This Week’s NY Happenings: LUCKYRICE, Taste Of The Nation, Manon

NOW: The Mother Of All Rice Fests Returns
LUCKYRICE is back in New York and ready to celebrate all things Asian with a superstar lineup. Tonight is the kickoff, with Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, and it’s already sold out. Fortunately other tickets remain, as the festival tours through ramen with Chuko, Filipino food with Umi Nom, and a cabana night market at The Maritime Hotel. On Thursday night the focus shifts to “chef cocktails.” Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto hosts while luminaries from Experimental Cocktail Club, Macao Trading Co., and his own Tribeca Canvas put Asian accents on some very fine sips.

LUCKYRICE kicks off tonight, April 29th. Cocktail Feast: A Journey East starts at 8pm on Thursday, May 2nd, at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, East Village). Tickets for the cocktails are $40. To learn more aboutt he hotel, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides. Photo by Parliament of Owls.

NOW: Taste Of The Nation
Seventy of the city’s best bars and restaurants will all be in one place tonight as the 26th annual Taste of the Nation goes off at 82MERCER. Players like ACME, Pouring Ribbons, and The Dead Rabbit are only the beginning, and all proceeds go to fighting childhood hunger.

Taste of the Nation starts at 7:30pm on Thursday, April 25th, at 82MERCER (82 Mercer St., Soho). General admission tickets are $225 ($185 is tax-deductible). To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Manon Opens In Meatpacking
Moscow’s Cafe Pushkin peeps take another stab at NYC with glossy Meatpacking triplex Manon. The kitchen is run by a former Public hand, working up seasonal ingredients with international accents. Industrial ironwork meets chandeliers on the glossy interior. Opulence, it has it.

Manon (407 W. 14th St., Meatpacking District) opens Wednesday, May 1st. To learn more about the restaurant and lounge, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by checking out BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email. 

MONDAY FUNDAY: Tonight’s Top Events

So it’s the first day of the work week and there are four more days to go. We get it. But why ruminate when you can start to make Mondays the best night of the week? This weekly column is devoted to finding the best events across NYC hosted by individuals and places that are doing amazing, crazy, wild, sexy things on Monday nights. And we’re here to honor them. Here are tonight’s top events.

See Janeane Garofalo do stand-up:
The prolific comedian from such hit comedies as Wet Hot American Summer and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is coming to cozy West Village landmark Cornelia Street Café for the ninth anniversary of “Morrison Hotel:” a show produced and hosted by comedian John Morrison. While the show usually hosts up-and-coming comedians, tonight’s show is a special one, bringing with it not just Garofalo, but also Last Comic Standing Finalist Myq Kaplan and “This American Life” contributor Dave Hill. 8:30pm, $20 ticket, one drink included. All the details here.

Witness a star-studded burlesque show:
Burlesque celebrity Calamity Chang is hosting and performing at Tribeca’s Asian-fusion mixology haven Macao Trading Co., as part of her praised, once-a-month Drunken Dragon Nights show. The performance also features burlesque babes Gal Friday, Minx Arcana, and Peekaboo Pointe, so expect a high concentration of expert, sexy performers and potent cocktails, all in one space. Oh, and there’s a two-hour open bar before the 10pm show. And it’s FREE. Arrive 9pm. Must RSVP. All the details here.

Honor Pulitzer Prize-winner Edith Wharton:
 The New York Society Library honors the 150th birthday of Edith Wharton – the  author of such classics as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence – with a pretty intimate and personal exhibit that launches tonight. Featuring family portraits, books that Wharton read as a youngin, and facts about her life in New York, you’ll walk out knowing so much about Wharton, you could write a book about her. Or maybe meet another devotee and discuss the exhibit over a signature nutella hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s nearby café Little Brown Chocolate Bakery & Coffee. Exhibit runs until January 1st  and is free. All the details here.

