Industry Insiders: Ken & Cook’s Richard Diamonte & Artan Gjoni

Both veterans of Jean Georges’ Mercer Kitchen, chef Richard Diamonte and managing partner Artan Gjoni merge talents at their new Nolita brasserie Ken & Cook, where Wagyu burgers and oysters rein amid the tin ceiling-exposed brick surroundings.

“We’ve created a restaurant that is casual, yet serious at the same time,” Diamonte says. “Coming from a fine dining background, we wanted to maintain our standards but mold them into a more accessible setting.” The accessibility of the atmosphere extends to the cuisine, which Diamonte describes as honest, fresh, uncomplicated, and accommodating.

Both men agree on their favorite menu item: the squid in a yogurt-chili-mint sauce. And with years of experience working and cooking in New York’s finest restaurants, they insist the greatest ingredient is quality. “Quality of your ingredients, quality of your food, and quality of management,” Diamonte says. “I believe you need all three to be successful.”

How I Got Into Nightlife

I think our next president should be a Morman. Not the Mitt Romney variety—heavens no. I’m thinking more along the lines of a Big Love type, with 47 wives and a zillion kids. A man who can handle that can handle anything. Club relationships are also very “special,” as the industry comes with many distractions, confusions, and temptations—similar to a whole lot of “sister-wives” drama. When you see a relationship working in this industry, it should be celebrated, maybe even studied. I enjoyed watching Snap/Bloc Group honcho Mathew Isaacs interact with his lovely Danielle DeGregory last night as she celebrated her birthday at his venue.

It was cuddly, cute and wonderful. The weekly karaoke night was going on, which was adding to the fun. On another note, the much-anticipated basement addition to the venue has a name, a design, and a due date. I’ll talk about that when I am unleashed—I’m really not supposed to say anything so I won’t.

With great admiration I note the opening of Natasha, the queen of Spandex and everything related, of her niche at Patricia Fields, her inclusion to come the end of the month. If anyone wants to point a finger at someone for getting me into the club world, Natasha and my friend Debi Marino must be accused. I was a corporate-type during the day who wallowed in severe punk clubs at night. More often than not, I would go from an obscure place with dim lights and sticky floors packed with girls with hair that could hurt you, to a desk in the financial district. I soon chose the insanity of the former over the boredom of the latter. It was a single sad incident that pushed me over the edge. My roommate and best friend the beautiful and talented “it” girl Jillian Black died suddenly of a heroin overdose. She had done it the night before for the first time, and wanted to try it again. We chatted at 7PM on a subway platform, and I told her of the dangers—pleading with her to avoid that drug and that crowd, the crowd that was enlisting her into their cult. She agreed. She was dead by dawn.

I sought out her new friends with mad intent, but was convinced she only had herself to blame. She was used to getting her way and they couldn’t stop her. She was always unstoppable. Of course now she’s as dead as Julius Caesar. I spun around and decided to do a fashion, art event which would help push the rapidly gentrifying East Village chic/punk scene along. The way I figured it the more successful boutiques filling vacant storefronts, the more interested the cops would be to push the pushers to another hood.

The East Village Look was my big break. The almost 2-hour show had thousands of people attending and 20 boutiques involved. It catapulted me into a new career. Debi Marino partnered with me on the mega show. Natasha was the first person who said yes. She then helped me land Trash and Vaudeville, and soon everyone was involved. Astor place barbers and some other salons sent waves of hairstylists to the gala. Everyone left the club that night with a new—free—’do. I looked at the video of the event last night and it was amazing to see this time capsule of ‘80’s club life. All the players were there modeling and galavanting around. Some of them are long gone as victims of the age of consent—to every vice imaginable. AIDS was there, all around us, but we didn’t understand that, or see it in our brilliant darkness. So a tip of the hat and a wham-bam-thank-you-Mam to Natasha, returning to her roots. Great success, darling, at Patricia Fields!

