Flxx Performs At XL: “Don’t Be Fooled By The Hair. It’s My Mind That Leads Me”

Flx Chaparro-Pitre, usually known as or referred to as just Flxx, has been a nightclub constant or quite a few years. A benevolent manager at hot spots around town, he is known for his look, which includes a lion-like mane. He is soft spoken but stern, and knows everybody and everybody knows him. In the category of "where is he now?" we report that after two and a half years of self-imposed exile, Flxx is back with an album. On April 6th, he will perform at XL nightclub. His new production, "FLXX’s Journey To You," will include the single and video off his new album Valentine’s Romeo, entitled "You". It will be the world premier at the hot 42nd street club and everyone – the old and new – will attend. FLXX is one of the good guys in the business. Read ahead and see why that definition may not be accurate.

You have an ancestry, a lineage that would lead you to entertain. Tell me about that it.
There has always been song and dance in my family for generations, and it’s an epicenter to my life. Every family gathering would lead to instruments playing, people singing and dancing, and the showstoppers were always my mother and father. I would wake to my mother’s singing voice every day. Growing up in Chelsea, my father would frequently perform in clubs and lounges in NYC and invite my Mother to do so as well.

You were always a look… a big look, a powerful look, a recognizable look.. tell me about how you came to it.
There is a picture of me when from when I was seven years old that I have begun to share when asked this same question so terribly often. It was taken during the wrap party for a production of Swan Lake that I was the lead in, and when I look at it, it is still me. I am just now adult version. In the picture I have long hair, a top hat, and tails and an ascot! Yep. Still me. I am all real. But sweet, awkward, comical men and women have dressed themselves as me. Men and women have followed the charcoal lines around my eyes as me. Sounds like a narcissist’s dream. But I believe it’s disconcerting to be reminded so blatantly of oneself. The fact that people want to impress upon you their perception of you is disturbing to say the least. 

You managed, worked in clubs, clubs, clubs.. tell me about that life.
In late 1998, my opportunity to enter the never-ending part of nightlife arose. It is no secret that at the time, Peter and Alessandra Gatien, who infamously owned Limelight, were going through extreme legal issues. They needed someone with a good, clean record to run their Limelight. I hadn’t even received a parking ticket. I was the perfect candidate. Luckily, Father always taught me "one foot in, the other one out to have proper footing," and mother taught me that "no one is better than I, and I am no better than anyone else." I went there to work, make money, and go home peacefully. 

I became the co-general manager of their jewel in the crown, the most infamous nightclub in the world to date. It was by no means a walk in the park. But that is the business. If you can’t handle it, don’t play in it. 

Eventually, their reign as NYC nightlife royalty came to an end and I left and re-positioned myself elsewhere. I opened Arena @ Palladium, XL-Chelsea, Avalon NYC, Mr. Black, Ultra, to name a few. Oddly enough, right after leaving these aforementioned venues, they were shuttered. Once I leave, it’s done. Look at me all you want, but don’t be fooled by the hair; it’s my mind that leads me.

Were you always looking to get out of the nightclub biz?
I always knew that I was leaving the clubs. It was just a matter of when. I like to move forward. I want every day to be new from yesterday in all. From the very beginning I realized that the "beautiful people" were actually quite ugly and untruthful. But it’s no different in nightlife now, I see it. I can smell it when I walk to the door of any club: the aggrandizing. I can only number on one hand the true friendships that I have kept from my NYC nightlife experience thus far, and those people remain dear because they live in truth. 

Is nightlife the same, has it changed drastically, or has it just matured?
I believe that nightlife is the same. The music is there. The people are there. The venues are there. The laughter is there. It is just redesigned. That’s not a bad thing. People often speak of the "good ol’ days."  What’s wrong with progression, with change, with today’s nightlife? Why must one stay in the memory of something they once had as opposed to living in what they have in front of them. I go out looking forward to what will be as opposed to longing for what was once available. 

You wrote, "I am not man, I am not woman, I am not black, I am not white, I am not gay, I am not straight." Define yourself. 
 I live in as close to my truth and present as possible. I reflect upon yesterday, look forward to tomorrow, but most of all, I live today.

You are performing at XL on April 6th. What can we expect?
It’s my first time conceiving, writing, producing, and directing an entire production within one emotionally-charged theme. It’s entitled, "FLXX’s Journey To YOU," with the worldwide premiere and release of the first single and video off my album, Valentino’s Romeo, entitled “YOU." I have combined the theatrical with the club in me. A DJ will play music during the opening reception, muralists have created live images of me to backdrop the songs, and I will sing, accompanied by musicians, a choir, and my mother. Curtain up!

Tell me about your album Valentino’s Romeo.
It’s a gathering of many different moments in my life within my journey of love. At times I felt great and at times I had a 103-degree fever! I lived every moment of this album in real time. And I live each song as they still affect me both emotionally and physically. At times we are loved, but not enough. Not too good. And sometimes these moments in love happen simultaneously  Serious mind-fuck. A psychiatric rubber room of emotions is this album. 

Tell me a club story nobody knows…
I met the person with whom I have shared a greater part of my life thus far in Limelight. A person that will forever be one of my greatest loves. I am lucky and thankful. I can extricate myself from the clubs at my choosing, but I will never erase the clubs from my heart.

Get the inside-info on XL nightclub here

Last Night’s Var Magazine’s Launch Event: I Got a Tattoo

 A long time ago, there was this club called Palladium. It was my job to fill its 108,000-square-foot space about five nights a week with people that mattered. To give you an idea of how big that is, it is more than two Webster Halls and maybe 15 Marquees. Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were on top of the pyramid and were really great at bringing in top-tier celebrities to create the shock and awe such gigantic places needed. In this modern era, superstar DJs drive the car. Back then, it was Yoko and Liza and Rick James and Andy Warhol. Palladium never lived up to Studio 54 -Steve and Ian’s previous project – but it did have its moments. We did do 3,000 to 5,000 people, five nights a week. It was a pre-bottle universe but people drank a lot more and most paid admission.

I learned many lessons working for these geniuses of nightlife. The specifics were lost in time, but there was this party, and Madonna was going to be there …she really was supposed to. We were even allowed to say it, but we opted not to. The thought process was that we were going to sell out anyway, but if we said that Madonna was going to host or pass through or whatever then everyone would be focusing on that and not the party. The theory went on that if she does show, then everyone will be energized, as it will come as a great and wonderful surprise. Madonna ended up showing, sitting on the backbar, and reading the magazine that prompted the party. It was a party where the anticipation of the celebrity didn’t squash the fun.

Another event at Palladium was an Elite Model soiree. Again, we opted to limit promotion to the model agencies’ list. We didn’t tell our adoring public about the event. The logic was that model agency parties attracted the worst kind of guys and it would be swell if people came and saw a place packed with long-legged beauties. Without knowledge of the event, they might think it was like that every night. I did a good job.