Hear Jay-Z protégée Rita Ora sing:
Whether you’re a fan of Rita Ora, Jay-Z, or the idea of a female rapper becoming a huge success, the Jay-Z protégée’s show tonight at Chelsea club Highline Ballroom is going to be a huge move in her career. So be there to witness it (and a live performance of “How We Do Party”), and also openers Iggy Azalea and Havana Brown rock the stage. 8pm. Sold out… but you can find a way. All the details here.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here

Midnight Mixologists: John Byrd’s Toplist

John Byrd, veteran barman of The Bedford in Williamsburg, brings the originality and quality of a swanky mixologist-concocted cocktails to Brooklyn’s finest. Byrd started bartending in Boston over fifteen years ago and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The “ladies and the gays” help him name his creations, and older people are his inspiration. Take, for instance, the Mrs. Dillin (carrot juice, lime, Stoli Ohranj), a cocktail inspired by his 86-year-old grandma, who drinks a Stoli version every day. Bryd’s also the creator of the Brooklyn Barman, providing supplies and tools—custom bar knives, jiggers, bar bags—for the average bartender. He’s the kind of guy you want to sit down and have a drink with, especially if he’s the one pouring them. Check out John Byrd’s favorite spots to grab a cocktail in New York City.

The BedfordB FlatThe LionBar CentraleDramMacao Trading Co.Angel’s ShareThe Counting Room

See more Midnight Mixologists toplists here.

Nightlife To-Do List: This Week’s Events

Fashion Week is over, and with it, loads and loads of free booze. There are, however, a multitude of events on the agenda this week, some offering the promise of free and/or cheap drinks, some offering a fairly expensive brand of cool, and some offering reasons enough to try sneaking past the door without an invite: just like fashion week. While you’ll probably still be clamoring to get into Don Hill’s and the other venues that seemed destined for greatness this past week, these special events are worth crashing, dropping cash on, dropping by, or otherwise taking advantage of. And while you may not be able to see Courtney Love perform anytime soon, there are some insane shows scheduled for the music-lovers amongst us.

Monday Parties to Crash ● Barenjager Bartender Competition at Macao Trading Co. Skilled tenders compete from 7:00 to 10:00pm in the First Annual National “Fight for Your Honey” Barenjager Bartender Competition. The grand prize for these liquor slingers: a trip to the 2010 Oktoberfest in Germany. ● Swarovski Elements presents 22 Ways to Say Black at Phillips de Pury & Company from 7:00 to 10pm. Aside from the auction of 22 designer dresses for charity, peeping Carla Bruni would be reason enough to crash. ● It’s game night at Soho House! Play Candy Land, Yachtzee, and Jenga with other civilized folk at the members-only den. Ticketed Events ● Ne-Yo performs at Amnesia with DJ Bobby Trends. Admission is $30 ● NY Ministry of Rum Festival is happening from 5:30 to 9:00pm at Papilion Bistro. Drink and talk shop with other rum aficionados for $50. ● Alta Cucina hosts The Summer Kitchen, Panini and Gelato class. Date night alert—learn how to make authentic gelato, panini, and pizza at the Alta Cucina Epicurean Center. Parties for the People ● Sleigh Bells play Webster Hall at 8pm for a mere $8. You’d be crazy to miss this band for this price. ● Catch the Klaxons at Bowery Ballroom at 8pm for $20. ● The East Village’s White Noise is one of those awesome bars that closes its doors at 2am, but if you’re already safely inside, you can party all night (well, until 4am), which carries the connotation that anything goes. Pierre Stone and Ben Brunnemer DJ the Monday night “Fever” party: “that ol rock and roll and good people, no disco shit.” ● One of our all time favorites, Franco V, DJs along with Eli Dias at the Mondays @ Kenmare party.