On a sad, but similar note, I mark the passing of Lita Hessen. Known for her loud voice, big heart, and big binging, Lita was a joy to the world—even though she often seemed deeply sad. I met her a few years back while lounging at the Mercer Hotel with the generous (to a fault) millionaire Linda Rawlings and my friend Marcus Antebi. Linda was wearing—no exaggeration— 10 million dollars worth of jewelry, including a yellow diamond ring the size of Vermont, 5 watches (one worth, like, a million bucks—all diamonds upon diamonds) and a tiara with more diamonds. She was buying Crystal, and offering it to an increasingly larger crowd. Like Lita, Linda made many friends by lavishing them with stuff. The waitress was tasked to wear the tiara while she was serving. Lita and a friend came to meet us. Linda proceeded to give Lita’s pal a check for over $30,000 on the spot to help her with her failing business. It was like that. Lita and I would see each other from time to time, out and about, and then became friends. She was so much fun, but she was everywhere and nowhere. She was lucid, then suddenly nuts: happy then tragic: aloof then clingy. Her inner beasts tore at her ,and no amount of extravagance, tall tales, or ambitions could hide her pain. Everybody knew Lita. She bought everyone dinner, drinks, little gifts. When you could calm her down and get past the fluff she was sweet and smart, and very enjoyable. But there was a lot of fluff. I met my great friend DJ Jennifly through her. It was Jennifly who told me of her demise. A memorial service will be held this Sunday, May 15th 7:30PM on Christopher Street Pier.

Where Celebs Go Out: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Ben Stiller, Alan Cumming

At the Date Night premiere: 1. Steve Carell – “Boy! You know what? On the way in, we drove by Shun Lee. My wife and I, when we lived here, we ate there all the time. John’s Pizza was one of our favorite pizza places. Any one, but, certainly, the one in the Village, and I think they opened one up off Times Square. That’s just always good.” 2. Tina Fey – “My favorite restaurant in the world is a restaurant in Chicago, called the Athenaeum Room. Favorite dish? Chicken on french fries.” 3. Taraji P. Henson – “The Little Owl. I went there the other night!” 4. Jimmi Simpson – “Providence, on Melrose, in Los Angeles. Any special dish? The five-course tasting menu.” 5. Carol Alt – “Actually, I like Pure Food and Wine because it’s a raw restaurant. What do you like there? Well, just about everything, but their ice cream is killer! Raw ice cream — unbelievable, unbelievable. I eat at a lot of Japanese places, so I can have raw fish. I’m a raw foodist, so it, kind of, limits.”

6. Common – “I love Café Habana. It’s located on Prince and Elizabeth. I’ve been, consistently, going there. It’s not anything new. I’ve been going there for, like, 10, 11 years. Cuban food; great music. You got to eat the corn. The corn is the best. I like the camarones, too — the shrimp; they’re incredible. I also enjoy a place called Stan’s, in Brooklyn. It’s like Cajun, but new food. It’s like New Orleans, but slash some other feel to it. It’s a great restaurant. I’m a restaurant guy more than a club guy. I like going to the movies different places, like, what’s the one on Houston? The Angelica. I love that.” 7. Serena Williams – “I don’t go to restaurants here, so–.” 8. Jane Krakowski – “Can’t think of any. Sorry!” 9. Shawn Levy – “Well, I’ll go with New York. I like– I ate there last night– Scalinatella, at like 61st and Third, that place underground. I like Nobu. That’s really not surprising. I like Cafe des Artistes, with that great antipasto cafe. Does that give you enough? All right.” 10. Ben Stiller – “Bar Pitti.” 11: Keith Powell – “I live in Brooklyn, and I live in Fort Greene. And in Fort Greene, there’s a restaurant called No. 7. And No. 7 is the most amazing restaurant. The head chef is a guy named Tyler Kord. And he used to be the sous chef for Jean-Georges. And the menu changes every month, and he comes up with the most amazing concoctions, both in terms of drinks and food. It’s wonderful. Anything that man makes is, kind-of, a work of art.”

At the YourSingapore launch in Times Square: 12. Matt Harding – “Oh, my gosh, I’m totally blanking on– I love garlic, so I love The Stinking Rose restaurant in L.A. and San Francisco. They just drench everything in garlic. You’re sick the next day, but it’s fantastic! My favorite restaurant in Seattle– I love Tom Douglas. He’s a Seattle chef. He’s at the Dahlia Lounge. New York, there’s just so many fantastic restaurants, I couldn’t think of one. And Singapore, actually, my favorite place to eat is out on the street. The Hawker markets are fantastic! Where’s your next stop? I’m going home to Seattle, and then maybe to Afghanistan.”

At the NY International Auto Show benefit preview for the East Side House Settlement: 13. Fe Fendi – “I like Le Cirque. It’s like going to a family restaurant for me. For lunch, always Cipriani! Cipriani for lunch — dinner at Le Cirque.

