Predictions About The Revamped Marquee

I will be attending Marquee on Wednesday to see what I will see. I expect a Vegas-style club geared toward electronic dance music (EDM), with a room to dance and a room for corporate clients to have events. In the early stages, I consulted on the layout, but I’m not involved in the design now. I designed the first incarnation and a couple of reduxes since. The late, great Philip Johnson got involved at the last minute in the original design and added greatness to my humble offerings. It may have been his last project. Over the years, Jason Strauss, a partner, would ask me how I ranked Marquee in the all-time list of great clubs. I usually had it down around number 25, but with the caveat that time will tell. This latest redux says that Marquee’s story has not been fully written. It certainly dominated its decade and it certainly wasn’t all about black cards buying bottles, although that is a great part of its legacy.

Marquee took bottle service to new heights. It was a huge part of the bottle-model, table-service revolution that went global. Yet, there were hipster nights with Wednesday’s so-called “rock night” lasting for 6 or 7 years. I remember feeling great joy while sitting with Paul Sevigny and friends in the mezzanine. Marquee was fun. Celebrities came as often as sparklers on bottles. Over the year, the paint faded and the luster of it all moved to other venues. Many didn’t even realize it was still there. It was always making money, living on reputation and remembrance and professionalism. Tao Group or Strategic Group or whatever the corporate name at the time built other icons like Avenue and Lavo and PH-D and, and, and…and the crowd moved there. And then they built a club in Vegas, and the Marquee brand was reinvented as the highest-grossing joint ever. It even had an outpost way out in Australia.

As the 2000s meant bottle service, the 2010s are all about EDM. Marquee NY will be a hub, a routing point for the organization’s big name and DJ packages. Marquee NY will belie the slogan, “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” To some extent, a Vegas production-marketing-big club experience will settle on 27th and 10th. A nightclub pro told me yesterday that he believes it will dominate. He feels it will redefine the whole scene. So I guess in a few years I’ll call up Jason Strauss and utter a single word, a number like “9,” and imagine the smile on his handsome and successful face. Congratulations to Noah and Jason and Mark and Rich and the other Rich and Andrew and Wass and all the players to be named later. To all the players who work so hard and make it look so easy.

Tonight I will scoot down to Mister H at the Mondrian Hotel Soho to visit Louis Mandelbaum on the occasion of his birthday. I know Louis as Louis XIV, his DJ moniker. We teamed up on New Year’s Eve at Marble Lane, also owned by those guys up above. Louis will DJ and host, and a good time is ensured for all.

Industry Insiders: Chad Campbell, Night Rider

With a capacity of just 110, Mister H at the Mondrian SoHo is one of the most exclusive nightclubs in Manhattan, but general manager Chad Campbell works hard to keep it humble. The Kansas City native, who traveled the world before helping to open such New York clubs as Top of the Standard and Jimmy at the James hotel, aims to create a cozy environment, where the 1930’s Shanghai design stimulates conversation among guests.

His welcoming approach can be seen in the eclectic crowd that fills the space every night, where bottle buyers and models rub elbows with actors, artists, and creative people of all stripes. “I’m looking to see who’s going to add something to the energy and vibe of the room,” he says. “We want it to be a social, unpretentious environment where people are inspired to talk to their neighbors with no confines.”

Armin Amiri Brings Giddy Insanity to the Mondrian Soho

He’s only 39, but Armin Amiri has lived a life rich enough to fill a memoir—so he’s writing one. Tentatively titled The Price of Imagination, it details his escape from Iran as a young man, his journey through Turkey, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia to a refugee camp in Vienna, and his triumphant arrival in the United States in 1989, a place where, Amiri believes, dreams do indeed come true.

They certainly have for him, even if they’re not exactly what he imagined as a child. Amiri has been an actor, with roles alongside Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Sienna Miller in Factory Girl. He’s been a bartender at New York’s once white-hot Lotus club. He was tapped by nightclub entrepreneur Amy Sacco to run the door at legendary Bungalow 8, where his keen eye for “casting” earned the club comparisons to Studio 54. He even ran his own nightclub, the West Village’s Socialista, which, at its peak, attracted an A-list clientele that included Madonna, Kate Hudson, and Ashton Kutcher.