Tuesday Parties to Crash ● Super-excited for the first US Scotch & Soda store opening in Soho at 274 Lafayette Street (and Prince). There will be complimentary beer, wine, and specialty cocktails by h.wood.tea, and music by Chairlift. Again, invite only, but at least take a stroll by. ● The Train & The Box New York celebrate their Spring/Summer 2011 collection with an after party with Paper Magazine at Avenue from 9:30 to 11:30pm with faves Matt&Maia DJing. ● Gansevoort Park Avenue hosts their official Opening Celebration party with The One Group, Michael Achenbaum of the Gansevoort Hotel Group, Jason Binn of Gotham magazine, and Steve Birkhold. ● Fulfill your dream of crashing a Martha Stewart party tonight in the jungle of the New York Botanical Garden at the reasonable hour of 5:30pm. Join Martha Stewart for an evening of mixology, and enjoy a champagne cocktail and herbal appetizers. At 7pm Martha will also share her secrets for growing and using herbs in delicious end-of-summer cocktails. Divine! Ticketed Events ● Showtime has their own rooftop, and for $25 you can enjoy unlimited cocktails from 6 to 8pm at Cassa Hotel and Residences. This will be the last hosted rooftop event by Showtime Original Series, so expect to rub shoulders with Showtime’s nearest and dearest. Parties for the People ● Disco Down is still happening at Happy Ending, and it’s still free booze from 11 to 12pm, and still no one is going? No, people are going. Michael T emailed My Open Bar to personally say that Disco Down is not dead: it’s been well and fine, and on the main floor of Happy Ending. ● Glasslands Gallery‘s weekly Black Majik Tuesday is pretty hip with the kids, thanks to badass local DJs and great bookers. Free vodka from 8 to 9pm on Tuesday nights helps with the hipness. ● Ra Ra Riot play Bowery Ballroom at 8pm for $20 admission. You should catch them now before their ticket price inevitably goes up, i.e.: the kids are talented. ● Pavement, yes that Pavement, hits Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield at 7pm for $38.50. As part of their reunion tour, they’ll be playing this spot all week.

Wednesday Parties to CrashBlue Ribbon hosts a bash in honor of their new partnership with Renaissance Hotels at the Renaissance Hotel Times Square. Taste the new “Classics Menu” from 6:30 to 8pm. Invite only, so crash with caution. ● IMPROVD opens their shop-in-shop installation with a cocktail party at Atrium from 7 to 9pm. Parties for the People ● Your new favorite band, AKA the Crocodiles, play Mercury Lounge at 7:30pm for $15. ● Bobo throws themselves a birthday bash complete with half-price cocktails and finger-foods from 7:30 to 12:00am.

Thursday Parties to Crash I dont know of any. Do you? Then comment below. Ticketed Events I dont know of any. Do you? Then comment below. Parties for the People ● Rock out to Simian Mobile Disco at Santos’ Party House. $10 is a steal for a sweaty good time of this caliber. Doors at 10pm. ● Gallery Bar rocks at their Mating Season Extreme party (whatever that means) with two floors of insanely awesome music: Dances With White Girls, DJ Messkid, and Jane Bang. Big draw: from 10 to 11pm, you can slam $1 tequila shots and $2 drafts. Then there’s a 2am open vodka bar. $3 cover, and snaps by The Culture of Me. ● If you missed Sleigh Bells earlier this week (for shame), you can see them open for LCD Soundsystem at the Wellmont Theater. It’s 35 clams and doors are at 7pm.

Industry Insiders: Jean Rene Mbeng, Mayor of the West Village

If you’ve been to the West 4th Street institution Extra Virgin, then you know Jean Rene Mbeng. He’s the animated maître d’ who will take your name, tell you it’s going to be a 45 minute wait (it’s always packed), and then keep you so entertained that you forget your stomach is growling. By the time you sit down, you’ll have made a new friend in Jean Rene and forgotten that you waited long at all. Chef Joey Fortunato and co-owner Michele Gaton have a prime piece of West Village real estate with the French-influenced eatery, and depend on Mbeng (who grew up in Lille, France, but originally hails from Gabon and Senegal) to keep the neighbors happy and the clientele returning, which he always does with a smile and a tip of his ever-present hat. More on this neighborhood character after the jump.

On the route to New York: I started an internship in San Francisco. In French schools, you have to go abroad for an internship. I lived there and I worked at Bissap Baobab. After that, San Francisco became too small for me because I have such a big personality so I had to move. I came to New York on vacation for two weeks like five years ago. I was like, ‘Oh my god it’s so perfect. It’s so big, everybody’s so beautiful.’

First NYC post: I started working at Les Halles Downtown. I worked at Brasserie Ruhlmann at Rockefeller Center. I worked at Les Deux Gamins. And one day, I walked by Extra Virgin. It was like a dream scene. This neighborhood has always been such a beautiful place.