At Dressed to Kilt: 14. Alan Cumming – “Gnocco in the East Village.” 15. Shani Davis – “I live in Chicago. My favorite restaurant — fast food — is Harold’s or, maybe, Portillo’s. I love Giordano’s a lot.” 16. Eric Daman – “I’m a huge fan of the Mercer Kitchen. I love their mac and cheese and their carpaccio sea bass.” 17. Kelly Killoren Bensimon – “My ultimate favorite restaurant is Le Bernardin–Eric Ripert– he catered my wedding. It’s, probably, the most incredible restaurant, actually, in the world. But one of my favorite restaurants is Brinkley’s, which is right around the corner from me. It’s a really, really, cool, fun bar, and one of my friends that went to Trinity — ’cause I went to Trinity — went there, so I go there a lot. Any favorite dish anywhere? Wherever– whatever– I like to explore and have fun with the menu. I really, really like and what they’re making is more exciting than just for me to sit there and be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll have rice and vegetables. This is really fun.’ I’d rather have someone make something and be creative.” 18. Al Roker – “Oh, golly! That’s like asking, ‘What’s your favorite kid?’! If it’s Italian, it would be Girasole or Fresco. If it’s a steak place, it would, probably, be Ben Benson’s or across the river, Peter Luger’s.” 19. Nigel Barker – “Del Posto. I love that place. I used to go there on dates all the time. My favorite pub is Dublin 6 in the West Village. It’s my old, local Irish place — D6. And Barbuto is another favorite of mine. It’s not as upscale. It’s, kind of, in between the two. It’s on Washington.” 20. Donald Trump Jr. – “Wow, that’s a — in New York, there’s really no shortage of great restaurants, but, I guess it depends what food we’re going for. If we’re going formal, Jean-Georges is good; Le Cirque is good. If we’re going low-key, there’s a lot of great ones lying around. We’re opening up a great one on Friday — Quattro — in our hotel down in SoHo that’s going to be opening, so a little bit of a Miami, downtown flair.”

Promoting Burlesque to Broadway: 21. Quinn Lemley – One of my favorites is Maloney & Porcelli. They have a great wine dinner that’s all inclusive, and wonderful steaks and oysters. There’s a new Academia del Vino that’s up on Broadway and 89th. It’s where Docks used to be. They have a great wine bar and wonderful food. It’s the same people that have Cesca— it’s that restaurant group. And it’s very happening. It’s so exciting to see something on the Upper West Side above 86th Street.

At Our Family Wedding: 22. Mark Indelicato – “I like to go to places that aren’t mainstream chain restaurants. Sometimes, I’m just walking down the street with friends, and we see like this small, little cafe, and we just go in. Don’t even know the name of it, don’t know what it’s about, but I just like the small, boutique restaurants, like Alice’s Teacup here on the Upper West Side. It’s small and not a lot of people know about it, but it’s still really cool.”

Nightlifer’s Response to Haiti

Lelaine Lau is a fixture in NY nightlife, working at fabuloso places like the Breslin, Mercer Kitchen, Hudson Hotel, Balthazar, Bungalow 8 and a ton of etcetera’s. She is the founder of Saloniere 403, a cultural salon. While most of us have only offered our relegated thoughts to the continuing disaster in Haiti, Lelaine has gone down there to try to do something.

What was the purpose of your trip to Haiti? I teamed up with a foundation aligned with Columbia University’s Earth Institute to explore potential educational and cultural partnerships which we hope will help to uplift, celebrate and heal Haiti and her people. The project is centered around the content recently released music of ‘Alan Lomax in Haiti.’ Lomax was an ethnomusicologist, who, at the age of 20, was commissioned by the Library of Congress to go to Haiti and explore the roots of folk music in 1936. For a year he traveled around Haiti to record traditional Haitian music, celebrations and rituals. His recordings include everything from Rara, Troubadour, Merengue, Carnaval, children’s songs and around 90 hours of audio and film. This treasure trove of vintage Haitian culture remained unmastered for decades until after his death.

