The New Carlton Hotel Brings Back Old New York

When I first started writing this column, one of my primary goals was to give my readers an insider look at some of the industry’s leaders, and how they approach the business. Some of these people are relatively unknown, as they allow the successful properties and brands they’ve created and promoted do all the talking. Most appear occasionally as a bold-faced name in a newspaper or magazine. Peter Chase is a player. He’s the founder of BPC, which develops and manages creative hospitality concepts. His concepts have included: Skybar in Miami Beach, Wunderbar at the W Montreal, MGM Grand Casinos (MGM, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Borgata) in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Atlantic City, as well as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, and the W San Diego.

When Ian Schrager needed to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber back in 2000, he sought out Peter to manage and develop bars at each of his hotels. He has overseen fourteen bars in nine hotels, spanning New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He has also overseen the creation of several new ones.

I spent three hours chatting with him at the Carlton on Madison and 29th the other evening. I could have stayed for eight hours. Peter knows what he’s talking about, and finds himself poised to do even greater things. He is very aware that the ancient, though wonderfully redecorated hotel finds itself between the uber-hot Ganesvoort Park Hotel and the seriously hip Ace Hotel. He’s gearing up to embrace the crowds that will be passing by his door: He understands their needs, and will entertain them. He is one of the unsung heroes of the industry, and today I am singing his song.

Ian Schrager brought you in to replace the irreplaceable Rande Gerber. How did you approach that impossible dream? Ian and Rande had a relationship going back quite some time. I respect what Rande has done, and continues to do, but I think Ian was excited to create outside of that relationship. What we accomplished at the Clift with the Redwood Room, the re-interpretation of the Morgans Bar, and the complete transformation of the Whiskey into the Paramount Bar makes that evident.

Rande and I come from very different backgrounds. Rande was a former model that got into the bar industry, and I am someone that worked within the hospitality industry, and went to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Beyond all of the extraordinary creative aspects of working with Ian, I approached the “impossible dream” from a business perspective. I set out to implement better systems, controls, reporting, and several initiatives to maximize profit from every drink served.

I worked for Ian and Steve Rubell, and learned a great deal. What did you take away from that experience, and how do you apply it nowadays? I know that many of the things that I discounted or infuriated me about their style/personally applied when I had such opportunities. I never got to meet Steve, but I feel like there were several talented people Ian employed to help him create his vision. I learned so much from Ian that it almost seems that I learned nothing. So much of what Ian does can’t help but resonate and change the way you look at bars, restaurants, and hotels, or for that matter, everything. Ian has a way of instilling in you his perspective on service, music, design and style. He often accomplishes this through intense demands, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make diamonds without a lot of pressure.” Eventually, you change (for the better, I might add) and forget what you thought was acceptable before. His vision is his own. Many have tried to replicate it, some with success, but there always remains just one original. I use this valuable resource every day in operating my businesses, and owe a great deal to Ian for teaching me to view things differently. Sometimes the fates bring the right person to the right place and time. The Carlton finds itself on a strip between the new Ganesvoort Park and the highly successful Ace Hotel. What are you doing to exploit this moment? Having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I have watched its evolution. Back in 1904, just before the NYC subway opened, the Carlton (then the Seville) Hotel opened and helped turn the neighborhood into one of the city’s most elegant locales. The original bar from the Seville is still intact, and has hosted luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and “Diamond Jim” Brady. A block away lies the remnants of Tin Pan Alley, where much of the world’s greatest music was written and produced. The Breslin Hotel, now the Ace, opened the same year as the Seville, and was part of what was known as the “Avenue of Hotels.” Today, with the renovation of both hotels, and the addition of the Gansevoort, I think that we are seeing a re-awakening of the 29th Street hotel corridor. I have always treated my competitors like neighbors. There is plenty of business for everyone, and if we support one another we all stand a better chance of succeeding. Let the Gansevoort and the Ace do what they do best, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the area, and offer a connection to its storied past through music.

Having spent countless hours in what was originally the Café at Country in the Carlton, I always knew that its center bar needed to be removed and filled with energy, be it through people, or in this case, live music. The Salon as it is now known is the entry point for all things Millesime. It acts as a portal to another time. Upstairs, we have our seafood brasserie, and across a glass bridge, Bar Millie, which will soon open. It will feature burlesque images from the turn of the century, and views looking down onto the stage. Bar Millie will be a place where you can make a reservation for a table, and come and sip cocktails with friends. A lot of places charge a cover, or pack the room to help offset the expenses of the musicians. We work with musicians, and allow them an elegant space in which to showcase their talents.

