Pink Elephant is Back

Pink Elephant died a slow death during its last incarnation on W. 27th Street. It wasn’t its fault. Located in what once was a club mall, Pink fell victim to the crimes and misdemeanors of its neighbors. At first there was Amy Sacco’s Bungalow 8, the hottest spot in our galaxy. Then Marquee followed and the hood was named OUCH or Outer Chelsea and a tide of clubs followed. Caine was there, and Crobar and Home and Guesthouse and Bed and the very unspirited Spirit. Thousands came as there was something, someplace for everyone. Then there were fights and underage drinking and cops on horseback and Kleig lights and enforcement and harassment and the street was blocked to traffic. Long legged beauties and their monied beaus were forced to disembark taxis and walk down the street to their favorite watering hole. The Louboutins were never meant for the pavement and the swells didn’t want to sashay along with the hoi polloi. Enforcement, spurred by a rezoning of the hood to mixed use (condos and co-ops), attacked and scared the best folks to another friendlier club world: the Meatpacking District.

Pink died, despite the loyalty of its crowd and the abilities of its owners and staff. There were some skirmishes, as loss of revenues and a failing business always expose the worst in people. It left remembered well and now it is back in a big way.

One of my other jobs is club design. In that capacity, I am often brought in to analyze spaces for future use. Paul Sevigny brought me to Love the club on 8th street and MacDougal. He loved it and it almost became a new Beatrice. Alas, that didn’t happen, nor did another incarnation an ambitious new-ish operator had in mind. Pink grabs one of the best available rooms in the city. During the day, the block is heaven for Jersey girls looking to score cheap shoes while their boyfriends shop for bongs and coke spoons. At night, it’s a ghost town, a quick route for cabs to get from west to east. Love was the home to many real great house parties as it became known for its real great sound and distant neighbors.

Their press release talks of ancient gatherings in the space. It was called Bon Soir in the1950’s and the likes of Barbara Streisand and Wally Cox performed. Richard Nixon came by, as did Brando and others. David Sarner and Robert Montwaid will try to capture some of that cachet and that of the Pink Elephant brand. It will be high energy dance music, napkins in the air, and beautiful people. I always thought that Pink Elephant was a fantastic name and also a fantastic brand. The brand has thrived in Mexico and Brazil but now returns home. I was told it will offer "Intimate, elegant, cabaret style entertainment with burlesque shows, paying homage to the Village and nostalgic history when people dressed up for a night out on the town."

David Sarner on Thursday’s Opening of Pink Elephant

Nightclubs come and go and sometimes, but rarely do they actually come back. The return of Pink Elephant to our scene has me…well…tickled pink. I used to go to its incarnation on lower 8th Avenue just below 14th Street and when it was on 27th Street. On 27th Street it was one of the top dogs on a block that included Bungalow 8 (which is also making a comeback), Cain (hmmm, I hear rumblings), Bed, Spirit, Home, Guesthouse, with Mansion and Marquee right around the corner. The Outer Chelsea or OUCH club paradise was closed down by police action. There were horses and Kleig lights, and cop cars blocking the street to foot traffic. All sorts of search-and-destroy behavior, harassed clubs and customers, and it all went south… literally, to the friendlier Meatpacking District. Pink faded to memory like the day after a satisfied patron’s good time. It will reopen this Thursday at MacDougal and 8th Street and I am excited.

Pink honcho David Sarner is one of the nice guys in the business. He is an innovator, being at the forefront of high energy house music in the mid nineties when everyone else was pushing hip-hop or early mixed format. He was one of the first to push the expansion of his club brand overseas. He was, along with Jeffrey Jah and yours truly, one of the early purveyors of bottle service. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, so expect the unexpected as well as the expected great service and beautiful, sharp crowd.  As I said, the Grand Opening is this Thursday and I will sneak in before my Hotel Chantelle DJ gig.

I asked David to tell me all about it.