On his neighborhood nickname: They call me the mayor of the neighborhood, because I spend five days a week here. I’m always here, even though I live in Brooklyn. I know everybody. I go outside, I go to every bar, know every bartender. Even though this is New York City, the West Village is so different. As the ‘mayor,’ I get free drinks everywhere. In the business everybody knows everybody, so they treat me specially. I treat them specially, everybody who comes here, too.

On the first days of the West Village institution: It was busy. It was difficult. It was different because it was only one side before we expanded. There was a line outside right from the beginning. Now, it’s getting bigger and busier and busier and busier. It’s a neighborhood institution and it’s so open to residents and fits well in the neighborhood.

On his job description: I take care of communication. I see myself as an ambassador. I take care of customers and say hi to regulars walking by. At the same time I take care of the seating, turning the tables, who’s coming in. I give wait times. When it’s busy, I’m the peacemaker for the restaurant. I say hi to all the dogs and the babies.

Crazy customer demands: When I say that the wait is going to be 45 minutes, some people will say, “Oh no, my uncle owns the restaurant.” Those are usually like people that come from New Jersey who aren’t used to waiting 45 minutes. We don’t take reservations here, so I get a lot of that.

The best menu item: I love the Mushroom Crusted Virgin Chicken and I love the halibut, too. On Sunday nights we’ve got meatballs. People come just for the meatballs. It’s $20 for two meatballs, and you can’t even finish them, they’re so big. I always take some home and use it in my baguette the next day. Always better the next day. We can’t make enough of them. For brunch, people come for the French toast.

Idols: Oh definitely Joey and Michele. They’re perfect bosses. They let me be who I am and you see why I love it here. Everybody’s laid back, cool, relaxed. I worked for some people uptown that made me wear a suit and tie. That wasn’t me. I also look up to Jean-Claude Baker of Chez Josephine in the theater district because he’s got such a presence at the door and has been my mentor.

On turning into a New Yorker: I’m a New Yorker by heart. I have an accent and I still eat French cuisine, but NYC is the place to be. It’s like a puzzle. My parents are still in France. The last time I was there it was like five years ago but my mom still takes care of me. She calls me every week and is like, “Are you eating well? Are you feeling well?” She’s very mommy wise.

On his signature look: I always wear a hat. It’s my signature. When you work in a restaurant, it’s a show. You’re a character. It’s always easy to find me in the restaurant. I probably have like 60 or 70 hats, and I’ve never bought a single one. I get them as gifts from customers. One time a lady came in, and I didn’t even know her. She said, “I’ve been coming to your restaurant for a long time, and I want your name.” She sent me a bag with like 25 hats. She wrote, “I’ve been to your restaurant so many times and I saw that you always wore a hat. Enjoy these.” I felt terrible because I had made her wait for a table. She waited for like 45 minutes. I never say no to a hat.

Drama in the his quaint restaurant: One time a neighborhood guy came in with a girl who wasn’t his girlfriend, and the girlfriend later came in with her friends. He told her that he was sick and took out another girl. I had to play peacemaker. Guys come in here too and try to hook up with girls. They try to bribe me to give their number to girls, but I never do it, unless the girl actually wants to talk to them.

Go-to’s: I go to Employees Only, Spotted Pig, neighborhood places. I love Macao, I Tre Merli, and Wilfie & Nell.

NYC: All the Week’s Parties, Monday’s Offerings

Sigh. Will life ever be the same without Lost? All I can say is: Thank god Jack it didn’t end in the dead of winter, New York’s barren days of no other suitable distractions. With Spring comes a veritable shift in nightlife. Not only are rooftops reopening and patios getting their shine on, people start venturing out into nightlife’s brave new world. For those feeling inspired to jumpstart their social life, there are plenty of new offerings vying to be the jumper cables and a reckless jump into the Monday night party scene is a great way to feel out the buzz of summer while everyone waits for the barrage of summer openings and the usual Hampton circle-jerks. Here, some food and drinks news bites and options for a Monday night party

MONDAY Lowdown: Monday night is for getting rid of your Sunday hangover, or for dragging it on for a few more days.