Now he’s taken on a new role as the creative force behind Mister H, an intimate lounge in the new Mondrian Soho hotel that opened last February during New York Fashion Week. It’s a perfect fit for Amiri, allowing him to tap his limitless pool of industry contacts and to conjure a nightspot that reflects his fertile imagination.

“The concept, which I presented to the board, was a spot where Humphrey Bogart would have gone for a gimlet after work,” Amiri says. “He’d have gone to a place owned by a Chinese guy named Mr. Hong, and Mr. Hong would have known how many ice cubes Humphrey liked in his drink.” Add to that a certain “misty and mysterious 1930s Shanghai and San Francisco feeling,” and you’ve got Mister H, which has quickly become the preferred destination of a certain segment of Gotham glitterati.

The design owes as much to Lewis Carroll as it does to Bogey, with beaded curtains, potted palms, and a painting by New York artist Gregory de la Haba of a pole-dancing woman wearing a rabbit mask. A neon sign announces, “This is not a brothel—there are no prostitutes at this address,” lest the red lighting give patrons the wrong idea.

Amiri no longer mans the door. That responsibility falls to guys like Chad and Disco, who shoulder the difficult task of conferring entry to an always-significant line of hopefuls. “As hard as it is to get in, once you’re inside it’s pure hospitality,” Amiri says. “Whether you’re a famous actor, model, or musician, you’re able to roam around the room without being bothered. I want a place where people walk in and they’re ready to shake their butts.”

The stakes are high for Mister H, with huge sums of money and prestige to be imparted upon its partners should it be a success, but Amiri is surprisingly grounded about the whole affair. “Nightlife can be a breeding ground for a lot of insecure people, because it gives you the illusion that you have power,” he says. “Don’t buy into the hype. Just because your thing is hot today doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot tomorrow. And don’t ever let your imagination die, because if you’re not careful, this business can eat your soul.”

Photo by Victoria Will.

NewVillager Samples Mister H’s Best Vodka Cocktails

You can’t swing a MacBook without hitting a “multi-media artist” these days, but NewVillager’s broad and accomplished body of work all but renders the term an understatement. There’s the music, of course, like the band’s new single, “LightHouse,” an uplifting track from their upcoming self-titled debut album (out on IAMSOUND in August) that replaces typical indie-rock brooding with sheer, unadulterated happiness. There are the videos: “LightHouse” takes the costumed fantasy world of early Björk and adds to it modern dance, magic potions, and a woman inhaling all the life force in a room, or possibly just a very long piece of cotton. There’s plenty of writing: founding members Ben Bromley (left and right) and Ross Simonini (center) lovingly lay out the “NewVillager mythology” on their website; Simonini is the interviews editor for literary journal The Believer. There’s modern art, photography, and even NewVillager games, such as the one they play in the video for “Rich Doors,” which depicts a 27-person integrated event that involves, in part, a fluorescent green ball.

And now, the bi-coastal artist collective can add “cocktail taster” to their resumes, thanks to a recent evening spent critiquing vodka-based libations at Mister H, an exclusive lounge in the new Mondrian Soho hotel. It was a warm spring evening when we met Yusef Austin, a master mixologist with more than a decade of experience creating drinks for trendy nightclubs and parties around the world. As the cocktails started arriving, Bromley and Simonini pondered their unique charms, which actually paralleled the band’s artistic ethos, always resting on the friction point between opposing forces.

Exotique: 2 oz. Stoli Elit vodka, 1 oz. passion fruit juice, ¾ oz. cardamom and star anise elixir, ½ oz. fresh lime juice. Add pink peppercorn. Shake and serve in a martini glass. Garnish with pink peppercorn d ust and a hibiscus flower. Ben Bromley: The crystals on top form the spiral arms of a galaxy or hurricane. It’s a spinning pattern—a recurrent form. This drink is a force of nature. It reminds me of a cocoon house. Ross Simonini: I was hoping to taste the pepper more, but our collective youth is embedded in the effervescence of this drink.