Another time we produced a Koshin Satoh fashion show. He did clothes for lots of famous folk like Miles Davis and Rick Ocasek and Andy Warhol. Again, we knew Andy was going to show but we left it an undiscovered secret. The crowd that came was pumped up by his presence and the party was off the hook. For me, having the party off the hook was more important than a Page Six mention. He was swarmed by the press, including a TV crew who asked him why he had come for the Koshin Satoh show and he replied "Because Koshin designs clothes for Don Johnson.” The interviewer didn’t understand and said "So?" and Andy deadpanned: "Oh, because I think I look like Don Johnson." I held back my laughter as she went away confused and happy. Andy let loose a small smile as she skitted away.

I was mad about Andy. You can take all your Guitar Heros, DJ Megastars and whose-reality-is-it-anyway TV stars and toss them away. Andy was my reason to be cheerful. My clubs and the great clubs of this day are driven by the great crowds and off the hook parties. Word of mouth, amongst the people who actually got in past the door staff, was and remains more important than housewives reading gossip in the NY Post or other periodical. Most savvy operators realize their revenue streams aren’t driven by mentions in Us Weekly.

Last night I attended the VAR Magazine launch event. In fact, I was the DJ. It was a great party. Everyone had a blast. Sally Shan did a fantastic job. She will be happy when she reads this. She is sleeping now because she put everything into it. At the event there were whispers that Ron Wood, out and about pushing his book, would show and that Adrian Grenier was going to perform. These whispers didn’t become the focus of the event because Sally and the other organizers didn’t let the celebrity or the anticipation of one get in the way of a good event.

The Wooster Street Social Club, known as that tattoo place on NY Ink, was the setting for this bash. One of the highlights of the evening was me getting a tattoo while spinning records…well, CDs. Has this been done before? You can Google it if you think it’s important. You can even call the Guinness Book of World Records or start an event where everyone leaves with a tattoo to remember it. Luke Wessman did my tat. Even though the event was wonderful, in time it will fade in memory for even those who had a blast. I won’t forget it, as the ink will always be there to remind me. What did I get?… Andy Warhol’s signature… of course.

Sandra Bernhard On Her NY Shows This Week, Happiness, & Her Legacy

Sandra Bernhard will perform tonight at Carnegie Hall at a fundraiser to raise money for music education programs for underprivileged kids. The Music of Prince show produced by Michael Dorf has Elvis Costello, D’Angelo, Talib Kwell, Bettye Lavette, Amos Lee, Devotcka, and many others performing Prince hits. The Roots are the house band. And on Saturday, Sandra will appear at the Tarrytown Music Hall in the namesake NY suburb. This is part of her national tour which will take her through the summer. Sandra was the go-to gal for me when I opened two clubs back in the day, She wowed them on New Year’s Eve a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away with an all-star cast that she assembled when the Palladium entrusted me to fill it. She also set the tone for me at Life when I first launched that fabulously famous joint. In both cases, I enjoyed the consummate professional who wowed us off and on the stage. This week, I caught up with Sandra and asked her all about it.

First of all, let’s begin where we first met. I booked you two times when I was running nightclubs. I booked you at the Palladium for New Year’s Eve, which was an amazing show. And then I booked you at the opening, or right after the opening at Life, a nightclub I ran on Bleecker street. 
Yeah! 
You were incredible. The first one was you, and you brought along Gianni Versace, Robin Byrd,  André Leon Talley, and there was one other..
It was Donatella Versace.

And we had Debbie Harry open, or after you performed because that’s the way it works. And the Psychedelic Furs performed for the first time in 10 years, and we had PM Dawn perform at dawn. 
Oh my God. 

So it was the biggest booking I think I ever did. 
Those days are gone. And sadly, cause I miss The Palladium. It was a great club. 

 
So you’re playing in Tarrytown this Saturday. Is the show the exact show that you’d do in Vegas or New York, or do you tone it down a bit for the local hoi polloi ?
I might just pull it back a bit, because you’re not gonna do a New York-style show in a place that doesn’t call for it. So in the sense of bringing all my wardrobe? No, I’m not gonna do that. But, I’ll be there with my band! We’ll have a great show. Apparently, a lot of NYers have moved to Tarrytown, as with all the surrounding areas of NYC, so you’re always gonna get a good audience wherever you are.

Tonight you’re playing with Elvis Costello, who’s amazing, at The Music of Prince at Carnegie Hall. What is the music of Prince? 
It’s a fundraiser for music education and it’s like 20 different people covering Prince songs. I’m covering “Little Red Corvette” with the band The Roots. You know, Questlove, it’s his band that’s the backup band. And other people are bringing their own bands, but I’m performing with Questlove. They’re backing me up.

You’re right in the forefront of the movement for LGBT rights. Under this administration, there seems to be exponential strides. Even Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, came out for gay marriage. Are you running out of material? 
That was never my thrust, the gay movement per se. That was certainly the backdrop, because that’s just sort of where the smart, forward-thinking people have always existed, and still do to a certain extent. But my material is much more eclectic than that and always has been. I mean, I never identified myself as, you know, a “gay performer." That’s just not where I’m at. My work is about taking all the things that I thought were sophisticated and important from all the different worlds. From the art world, from the music scene, the underground scene, from vaudeville, to Broadway, to rock ‘n’ roll, to burlesque, to the Black movement. I’ve always melded my shows together. I’m postmodern, honey. I don’t get caught up in one thing. Never have. 

I booked you back in the day because you know how to make a statement. 
And that’s what I’m still doin, honey, cause there’s plenty to make statements about. Now the statement is: how complacent can our culture be? How lazy can we be? How dependent are we on social media? And the lack of people putting themselves out there, meeting new people face-to-face, being inspired, which is the real human experience! That’s what makes people great and interesting. You can’t do that by hiding behind the veils of social media. I mean, it just cuts off people’s ability to grow as people. 

You have this band called The Flawless Zircons, which I think is an amazing name. Tell me about them.

Well, some of the stuff I’ve written and some of the songs are covers. I have a huge musical repertoire that I draw from depending on the night. I switch it up. I love that element of surprise, just the way I’m sure if you talked to The Stones the night before they did a set, they wouldn’t tell you their set-list  Nobody wants to hear ahead of time what they’re gonna be hearing, you know what I mean? And the name – I love to “wow” you with "the big rock" and it turns out to be diamond-wannabee Zirconia. It just makes me laugh.

