Last night, nightlife people behaved like rubber-necking suburban commuters staring at some twisted wreck (a phrase often used to describe me). Tired of their own tragedies, they gained a moment of exhilaration over the misfortune of others. Thus was the scene as word spread that Kenmare was closing. It was a hundred “did you hears” as bon vivants put in their two cents. Most comments and opinions weren’t worth even one Abe Lincoln copper. Of course everything was exaggerated. Kenmare isn’t closing, at least not the part that waters these players. The restaurant, however, is going to need to change. I called up Nur Khan, always a friend to me when I need one, and asked him what was up.
The main thing he needed to make clear was that it’s business as usual for the still-hot basement boite, and that the bar upstairs will remain open. He told me that everyone has the story wrong, and we talked about this step and the next few. “The lounge has always been majorly profitable,” he began. “The restaurant had a good start, and was profitable for a long while. Michael [Montalto, the manager] broke his back trying to make it work. It was a true labor of love for me. I didn’t miss one night when I was in town. I hired a talented people manager from Batali’s, and Joey [chef Joey Companaro] was great until he left to do Philly and a couple of places on the West side.”
I talked to him about the “other” stuff he’s been working on. His Electric Room project at the Dream Downtown is off the hook. He also added that he “just got back from L.A., where I opened Writers Room.” Nur continued to lament the talented people he had in charge while he was involved in these exciting new projects. “Kenmare is one of the top neighborhood hangs,” he said. We talked about the delicate geography of the ever-developing Nolita/Bowery hood, and how suddenly there’s activity elsewhere, leaving Kenmare Street relatively quiet. Serge Becker and Nur had chatted — landlords these days are rarely renewing leases on traditional stores and joints, as they see dollar signs in the form of high-end boutiques and the like. The hood I moved out of in favor of Williamsburg is developing as fast as leases run out.
I asked him for an official statement: “The lounge is staying open while we may partner up with someone strictly in the restaurant area. It is not closed. Lounge is business as usual. We’re talking to a few potential partners for the restaurant portion. Everyone loves the downstairs.” We talked about how, as the busy season approaches, it might be nice to run the door outside and let the packed downstairs crowd spread out and chill upstairs. I asked Nur the hard question, too: Does the chill between him and Paul Sevigny have anything to do with what’s happening? “Maybe Paul and I are better friends than business partners,” he responded.
The bottom line is the bottom line, and the restaurant was a drag on it. To the rubberneckers happy to see defeat, I offer them no reward. This kind of thing happens. Some things work and other things need to be adjusted. This is an adjustment. Even with all the right ingredients — chef, management, location, superstar owners — the dish came out not as expected. Or at least it wasn’t received well. The balance of operating the restaurant upstairs and the playground downstairs is very difficult. It looks easy at Darby and Lavo, but the execution requires diligence and experience and luck. Maybe this is just some bad luck. The thing about players like Paul Sevigny and Nur Khan is that they make their own luck, and they have the resources, the experience, and the cajones to turn it around. I ran into Kenmare DJ Todd Smolar last week. Todd told me that the place was better than ever; it’s evolved into a place where regulars and locals treat it like home. Maybe that’s all they need: a little comfortable home cooking and a fresh start. I’ll be there all week.
Although i always try to ignore it, CMJ, that music festival thingy, refuses to be ignored, like a baby in a crib screaming at me to get up and pay attention. Tonight the party seems to be at the ever-glamourous Mondrian Soho, where the Pearl Jam movie’s afterparty will…jam. I hear Eddie Veder and Cameron Crowe will be there. Tomorrow it’s the Ministry and Killing Bono afterparty with Ministry’s Paul Barker doing a DJ set. Thursday it’s the Tribe Called Quest after party with Dj Questlove and a crowd of the fabulous and famous who love this mix. So basically I’m going to shuttle bus myself between the Mondrian and Kenmare all week. Oh, and I have that Studio 54 thing tonight…. What to wear?