Melons: 2 oz. Stoli vodka, 1 oz. cantaloupe puree, ¾ oz. rosemary-infused aquavit, ½ oz. fresh lime juice. Shake and serve in a rocks glass. Garnish with a cantaloupe wedge or rosemary sprig. BB: Rosemary takes me to a darker place, even though it’s a summer drink. It oscillates—my mind doesn’t know which flavor to accept. RS: The flavor comes alive in your nasal cavity. It feels like I’m making a conflicted decision between the rosemary and melon, and I need to transform myself to accept them as one. It’s like I’m opening a door. On one side, there’s a forest. On the other, only me.

Nasty Pepper: 1 ½ oz. hibiscus-infused Stoli vodka, 1 ½ oz. pepper-infused Don Julio Reposado tequila, ¾ oz. Cointreau, ½ oz. agave nectar, ¼ oz. fresh lime juice. Shake and serve in a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and lime wheel. BB: It’s like the fires of transformation. The fire just passed through my heart and it’s making its way down. It feels like something new has come through me. May I have your cantaloupe? RS: It’s a conflagration in my mouth. I’m standing on the edge of sour and spicy, and it makes me question whether I’m in one state or another. It’s burning in the back of my throat, as if a crow were pecking its way out of me.

The NewVillager: 2 oz. Stoli vodka, ¾ oz. fresh lime juice, ¼ oz. Crème Yvette liqueur, 4 drops plum bitters, ½ oz. simple syrup, 3 large sprigs of ai basil. Muddle basil with lime juice. Add remaining ingredients, shake, and strain into martini glass. Float the bitters on top. RS: The tartness makes me obsessively touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth. It’s nice, like a crack of light. I’m a house of light and I’m seeing where I’ve never seen before. The basil is making love to a lime on the back of a black sea turtle somewhere between Thailand and Mexico. BB: What Ross really means about light is that he’s a lightweight.

120 mph: ¾ oz. Stoli vodka, ½ oz. Kahlua, ½ oz. espresso. Rim a shot glass with half cocoa powder and half cayenne pepper. Shake and strain into shot glass. BB: This is the recapitulation of the whole cycle. It sparks your consciousness anew. The pepper reminds me of that point of transformation. The heat remains on the lips and makes me want to kiss someone. RS: It’s a mirror, a Jungian shadow of the Nasty Pepper. I’m just going to lick around the circle. Now it’s all coming back to me: I’m remembering that every glass I’ve ever drunk out of has been a circle. The coffee completely wipes away the intoxication and brings you back to clarity. It’s a freeway overpass, the yin and the yang.

The Mondrian Soho Was a Scream Last Night

Last night, I wangled and cajoled my way past the velvet barriers and into the Scream 4 premiere afterparty at Mr H. It was to be a star-studded affair, with even the divine Charlie Sheen a promised guest. The funny thing is, if you tell people that a rare bird like Charlie is going to show up, the party never gets past looking for that particular celebrity, even when it’s clear he’s not coming. I wasn’t really supposed to be there anyway, and there were plenty of the beautiful, famous, and fabulous to gawk at, so no complaints.

I was, however, prepared to say hey to Sir Charles. I even had a knock-knock joke composed just for him. Oh well, next time. I had to be content to rub elbows with those that came, including Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Courtney Love, Eve, Terry Richardson, Gabourey Sidibe, David Arquette, Russell Simmons, and many more. I even met a mob wife! I was chatting up old friend Tika Sumpter, who is a newbie on Gossip Girl, when Harvey Weinstein came over and politely told her that he loves her on the show. Tika was flabbergasted, and said to him, “You watch me on my show?!” Mr. Weinstein explained how his wife did this and that, and yes, he thought she was great. It was really sweet. Tika and I exchanged numbers and vowed to always stay close. Also on hand was my pal, the always beautiful Vanessa Felito, who, as impossible as it may sound, looked more beautiful than ever. After a dozen OMGs and some serious catch-up hugs, we told tales of what we did back when and what we are doing now. Amanda loved her, and Vanessa made sure Amanda was treating me right.