A phenomenon in the current era is the synergy and possibly the necessity of solid NYC nightlife in hotels. Tell me your take on that. How much is food and beverage driving your hotel, and will that now increase dramatically? I operate bars in W Hotels, and consult for casinos: there are few things as important to a hotel or casino as its food and beverage offering. I do not know if Ian and Steve invented it, but they certainly exploited it to the fullest. When a new hotel opens people are not going to immediately rent a room. They will pop into the bar, or grab a bite in the restaurant, and then promote the property given their experience. This puts heads in beds, and safe guards the real investment: real estate. The press will only write about a hotel when it opens, but they’ll cover any celebrity sightings as long as someone communicates with them, be it the venue itself, a cell phone picture from a customer, or a random tweet. If it is from the venue itself, this can be a double-edged sword. As a policy, we do not actively pursue press regarding our customers unless they are at a function where it is understood that their picture may be taken. Celebrities know this as well, and use certain venues to garner press when it suits their needs. Additionally, restaurants and bars are the perfect locations for movie premieres and charity events. These bring press, cameras and celebrities, which only adds to the properties cache. In the six or so months since we have been open, we have already hosted TV film shoots for Curb Your Enthusiasm, House Wives of New Jersey, an after party for the band Rammstein, listening parties for NE YO and Estelle and the several charity events including one for Artists for Peace and Justice, hosted by Paul Haggis. The word “boutique” in regards to hotels seems to be very last century. Is there a new word? Will most hotels have to go chic to remain relevant and occupied? I agree that the term sounds very outdated, but as a concept it’s still relevant. The problem started when hotel companies and designers started calling something “boutique” but only regurgitated previous design work. Boutique should represent true individuality within its local context. This only happens when passionate people are involved in every detail of development.

Unlike the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking, the Gansevoort Park was designed and pre-engineered with hospitality, food, and beverage in mind. Carlton is a much older property. What steps are you taking to retro-fit protection for your hotel guests against the sounds and such that successful watering holes inevitably bring? At the new Gansevoort Park they have added separate elevators to access the upper bars from the hotel, and seem to have situated the bars away from guest rooms. This means no more intoxicated guests on elevators with families staying at the hotel, and no more non-guests on hotel floors causing safety issues. When they built the Carlton they constructed it in such a way that sound from the bars does not disturb the hotel guests. Bars and clubs can be a tremendous asset to a hotel, but it is vital that veteran operators and professional audio engineers are involved in the design and construction phases, or you can end up with costly renovations, or lost room revenues for decades.

Tell me about Salon Millesime. The idea with the Salon was to create a sophisticated platform for progressive artistry and extraordinary musicianship. My partners and I have handpicked our talent from all ‘walks of life’ including students of the Juilliard School of Music, DJs, and well-regarded, established artists. The Salon is our doorway into the hotel. Everyone works off of their laptops or phones, and they are doing this in coffee shops more and more. People who have been laid-off, or are self-employed, are looking for a place to be able to have a meeting or get work done over a cup of coffee. During the day we offer a relaxing environment to do this and at night, sip wine and listen to our interpretation of Voix de Ville, the voice of the city. The Salon menu features casual French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine by my partner Chef Laurent Manrique. We installed a state-of-the-art Bose sound system for an unparalleled musical experience. Nightly performers include artists from far corners of the globe to nearby neighbors. N’Dea Davenport, Swizz Beatz, Nickodemus, Estelle, Grammy winning rapper Pras, Grammy winning singer Ne-Yo, and Brooklyn songstress and Si*Se have already graced the stage. When not performing live, there is a select roster of DJs like Carol C from the band Si*Se, and DJ Sir Shorty, a veteran of the city. I invite guests to gather and sip artisan cocktails like the French 75, or perhaps the Night & Day—my version of the Manhattan—a portion of whose proceeds supports VH1’s Save the Music.

We wanted to evoke an intimate music venue with hints of the history of the area’s past. The team came from Redhook Brooklyn and was lead by Doug Fanning’s DYAD Studio. Doug chose to transform the space with stylish mix of leather banquets, tiger print chairs, and glossy ebony cocktail tables with bronze inlays reminiscent of the early Café Society interiors. He also custom designed the oversize light shades reminiscent of old Vaudeville stage curtains. Designer William Calvert, a longtime friend, created a luxe cocktail dress for the servers.