You do so many things in your career, but what would you like to be remembered as? What is Sandra Bernhard’s legacy? 
As somebody who constantly breaks down the walls of complacency. I love being somebody who can command attention on stage. Who demands attention. Who earns attention. Is somebody who not only entertains you, but makes you walk away at the end of the night and think, “wow, here’s somebody who shares my emotions, my fears, my hopes." There’s a wave that carries us through life, and throws us on to lots of different shores of interesting, exciting, ongoing, inspiring circumstances. But life should always be inspiring. It shouldn’t suddenly drop off the cliff and not be fun anymore, no matter where we’re at culturally or environmentally. We still gotta find ways of making life inspiring. 

How far is the real Sandra Bernhard from the stage Sandra Bernhard? Are you always on? Is it always you? 
No, not at all. I think I can drop into entertaining mode at the drop of a hat. But day-to-day, it’s work! You gotta roll up your sleeves, deal with so many different elements of this business. I’m on both sides of the live-performing and the creative side, and I’m also on the acting side. You can’t just throw it into somebody else’s lap because it’ll just fall apart. At different junctures, I’ve been with the wrong people, and you just gotta wrestle back control of your career, and be collaborative with people. 

Are you happy, or happier?
I’ve always enjoyed my life. As an artist and creative person, you’re always struggling to find level footing because you see things other people don’t see. If you didn’t see them, you would have nothing to talk about. You may lift up corners of rugs that are filthy, and no one wants to look at the filth, but if you don’t look at the filth then you’ve got nothing to talk about. So, when you look at things that are a little shocking or a little scary, they affect you emotionally and physically. That’s what artists do – painters, sculptors, writers, singers, funny people –  we look at things that other people aren’t willing to look at, and then talk about it in a funny or interesting creative way. 
 
So what’s the future? What comes next? 
Right now, a friend of mine is developing a great television series idea for me and another actress I don’t want to talk about because we’re right in the planning stages. We’re setting up meetings to go out and pitch the idea, and there’s nothing more irritating than when things are in transition. You just gotta let them fall together. But it’s a great idea with another fabulous, highly-visible actress who needs to be seen again, so it’s the two of us. I feel very positive about it, and that’s my next thing that I really wanna get done. 
I remember when you came in for sound check at Palladium, I hadn’t yet met you, and people were saying, " Oh my God, she’s gonna eat you up, and don’t do this…and that…" Then we heard you walk in, and from then on, you were just a joy. You were a joy to work with. So professional.
Thank you, and that’s what you gotta be. I mean, there’s no excuse for being anything less, and there’s no reason not to be. If you’re not professional, you don’t get anything done. You know that, and I know that. And thank you for that gig! It was a great, great night. That was the most fun night. 
 
Transcribed by BlackBook’s superstar intern Nicole Pinhas. 

Rudolf Piper Is Alive in Brazil

When I was king of the forest, and a young bright person would come to me with aspirations of a career in nightlife, I would make them listen to a little ditty: “I will hire you, but you must understand that nightlife is like a roller coaster. You spend a little money to get on the ride and the first thing it does is it takes you up a great hill from which you think you can see the whole world. It broadens your horizons, and the anticipation of what lies ahead is a huge adrenaline rush. Then you plunge headlong into it—fast and fun, steep curves, and drops and spills, and you have barely enough time to catch your breath or see much else. Suddenly it’s over, and you basically went around in a circle and didn’t get anywhere, and the only person to really make any money is the guy who owns the thing.” For the great majority of aspiring Steve Rubells or Noah Tepperbergs, that’s all she wrote. Some are satisfied with the gal above their pay grade or the recognition at the club du jour’s door, but few make a real career from it. I was very lucky to have worked for so many brilliant men who did, and Rudolf Piper was as good as they get.

He understood the money end and never let it get in the way. He knew without the bucks there would be no Buck Rogers, but he was an artist first. The clubs were a canvas that sometimes sold for lots of loot and sometimes a little less. The value of art is not necessarily in its price tag. I think Andy Warhol would have disagreed. I think Andy felt its value was in its ability to generate cash, but although Andy did something in almost every creative field, he never ran a joint. Nowadays, few operate places for little more than the money, and maybe the gals. There is nothing wrong with that, but it has led to the migration of the creative types to other boroughs—or even hemispheres. Rudolf Piper now resides in playful, hedonistic Brazil. He is making money there for club operators from NY, Miami, and elsewhere. He takes familiar brands visited by South Americans during the warm weather when they migrate north, and recreates them near their home. Yesterday I gave Rudolf 15 minutes of fame, and today I’ll give him another 15. Andy wouldn’t have minded. Rudolf is a man for all seasons, a bon vivant. He found himself in a paradise and furnished it to his tastes.

When operators look for a name of some garage or warehouse that will be “the place to be” for a few years, they no longer think small. They envision their brand in Vegas, or Miami, or Atlantic City – or with Rudolf’s help – Brazil. A name must transcend the boundaries of Manhattan’s rivers. It must be able to travel and be relevant elsewhere, wherever the party people live and play. Sometimes it’s merely a pop-up at Sundance or Cannes, but often it is a full blown joint in a faraway land. I learned much from my mentor, Mr. Rudolf Piper, and I apparently have a great deal more to learn. He invited me to visit him way down there, but I had to decline. I’m just getting used to Brooklyn, which feels like a foreign (but absolutely wonderful) country to me. Besides, from what my old boss has been telling me, I’m not sure i would ever come back. I often say you can only live one life. My old pal once again proves me wrong. Like an old cat, he survives continually and recreates himself and the world around him. I asked him a few questions via modern technology.

So, how does it feel doing club business in Brazil? First and foremost, it’s fun, sexy and lucrative. Meaning, it’s better than in many other places in the world. The economic crisis never arrived, or has been extraordinarily late in coming, so the economy is booming. Here, everybody that has money is really nouveau-riche, and therefore prone to spend a lot on lifestyle. It’s no secret that Brazilian girls are ultra-sexy, so that takes care of that. One generally overlooked factor is that the local population is of a joyous nature: they are happy, easygoing, and welcoming, and that’s a major differential. What other countries in the world could be labeled as “happy”? If you think about it, I’d say that there is almost none. So, it’s much better to live in a place where people are party-oriented, than in places where they are weird or depressed.

You have specialized in licensing foreign club brands in Brazil. How did that happen? It all started because Jeffrey Jah was trying to install a Lotus club in São Paulo in 2005. He was having difficulties, because a lot of the investors did not speak English down there. Then, at my birthday dinner at the Bowery Bar in 2005, where you and Jah apparently made up, I was sitting right next to Jeffrey and he got a call from Brazil, and he passed the phone to me. My Portuguese is impeccable, don’t ask me why because the story is too long. In any case, suddenly I was thrown into the middle of this project, and loved every minute of it. Then, that same night, some bizarre queen came out of nowhere and trashed our entire table setup, remember? Well, that incident gave me a good feeling about this whole plan, and I’ve been south of the border ever since then. There were many branches of Lotus down there. What other places did you license? Yes, Lotus had clubs in São Paulo, Guarujá, Salvador, Campo Grande, Campinas and Campos do Jordão. A nightmare to control. Then, I licensed Buddha Bar from Paris, owing to my friendship with Raymond Visan, who just passed away a few days ago. Later, I was briefly part of Pink Elephant-Brazil, and then purchased the Mokai brand from Miami. Recently, I was involved in the development of Kiss & Fly, which is now going to Punta del Este too. Currently, I’m working to open SET, from Miami, for next year, and I have some more things up my sleeve.