The idea of recovering and restoring cultural works, museums and other places of heritage brings about an excellent opportunity to dovetail with other efforts in preserving Haiti’s rich cultural history. The relief efforts are addressing immediate needs, while our efforts address the long-term rebuilding of national pride through educational and preservation initiatives. We hope to develop a strong cultural curriculum alongside Haitian educators and scholars, while also working with groups who further preservation and repatriation. Who did you go with? I went with a friend, Kimberly Green. She’s based out of Miami and is president of her family’s foundation, The Green Family Foundation, which has been funding anti-poverty development and healthcare interventions in Haiti for 10 years. A few years ago, she began funding the first Millennium Village Project in Haiti alongside with the Earth Institute, an initiative spearheaded by noted economist Jeffrey Sachs. The project is geared toward attaining the UN’s Millenium goals by developing sustainable and long-term economic solutions by empowering the country on a community level, so these villages may lift themselves out of extreme poverty. It is a hand up, not a handout. I must add that Kimberly is a woman who has a led a truly remarkable life. I am honored and humbled to be her friend and so inspired by all she has done. She is a free and kindred spirit, and has made tangible contributions to the world and those less fortunate. We actually have discussions about developing new terminology for ‘philanthropists’ like her to denote not only those who give in order to promote systemic change, which is typically a harder sell in the charitable world, but those who are also willing to roll up their sleeves, do the work and get dirty. I just don’t feel the words charitable or philanthropist do justice to what she does. How did you get involved? Kimberly and her good friend Fisher Stevens had come up with the idea of doing radio PSAs using some of the Lomax material to highlight the history and culture of Haiti instead of just lamenting on the grief and devastation. I ended up collaborating on the text read by Sting, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts and got a major crash course in the history of Haiti during the 48 hour process. This is a girl who really has great ideas and knows how to make them happen! Was this your first trip to Haiti? Yes, I had never visited an impoverished nation, much less one that was in a state of emergency. I came almost two months after the quake, but the devastation was still profound. It was a roller-coaster ride of conflicting emotions. There is no denying the horrific conditions they are living in, but the Haitian culture, it’s people and the enthusiasm that surrounded this project was euphoric. What was your first impression? The dust created a dark haze that covered the city. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, even as a native Angeleno. We could barely make out the coastline. The thing that struck me the most was the very poignant entrepreneurial spirit. People were selling things on every corner, people moving with purpose, one man striding along with a shirt, tie and tie clip. The industriousness is impressive, but it’s not regulated which is a set-up for another economic disaster. I saw a popcorn machine, shoe shine and car wash on the edges of camps. Some of the camps are not officially acknowledged or serviced because they fear the camps might become permanent down the line. What surprised you about Haiti? There appeared to be a sense of outward normalcy for businesses and for the upper-middle class. We met with many arts and cultural groups, business owners and department ministers who were back at work to try to instill a sense of normalcy. Of course we heard horrible stories, many people lost family members, but we also visited private homes, some of which had no, or very little damage at all. Even though they weren’t affected on a personal level, they still were passionate about the rebuilding, which colored almost all of our interactions with the local Haitians. Another thing I was surprised about was the number of hotels and restaurants that were open for business. I learned that some of the owners had conflicting feelings about reopening, especially with camps very close by, but they were supporting the economy and families that worked there. I was given pause one evening when I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that 2 people were kidnapped outside of the restaurant we were in while we were eating inside. I was quite impressed by the quality of the food. As we’re on the topic of hospitality, I have to say that one of my biggest disappointments was not getting to experience RAM night at the Hotel Oloffson. RAM is a Voudou Rara band that throws a legendary party every Thursday night, which I’m told is one of those absolute musts. The hotel and the grounds are very grand and huge – the hotel itself has a storied past. Understandably, the Haitians are still in mourning, so now is not the right time, but I eagerly anticipate the day I can have the experience.

Did you meet some interesting people? I got to meet a man known as the Mango Man, he works with small farmers who supply his mango-exporting business, and he was delightful and a wonderful fountain of information as to the way things work in Haiti. All of the people involved in the arts group are just really soulful people. I think the evening spent with this group was my favorite. We broke bread together, shared lots of wonderful ideas of our hopes for Haitian recovery and they taught me how to play the bongos Jean, our driver, was hilarious and a bit of a playboy– each of his girls had a different ringtone! A couple of times he would take down these back roads that were unpaved, narrow, even narrower by rubble, where we didn’t think had an outlet and inevitably we’d find ourselves back on the main road, having bypassed most of the traffic. I was really excited about getting to meet Paul Farmer. He is one of the founders of Partners in Health and is a legend for his work and dedication to the people of Haiti. His work has influenced the policies of World Health Organization for treating TB and HIV/AIDS. We also had a chance to visit Sean Penn’s operation and I came away deeply moved by his passion and commitment, both in the immediate and the long-term. I was tremendously inspired by the Dean of Haiti’s Quisqueya University Jacky Lumarque. The university is considered to be the best in Haiti and was completely demolished by the quake just as it was about to open. Post-quake, when many foreign universities offered to take in his students the Dean said, “The University is here, it is people, not buildings. It is in our hearts and minds.” The students are currently volunteering in Haiti and getting hands-on experience across sectors such as medical, psycho-social, education and child development.