How does Millesime and the other food and beverage spots in the hotel interact with each other? We chose to create one iconic name, Millesime, with multiple concepts feeding into it. Since no two guests are alike, we created an offering that appeals to each guest’s unique needs and desires, as well as those of our local community. Beyond the Salon we have the Lobby Bar, a dimly lit saloon where you can “belly up” to a magnificent mahogany bar dating back one hundred plus years to the original hotel. Order a scotch, eat a burger, catch a game on the flat screen TV, or just people watch as hotel guests arrive from near and far. Just around the corner from Millesime, across a 30-foot glass bridge, will be Bar Millie, a reservation cocktail bar. Reminiscent of an old French sitting room, it is an ideal perch for relaxing, chatting and drinking with good friends. Leather-bound chairs, metal screened burlesque images, a handcrafted marble bar, and traces of the past hang in the air like ghosts of prohibition. It’s a nostalgic portal to an era when automobiles had curves, women were dames, men wore hats, and a deal was sealed with a handshake. The room, with its vaulted ceiling and wood panels, is a place that encourages you to linger over drinks and trade glances as music wafts throughout. Seven hard shakes with a cocktail shaker and you’re transported back to the splendor of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and luxurious hotel lounges. It’s a trip back to the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby,, and watching William Powell coach the bartender on the proper way to shake a martini in The Thin Man.

Ian Schrager’s Enchanted Gardens

My club career was successful because I was lucky to have worked for and learned my craft from so many brilliant operators. As Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” I worked for Ian Schrager and his partner Steve Rubell at the Paladium. They operated Studio 54, which was without doubt the greatest club of all time. They were giants. In the world of clubs, they are our Babe Ruths, our Michael Jordans, our Peles. There has not been a club since their era that comes close to the experience they orchestrated. The times were different then. Disco was the music and nothing could be more fun. The sexual revolution and New Age drugs rocketed nightlife and the mix of fabulous gays, straights, rich, and poor to legendary frenzy. We clamored to hang with Steve, Ian, and their infamously famous friends. On the menu were Halston, Liza Minelli, Mick and Bianca, Truman Capote, Warhol, Calvin. Anything could be seen, had, heard, and done, and often. But the partiers had not yet seen the bill and danced to the beat oblivious to all the downsides. Then Steve passed and Andy Warhol passed and it was never the same.

Ian for his part never stopped moving, creating and changing the landscape of creativity. He grew utilizing his vision and his talents to create hotel empires. Morgans, The Paramount, The Royalton, The Hudson, and the amazing Gramercy Park Hotel are his local contributions. The Delano in Miami, The Sanderson and St Martin’s Lane hotels in London, The Clift in San Francisco and the Mondrian in Los Angeles were game changers. He is considered the creator of the “boutique hotel” concept. Now he’s partnering up with Marriot International for a hundred new projects.

When I worked for Steve and Ian I felt privileged. While the Palladium was highly successful financially, it was always squarely based in its glorious mission. It was there to be the creative nexus for New York. We spent money to make money and attention to every detail was the first order of every day. Until this interview I hadn’t talked to Ian for a long time. For awhile he lived around the corner from me in Nolita and I would see him on his bike or moving about. We had become distant over the years. I would read about him in the newspapers or magazines or hear a first-hand account from our mutual friend Arthur Weinstein. Talking to him for this interview was like we never lost touch. It brought back a zillion memories, echoes of joints and people and an age that defines so much of who we are today, who I am today. Ian showed me the way and I showed some others after that and so on and so forth. He is not done showing us how it is done. Wow! A hundred new joints!

Hi Ian, how are you? I’m fine, how ya doing?

I stayed at the Gramercy, as you know, recently, and it was an incredible experience. I really enjoyed myself. Well I’m glad you liked it buddy, we go back a long way. I’ve known you a long time. And I’m happy for your success. Very inventive.

Thanks, I keep you in mind also. I watch everything you do, and it’s pretty amazing how you play with those big boys and knock them off their feet. It’s amazing. Well thank you kiddo, thank you.

I went to the Hudson, which by the way is still beautiful. I went there the other day, they opened a new room and I wrote about it. The property is just amazing, timeless. It’s just beautiful. How was it downstairs? The new room down in the basement.

Good Units is very nice for events because it’s a blank page. It’s the emperor’s new clothes, so you can paint any picture you want on it. The new room Hudson Hall opened on the main level is really nice. They gave me a tour and I saw the ancient swimming pool, and that’s amazing. When they get that open it will be incredible. That’s great. It’s funny, at the time, the Hudson was done maybe ten years ago. I have some hotels done thirty years ago, never been changed. Everyone used to always think that they were trendy and they wouldn’t stand the test of time, but of course they do.