Talk about the strategy behind bringing these brands to Brazil. It definitively makes money and sense. Brazil is still a class-divided society, and the upper echelon is well-informed, has money to burn, and does not like to hear samba in their clubs. They travel a lot, and once back home, they want that same house music and DJs they listened to abroad. In a nutshell, they really want that NY club they liked so much in their own backyard. So, I took it upon myself to bring those venues over. How do you hook up with a foreign brand and how do you select which club you want to approach? First of all, I do research amongst the target clientele, to see which U.S. clubs seem to excite them most. And they always want American clubs, because nobody really knows what clubs are trendy in Europe. Once I have three or four possible candidates, I fly over and start negotiations with the people from NY or Miami. Normally, some 50% of the selected venues clinch a deal. The reason why the other places don’t is because they charge too much or create obstacles. Many fail to see that a licensing deal for Brazil is like money found on the street. They get concerned about the image of their brand, forgetting that most American clubs have only a short lifespan, so what possible damage could Brazil do to them? Others start preparing complicated contracts, some gigantic legal monuments that nobody in Brazil will sign. The rule of thumb is “easy does it.”

So, once you have signed a US brand and secured a property in Brazil, what do you do next? I start doing all those things that you do so well here in NY, like drawing up plans, getting additional investors, hiring contractors, decorating, starting initial promotion and presswork. As a matter of fact, I consider myself to be the Steve Lewis of Brazil! Well, thank you, I guess I’m flattered! It feels good to know that I became a mentor to my old mentor somehow. Now, changing subjects radically, let me ask you a question that a lot of our friends have been wondering about. Why, after so many successful clubs in the 1980’s, did you suddenly leave NY in 1991 without notice? They didn’t run you out of town, did they? To be honest, I think I did! No, seriously, there were a few reasons. First, I believed that the magic of NY had evaporated by then. Boy, was I right. Second, I realized that nightlife was subject to cycles of trendiness, which ended abruptly and was substituted by new ones. Most people who seriously identify with the times just past, normally have difficulties in a new situation because they were considered passé. The best example of this was when disco ended from day-to-nite in 1979, for no specific reason. The morning after, nobody would be caught dead in a disco outfit! Something happened to me when New Wave gave way to hip-hop. I was too close with those skinny black jeans! Plus, when I say that I ran myself out of town, there is a certain truth to that, because I opened Mars in 1990, and that was the first legally established place to really play some kick-ass hip hop—and I absolutely hated hip hop! I was not gonna put up with it! Then, because of all the shootings and stabbings in Mars, I decided to get away from the young crowd, and became a partner with Mark Fleischman at Tatou, a very successful supper club that existed in midtown for many years. When we decided to open branches in Aspen and Beverly Hills, I thought it was time to say farewell to NY. Then you initiated some kind of a pilgrimage around the world that lasted for roughly 20 years? Yes! I’m this German that became the Wandering Jew! Well, long story short, after a few years, California became just too lame for me and, besides, I heard voices telling me that my destiny was to go back to Germany, where I hadn’t been in 25 years. So, not wanting to argue with those voices, I sold my part in Tatou, went back to Berlin, and got a nice apartment there. Three months later, I realized that I couldn’t stand all those krauts around me, and I started to remember why exactly I had left Germany in the first place! It is an impossible place to live! I threw myself out of town again, and fled to Paris. In Paris, I was the promotions director of Les Bains Douches for a while, and did many other clubs and events for 6 years. Then, projects in Belgium and London followed suit. I spent one year in Lisbon, 4 years in Miami, and now 5 in Brazil. Yes, I call it tourism in slow motion, because in every damn place that people normally visit for a couple of days, I ended up staying there for years and years. I had fun, though. Of all these clubs you participated in, which one do you consider the greatest, most incredible nightspot you ever were involved with? You know, I hate being nostalgic and like so many other club people, I live for the here and now. But, as we both are true blue connoisseurs, let me just say the following: Up until recently, I would have said Danceteria, no question.That place had an un-fucking-believable magic, and, as you were part of it, I need to explain no longer. A short while ago, however, I came across an old issue of Mao Mag that had a long article about the Palladium, and I came to realize that this was really the most fabulous club of all time. And you were involved in it too! I came to think of all the aspects that made that place so great, like that fantastic old theater, Arata Isosaki the architect, Steve and Ian, the sheer luxury and size of it, those incredible parties for 5,000 people, all dressed up. It was a castle of dreams, a never ending ball at the Grand Opera. I also realized that, nowadays, the Palladium has been overlooked and even forgotten, in spite of the fact that no other place like that existed in the whole world—ever! There was an aura there, some atmosphere that cannot be repeated, and that will never come back. But then, again, Marx said that “History does repeat itself, but the second time around, only as a farce.”

Have You Heard the One About Moschino?

It’s that time of year. Time to bring out my ancient leather jacket and root for the Yankees as they zoom towards the playoffs. The night sky is lit by twin beams of remembrance and everybody is catching colds. My mail is all junk—bargains, clearances and politicians helping me to understand how great they have been or surely will be. My schedule revolves around Jewish holidays. A thousand forgettable people return from somewhere to remind me they exist. We have a couple weeks, or a lucky month, until our clocks fall back and the leaves change their hues and drop to our feet. The cool winds whisper that fall is upon us. We were all children once, playing with toys, and running, and jumping, catching butterflies, or just loafing around in what seemed like an endless summer, until Labor Day shocked us back to school. Early September was all frowns instead of smiles. Nowadays, I watch the privileged return from those quaint little towns that occupied their summer; the cold air will soon have the Euros and South Americans scurrying back to their villas overseas. The streets of Soho and Nolita will become passable, bearable again—but not before Fashion Week ends. This year, it’s from tomorrow, September 9th, through September 16th, and the fashion flock will make it impossible to get a cab, a reservation, or cross town.