Mr. H was sweet and getting sweeter every week. Before we went back to our little world, Amanda and I sat in the lobby on the robins-egg-blue patent pleather seating and watched the scene. I had heard of internal debate about moving this and moving that and making it more like a traditional hotel lobby. I think the Mondrian is breaking ground, and should just stay as perfect as I found it last night. The crowd passing through was gorgeous. The place was designed and built for them. There is nothing conventional about the space, and that’s just a wonderful thing. As the party guests filtered out, some arm candy asked her celebrity, “What is this place?” and he replied, “A hotel.” How was she to know? We were in Oz or Barbie’s playhouse, or on a movie set. We were sitting in anything but the lobby of some boutique hotel. The Mondrian embraces that spirit, taking the concept of being “elsewhere” to another level. It’s a breath of fresh air in a design world polluted with the same old same old. It is my favorite place.

After, it was off to La Esquina for tacos and shelter from the monsoon. Is it me or is the weather ridiculous? It’s like we’re living in Nova Scotia. La Esquina was jumping. It’s a machine, an energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going, and never slows down. The food was fabulous. We chatted with friends at the taco stand, while others, including those who had given up waiting for Charlie at the party, stopped by and gave that cute, squinty eyed “Busted” smile.

Mister H & Mondrian Sessions Hit LA’s Sunset Strip

LA’s Sunset Strip used to be known as the home turf of bands like Guns N’ Roses and, god help us, Poison. These days, with hotels such as The London and Mondrian pulling the jet set to West Hollywood, a more sophisticated demographic stakes a claim to the famous boulevard. Accordingly, The Mondrian is raising its own nightlife stakes this year with two new initiatives. Over the weekend, Morgans Hotel Group debuted Mister H, a new pop up that might just take the place of ping pong-centric Spin Hollywood, which dominated the ground-level lobby in 2010.

Armin Amiri (Socialista, Bungalow 8) flew in from New York for the opening, which was timed to Oscar weekend in LA. Guests were given a taste of the flavor Amiri has already brought to the Mondrian’s new Soho property via his Mister H in Manhattan. In WeHo, Mia Moretti was on hand to spin a few nights at the new space, which isn’t yet fully designed, but already feels a step up from Spin Hollywood, with lush plants, dim lighting, and a vaguely bordello-esque vibe.

But the best reason to try to find a parking space on the Sunset Strip this spring is the hotel’s Mondrian Sessions. Presented by iAMSOUND Records, the live music series has snagged some fantastic talent to play poolside at the hotel’s Skybar, including Lykke Li and Canada’s Gonzales.

Already this year, acts such as the Dum Dum Girls (top image) and Zola Jesus have sent their sounds pinging off of the sleek glass rooftop exterior.

The best part? So long as you RSVP, all the shows are free. Information can be found here.

March is shaping up to be a very good month to drop by the hotel, and we highly suggest you check out Gonzales’ gig there next week. Rumor has it he’ll be bringing a special guest or two. If you know who his famous female musician friends are, you can probably guess who we’re talking about.


The Door Tells the Story

I didn’t come for the face painting, to see the sword swallower or fire eater, or even for the kissing booth. And although I love a good dunk tank, and Sepentina’s grinder act seemed exciting, I didn’t come for that either. I went to Saturday night’s KCDC soiree’ to support my dear friend Amy Gunther and her KCDC Skateboard Team.

As I sashayed down N. 11th Street near Berry, I could see the throngs of hipsters, gutter snipes, and Brooklyn beauties gathered by the door. All, including me and mine, were invigorated by the Spring-like weather. Then I met the door people. Although my transition from outside to inside was swift, it wasn’t without a rude and completely unnecessary encounter with a hired gun who thought he was working at a penal colony. Instead of a greeting or a welcome, I was treated to an attitude.