Welcome back! Who are the players in this incarnation? How will it be different?
It’s a lot of the same players from the old Pink Elephant. My partner Robert Montwaid, Jamie Hatchett, Stephan Seguin, Rich Black, and we have also added some new faces, including Roee Nahmani, Justin Clemmons, our GM, who comes from GoldBar and most recently, Le Baron, and several unbelievable bartenders and servers who really take pride in the art of cocktail mixology.

What is different is that the venue is much more multi-functional and will operate for longer hours. The space itself is unique because it delivers three distinctive experiential spaces: an amazing Infinity Room, a maze-like mixology bar, and a retro-style discotheque that functions as a traditional cabaret in the early evening before morphing into a dynamic nightclub with high energy dance music as the night progresses. Also, we decided to take the venue in a different direction than most clubs today in that we actually have a great dance floor. We still have VIP tables, but the majority of the people can come in and dance and have a great time without getting destroyed with table charges. 

How did you arrive at the name?
I wanted an iconic image that would transcend language because the brand has expanded into foreign markets where names might not necessary translate. As I wanted to create a brand that typified fun and exuberant celebration, I needed to find a visual that exemplified that. Pink Elephant has the distinction of having a drinking reference. It’s a euphemism for having drunken hallucinations. Therefore, the visual of the dancing Pink Elephant is jubilant, whimsical, a little silly, and most of all, happy…and as we play happy house music, the name fits perfectly.

Tell me about the new space…it’s a little up and to the right. Is its location a plus?
We wanted a venue that was easily accessible to get to and, just as importantly, leave, so we didn’t want to be too close to anyone else. The 8th street location is perfect because it’s directly between the Meatpacking District and the Lower East Side, and it’s very accessible from both 5th and 6th Avenues. Additionally, the whole block is going upscale with the team from The Bowery Hotel opening a boutique hotel on the block, the team from Masa opening an amazing new Japanese restaurant, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is opening adjacent to Pink Elephant, as well as several other places which are in various stages of development. The space itself is unique because it has a tremendous history in the annals of New York nightlife for being the home of a number of famous venues for over a hundred years. I loved the idea of paying tribute and rediscovering the history of this great venue.

In the 1920s, it was Rominy Marie’s, a club for all the great political thinkers, artists, poets, designers and bon vivants of the day, including Eugene O’Neil, Picasso, Calder, Brancusi, Duchamp, E.E. Cummings, Noguchi, Stieglitz, de Kooning, and tons of other major talents that are still remembered today by a single name.

Then, in the 1950s and ‘60s it was the Bon Soir, a cabaret that had some of the hottest talents of the day. Barbra Streisand actually got her start in this very room. Pink Elephant will also feature weekly cabaret performances that are directly reflective of entertainment from the jazz era through the 1960s, from torch song singers, songstresses, and other styles of entertainment, more Café Carlyle than The Box. In fact, in June, our first cabaret event is with Carla DelVillaggio whose Streisand-channeled performances are amazing and uncanny. 

Pink Elephant

What does the brand stand for?
The brand is geared toward high energy entertainment and exuberance for life. It is a joyful place where people come to unwind and celebrate life. The brand has come to be a favorite among jetsetters, celebrities, socialites and trendsetters alike because of the levels of service, sophistication, and the overall entertainment experience.

What has changed in the market since you closed?
In the New York market, it seems that everyone has hopped on the house music bandwagon. Club owners who focused almost exclusively on hip-hop a few years ago have suddenly shifted gears and are espousing house music. It’s very funny. Our team has focused on European house music since 1996 when we started exclusively playing house music at Chaos on Watts Street. Still, our venues are unique because we are focused on discovering and bringing emerging talent to this country, as opposed to the insanity of paying five-to-six figures for a single-night DJ performance. We want our patrons to experience music for the first time and not just get the same 20 songs each night that everyone else is playing, every night.

Having an opening right around Memorial Day is usually….dangerous. What are you doing to market yourself with half the crowd fleeing east and elsewhere?
I’ve never really been concerned about when I have opened a club – Prive, Spy Bar, Chaos, Rehab…none of these were timed. We opened when we were ready. I believe that the important thing is to provide a superior product, focus on quality, and let the crowd and buzz build.