What did you learn about Haiti? I learned that Haiti is a country that grabs you and doesn’t let go. I felt it, and in all of the reading I’ve done in the last week, about various artists, even in a National Geographic article from the 30s, there it is time and again – Haiti over the years has caught the imagination and hearts of so many people. image

What would you leave us with? Early in the trip, I came across a work of graffiti depicting Haiti crying as she’s asking for help. I later learned that this was the handiwork of a young man named Jerry, a man that was behind much of the graffiti around the city. After doing some research on him, I discovered a really cool collaboration that he’s participating in with a NYC arts professor named Pedro Lasche. Anyone in the international community can send a message to the Haitians in Port au Prince that will be interpreted into a work of graffiti by Jerry, for $25. I just think it’s a really cool initiative. In the same vein, the upcoming NY ArtExpo, which is running from March 25 to the 28, has given a booth to a group of Haiti-based art galleries for the duration. All proceeds from this booth will go to support the rebuilding of the Centre D’Art in Haiti. The Centre D’Art was instrumental in building international interest in Haitian art in the 1940s. My understanding is the booth will carry a wide array of Haitian art, so please go find yourself a new favorite artist and support the preservation and restoration of Haiti’s cultural heritage! And finally, I ask that people support the development of a watchdog group, which will hold the many, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti accountable for the money, which at last count amounted to $3.8 billion dollars, raised for relief and rebuilding. It is time for organizations operating in Haiti to be vetted, to be transparent and to be coordinated and organized so that efforts and funds are not squandered. The Haitians have a right to know where this money is going.

Groups Cinema Under the Stars: This group has been screening films in the camps, sometimes working in partnership with international groups. Friends of FOKAL: Implements a variety of programs aimed at supporting the development of children and the young, youth organizations, youth civil society associations, the peasants and women’s organizations. They are partnered with libraries all over Haiti, and provide cultural programming and activities. Haiti Aid Watchdog: This group is working to independently track the impact of the relief and humanitarian efforts in Haiti, facilitate communication among partners, encourage the Haitian population to play a more active role in this initiative and ensure that the majority of the Haitian people really benefit from this aid.

Chester French: Ivy League Boys, Gone Appropriately Wild

Chester French is not a man. In fact, it’s D.A. Wallach and Maxwell Drummey, two Harvard grads who didn’t really have a plan. On the eve of their much-anticipated release of their much-hyped debut album, we got them to dish on everything from Facebook and fellow Harvard grad Mark Zuckerberg, to safe sex and bigger condoms, biddies, divorce and the JoBros. The duo also explains why they felt the need to create a personal VIP concierge service, and how Lady Gaga is going to “cream everyone over” on their upcoming tour with her. Scholarly young gentlemen, take it away.

Your new album is finally coming out in April. D.A.: Well it’s really an album that we’ve been working on for years at this point. So it’s really a project that’s had a lot of time to marinate. We made most of it while we were still in college. And we wanted to produce and engineer everything. We did it all in the basement of one of the dorms at school. We’ve sort of just been waiting to put it out for about a year and half. It’s called Love the Future and it’s coming out April 21st. It’s a mix of everything that we like. It’s inspired by all sorts of music that we love and learned from. The idea is that we wanted to make an album that you could listen to the whole way through, that didn’t have any filler. We didn’t want it to have album tracks. It’s all different songs and different tracks that are equally exciting to listen to. Max: Something we always think about is that people are just people and music is just music. And we’ve certainly gotten tired, and I think a lot of other people got tired, of people trying to pigeonhole you as a musician or as a person. “Oh you’re this kind of person, you like this kind of music therefore.” We just started thinking about it as we grew up in diverse places with people who were sharing what they were into and being into all kinds of stuff and we want to embody that in the music we make. In its body. The body. D.A.: And for us it’s really kind of inevitable since we grew up in a generation where you hear Dr. Dre after Nirvana on the radio. You almost have to try to block out different angles that you’re being hit from.

Since you’re just starting out, what are some artists whose career paths you’d like to follow? D.A.: Well we’ve always talked about artists who have a very consistent quality in their work but not necessarily a consistent aesthetic. So people like Beck and Outkast are especially inspiring. Even a group like The Rolling Stones or The Beatles who over time were able to try a lot of different things but always preserve a real consistent quality. I think we’d love to have that flexibility to experiment and allow our music to follow our minds.

You’re signed to Pharrell’s label. How do you like working with him? Max: It’s not bad. D.A.: He’s been a great supporter and I think the best part is that that label that he’s created, StarTrak, is supposed to be a refuge for artists who don’t fit in places naturally. We share a common mindset about how to create and how to experiment and pulling different people around your music. We have a good business relationship but we also fit together creatively and share common goals and processes.