Inside everyone was having fun. The crowd was thin and skateboard-y, and wearing all those clothes that are meant express independence but look pretty much the same. You know — cool hat, cool hoodie, cool kicks. I think the three security guards I met on the way in could have taken the whole crowd in a fair or unfair fight if something broke out, but nothing was going to. It was all water pistols, cotton candy, and fun for the whole family. Skateboards were being clapped against the half pipe as limber sorts showed off their practiced skills. My departed pal Harold Hunter’s name loomed large and proud over the scenesters. KCDC is a wondrous place, and the team needs and deserves support. Amy was running around with that beautiful smile that slays them all. She was radiant and happy. A good time was had. She couldn’t know that I was “unwelcomed” at her door. It’s really trivial but worth a minute of thought, as that’s what I am left with today. I’m a big boy, and I’m not crying because I wasn’t treated like a king. It’s not like that. It’s that one bad employee can take the helium out of the balloons before we all get to make funny voices.

We headed to the Mondrian on Lafayette street, where door veteran Disco greeted my clan with a big hello. The door remains one of the most important cogs in the wheels of a good club or even party. The transition from the street to the event sets a tone which carries through. Knowing the person outside is always a plus, but it isn’t necessary. A professional at the entrance recognizes who belongs, and makes sure the experience is pleasant. With a zillion choices in this world, people who belong will choose to belong at another place next time, if they are treated incorrectly. At Travertine it was all good—all hellos, and enjoys, and a have a good night when we left. At GoldBar, familiar faces were glad to see me. At Jobee, where a night was trying to be different and succeeding, people were friendly and made you feel wanted. This isn’t a case of me not getting in or being delayed. As I said, the transition into the Etnies-sponsored KCDC party was speedy. It’s that the verbal exchange at the door was uncalled for and extremely put-offish. Rude behavior is an international thing.

Some door gods want to be worshipped. This happens at hot-spots everywhere. It’s never professional. The person that gets turned away should be treated with respect, because someday you might need their dollars to pay the landlord. I used to tell my door people to behave like James Bond: Always a gentleman until you’re not, and only then when pushed to the limit. I can’t tell you how many of the people running things in nightlife today had to distinguish themselves over time at joints I ran. The door defines the brand as much as any other element of a place. The person turned away this time may become your A-lister down the road. Clothes sometimes do make the man, and people who are determined to climb socially learn to adjust. I am not saying I was never rude out there, but I believe when I was, it was for good reason.

The Mondrian was percolating, as the lobby and restaurants are nearly done. I can’t get enough of the place. Mister H. had my favorite misnomer, Miss Guy, peddling tunes from every era. Armin was somewhere fabulous—someone said Hollywood, but a more reliable source offered Paris. We skipped across the street to a hush-hush, secret-password party at Jobee. The crowds were pouring in as this north Chinatown, South Soho area is heating up. The old dim sum bar and lounge was only gussied up enough so that arrivals felt they were in an underground kind of place.

The neon over the door said “CLOSED,” a forgivable lie. I worked the pleasantly different room. I kissed all the babies, and talked with a low voice to all the important men, and then left with an enthusiastic, really true promise to return real soon. The gala was getting hot as I was leaving, and encounters of a different kind were calling, er, texting me. It was off to Brooklyn, to a bar where only a half-dozen friends knew me. There, I was greeted by a friendly tough guy at the door and I felt welcome, at home. I’m not going to tell you where I was, as there are a hundred places within a hundred blocks selling the same concept with an occasional slight variation. The Jack Daniels or Absolut sold in each one of these places is exactly the same. That’s one of those fundamental things that apply as time goes by. The exact swill you are buying can be had elsewhere, if the attitude of one place isn’t to your liking.

The bars, tables, and chairs are interchangeable. The bartenders are generally interesting in some way. Some spots have the game on, some places are designed as places where you can get your game on. Many have someone with a clipboard or just a presence at the door. Some of these people smile and say hello and wave goodbye as you leave, and some have grumpy thugs punching the clock and thinking about punching out someone’s lights. Again, there are choices, and there are places that succeed and others that don’t succeed as much. KCDC was a one-off event and the party throwers are amazingly good people, but that was Saturday night, and as much as I don’t like being a Monday morning quarterback, here I am ranting. It still bothers me.