There are so many people who try to open around Fashion Week to garner a little bit of press and get some celebrities attending third-party-programmed events, but that’s a supernova effect, something that may be hot for a moment and then burns out. We’re much more focused on a slower trajectory and building something that has longevity. If you can provide a beautiful room with amazing sound and extraordinary service, as well as great staff, people will come because of the delivery and the way they are welcomed and treated. Additionally, having a smaller venue ensures that you can keep quality really high even in slower months. When Pink Elephant officially opens this week, we will have had a few smaller events for friends and family already, which have put all of our operations systems in order and can provide a seamless and incredibly enjoyable experience.

Besides, Pink Elephant is a known entity that has tremendous international recognition, so there isn’t the concern that people will be away. People have been begging us to reopen in New York for some time because the Pink Elephant itself is beloved. It provides amazing experiences and long-lasting memories and people are so happy that we’re back. I’ve really never felt so much love and appreciation, it’s amazing!

Is a brand viable if it isn’t exported, and is that the idea even at this stage? Viva Las Vegas?
Brands need to evolve and expand, otherwise they become stagnant and boring, and in an industry where venue lifespans are quicker, it’s essential to export product and introduce new ideas to keep things fresh. Our brand DNA has been built around fun, excitement, and high energy entertainment, so we need to be in places that are conducive to that atmosphere. We want to be in locations where people have a great time enjoying life. That’s why Pink Elephant has opened locations in Brazil and Mexico, that’s why we do pop-ups at festivals, and that’s why we are in the process of opening Pink Elephant locations in Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas.

What is your favorite Pink Elephant moment?
My favorite Pink Elephant moment is actually one that reoccurs nightly. It’s that moment when the energy builds up to a point and then suddenly explodes with everyone in the room going crazy at the same time. It’s palpable – you can feel it – and it’s a collective euphoria that is utterly intoxicating.

Where I’ll Be This Halloween

The major news of the day is the merger between EMM Group and Pacha over at the soon-to-open FINALE. They’re looking for performance artists and staff that can do more than just sling drinks and, as I have said, I think this is the shape of things to come in NY nightlife.

This Wednesday, Terry Casey and his inevitable sidekick Chris Graham will start their Sub-Atomic Wednesdays, a house music affair, at Lil Charlie’s. At the opening, they will DJ along with special guests Nelly Munoz and Niki McNally. I love the space and adore Terry and Chris, so I’ll be there. They have a big Halloween planned. They asked me to DJ the top floor that’s open to them for the holiday but alas, I will be at The Griffin along with Chrissie Miller and Michael Cavadias.

Lest I forget a special birthday shoutout to Jamie Hatchett who celebrated at Pink Elephant last week. I am still living out of suitcases as my new apartment is readied. I am getting to some things, but not to everything. Jamie is one of the good guys in the business who will surely finish first. 

13 Questions for Friday the 13th

It is Friday the 13th and, yes, I am getting a "13 ball" tattooed on my arm from Magic Cobra Tattoo Society.  The line on Driggs and South 1st was long and totally fun for the inexpensive permanents. They ink for 24 hours starting at midnight and I gave them mixed CDs for the occasion …some biker/tattoo music to ease the pain.

It may be Triskaidekaphobia that has me not willing to write today, to commit to a story, say anything I might regret later. I was up until 8am at Magic Cobra haven and woken at 7am Thursday morning. That question from Dirty Harry keeps banging around in my head "…But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?’” Well I feel anything but lucky today and the entire world away from my pillow feels like a .44 Magnum; I am absolutely feeling like a punk, so forgive me if I keep this to 13 possibly dumb questions with uneven answers.

Q1) Was it the luck of the Irish that got that fabulous Ballinger crew open almost immediately at Webster Hall after a stabbing at a hardcore show, while  Greenhouse/W.i.P. got shuttered harder and longer for a bottle-throwing incident?
A1) I think it’s a matter of a long history of working well with the community that has Webster doing its thing, while Greenhouse has been way more annoying to some. The fact that the Webster stabber and stabbees were white and the bottle throwers and brawlers at Greenhouse were black never crossed my mind.