Do you not think you would have fit in at another label? D.A.: Well when we were in college, one thing that was difficult as a live band was that we didn’t fit into a scene. Max: We also sucked, which made it harder. D.A.: So we couldn’t say, “Oh of course we’re going to play in a punk club,” or, “Of course we’re gonna do this hip-hop night.” We’ve been doing this for five years and it’s a gift and a curse to not be clearly categorized.

Your first EP, Chester French’s First Love, got you all of the notoriety. But it wasn’t released after you got signed, what happened to it? D.A.: So we were originally a five-piece band and that was something we did our freshman year. Max: We made it in two days and D.A. had spent the summer after that busking around Harvard Square selling CDs. We sold like upwards of 10 of them, easily. And then while we were doing that we started writing the songs that are on our actual debut album.

Did you end up graduating from Harvard? Max: Yeah.

And what was the plan before Chester French came around? What did you major in? Max: My plan was to get a really useful degree in social anthropology. It’s a really important discipline. D.A.: I was under African American studies. Neither of had a really good backup plan which was really…I mean, this was our only hope of not living at home. However, we do live at home. We started it basically right when we got to college. And it was amazing luck for us that we got signed right before we graduated but I think otherwise I think we would have just gotten jobs and done this on the side in our free time. We’d be doing this on the down low.

In secret? Would you have used aliases? D.A.: Yes, definitely.

What would they have been? D.A.: What’s your name again?

I’m Delia. D.A.: Yeah, that’s we would have used for sure.

So because you started off as a college band, you did a lot of self-promotion on Facebook. What is your relationship to it now? D.A.: Both of us were using Facebook within the first day or two it came out. It’s definitely been a tool that we’ve used to connect with other people, especially as it’s grown. It offers a great means of spreading your music. Max: It’s also a great way to creep on girls you don’t know. So that when you finally meet them, you feel like you have a good relationship with them. And it’s not awkward anymore because it’s like “I know everything about you because I’ve been following you on the internet for so long.”

Has that worked for you? Max: It has actually. I met my first and third babymama on the internet.

But didn’t you recently marry Peaches Geldof? Max: I actually recently divorced Peaches Geldof.

Oh did you? I’m now embarrassed. Max: No, don’t be. I should be embarrassed.

So do you guys actually know Mark Zuckerberg? D.A.: Yes. I mean, he’s a genius thinker and he’s built something really amazing that’s changed the world in not a lot of time. And he hasn’t made a lot of big mistakes so he’s pretty inspiring.

Your first single, “She Loves Everybody,” was released with condom wrapper packaging. D.A.: We just thought it was a great complement to the song because of the lyrics to the chorus about using protection: “she craves affection so I use protection.” We thought what would be a better fit than to put it in a condom wrapper. We also wanted something people would remember when we gave it to them. I mean, CDs have become so irrelevant at this point that unless you do something cool or interesting with them they’re kind of boring.

Is safe sex a cause that you’re particularly interested in? D.A.: Sure, I mean… Max: Practice is what we’re really interested in. And we’re definitely gonna practice until we get good at it, until we stop messing it up. We’ve just been breaking condoms from coast to coast so I think it’s time to move up to some XLs or something.

Why would you decide to name yourselves after Daniel Chester French [the American sculptor]? D.A.: Because he makes the most beautiful sculptures ever and he’s not dead.

What can we expect to see on the tour? D.A.: Well we’re gonna perform to warm people’s bodies up to get the juices flowing, to get everyone in the audience wet. And then Lady Gaga is gonna come on stage and just totally cream everyone over.

I’m excited to see it in New York. D.A.: Will we get to meet you? We’re gonna have a tour bus for the first time ever and it’d be awesome if you got on our bus and hung out.

Do I need to talk to your press rep about that? D.A.: No no no, just e-mail us. We don’t need any intermediaries if we’re just hanging out. It’ll be personal, not professional. It’ll be really, really personal. Just talking, just personal questions.

How do you guys spend your down time? D.A.: We both live with our parents in Milwaukee and Boston. So when we’re not on tour or working we’re just hanging out, making music at home and figuring out how to build our fan base, our supporter base. Most recently we’ve been working on a mix tape that we’re putting out in the next week or two called Jacques Jams. And that’s with DJ Quentin Sparks. It’s gonna be a free album that we put out for the whole world. And we’re got some great collaborators on it like Ditty and Pharrell, Jermaine Dupree. It’s gonna be awesome. Lindsay Lohan’s on it.

