous horse with the lampshade on it, which we looked at when we were designing Aspen Social, but thought that even though it was really cool to look at one or two times, it was essentially a waste of space. I guess that pretty much sums it up.
If Hanson can’t make it, who can? At 10 a.m. yesterday, management was informed of the closing of underground Meatpacking club Level V, part of Steve Hanson’s B.R. Guest empire. It was one of four places closed. The others — Fiamma, Ruby Foo’s Uptown, and Blue Water Grill Uptown — were restaurants dependent on broker bucks, which are becoming quite endangered lately. Level V, on the other hand, was the underground lounge/club beneath Vento, the corner restaurant in that v-shaped building at 9th Avenue and 14th Street.
The Hanson team tried their best to have a separate identity for each place, but they did share bathrooms, and neither place ever gathered the kudos they sought. Even with the best location in town, Level V could never muster an A-list crowd, and instead settled to grab what came by. Its promotional theory was basically that of a spider: build a web in a busy spot and hope for your clients to fly into it. I asked an axed Level V employee why it didn’t make it and was told that the restaurant mentality never could grasp the necessities of club promotion. They could not grasp paying promoters and decided to keep every dollar for themselves. He said he was always asking them if they would, “rather have 50% of $50,000 or 100% of $15,000” but they never grasped it. The concept of a promoter-driven club diluting the Vento brand was the reason cited to opt out. Not dealing with lowlife promoters is one thing, but shutting the doors might be a bit worse.
I’ve never felt that the Vento brand was all that great anyway. All of Steve Hanson’s places are well run, and the food is always solid, but the atmosphere at Vento is very 1992, and Level V
Upon returning from his New Years’ Eve at the Fontainebleau in Miami, another source reveals that Steve was faced with a “huge cashflow problem.” The Dos Caminos in Las Vegas’ Palazzo Hotel, with a $20-million-plus-plus-plus build-out and launch, is doing — I was told — “A mere 150 covers a night. The entire casino and resort hotel has performed poorly.” My source said that “the mounting problems with this spot are so bad that only ego and thoughts of a terminal blow to the brand are keeping it afloat.” Still, more bad news comes from the newish restaurant Primehouse that he operates on Park Avenue South. Despite a $10-million-plus build-out and launch and a Himalayan rock-salt-tiled aging room for steaks, my source tells me, “It’s a bust.” She said, “There’s no more money coming down the pipe from the famous merger of Steve Hanson and Barry Sternlicht,” which seemed just a short while ago to be the greatest deal ever made. The real question here: If Steve Hanson isn’t making it, what does it mean for everyone else?
Maybe we would join a club that would accept us as a member.
1. subMercer (Soho) – Submerce yourself in max exclusivity deep in the bowels of the Mercer Hotel. 2. 105 Riv (Lower East Side) – THOR’s petite new drinking den, posh and glowing with a continental crowd. 3. 1Oak (Chelsea) – Horseshoe banquettes on zigzagging black and white floor for one of a kind crowd.
4, Level V (Meatpacking District) – Dungeon chic at this radioactive lounge beneath Vento Trattoria. 5. Beatrice Inn (West Village) – A-list Parisian makeover of longstanding Village Italian joint; low ceilings never seemed so sexy.