Q2) Are the rumors that Pink Elephant may close for August true, and was it bad luck or bad planning to open a Euro-based club in the beginning of the summer or was it planned like this all along?
A2) I’m too tired to ask them the question today and you know what will be said anyway.

Q3) Is The Double Seven just being unlucky or is it the weather, or is it just fabulous and not as confused as my personal confusion perceives it?  A source who made me swear to say nothing about what he told me about The Double Seven will be happy that I respect his wishes.
A3) Mark Baker and crew will tell me how wonderful it is over there if I had the strength to pick up the phone so why should I bother to call?

Q4) So why can’t they call it Bungalow 8 and what did Amy Sacco ever do to be the focus of such silliness?
A4) She is so fabulous and smart and fun and if they want to call it "8"…wink, wink, I’m going to go anyway. Hey, they can call it 13 and I’m there.

Q5) Is the Xtravaganza Ball really going to happen next Sunday, July 22, and have they really asked me to be a judge?
A5) OMG ! Yes ! What to wear? I must look …legendary.

Q6) Have those wonderful and erotic Domi Dollz fallen into a pile of good luck now that every skirt on the planet has read Fifty Shades of Grey?
A6) I missed their monthly soiree/seminar this past Thursday at the Museum of Sex but predict they may soon need to get a bigger room to whip those novices into shape.

[Editor’s Note: I went, and it was amazing. Those Dollz know how to whip you and their leather-collared, half-naked boys into shape.]

Q7) Am I really going to do 13 of these?
A7) No, seven is more than half of 13, I think… and considering the condition my tattoo is in, it’s all you can expect. I’m going to crash…get my tattoo from Adam Korothy at Magic Cobra, rinse, and repeat.

Industry Insiders: David Sarner, Owner of the Pink Elephant

With the latest incarnation of the legendary Pink Elephant nightclub firmly established on 8th Street in Manhattan, and locations in Brazil and Mexico, you’d think owner David Sarner could relax a bit. But he’s busier than ever, expanding the brand to Miami, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Sarner is one of those people who gets more done in a day than most people do all week, so we picked his brain a bit to find out how he got into the nightlife business, where he sees the Pink Elephant going next, and his unusual part-time jobs growing up in the city. Check it out. 

Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?

I’m a native New Yorker. I grew up on Central Park West, so the park was kind of my front yard. Growing up in the city was amazing because everything was so accessible. From playing sports in the park to going to movies, museums, and nightlife. Everything was available. My parents were pretty liberal, so I had free reign of the city from an early age, going out on Friday nights to Rocky Horror Picture Show at the 8th Street Playhouse at 13 to Xenon and Studio 54 at 14. The drinking age back then was 18 and the city was a different place, full of edginess, grit and 24-hour excitement. It was a little crazy and I would never let my own kids act that way, but I had a blast. The stimulus of the city really gave me tremendous creative inspirations from which to draw.

What jobs did you have when you were just starting out?

During high school, I worked at various jobs both after school and on weekends, including a cashier and fruitman in a grocery store, a butcher shop, and a couple of restaurants to make money to go out at night. I have been working in the nightlife industry for 20 years. My first nightlife job was as the doorman at Studio 54. Through a restaurant where I was working I catered an event for Michael Jackson at Studio 54 and the owners were so pleased that they hired me on the spot to work in the marketing department and do the front door. It was pretty funny, because I would do the door at night, and then go to high school during the day. There were many nights that I would go directly to school from the club or some after-hours party and show up to class in black tie. Things were very different then.

What was the first nightclub you opened and what was that experience like? What did you learn about how to operate nightlife venues both in New York and beyond?

The first true nightclub that I opened was Spy Bar on Greene Street in Soho. It was an amazing experience because it was the first time that I had taken a project all the way from initial concept to completion and then execution. It operated seven days a week, and became this wonderful mix of all sorts of creative downtown people from art, fashion, media, and entertainment industries. Growing up in New York, you have limited space to entertain, so I wanted to have a huge living room where I could have a party every night, but then not have to clean up. So I took this concept of an Old World dilapidated hotel lobby that wasn’t too stuffy and designed it to feel really comfortable and lived-in. It instantly became this great cross-pollinating hotspot of people on a nightly basis. The thing that made the biggest impression on me is that if you treat people well, make them feel comfortable, and give them a fun time, you will  always succeed.