Normally, sweet Parsons and F.I.T. students become fashion week interns that behave like Tasmanian devils, knocking over old ladies and bloggers to buy stockings and hairclips and shoes. The show must go on, and anybody in their way is fair game. We are all fashion victims. A zillion invites will be hawked to me advertising incredibly important events, and the disenfranchised will beg me, text me, phone me, tweet me, email me, to hook them up where they are unwanted. I loathe fashion week. This year a lot of it will be held way up there in Lincoln Center, as something still unclear went astray at Bryant Park. This means the days should be tolerable, as the hordes will be more uptown than I tend to go. The night, however, will be insane, as the clubs, bars, and boites I cruise will be inundated with people who will be—egads!—dressed up. I’ll just have to bring out this season’s Plaids and jeans, kick the kicks into the closet, and break out the wingtips. I’ll try to blend in.

There was a time when I worked for months to prepare for Fashion Week. Before 1994, shows were hosted everywhere. Schools, showrooms, theaters, and sometimes, clubs. Suzanne Bartsch did a Vivienne Westwood show at Limelight, and I got smart. I started doing shows at Danceteria, and packed in crowds who had never seen anything like it. After a hundred shows, I had an infrastructure of models and publicity and production and stylists—and we got pretty good at it. At the Palladium, we imported big names from Europe who were interested in showcasing their wares in front of all the buyers and fashion press who gathered for the week. I was able to bring in Katherine Hamnett, Stephen Jones, Matsuda, Body Map, Martine Sitbon, a Regine Chopinot/Jean-Paul Gautier collaboration called Le Defile, and my favorite, Franco Moschino.

Franco was unknown to me when a modeling agency called me to confirm a show that was booked at Palladium. Palladium was over a hundred thousand square feet, equipped with state of the art lighting and staging. In a time before the tents, it was a hip, functional, and a very cheap place to have a show. We actually paid big bucks for the show, trying to attach the cache, the brand of these designers to our own. I told the model agency I did not have Franco Moschino booked on my calendar, I had never heard of him, and demanded the contact’s number. The PR who answered the call later became my friend, but on that day Veronika Ming and I were full metal jackets of ego, venom, and getting our own way. She insisted that I was a fool and that it wasn’t a question, an issue, or my decision. Franco wanted that date, and the Palladium, and that was that. I told her I was booked with another show, which I believe was Betsy Johnson, and to stick the phone up her nose—or something like that. She listed the show, moved ahead like it was going to happen, and pooh-poohed my protests to everyone. Moschino was going to show on that date, in my club, and she wasn’t hearing anything else. We did our research and realized that Franco was actually pretty cool, but we were actually booked. Veronika wouldn’t consider another date or even time. We were aghast. Then Betsy, or whoever it was, moved their show to another night, and the date was open. My staff looked at me without mentioning the possibility that Veronika had been right, and I, their fearless (and prone to throw staplers) leader might have been a little less right than usual. I relented and Moschino got his show. I did most of the production back then, and Franco and I became fast friends. The foreign press described him as “L’enfant Terrible,” “L’Antistilista,” and “Il Dissaratore.” The New York Times called him “The Bad Boy.” To me he was a flamboyant, fun, crazy, talented teddy bear. We laughed and played while rehearsing a thousand lighting cues and a hundred outfit changes. We cast the show with angels and enjoyed our time.

Show night came and we were ready. I was in the booth and Franco behind the runway wall. We were talking through headsets, going over the all-important timing. Over a thousand people were seated, and standing—waiting for the show to begin. Lights, cameras, action, it was on—I directed the DJ and the lighting techs, and the first model hit the runway. Franco panicked: it was too slow! He began to yell over the headset. “Send them all out. Send them all!” His English ran into Italian, and back again, as I vainly tried to calm him down: “Stick to the well rehearsed plan.” He didn’t listen, and 20 plus models were all on stage together, with no one left to get ready for the next round of outfits. I screamed at him over the headset. “Now what are you going to do you asshole? everyone is on stage, no one is changing, you blew all my cues!” The tech guys around me pointed out that the music was way lower than my voice, and that the audience down below had heard every word and was looking up at me. There are times in life that there are no holes deep enough to hide yourself in. There are no words that will take the shame away, no giving to charities that will even up your gaffe. I was a man with a lemon meringue pie on his face, in the middle of Fashion Week. I was a tramp, a vile creature with no taste or style. I was the bad boy.

The show went on after a 5 minute pause, as the girls slipped on their next look. It was the longest five minutes of my life. After the show Franco and I needed to be separated, as words in English or Italian were not going to fully express our feelings towards each other. A year later, I was sipping hot chocolate with swells in Paris during that fashion week and he was at a table across the room. His people pointed me out and he rose to the occasion. As he approached, I pondered which fist I would throw first, but he smiled and kissed my lovely wife on the cheeks. I rose and we hugged and laughed aloud about that funny night. The old ladies in their Chanel didn’t understand why the funny looking men were laughing out loud in the middle of their lunch. My eyes caught them whispering. I imagined them saying to each other, “I hate fashion week. It brings in the worst crowd.”

Midnight Cowboy

I don’t travel well. Plane, train, or automobile, it doesn’t matter. Once I cross a bridge, or hop on some instrument to take me away from Manhattan—I simply collapse. My wives say I’m strapped into the city. The streets and sounds are as much a part of me as my blood. I just don’t like small towns, and for me, Chicago is a small town. In the classic flick My Little Chickadee, W.C. Fields is being dragged to the gallows. His character, Cuthbert J. Twillie, a con man who had become sheriff of Greasewood City, begs for a customary final wish as the noose is tightened. The mob grants it and Fields deadpans, “I’d like to see Paris before I die.” The crowd jeers and he lessens his demand with “Philadelphia will do.” For me, Philadelphia just might do, and maybe San Francisco, but other than that, it’s all Greasewood City to me. Oh, I did spend a year in Los Angeles one night, and I can absolutely tolerate Miami for 3 or 2 days, so long as nobody talks to me, or takes me to a club. America offers places I can get away to, like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Death Valley National Parks, but the cities and towns on the way are just truck stops or ghost towns to me. Tom Starker, one of the most infamous doorman in this town, moved away a long time ago to a place called Columbus. I looked it up. It’s in Ohio, which is a big left if you somehow end up in New Jersey. I am told it is a very pleasant place. It sounds like the kind of place those NIMBY’s on community boards would just love, but that’s another story.

Back in the day, there weren’t as many clubs as there are these days, but there were many more really big ones. They were fabulous malls where as many as 7 DJs played different music in different rooms to different crowds. People thought different was more interesting than the same. That sums up the problem with today’s clubs in a flash, but that’s a different story. It was one stop shopping, as the gays and the straights and the house heads and rockers all got along, and exchanged thoughts and, often, DNA. Now it seems like that mall was ripped apart, and sections of it form mini clubs, each with its own patented vibe.