Hot Now:Stanton Social (Lower East Side) – Yes, still a great place to have a fun bite/Monday night drinks. ● Butter (Noho) – Not only is this a truly great place to get sloshed on Mondays but, as my rich older male pals say: I keep getting older and they just stay the same age. ● Black & White (Greenwich Village) – Restaurant becomes cramped, sexy, and very cozy after ten. ● Johnny Utah’s (Midtown West) Not everyone’s forte, but vampires, kids who say “fuck the PATH,” underage pretty chicks and people in the know ask: ‘who is forte?’ It’s still industry night here. Other Things to Try:Macao Trading Co. Drunken Dragon Festival: Sounds as fictitious as those “How Do You Celebrate” commercials for Las Vegas and the explanation of the event sounds even better. Macao Trading Co. celebrates a Monk who saved the Macanese People from a Drunken Dragon. The mythical event features a performance by the dance team, DANGERKAT interpretively slaying of the Drunken Dragon. The only important piece of information needed is the fact that there is an open bar from 8-10PM and—oh right—early 1900’s colonial or Chinese costumes required. Good luck with that. RSVP to: info@macaonyc.com. ● If you’re the type who likes to pair their local food with movies about their local food, might I suggest Hungry Filmmakers III, an eating/viewing event at the Anthology Film Archives that pairs excerpts from food-conscious documentaries like Lunch Line and Vanishing of the Bees with local snacks and Lagunitas beer. ● They say the economy is in recovery, but you’re boozing is not. Enter “Laid Off Mondays” at the Delancey, where the bartender will do more than sympathize with you’re lack of income, he’ll give you a free tequila shot if you can prove you are unemployed. ● If you think your place is a hole, you should check out Housing Works Bookstore Cafe tonight. Not that it will be messy, but Melissa Auf Der Maur will be there, screening the film portion of her multi-media project Out of Our Minds. The film is directed by Tony Stone and the book portion will be displayed while Melissa plays a set from the other part of the project.

Unlock BlackBook’s Nightlife Badge on Foursquare!

In partnership with the aspirationally driven folks at HBO’s How to Make It in America, we’re proud to offer you the chance to achieve a personal gold standard by unlocking the exclusive BlackBook Nightlife badge on Foursquare. Make HTMIIA your Foursquare friend, then check into any 3 of 20 possible New York nightlife or dining destinations (restaurants are the new nightlife, you know), and you’ll get the shiny new Foursquare badge pictured here. Soon we may provide an even more material motivation to have fun with this, but for now, download the BlackBook Guide iPhone app and start hitting the hotspots. Complete list of eligible joints after the jump.

Allen & Delancey Apothéke Balthazar Boom Boom Room The Breslin Butter Coffee Shop Craft Daniel Elmo Japonais Macao Trading Co. Matsuri Morimoto Norwood Pegu Club Per Se Soho House The Spotted Pig Tenjune

Industry Insiders: Lulzim Rexhepi, Craftsmanship at Kittichai

Lulzim Rexhepi spent time in some of the world’s top kitchens before taking over for Executive Chef Ian Chalmerkittichai at 60 Thompson’s Kittichai . From the Mandarin Oriental in Switzerland and the Blue Water Grill to the Four Seasons Hotel and Icon at the W Hotel and Xing, Chef “Lou” has endured every type of culinary experience to help him keep Kittichai’s flavor booming.

Typical day: I come in, I check my email, I go over manager’s log, and go through Grub Street to see what’s happening in the restaurant world. I walk through the kitchen. First I stop by the butcher station to make sure everything came in properly. I’ll walk through where the cooks are cooking and make sure everyone is using the right product at the right time, make sure everything is fresh. Then I get ready for service.

Favorite kitchen: Working at Icon with Chef Paul Sale. I was on the cusp of being a sous-chef and he really showed me how to take it to the next level. He taught me so many important lessons about cooking. The people I worked with before that were really mean, non-stop-yelling chefs, and he was very laid back, very cool, and we still got the same amount of production. He just taught me a whole different style in the kitchen. It doesn’t need to be that old-school mentality. It can still be an amazing kitchen.

On getting along with the old boss: Chef Ian and I have a great relationship. We still email. He’s mostly in Thailand. He pretty much lets me do the menu the way I want. The only difference is that I have to take a step back and tweak my own mistakes. Whereas before I had him to ask, “What do you think of this?” That’s really the only difference. Of the ten ideas I get in a day, maybe three of them are like “wow” if I’m lucky. So I definitely need the back and forth with him.