The key in design is balancing the new with the classic and the timeless. If you just do new, you’re a failure. If it won’t stand the test of time, then it’s a failure. I did Butter eight years ago, and the design and the place is just as relevant today. I didn’t know you did that. It’s just as hot today as it was then.

How do you think nightlife has changed since the days of Studio 54? From the business point of view, it’s completely changed. It’s completely upside down. When I was in the club business, and a lot of our friends were in the club business, everything culminated with you owning the space, and running the nightclub, and loving it, and being in the room there, and making sure everything was perfect, and so on and so forth. Now, nobody owns anything. Other people own the rooms, and you come in and you’re a promoter for the night. It’s just a completely different business. I think when we did it, it didn’t really take a lot of capital to do a club. There was some spontaneity and innocence involved with it. If you had a good idea, you could throw a party. I did my first nightclub for 27,000 dollars.

The Enchanted Garden? Right. Now, with all the regulations—exiting, and fire alarms, and sprinklers—which I’m sure are necessary, and I’m not saying they’re not good ideas, but with all those things, it requires, in some cases, several hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, to do a night club. So therefore, young people get disenfranchised and can’t do it, and so the business has changed. I went into it because I had access to it. You didn’t need a lot of money, you just needed a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of passion, and a good idea. On the public side—I hope this isn’t too cerebral—but I think the demographic has changed somewhat. There was much more diversity when we were doing nightclubs. When my friend Arthur and myself were doing them it was a mixture of old and young, and rich and poor, and black and white, and straight and gay. And you don’t really see that anymore. It’s a lot more of a homogenous kind of thing, and more of a pickup place kind of thing. So I don’t think you have that kind of energy, that kind of electricity floating in the air like we used to.

I agree 100 percent. When you did Enchanted Garden, you were partners with Steve Rubell. You did Studio 54, you did Palladium with him. and these were some of the greatest clubs of all time. What was your role as opposed to Steve’s role? We were partners, and like all good partners, we were 50-50 partners. There were areas of influence obviously, but they weren’t mutually exclusive. I wasn’t the inside guy and Steve wasn’t the outside guy. I don’t think that’s constructive to the relationship. Primarily, I was involved with conceptualizing the places, and building them, and doing the parties, but Steve was involved in that too. Steve was out front, dealing with a lot of the people, but he wasn’t doing that exclusively. For instance, when Studio 54 opened, I might go to Steve and say, Steve, there’s Halston, go get friendly with him. When you’re partners and you share half the cake with your partner, you’re both making the contributions. Steve and I knew the division of responsibility, but it’s hard to define. It wasn’t simply inside/outside. I was more interested in the building and creating of it and Steve was more interested in the social end of it, but I wasn’t merely an inside guy, and Steve wasn’t merely an outside guy. I think it’s a long-winded explanation to go through exact, specific things, but there were not areas of specific exclusivity, I can tell you that.

When that horrible movie, 54, came out, Calvin Klein was at that club I was running, Life, at the time. And I walked up to Calvin and I said, have you seen the movie? And he said, no he hasn’t, and he won’t go. And I said to him, it’s a shame that the only image that the public sees of Steve Rubell was the Mike Meyers version of it. Which was certainly not what Steve Rubell was about. Calvin said to me that he had traveled the whole world, and he has met kings and queens, and CEOs, but he has never met anybody more charismatic, or more intelligent, than Steve Rubell. In a couple of words, who was Steve Rubell and what was it that set him apart from the rest? I think whenever you do something that you’re really good at, and you really love it, it’s a gift. Steve really loved people. And he was really empathetic with them, and he was incredibly enthusiastic and compassionate about life, and I think it was contagious. When he talked to someone, he really and sincerely was truly interested in what they were saying, and people react to that, they gravitate to it. Andy Warhol was one of the first people who realized that Steve was a star when we first opened up Studio 54, because he had that kind of presence, that enthusiasm. He was fun to be around. when most of your life you’re occupied by being around boring people or social-climbers. Combining that with a razor-sharp intellect made him really a special guy. We’d be talking business at three o’clock in the morning, and you wouldn’t think that he remembered what he said that night. But the next morning he’d get up, and no matter what he would remember. I think in the last several years, there are certain times when people pass on, they touch you. And they have an impact on you. When Andy died, who would’ve thought, that when he passed, he touched people. And they responded to him. He was fun to be around, and he never thought of himself as being bigger, or more important than the person he was talking to.