How did you decide to expand the Pink Elephant brand internationally, and what was that experience like? Where do you have Pink Elephant clubs now, and how often do you visit them? What is different about each location, and what remains the same?

Building nightclubs can be fun, but it is also tremendously labor and capital-intensive. Unfortunately, single establishments have limited life spans and can grow stale, so a great way to keep a venue hot long term and realize continuing revenue streams is to have brand extensions in other markets. This provides international recognition and drives public awareness. I had the experience of owning other nightclubs in multiple markets with Chaos in New York, Miami and Brazil. This time around, I wanted to create something more enduring that could translate in multiple languages, hence the image of the Pink Elephant. At present we have Pink Elephants in the US, Brazil and Mexico and we are expanding internationally into Hong Kong and Dubai over the next year and domestically into Miami and Vegas. I tend to spend about 50% of my time on the road these days, visiting existing locations about 6 times a year and researching and developing new locations. It’s a lot of work, but there is no substitute for personal observation and attention. Each of the venues has the same signature features, but has its own unique influences that are respective of the cultures of the individual markets.

After originally operating on W. 27th St., Pink Elephant is now in the Village. What was the experience like reopening the place? Did you apply any of the wisdom you gained when it was on 27th? What’s it like operating in a different neighborhood?

Well, this is actually the third Pink Elephant in New York. I like moving because it gives the ability to create something new and reinvigorate the brand. There is always a learning curve, and this time around we created a more intimate venue and included a separate mixology bar where people can mingle. We realized from the last incarnation that upbeat house music is great, but that people also want to slip away and chat with someone interesting at some point during the night, so we wanted to provide that option, along with a fantastic mixology experience. In regards to the new neighborhood, it’s great being in an up and coming area where there is a feeling of growth and exuberance, so the whole resurgence of 8th street is very exciting for us and our clients.

What is it about Pink Elephant that sets it apart from other night spots? I like the idea of having a mixology bar – all too often these fancy places don’t go much beyond vodka with some mixers, so upscale drinks are most welcome. What else is unique about it, from the design to the ambiance to the music?

So much of our DNA comes from service and energy of our staff. We really love to throw a great party, have cutting-edge entertainment, and really provide our clients with a fun experience. So much of the nightlife today has become so formulaic and trite that the industry has actually become stale. We love to provide our clients and friends with a unique experience, from incredible international DJs to high quality drinks from amazing mixologists, to surprise live entertainment, and of course the ubiquitous appearance of the Pink Elephant from time to time. We also have an unbelievable sound system designed by Steve Dash of Integral Design that is so clean that you can feel the music vibrating through your whole body, yet it’s so clear that you can talk to the person next to you without raising you voice.

What’s your official job title, and what are your responsibilities with Pink Elephant? What is an average day like, if there is such a thing as an average day?

Although my official title is Owner, it really should be Jack of all Trades. I tend to get involved in every aspect of the business, from marketing, branding, promotion, ordering, financial planning and analysis, budgeting, everything really. There are definitely areas that I like more than others, but in the fast-paced world of nightlife, you have to be on your toes and able to understand and perform every function on a moment’s notice. That’s the part that I like, the fast paced need to react in real time.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I love conceptualizing and bringing projects to fruition. That is the most satisfying part for me. To take the seed of an idea, germinate and nurture it to grow into something beautiful and amazing. I also love to provide people with an outlet where they can cut loose, have a great time, and forget the hardships of their everyday lives. It is so empowering for me when people tell me that they met their spouse or significant other at one of my venues. It makes me feel really good, like I have done something meaningful. We’re always changing and innovating, that’s what keeps us fresh. We’ll have a whole new host of fall drinks made by our master mixologists along with more great international DJs for the New York venue. This year we have two additional clubs opening in Brazil (in Sao Jose and Terezina) as well as Miami and Dubai which is slated for New Year’s Eve.