Go-to menu items: My favorite drink is the Muddled Grape with coconut water and grapes. It’s really refreshing, really nice. I absolutely love the Whole Fish. We dust it in rice flour, lightly fry it and we serve it with a lesser-ginger curry. It has an earthy flavor and a nice spice. It takes curry to a slightly higher level. I also just put a lobster dish on the menu that I love. It’s cooked three different ways and we serve it just like that with a little suki-yaki sauce, which is a Thai fondue sauce.

On being in a Thai kitchen: Kittichai is the first Thai restaurant I ever worked in. When the Tsunami thing happened, I went to Thailand with Ian to do a fundraiser at the Four Seasons, and I wound up staying for a long time, trying street food and exploring. I get along well with my peers, though. I come from a modest background. When they come in the room I’m no longer the chef, I look at them eye to eye, call them “chef.” My parents did a really good job of teaching me, and I’ll be a culinary student until the day I die.

On getting a tough table: Give a hundred bucks to the manager. I’m joking. Because I’m never sure when I’m going to be off, I hardly ever make reservations and I don’t go to places and say, “Oh I’m the chef at Kittichai, give me a table.” I’m very polite, and if I have to wait a half hour at a place I want to eat, I do it. When a host has 80 people waiting for tables, if you walk in and you’re demanding, you’re not getting a table. It never hurts to compliment what the host is wearing.

Go-to joints: I like Macao. I like the bar chef there as far as drinks go. I go up to Thom Bar and have a cocktail with my buddies. I just had a great dinner at The Breslin and I think April Bloomfield is doing some cool stuff.

Guilty pleasure: I sneak behind pastry counter and eat these mekong whiskey chocolate truffles that we make. I can’t get enough. They’re ridiculous. I’ve got a lot of bad habits—I get worked up easy. When I’m in the kitchen, I’ll explode for a second, and then I’ll take a deep breath and get better.

Billy Gilroy’s Interesting Employees

Bill Gilroy is one of the industry’s real players. Known as a hardass no-nonsense operator at places like Nell’s, Lucky Strike, and Match, he was one of those people always at the heart of well- run, successful places. His word has always been respected and good — a rarity in a world know for characters who try to get away with anything. Today, Employees Only and the new Macao Trading Co. are predictably making waves, and Bill Gilroy is behind them bringing experience, savvy, and that good word. I caught up to Bill at the Pod Hotel. We sat in his Pod Cafe and enjoyed food from his son Devon, the executive chef.

When did Billy become Bill? I’ve always known you as Billy Gilroy. If somebody asks my name, I say Bill.

I prefer Steven. My closest friends call me Steven, but almost everybody calls me Steve, and that’s because Steve Rubell told me it’s a very familiar name. Bill is a solid name; Billy is familiar — it’s like you’re accessible if you’re a Billy, whereas Bill might be a little more formal. Yeah, and William’s even more formal

Were you ever William? I was only William the first day of school, that’s it, or whenever I’m signing something, obviously.

You’re one of the most important people behind Nell’s, one of New York’s iconic clubs. The big breakout for Nell’s was the night they turned Cher away because she wouldn’t pay the five-dollar cover charge, and everybody paid five dollars at Nell’s. Well, actually, they didn’t recognize her. She had two young Spanish boys on her arms, and as they approached — actually before she even got within 10 feet of the ropes, I think — Thomás Mueller just said “It’s not happening tonight” without even going to the ropes. After that we had Thomás reading People magazine, because he was German and new to the country.

He’s around now. H was working for me for a little while at Macao, and now he’s at the Standard.