When I ran clubs, in my mind every day when I went to work, I said to myself, I am going to run this club this night as if Steve and Ian are walking in, or Andy Warhol. Those were my icons. Every night when I looked around, I said, is my club ready if you guys walked in? That was my standard. I felt when Steve and Andy died, that was an end of a certain era. You of course moved on to hotels, but the club era died. That was when the music actually died for me. I think it had a lot to do with all of that. Not in the way people saw it, but when you think of things culture-wise, and the way things evolve, and the sexual revolution that started in the late 60s. And gay people were emerging, and gay people were starting the cultural trend. During this melting pot there was this incredible enthusiasm where you could really do whatever it is you wanted, and there were no consequences to be paid. When AIDS came in, it changed everything. There were consequences, there was a bill to pay. So that indulgence stopped and it all went away. I think it’s funny because when Steve passed is also when your right to music changed. But that’s when disco music and everything seemed to come to a head stop.

As I mentioned, I stayed at The Gramercy recently and it was a great experience on every level. It reminded me of when I used to work for you at the Palladium. The attention to detail was beyond belief. You build empires now and with these empires and so many properties in diverse and faraway places, how do you stay hands-on? Have you learned to delegate? How easy or hard was that for you to do? It’s always an issue for me, delegating. Because everything I do I think is a personal reflection on me. I’m maniacal about every detail, and I think it’s very personal. For me, I never know what detail is responsible for pushing something over the top, and therefore every detail becomes a matter of life or death. I think that’s been the key. I’ve been fortunate to be successful, and I think anyone who is successful has that kind of mania. It’s not quite certain what it is that makes something so successful. So therefore every single aspect, every single element, every single fact, the height of the table, everything is important. It’s like something becomes combustible, and you put it all together and it makes a spark. And you can’t really talk about that.

Thank you for teaching me that. I’ve carried that lesson I learned from you throughout my endeavors. When one walks through The Gramercy and it’s Warhol, it’s Hirst, it’s Richard Prince, it’s Cy Twombly, Haring, Basquiat, and many others. They adorn The Gramercy like a museum or an art gallery—is it a matter of associating your brand with this work, or is it more of a design decision? Julian Schnabel’s and your vision, elevating the design to a level that no one can reach? It is after all, 50 to 60 million dollars worth of art. No, buddy, it has nothing to do with that. You know what it is? I want to say it quite simply: It’s always the ideas that interest me. Andy started it by taking the pretension out of art and making it accessible to everybody. It’s really that idea. To me, why should art be limited to just rich people who can enjoy it in their home? Or you go to a museum and you have to crane your neck like you’re in a subway station looking at the art. Why can’t it be in an environment in a public facility like a hotel? Where you can come in, sit down, and have a drink. You can be sitting and having a conversation with someone, and look over your shoulder and see some great art. It was just that idea that I found interesting. It has nothing to do with the art, it has nothing to do with branding—it’s just wow, what a great idea to make this kind of stuff accessible to lots of people. Whether they come in for a drink at the nightclub or they stay in the hotel, it just seemed like a modern, great idea—something that Andy started, and just making it accessible to lots of people. I actually think that making that art accessible like that is one of the greatest ideas to come out of The Gramercy.

How do you obtain the rotating masterpieces at the Gramercy? It doesn’t seem difficult to get people to lend us the art, because a lot of the modern pieces are quite large and collectors don’t have a lot of space in their apartments. They love the act of showing it at the hotel and giving it a good platform. So we keep rotating it and turning it around. So they were there, they move out, and others take their place. And it keeps moving like that.

At the Palladium, the Michael Todd Room was filled with these Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings. In the end, where did they go? We were very much into the arts at the Palladium as well, as you know. And it was the same idea there as well. There, those two Basquiats that we had in the Michael Todd Room, the estate took them back because everyone thought those were museum quality. They’re quite large and his father now owns them.

What drives you now? Is it the art of creating something? It can’t be the money at this point. It was never about the money. The money is an interesting byproduct Steve. You want it so you can support your lifestyle, I suppose. But I could never be motivated just by the money. It wouldn’t be enough. The money is a natural consequence. I’m motivated by doing something that blows people away, and doing something special, and doing something that people have never seen before. It still turns me on. It’s still my reason for getting up and working. It was really never about the money. It never was and it never will be.

Retirement. I heard those words mentioned a few years ago. It doesn’t sound like you’re a person anywhere near retirement. I hear there’s a hundred hotel projects. What’s the end game? There is no end game. What you learn is it’s just a trip. That’s the only thing there is. There’s no destination, it’s just a trip. You enjoy the fame when you’re fourteen, or forty, or eighty, it doesn’t matter. I’m just enjoying the trip and I still love what I’m doing, so I’ll keep doing it. The minute that I don’t, that’s when I’ll stop.