What are some of your favorite places to go in New York or LA, Boston even? Restaurants, clubs, bars?

Max: In LA, we like to go to this bar called Jumbo’s Clown Room.

Why do you love it so much? Max: The waitresses are just old enough, like close to 50. And then if I were in New York, I like going to the Mercer Kitchen.

Anywhere else? D.A.: For food or for drink or for merriment?

Whatever you like. D.A.: For drinks, nothing is better to us than just going and grabbing a 40 of Ciroc and chilling out and meeting some biddies. Or a 750 of Ciroc is better actually. It’s like a magnum of Ciroc and just go out and meet some biddies and show off to other biddies if you’ve got some Welch’s grape juice around.

So what else would you like to add, that you want BlackBook readers to know? Max: Just that we really want them to check out the album and become a part of what we do. D.A.: Look, we’re just two totally normal guys doing totally normal things. That’s the point we really want to get across. And also, we have something that we haven’t talked about much but that I’d like to give you an exclusive on. That is that we’ve actually been creating something, this is not a joke, we’ve created something that you can get on our website now called the Chester French VIP Concierge Service. It’s the first time I think anyone has ever done something like this. What we’ve actually done is created a luxury support system for all of our supporters. If you’re someone who actually supports Chester French and you sign up for the VIP Concierge Service there are a number of ways that we can communicate with you and stay in touch either by e-mail, by phone and fulfill anyone’s request related to Chester French. I mean, if people need help getting tickets of getting anything like that we wanted to create a service where our supporters could really be a part of what we do and be in touch with us and create and share ideas.

And tell me about the Jonas Brothers, your ultimate influence. D.A.: Oh yeah, they’re awesome. It starts and ends there for us. I met the Jonas Brothers before they blew up. I took my little sister to see them in Milwaukee. And I got to meet Kevin and the guys and they’re just awesome guys. So when we say that we’re definitely influenced by them, it’s musically and personally. They’re awesome guys.

Lelaine Lau’s Cultural Salon

My favorite memories of Lelaine Lau are her Sunday-night bingo parties at Bungalow 8, where my ex provided her with many of the prizes. She had a warehouse full of neat stuff like Prada bags and Cartier bracelets that were given out to blasted bingoers. Nowadays, they’d give out a plastic bag with a Swatch in it — maybe. She had “club royalty” types obsessing over things like B-6 or N-17. She never does the expected thing and is sometimes rewarded for it; I’ve always seen her as a wayward artist or an intellectual who feeds at the teat of nightlife and can’t figure out why she’s here. Lelaine is a bright woman — well-read, cultured, and a breath of fresh air from the usual promoter dweebs and their crackberries. I actually go places when she asks me to, as opposed to trying to figure out how to block some fool from emailing me an invite to listen to the same songs I heard the night before at a party celebrating the birthday of some skinny chickadee who thinks Dickens is the punch line of a bad joke and Hemingway is a street in the garment district.

Lelaine’s salon parties are just one of a slew of alternative-type events attended by peeps who see most nightlife as the same ol’ same ol’. And I’m not talking about too-cool-for-school penniless hipsters — I’m talking mainstream clubbers looking for anything but the next mash-up mix. In its way, Merkato 55 is this sort of event, and those loft parties springing up downtown are over the top. I guess I should give a birthday shout out to Aaron, and I would also thank Foss for the masterpiece, which is way too hot to mention here!

You’ve worked in many capacities at clubs, including hosting Sunday nights at Bungalow 8. What does your nightlife resume look like? I think most of my background has actually been more restaurants than nightclubs. I was a manager and maître d’ at Balthazar as well as a maître d’ at Mercer Kitchen — and this was before I really started working in nightlife. Later you recommended me for a position at the door at Home and I was also a host at Lotus for a little bit when they first opened, when Sunday nights were Bingo Night.

What are you working on now? What is a cultural salon? 403 is a cultural salon which I founded in the summer of 2005, and the mission statement is this: “403 is a cultural salon which seeks to encourage the discussion and exchange of ideas through presentations on arts, culture and humanitarian concerns.” It’s a monthly four-hour event which includes dinner (light fare) and then I’ll have a speaker come in, maybe an artist, a documentarian, a photographer, or somebody who’s doing interesting work and have them talk about their work and their experiences for about 45 minutes.