Neighborhoods are club malls, but diversity is an elusive commodity. The doormen of these current joints are generally looking for one type of patron, looking for “their” crowd. Who or what is fabulous and VIP’d at Kenmare may not get hustled inside at 1Oak. The doorman may kiss the cheeks and the ass of one dude at Avenue but the same fellow might enjoy more of the night air than he is used to outside The Box. In times of yore, doorman needed to know or be able to recognize players from all sorts of crowds. Tom Starker was a superstar doorman. He worked at places that are legendary, such as Area, the World, Palladium (Rubell/Schrager incarnation), Heartbreak, Saturday’s, the Saint, Save the Robots, Limelight, The Red Zone, Palladium (Peter Gatien edition), Tatou, and Club USA. His 6-foot (and a lot more) frame was topped with a massive, trademark cowboy hat. Everybody had to be nice to him. Suddenly, he was gone and living and working in the hinterlands of self-imposed exile, far from any main street. I chatted with Tom as he contemplates a return to New York.

After many years in the wilderness, you showed up at a Danceteria reunion. Where have you been, and what have you been up to? Good analogy, wilderness can be good. It can impart wisdom if you stand still enough to listen. Leaving NYC for a time was exactly that for me. I returned to Columbus Ohio where I grew up, with hopes to take some of my industry knowledge and open a club here.

And I guess you did. What is Spice and BoMA? BoMA was my baby. It was a project 10 years in the making. I turned a 19th-century stone church into a 4-star restaurant, night club and art gallery that was named #1 for food in the city and a club that was nominated for 3 international club world awards, including best new club, where we were up against Circa (Peter Gatien’s club in Toronto-Winner), Tao Beach (Vegas), Set (Miami) and LAX (Vegas). I eventually sold BoMA and opened Spice Gastro Lounge, another high-end concept restaurant, 3 stars, that was inspired by the gastronomy movement that was happening at the time.

You were a doorman in NYC for years. Tell me about the clubs you worked for. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a whole life cycle of entertainment in NYC that we now can look back upon as a golden age of clubs. I started my career at Aria in the early 80’s; the brilliant club that changed its theme every 6 weeks: Arthur Weinstein then brought me over to do the door at The World. Arthur and Frank Roccio used to do a Rock and Roll night at the Palladium, based around the music scene with bands like Love and Rockets. They asked me to do the door, probably because of my Rock/Biker persona. Palladium was a star-studded icon. The venue was mind boggling, and the Michael Todd’s (VIP) Room was actually a club within a club. How do you describe a room that has a massive Michele Basquiat painting over the bar? Steve Rubell asked me to do the door on a full-time basis, how do you say no to Steve Rubell? It was an honor to work for him.

A lot of other great clubs sprung up in the scene during that time, and many times I would be asked to do a particular night, and the job description would grow into something bigger. I went on to work at venues like Heartbreak, the Saint, and Save the Robots. In a classic move, Peter Gatien asked me to do the door at the Limelight on Sunday nights, which was Rock n’ Roll Church, and a few weeks later, I’m full time. But that’s what the clubs were like, it was a scene, and being versatile, and moving around, was so much a part of the energy of the business.

In the mid-80’s, in the heyday of the mega clubs, I opened my own intimate space called Saturdays. It helped that I was a part of the scene because the regulars and the celebrities followed me there for a time, and Andy Warhol described the club in his diary:

“Saturday August 16, 1986… and then we walked up Church street to a new place called Saturday’s…. We got there and it was all beautiful straight models dressed to the hilt, accessorized with jewelry and T-shirts torn just the right way, like Weber photographs, and they all look like they just fell out of a magazine. And the right age, like 28-30. They park their motorcycles out front… and beautiful girls too. This place overflowed onto the sidewalk, it was so chic. “

The co-op board of the Saturday’s building eventually shut us down, because the crowds became too unwieldy, with people pouring in to the streets and waves of motorcycles firing up at 3am, waking up the entire neighborhood.

In the late 80’s and 90’s I did the Red Zone, another mega club and eventually went back to the Palladium under Peter Gaiten, who I worked for at the Limelight. Eventually, I did the door at an uptown club called Tatou, and then Club USA. The Red Zone and Tatou, interestingly, were venues that were also restaurants, a concept that really struck me, and eventually inspired me to realize that there can be more to a nightclub than loud music and massive crowds.

Why did you leave and what were you seeking? Did you find it? I actually never intended to leave for so long. I came to Columbus (my hometown) to open the Easy Riders flagship venue for Paizano Publications, publishers of Easy Rider Magazine. When you leave home at 21 and live the life I did in NYC for 15 years, being around family again reminds you of the things you are missing from your life. Next thing you know, you buy a house, and 17 years has gone by. But, as I take a breath in between projects and take stock of what I’ve seen, and what I’ve done, I’m experiencing the same epiphany, but in reverse. It all come full circle, as things should, and I desperately miss the city, its energy, and all my friends I met in that life, that are also like family to me. To ask if I found “it,” since being away, I discovered part of myself back home, but now I’m realizing that some part of me is also indelibly NYC.

You wore a trademark cowboy hat for eons. Why? Are you a forreal cowboy, or does it mean something else, or do you think you look good in it? All of the above, and don’t forget, I ride an iron horse. Steve Rubell did say after all, my country western party in the Michael Todd Room was the coolest party he had ever seen.

Clubs are made of people. What did you glean from the many club personalities you worked with? The club people of those days were reflective of every aspect of NYC, which in turn is a snapshot of every walk of life. I have to say that being in that environment at 21 probably was instrumental in becoming who I am today. I learned from the best of the best in an industry filled with unique minds and outrageous creativity, including you Mr. Lewis.

You’re contemplating a return? Why and what would you do. Yes, I have a concept I would like to open in the city that is along the lines of what we accomplished with Saturday’s. Having build, designed and owned large venues I don’t think this is the time for mega anything. People are valuing their relationships, their time, their money and quality experience is king. I would return not as a former self living in some pale limelight but as an evolved industry veteran who wants to again plug into a bigger picture and community of fantastic people.

Do the fundamental things apply as time goes by? How do you think the NYC club scene has changed? he fundamentals are creative genius, and the right time and place. I think we have all watched the club scene change over time. My “era” is now looked upon as an iconic time when large clubs, celebrities, exclusivity and glitz were everything. But we started to see politics and money play into the gentrification of every aspect of the city which took the life out of the club scene because we silenced the creative voice in exchange for highly controlled development. As we lost the grittiness that was the source of NYC’s scene we simply had to wait for the new time and place. What has developed are smaller venues with distinct concepts that have style and panache. I love what I’m seeing in this new evolution because its has brought Manhattan back to herself and it’s the kind of environment I can see myself being creative in again.

Do the fundamental things of the NYC club business apply in Columbus? NYC is unique, and the rules in the Midwest are completely different. Concepts do not play here the same way as they play in NYC so there are inherent differences in the approach.