Arthur Weinstein, you mentioned him. I understand that for many years when he was ill and dying you were helping out with the money. You do things like that quietly, as you’ve always been a very quiet person. You’re talking right now, but you always keep your cards close to your vest. Tell me about Arthur Weinstein. Tell the people who read me who he was. Arthur was like a Damon Runyon-esque kind of character in the nightlife business, but I don’t think people ever really understood the kind of character, and that he was a real gentlemen and a real mensch, and I don’t think people really got that. I always understood it, and I think the way he died and dealt with his illness was with such dignity. It wasn’t a surprise to me and it reinforced what I had always thought about him. You had to see through his scruffy persona and the way he might have looked from the outside, but on the inside there was a reason that I had been friendly with him for thirty or forty years. New York nightlife is the worse for his passing.

La Pomme Debuts, Diamond Horseshoe Returns

The signs of the end of the great recession are everywhere. The other day, my mailwoman rang my bell because a magazine swelled with advertising couldn’t get through my slot. A couple of months ago, three of them would have slid in. The cafes are busy, and the accents of tourists with their little maps fill my neighborhood streets. Stores are filled with shoppers gearing up for the inevitable autumn, and the sounds of saws and screw guns tell of new construction and refurbishing everywhere. You can feel it in the streets and hear it on those annoying taxi screens. We’re moving forward again. Last night the lobby in the Waldorf was packed with families and businessmen who spent a little more and passed on the Hilton. I had a nice meal with my bestest friends. The $36 lamb chops didn’t cause a groan or even a blink. We watched the Russian hookers in Prada and Louboutins meet men named John. Money is circulating, and everyone is trying to get some.

For me the surest sign of happy days is the contracts being offered for my company’s design services. We’re getting a few “real” calls a week. In six or eight months there will be a slew of new spots peppering the blogs and nightlife columns. Around the second week of September, Tommy Tardie will offer La Pomme, built on the bones of Ultra, his ultra-successful lounge on West 26th street. Now some snarky hipster types may snarl at that last sentence, but success can be measured in many ways; trendy doesn’t necessarily spell success. Ultra has been there three years. It has survived the economic downturn and is now being redone with a nice budget attached. Words like Fellini-esque and Kubrick-like were thrown around in describing the new decor. La Pomme will cater to a mainstream crowd who come to dance and drink below high ceilings. Flavor-paper wallpaper will add some spark. The space is being expanded to accommodate larger events as the corporate parties are coming back big — another sign of the economic thaw.


I spoke to owner and ex-Mad Man Tommy Tardie, looking very Don Draper and exuding confidence about the redux. He offered “perception is not reality” in describing the redo of his 3,500-square-foot joint,. Although he wouldn’t discuss what direction promo was going, I did hear that “it girl” Sally Shan was his next meeting. The hardest-working girl in club biz will bring a monied adult crowd. La Pomme is in mid-Chelsea and knows exactly what it is — there’s no perception that it’s anything but a nice club for a post-college crowd and maybe some promoted-to types. Tommy Tardie deals with the realities and the cash flow of that working crowd, looking for another nice three- (or more) year run.

The idea of writing about this new spot was pitched to me by Justine McCarthy and Sabrina Chapman of Simply Chic PR. They’re the principals at this young firm. We sat on a summer afternoon outside of One Little West Twelfth Street. Our corner table was shaded, and a cool breeze and ice teas made it grand. We were one of only a handful of customers in the place. Across from us was the bustle and hustle of Pastis, every table packed with scenesters. The whole industry could be understood by just sitting there. The difference between being packed and empty is really understanding what quality, consistency, and service really are. Keith McNally brings it while others just talk about it.

A whisper came my way about the infamous Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe Ballroom in the Paramount Hotel. I remember back in the day Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager trying to figure out how to get it open. My horse whisperer tells me that indeed it will open with Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum winning the bid over other suitors (including Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss). Billy Rose was a household name back in the postwar period, and the Diamond Horseshoe was the in spot — even boasting Gene Kelly dancing up a storm before Pal Joey. Can’t wait to see if Times Square returns as a nightlife destination. When we had Club USA back in the day, we did a base crowd of 500 real good-looking tourists and walk-ins every day. This helped pay the high rent.

Industry Insiders: Avi Brosh, Hip Hotelier

Having made a name for himself as a developer, Avi Brosh found a hole to fill in hospitality, responding with his hyper-cool West Hollywood hotel Palihouse and succeeding where none had before in making LAX-adjacent Westchester hop with his Custom Hotel. This creative spirit expands on his years of hard work, present trials and travels, and dreams for the future.