So you’re essentially a curator, a party promoter and an event planner? You’re curating events for artsy people. I like to think that it’s for artsy and intellectual people. My life before I moved to New York was 180 degrees from where it’s been. I was an activist for nine years, and I mean hardcore; I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience, I was a full on tree-hugger, the whole nine yards. So my life was very different before I came here and I’ve always had these disparate sides of myself. I’ve got the activist side that fights with the side that wants to be glamorous, wants to go out and do all of this and that has access to a lot of influential and interesting people. And so 403 was a way for me to reconcile these two sides.

How many people come? Average about 50.

How much does it cost? $40-$60 depending on where I’m holding it.

And where are you holding it? Well, I did it in conjunction with Soho House in 2006, but lately I’ve just been doing it in private lofts. It is nightlife, but it’s a different kind of nightlife, and I think it appeals to those of us who are maturing and want something more than just going out to a bar. I’ve created a community, which has been the most rewarding part, there is an engaged community of people who like what I’m doing.

It sounds like somewhere I could meet people I would be able to have great conversation, because it is hard to meet people the right people in this town. Is that what you do full-time? The salon is something I do as a side thing. I ran a fashion start-up for three and a half years, which I just left last year.

So why aren’t you doing this once or twice a week — is it too much work? Well, I haven’t had one since the economy has tanked, and it’s going to be really interesting when I do. I actually have a number of prospects on the back burner that I’m trying to pull together, so it’ll be really interesting to see what the response is.

So what’s an example of a person you would have speak? I’ve had people like Toure, who’s a writer for Rolling Stone … he has a book called Never Drank the Kool-Aid that is a compilation of all of his Rolling Stone essays and is very entertaining. I’ve had a gentlemen named John Badalament who spoke on the social constructs of gender and how it affects our relational lives. I met him through some friends, and he was so fascinating. When I met him, we sat down at a party and we didn’t stop talking for four hours, so I told him he had to present at 403. I’ve also had one with Rex Weyler who is one of the founders of Greenpeace International, and Palden Gyatso, my most recent one, was a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 33 years.

So who are the people going to these events? It’s a little bit of everyone. I would say it’s mostly in the 30s age group, but of course it can range from 21 to 50. So the core of it is people in their 30s, the people who are sort of getting tired of just the club scene. It’s generally on Monday nights because I’m not going to try and compete with anything else, and on Sundays I think people still want to stay at home. It’s been interesting, but the reaction’s been great. When I first looked into salons, most of the ones that I found at the time that I started this were very specific. They were either all artists, or all literary, they all had a very specific focus.

Do you have the history of the word salon in this context is it like 1600s French? Yeah, it’s a 17th-century idea of a salon. I think at the time, women were not part of the educational system, and so wealthy women would sort of sit in their beds and call people to them to educate them.

And how did you come up with the idea of doing the salon? Were you the first salon on the scene? Yeah, I think there are people who have gotten some more notice than I have, they’re better funded or they have websites and I don’t have any of that, but still, their events were not exactly like mine. Especially since no one was doing anything like this for an open demographic of our peers. I’ve fought with myself a little over whether I want any press, whether I want to go out there and get sponsorship because my salon has been very under-the-radar and I kind of like the informality of it. But I don’t know anyone else who was doing something exactly like mine when I started.

Do you throw it in lounges, restaurants, etc? I never really wanted to do it in a restaurant. For me, the idea of a salon is very much about being in a private home. It’s a different sort of way of going out and I’ve always wanted to maintain an informal and intimate feel, as if you’re in someone’s living room.

So you’re a hospitality person who has created a spin-off on the traditional way of going out. Yeah, it’s a different option for people who still want to go out and want to be social, but not within a club environment.

Do you cook for it? No! I usually hire a caterer. 403 references the apartment number where I first held 403, at 199 Lafayette, the building where La Esquina is. The summer they were building La Esquina, was the summer I started doing it with my partner Yves-Claude. He had a very old-school type loft, a little gritty, and he changed the art once in awhile but he didn’t care what I put on the walls and he actually did all the cooking.

It’s good to see someone thinking outside of the box. You took your hospitality skills and now you’re doing this salon idea and there’s one coming up soon. Yeah, it’s really a good way for me to sort of indulge in my intellectual curiosity and to pull together a good social group.

You also have a blog; tell me a bit about it. Basically it’s an extension of my salon. There are some people that I can’t physically get at the salon, and I love writing, so it’s a way for me to feature people or ideas I cannot have at the salon — whether it’s because of schedules or distance. The blog is not focused on any one theme or idea, it’s really just my random musings. The title of it, Bluestocking, is another word like a saloniere — an educated, intelligent woman — although bluestocking originally had a sort of derogatory connotation.