Industry Insiders: Alan Philips & Josh Shames of Sky Group

Alan Philips and Josh Shames are founders of SKY Group and Deluxe Experience. Their clients include One Group (STK), Gerber Group (Whiskey Bar), Morgans Hotel Group (Hudson, Royalton, The Shore Club), Borgata Hotel, Brier Group (Highbar) … the list goes on.

What are your favorite places in the world? Alan Philips: Sushi of Gari. They have the freshest fish, simply and creatively prepared, in understated surroundings. I don’t think that there is anywhere you can experience something as delicious and unexpected as the salmon tomato onion sushi. Bagatelle has incredible energy and music, very New York. I recently had the pleasure of staying and experiencing the newest Morgans Hotel in Miami, Mondrian Miami. Marcel Wanders has designed a spectacular hotel that captures the surprise and whimsy that you first felt when entering the Delano 20 years ago. Josh Shames: The Box is an amazing New York experience, and I’ve never felt the energy from a nightclub that I have felt at Palladium in Acapulco, Mexico. 2000-plus people, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls over looking the Acapulco bay. As for restaurants, the China Club in Hong Kong or Il Latini in Florence, Italy, are the two of my favorite dining experiences. If I had a last meal, then it would be Don Pepe’s in Ozone Park.

Who do you admire in your industry? AP: Ian Schrager has continued to innovate for decades and maintain an individual point of view. The amount of time, energy, and commitment to your vision it takes to do what he has done is incredible. Imagine having Studio 54, Morgans Hotel Group, Palladium, Gramercy Park, and now this partnership with Marriot on your resume. Nobu Matsuhisa — he did not just create a restaurant, he created a whole other cuisine. Then he opened tons of locations that never sacrifice the quality of product. And just when you thought he was done, he kept creating new and intoxicating dishes that never cease to amaze. JS: Its cliché, but you have to mention Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager as they changed New York nightlife and the hospitality industry forever. No matter what has been done since, it has all been an extension of what they accomplished years before.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in your industry? AP: I like that people have been offering more inclusive experiences. Jamie Mulholland and his team did it this year at Surf Lodge. The vision and customer experience is all-encompassing from beginning to end. The restaurant, the bar, the hotel — it all goes together and is fabulous. I believe that customers want more for their hospitality dollar, and in this economic environment, they won’t mind spending money, but the quality and excitement better be there. I don’t think there will be tolerance for products that are sub-par. Additionally, I am excited about things moving away from bottle service. I like table minimums, and I believe that this will force operators to be more creative. Great ideas come out of necessity. JS: For a while, people thought that if they opened a nightclub or lounge and put a door person outside behind ropes, their place would be filled and generate revenue. I believe people have wised up since then. Operators, owners, and investors are starting to be more creative with their venues and concepts than they were five years ago

What is something that people might not know about you? AP: I love to cook. When the family gets together, my job is to cook. JS: I am left-handed and I go to every Broadway show.

What are your staples? AP: Books are Wolf of Wall Street, Good to Great, and Outliers. Artist is Da Vinci. City is New York to live and Miami to visit. JS: Destinations are Florence, Italy, and Aruba to relax. Politicians are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

What are you doing tonight? AP: Going to Nobu 57; I’ve been obsessed with Dover sole tempura since I got back from Miami. Then Ella to hear Brooklyn Dawn spin. JS: I never make plans that far in advance.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? AP: DVR. My girlfriend and I watch way too many shows. Lost, Sopranos, 24, Big Love, Californication, Gossip Girl, Weeds, Brothers and Sisters. Okay, this is getting embarrassing. JS: My Blackberry.

Drink of choice? AP: Patron Silver on the rocks with two limes. JS: Iced coffee in the mornings, diet raspberry Snapple during the day, and anything with ice in it at night.

Person you’re dying to party with? AP: My mom. JS: Myself. I’m always so concerned with everyone else’s experience, I forget what its like to have a good time.

What’s next in ’09? We’re developing a new web-based project called Deluxe Experiences that will launch in early 2009. I have been working on it for a year, and we are really looking forward to seeing it come to life. We are also managing an artist Brooklyn Dawn — she is a super-talented female DJ whose energy, skills, and sound are something totally different in the downtown scene. Everything she does is so genuine and exciting. Also, began a new area of our business focused on servicing our lifestyle clients and synergizing them with our hospitality clients. 2009 is going to be a very interesting year in the hospitality business, as people are definitely going to have to find new ways to make money.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Nobu’s Richie Notar, from Busboy to Dubai

imageI sat with Richie Notar in his fabulous and famous restaurant Nobu 57, and as we talked, it felt like I was just catching up with an old friend from the neighborhood. The amazingly accessible Richie gave me an hour just before he set off to open more Nobu franchises in exotic places far away from his Queens roots. His partnership with Robert De Niro and his relationships with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager may have kick-started his career, but success on this level is the result of someone who has given his heart, mind, and very soul in the pursuit of greatness. Working his way up from dishwasher — and not ashamed to say it — Richie is what this town is about; his hard work produced an empire. I am reminded of Caesars riding in triumphal chariots while a slave whispered mortality in their ears. Richie doesn’t need anyone to remind him from where he came from; he keeps his past real close, and despite triumphal success, remains humble and down to earth.

Steve Rubell once told me not to be “Steven,” he said to be “Steve.” He said “Steven” is too formal, and it puts people off. Is that the same story with Richie Notar? You know what? It kind of is. When it’s formal, it reminds you of when you were in trouble as a kid. And you kind of want to believe — whether it’s true or not — that if someone is saying Richie or Steve, there’s more of a familiarity with it.

So you’re accessible, people can talk to you? Yes, we’re in the hospitality business. Why not?

I worked for Steve Rubell, you worked for Steve Rubell, we have this in common. It’s funny, the movie 54 … Harvey Weinstein (who knew about my background) says to me, “Do me a favor, I want you to view this movie,” and I think this is going to be fantastic. So I’m sitting like a little kid in a screening room in Tribeca watching it, and I wasn’t liking it at all. It portrayed Steve to be a buffoon, with money sticking out, etc. And I thought, “This isn’t cool.” So how am I going to tell Harvey? I ended up telling him, “Well it’s great that you got the film there, the music is timeless and great.” I was kind of giving him backhanded compliments, and we left it at that. Steve was a brilliant man. It’s true. Steve had this lovability about him. He’s a little guy, he’s cuddly, and he’s everyone’s buddy. He’d even say it if he was being heavy with you: “Well, you know I can’t, buddy.” We had this love/hate relationship, because I was a brat, I was 15 or 16 and I drove for him. I worked at Enchanted Gardens, their first club in Queens, driving a beat-up old powder-blue Lincoln Continental with dents all over it. I probably couldn’t even really see over the wheel, but he just wasn’t interested in driving, and they liked having young people around.