Where do you hang out? I go to The Hall Courtyard Brasserie at Palihouse Holloway. It has the absolute best vibe and crowd in LA. I also love the street Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, where there are several great neighborhood restaurants and bars I go to frequently. I’m in New York at least five to ten days a month, and every time I’m there I always seem to manage my way, at some point, to this gorgeous little bar in Tribeca called Smith & Mills. I love that place, but they only take cash — which I pretty much never have on me — so I’m always bumming drinks from whomever I’m there with.

Who in your business do you admire? I vividly remember walking into the lobby of the Paramount Hotel in New York City in 1990 and my jaw literally dropping. I’d never seen a place — not to mention a hotel — like that before. The early Philippe Starck-Ian Schrager collaborations completely changed the hotel landscape, so I have a very high regard for them for doing that. In addition, I would add that I have a tremendous amount of respect for just about anyone who has the courage, audacity, and wherewithal to actually develop unique buildings and/or open independent hotels, because I know firsthand how unbelievably difficult that is to do.

What do you like in the hospitality industry these days? Authenticity is the positive trend for just about everything relating to travel and lodging. When people travel these days, they want to see people just as much as they want to see places. At the core of this attitude is a desire to stylishly — and cost-effectively — experience destinations all that much more authentically through the eyes of a local.

Anything you dislike? I think the whole notion of gigantic, corporate hotel companies and chains trying to manufacture cool, boutique, sub-brands is kind of bogus. It’s the complete opposite of the notion of authentic.

What don’t we know about you? People who don’t know me seem to have this perception that, as a fairly well-known developer and now hotelier, I might be loud or flashy, but I’m actually rather reserved and private.

Your hotels always have good music in the air. What is your all-time favorite album? I’m into bands like Hot Chip, Cut Copy, Yelle, and LCD Soundsystem. If I had to single out one all-time favorite album, I’d have to pick My Aim is True by Elvis Costello. In terms of sense of style in music, I think Pharell Williams is by far the coolest.

What do your future plans involve? To make it through this nasty recession as unscathed as possible. We currently have projects in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City. My number-one focus is to continue to carefully and stylishly grow the “by Palisades” residential brands and the Palihouse and Palihouse spin-off hospitality brands in the best locations in the best cities in the United States and Canada, and then around the world.

Industry Insiders: Randy Scott, RDV Frontrunner

Randy Scott tells BlackBook about RDV— his newest nightlife muse, being considered the Kevin Bacon of the Industry and the social importance of the lounge.

What is your current project? I am involved in the whole complex on 13th Street between 9th and Washington which is now, Kiss and Fly the nightclub, Bagatelle the restaurant and the third space, which is the lounge, is the new project called RDV. Abbreviation for Rendez-vous. Bagatelle is one of the most successful restaurants in New York. Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente are the partners and great to work with. I was brought on to head the lounge. RDV is a plush lounge—it is the gem. We are just doing friends and family now, but we will be opening shortly. We did a party for Josh Lucas and another for Quincy Jones. We hired a mixologist, Thierry Hernandez from Bar du Plaza Athénée in Paris, and we are following his formal steps of service.

Where do you go out? When you are in this business as I am, I enjoy quiet on my nights off. If I do go out, I like relaxed environments like Rose Bar, Beatrice and small restaurants. Cozy places, like the restaurant August. I really love Socialista, I love the Latin theme.

How did you start out in the business? I went from waiter to bartender. I bartended at the Paramount Hotel, Randy Gerber’s first project. I did the bartending circuit, then someone asked me to do the door in the Hamptons, at the Tavern. I think the Von Brocks were still running it. I remember David Sarner was involved. It was Lara Shriftman who dragged me around the scene, she is the one I probably owe my entrance to. We met at Frederick’s, the original on 64th Street. It was a game to me at the time. It became obvious doing the door was a more central position with a lot more opportunities. You become the front person.

What has changed? I think the culture has changed. It is not that as one scene comes in the last one has died. I see things as more cyclical than changed. When people talk about bottle service they make it seem that nightlife has created this evil monster when they are just supplying what there is a market for. Right now it’s obvious there has been a proliferation of lounges. People wanted more intimacy. The lounges have interesting interior design. Each one is different.

What led you here? Previous to this venture [which is RDV], there was Cain, prior to that was Marquee, before that was Pangea, and Float, and the beginning was every Hamptons club. I worked at every place Andrew Sasson did. He was a pioneer. I worked for Seth Greenberg when he opened Conscience Point which was then M80. Andrew asked me to open all the Jet lounges with him.