Cher was big news back then; Nell’s was seriously exclusive and serious about that 5 dollar cover. It really gave the club a boost. They turned away Eddie Murphy. He was with 12 people, and it was five dollars to get in, and he was ready to pay, but his entourage was like, “:Eddie Murphy don’t pay!”. So they kind of just got put through the other door. He came back the next night and paid the five dollars

He was at the Tunnel one night — he had a bottle of champagne, and the waitress came to me and said, “Eddie Murphy says that he doesn’t pay.” I didn’t mind him not paying because I would have comped him a bottle of champagne, but I wanted to go over to him — because my attitude was, if I comped a celeb a bottle of champagne, that means I was dropping their name in Page 6 tomorrow. That was the price. So I walked over to him and said, “I don’t mind you not paying, but in the future get a manager … the waitress doesn’t know to comp you if I’m not here.” And he said, “My clothes don’t have any pockets.” He was wearing a leather jumpsuit, and he didn’t have any pockets. You know he hates to get touched; he always had a bunch of people around him, because if you touched him, he really freaked out. Prince used to come to Nell’s quite often too, and he was also someone who he would never order directly — he would order through his bodyguard. He was one of those people — I guess similar to Michael Jackson — who’s so shy, and then they get up on stage and become so dynamic

What about you? You’ve mellowed over the years. I’ve not always been thought of as being the most easygoing,

How have you calmed down? Because I’ve been talking to you now for a few hours, and you’re a calm and collected and peaceful human being. Well, I’m working on my fifth marriage now, so that kind of wears you out. I’d like to think I wouldn’t make the same mistakes or react the same way as I did in my 20s or 30s over certain circumstances, just by virtue of the evolution of your consciousness through experience. Like they say, reincarnation is perfection to experience — it takes a few hundred times for me to get it, but I’ve had time to do it.

The club business is so rewarding — when it is rewarding — that you can fulfill a lot of your fantasies and your goals within it. You don’t necessarily have to prove yourself anymore after a certain point; you can look back and say. “I’ve done this body of work, I don’t have to answer to anybody, I may be a saloon-keeper — as Rick said in Casablanca — but that’s what I want to be.” And you are a saloon-keeper. Absolutely. You know, I serve soup and sandwich. That’s the common denominator here. I serve it to all types of people, whether they’re in fashion, the arts, Wall Street, or whatever. And for me it’s always been about networking, but networking in a way that the people who come get to meet people in fields perhaps opposite of what they’re into. For example, actors don’t necessarily want to meet other actors; they want to meet other people who live their lives differently.

Where did you get your start? I started at La Gamelle. I don’t know if you remember La Gamelle — it was on Grand Street, where Lucky Strike is now. I worked there with Florent Morellet, who opened Florent. He was the waiter, and I was the bartender, and there was a guy name Alex, little crazy Alex … He was the owner, an Algerian guy. I was there for the first five years. And then I went form there to the Water Club with Buzzie O’Keefe, and then I went to Café Luxembourg — that was Keith McNally. And then I went to Nell’s, and I was the maître ’d at Odeon.

And Keith was at Nell’s also, right? Yeah. Then I opened Lucky Strike with Keith, then went to Match from there, and then Match uptown, and then Match Hamptons, and then now most recently, Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.

We ate at Odeon yesterday, and my assistant Mary is sitting with us, and she’d never been there. I don’t know how many years old it is … 15, 20, 25? Almost 30 years old.

So now when you talk about training a staff — this is a three-week process with Keith McNally, and it’s really heavy — and it shows. You went through the Keith McNally system — Absolutely, he was definitely my mentor.

What does “service” mean to you? Everybody uses this word — we’re going to provide the best service there is, etc. So what does that mean? For me, great service is when it exceeds your expectations. If you go to a restaurant, you expect to be served, you expect the food to be decent, you expect that atmosphere to be nice … but when it exceeds that expectation, sometimes you can’t put your finger on it exactly. It’s important that the people I hire bring more to the table than just your basics, so I often prefer artists or people aspiring to be something else — they’re not career waiters. I’ve always felt like in traditional French or Italian restaurants, where they’re working those double shifts — those French shifts — and they’re subservient, and they’re standing off to the side … they almost look like they’ve been beaten down, and they’re not supposed to interact with the table. I’ve never enjoyed it personally, being served like that. When I am hiring people, it’s people who can interact with the table, they have a certain way about them … nice personalities and nice people.

I always hated it when they’re an actor, and after four years, they’re still bartending for me. I wanted them to get out and do well. Of course. And they bring that to the job — the fact hat they have some depth to them, another side, they can talk to the table. I’ve said many times the staff I have is more interesting than the clientele.