Now, here you are, you’re a great success, you’re a partner in Nobu, which has 17 locations worldwide, and you’re opening more. And you carry with them the hospitality lessons you learned from Ian and Steve; at what point did Ian Schrager stop looking at you as the busboy or the driver Richie, and more as the business Richie? That’s a very interesting question, because a wise man a long time ago said, “You’ll always be thought about how you were when you walked into the equation.” But there was a time about three years ago when he came to Nobu in Tribeca, and he stopped me in the middle of it, saying, “I want to tell you I’m very proud of you.” It was almost like your dad finally recognizing your accomplishments. “I want to just tell you I’m very proud of you, look what you’ve done, I can’t say enough, buddy.” He used the “buddy” term, even though he knows my name!

It was a safety net. But it was also a reminder of those days, because he would say ‘buddy’ to everyone, but there was a different tone. There was “buddy” and then “buddy.” You would get it.

I know what you mean … But there was a certain way you would say “buddy,” and he used the “buddy” in a way that was just a memory, you know? And funny enough, about a year later, he started calling me for advice and asking me what I do at Nobu, or “I have a concept that I need in the Gramercy Park,” and I knew at that point, to answer your question, that I was a made man! I was respected.

I knew that I had arrived with them when one day Steve told me that he wanted me at the door. And that to me, because I knew that Steve has always been at the door, that was big. Yeah, he was so protective.

Yes, so protective. And he put me out there. And for me to be at the door at the club that he was running, it was almost like a passing of the torch. But really, I couldn’t walk in his shoes, and I don’t know if anybody else ever will. There’s only one of everyone, but you can pass the knowledge, and only a select few can absorb it.

Back then, art was a much more important part of nightlife. Ian Schrager has done that over at the Gramercy Park Hotel, and it’s brilliant to sit there, amongst those paintings. I mean, how can you be pretentious when you’re looking at great art like this? It humbles you. That’s a subtlety that’s missed on many people. He’s not out-spending, he’s out-tasting, and that’s important.

You made a statement in the New York Times, which I love: “Money doesn’t buy fun like it used to.” I thought it was brilliant. You know, there was a time that I had just come back to New York. I was in Paris, and I love going to a place like that where whether you’re 5, 6, 15, or 80 years old, it’s just fun. And it’s more of an event, you don’t get a bunch of people on their phones, trying to be the next billionaire, and it just struck me — no one’s really having fun! So the Times asked me about nightlife, and what’s going on, so maybe I was a little more passionate about my remark then.

And you made another statement saying, “Nightlife is filled with poseurs and inebriated youths.” I might’ve been referring to the Meatpacking District a little bit.

I think it’s club life in general. I think it’s a very very telling statement that in our era, the artist, the person who had arrived creatively was the VIP. Nowadays, it’s the broker with a black Amex. You get it. I was reminiscing about what Steve would say was “tossed salad.” Too many straights, get some gays, too many gays, get some straights, too many guys, get some girls. And with this mix, eclectic mix, once you’re in the club, it didn’t matter if you had a pot to pee in or not, you were in for a reason. No one cared, because you were in there and you were christened that you’re either cool or in the arts or there’s a reason you’ve been invited to this party.

When I taught doormen the business, I always said, “You can always judge a book by its cover.” Now there are a very few exceptions — cops and robbers are professionals at hiding who they are — but for the most part, the public is screaming who they are, in their clothes, the way they carry themselves, the grooming. This was an important part of nightlife, and it no longer is. Nowadays it’s just uniforms, cheap clothes or expensive clothes that are just uniforms. You can’t buy taste.

Now, I want to go into the Nobu experience. We’re sitting in Nobu on 57th Street. This is a highly styled David Rockwell-designed place, every inch, every detail is covered, and he’s a brilliant man, one of the best designers out there. This place has gotten critical acclaim for design. The design is part of an experience; Warner Leroy was one of the originators, and he was on this block with the Russian Tea Room and of course Maxwell Plum, in this neighborhood; he taught us about the experience of nightlife. Tell me how you balance food, design, attitude, and service in your restaurant. My philosophy is you can put a great, grand design, and that’s fine. For ten minutes, you look at the design, and then you go onto why you’re there, eating with friends and so forth, and you don’t want to outshine that. I’m trying to sell an experience. You could fill your stomach anywhere, so why’re people going out? It’s for another reason, whether it’s to entertain, whether it’s to impress someone, whether you’re showing someone off, so I didn’t want to get caught up too much in this remarkable design because I didn’t want it to outshine what we were doing. Being up on 57th Street, I knew there was a little bit of a challenge because I didn’t want to be stereotypical or touristy. So how could we bring a little downtown cool uptown? I wanted to marry that downtown experience — which made us kind of famous — and bring it up here, and let people know they’d be safe and know that it’s not like a lot of people perceive. I knew there was a stigma, but I wanted to chip away at that a little bit.

It’s happening more and more; Greg Brier, who has the Brier Group, did Amalia and Aspen Social uptown. Even Danny A. went into the Plaza! That’s groundbreaking.

At one point, I was doing promotions and being very much involved in the running of four nightclubs — Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and USA — and I had a hard time cloning myself, just in New York City. You have 17 locations, you’ve got London, Hong Kong, Dubai, you’re everywhere, you’ve stretched far. You and I have the same problem; how does Richie delegate, and who is that person that you delegate to? Who are these people? You know Steve, it’s probably the hardest thing. First of all, it’s not a cookie-cutter operation … each one’s a little bit different. But there’s an experience and a familiarity people want when they come into Nobu, and that’s really worked in our favor. So I’m very proud of the fact that anyone who’s running a restaurant for me started as a waiter, or a host, or a reservationist.

Is that because of your past, having to work your way up? Yeah, I started out as a dishwasher. The first time I was in Enchanted Garden, I was 15 minutes into the job, 15 years old, I’m loading the racks, it’s a quiet night, and this little guy walks in, and he’s like, “What’re you doing?” and I said, “I’m washing dishes,” and he goes “No, no, no,” and I’m like, “Did I not put the glass in right?” And he goes “You’ve got a nice smile, buddy, (that was my first “buddy,” by the way), you should be out with the people. Bus, do something.” And it was Steve, and he plucked me out of the kitchen. And I realized that you have to do all of those things in order to be a good manager. And I’m very proud because they think I’m doing them a favor, which a little bit I am, but they’re actually doing me a favor because I’m keeping the consistency. So if you’ve been dining in New York and you go to Miami and you see a guy that used to be a waiter here and now he’s a manager, you go, “Wow, he knows me, he knows what I like,” and all of a sudden your experience is going to be better because that ties into an experience somewhere else. So all around the world, that’s how I try to keep the consistency.

Tune in tomorrow for more Richie Notar action.
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