You have worked with everyone in this business. So you might be the Kevin Bacon of nightlife? Maybe, I even worked for Amy Sacco once when she was part of System.

What do you dislike about the business? When people lose themselves in it. It can be dark. These people feel fulfilled because they are inside an exclusive place. They get caught up in the hype. When they are out 4 or 5 nights a week for years. They dance with the devil. Also, when people complain about getting their friends in, I say, ‘I don’t see you down at McSorley’s, you could all be in there right now. Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on here.’

One-Day Tour: Philippe Starck in NYC

Designeratti, this one’s for you. All Philippe Starck, all the time. Immerse yourself in this one-day uptown/downtown Starck tour of New York City — a version that includes 18th-century paintings with moving eyes, floor-to-ceiling fireplaces, chairs fit for giants, and three-foot-high chess pieces. Look for a lot more from Starck in the upcoming decade, as he’s under contract to work exclusively with Los Angeles nightlife mogul Sam Nazarian until 2022.

Stay Hudson Hotel. In a city notorious for small spaces, this Starck-designed hotel doesn’t deviate from the norm. No need to fret though, because staying here is not about size; it’s about the ambiance and abundance of style. Starck, who partnered with hotelier Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame to open the Hudson Hotel, will have you feeling like you walked into a trendy late-night spot from the second your heels hit the fluorescent green-lit escalator up to the lobby (loud music, dim lighting, and all). Alongside an expansive reception area complete with a huge hologram-lit ornate chandelier, the hotel has two bars, a restaurant, and an expansive outdoor terrace.

11 a.m. Head all the way downtown to Wall Street, and stop by Downtown by Starck. With one-bedrooms starting at $1 million-plus, this is the real deal for NYC ballers. Check out signature Starck gimmicks including 30-foot curtains and a massive chandelier that uses video screens to display photos of people as they wander by.

Noon Stroll (or cab it) up to Soho and check out Moss, where you can marvel at the sometimes puzzling, but nonetheless cutting-edge design pieces that include Starck-designed flyswatters, lamps, and chairs. The Starck-heavy selection is no surprise, given that owner Murray Moss will be curating a design retail concept in the Sam Nazarian-backed, Starck-designed SLS Hotel lobbies, the first of which is due to arrive later in 2008.

1 p.m. Continue your real estate trek uptown to the Gramercy Starck luxury apartment building. The 800-square-foot white-stoned reception area comes complete with soaring ceilings, oversized lamps, jet-black royal furniture, and perhaps the world’s only Venetian mirror fireplace.

1:30 p.m. Starck-on and check out the uber-stylish Butterfly Studio Salon, where the washbasins and adjustable white leather chairs are all designed by Starck.

2:00 pm Start heading uptown to make up your own mind on the Royalton Hotel renovations. The Royalton was initially designed by Stark, but recently underwent a $17.5 million revamp that was subsequently panned by the French design aficionado.

2:30 p.m. Keep going north and grab some Pan-Asian eats with all the Anna Wintour-wannabees at the Starck-designed Mezzanine Restaurant, located in the mezzanine of the Paramount Hotel.

4 p.m. Pick up dessert at the Pinkberry in Columbus Circle. The popular frozen yogurt chain features Starck-designed chairs as the anchor to the modern décor.

5:30 p.m. Hop in a cap and head way uptown to check -out some of Starck’s furniture pieces, including his well-known Louis XVI Ghost chairs, at Soha Style, the latest and greatest modern furniture store in Harlem. Then it’s back south to pick up your own cult-classic-must-have Starck juicer at Alessi on Madison Ave in the UES.

7 p.m. Make like a true furniture-phile at Cassina on 56th and Lex, where you’ll find Starck’s Privé collection of expansive sofas, armchairs, chaise lounges, big and small islands, and ottomans — all of which can be manipulated to suit a variety of positions via removable cushions and multiple chair backs and arm rests.

8:30 p.m. Continue your journey for the ultimate Starck-fix at perennial hot spot (and of course, Starck-designed) Asia de Cuba. The popular Asian restaurant has off-shoots in Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and you can nosh on calamari salad, crab croquetas, chickpea dumplings, and Thai beef salad, all of which are served family style.

10:30 p.m. Head cross-town to the Hudson and shoot some pool at the mammoth pool tables at the Library Bar. Be sure to appropriately marvel the Jean Baptiste Mondino’s designer-hat-wearing-cow photographs.

Midnight Save on cab fare and walk the few meters to the Hudson Bar. Ro-Sham-Bo to decide among the sea of innovative seating options: Do you fancy a faux-wooden log, an Eames chair, or perhaps a Versace-print regal couch?