Many people have tried and failed to do what you do. What is the secret to your success? What advice would you give to a younger person looking to follow in your footsteps?

I think the secret to my success is that I came from a very stable upbringing that provided me with an amazing education and ability to travel around the world and experience all sorts of cultures and hospitality. It gave me an appreciation to think outside the box and dream big. My college education was focused on International economics and finance, so I had the skill set to manage my own businesses and understand foreign markets. My advice would be to work in all different jobs in a desired industry to understand how each of the pieces of the machine work. In hospitality, I have done everything from waiter, bartender, dishwasher, office manager, doorman, promoter, mail room, design, etc, so I have a pretty good understanding of what different jobs entail and how they all need to interact to work effectively.

When you do have time off, what do you do to relax?

My passion is travel, so I always try to mix a little business with pleasure, or is it the other way around? I guess that when you love what you do, it’s really not work.  I travel a lot so I always try to make each trip a bit of both to get ideas and inspiration from other businesses and cultures. I just got back from two weeks abroad sailing in the Aegean, interspersed with relaxing and reading. I managed to experience some great nightlife in Istanbul, Bodrum, Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens. I’m always trying to see what people are doing differently and new, and how customers react, so that it can spark ideas and provide my own twist on entertainment and hospitality.

New York Opening: Pink Elephant

With its brilliantly hallucinatory, Serge Gainsbourg-referencing moniker still intact, Pink Elephant re-emerges from its brief but notable absence. Once a staple of the depraved West Chelsea nightlife corridor, David Sarner’s celeb-magnet hotspot now resides in a more elegant West Village locale, in the very building that formerly housed the legendary Bon Soir–whose patrons included Marlon Brando and Richard Nixon and whose stage hosted everyone from Barbra Streisand to Shirley Bassey.

The outlandishly sexy current space flaunts a Serge Becker-designed bar that pays homage to the wild postmodernism of the Memphis style, as well as a mirrored Infinity Room and a flamboyant cabaret performance space. Indeed, should you have thought NYC nightlife had toned down, PE’s mission would seem to be the unapologetic return to extravagance, glamour, and grand decadence. We unreservedly approve. 

Don’t Hate the Playa: Mexico’s Playa del Carmen is a Refined Beach Experience

Suppose you want to hit a Mexican beach for a few days of chillaxing, and you want to keep it easy. Well, there’s always Cancun, which is pretty simple to reach, with cheap fares from most east coast cities. But if it’s your goal to steer clear of frat-rock idiots and tramp-stamped bimbos vomiting Jell-O Shots outside Señor Frog’s for the duration of your trip, you’ll need to push just a little bit further, to a balneario resort city just a few clicks south called Playa del Carmen. It’s the beach town your wandering heart longs for.

It’s not that we don’t like to party, it’s just that the parties have evolved a bit. We dream about sipping tequila while watching the waves roll in. We dance when the mood strikes. We remember what a hangover feels like. But we’ve also moved just slightly beyond the days where bad techno music and watered down margaritas at some smelly dive are our idea of an awesome night out. And that’s why Playa del Carmen is so perfect. The former fishing village has all the elements essential to a proper beach blast – great hotels, fantastic food, plenty of attractions, and hot nightspots – but it’s just a little bit more relaxed and refined that wild and wooly Spring Break mecca up the coast.

Sweet Sleeps For those looking for fancy place to kip down for a few nights, there are many tantalizing options. There’s the Fairmont Mayakoba, a luxe resort sprawled across 47 acres of indigenous jungle. There’s Esencia Estate, the former hideaway of an Italian duchess that now welcomes non-royals. There’s the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a zen-filled paradise where every villa has its own pool. And there’s the Hotel Basico, which boasts industrial chic by the beach.

image But the recent trend of condo-style hotels has made its way to Playa, and they make a lot of sense for families or groups of friends looking for both value and luxury. Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen boasts four upscale destinations that offer great weekly rates along with multiple-bedroom suites and kitchens – perfect for those private parties beaches tend to inspire. Villas Sacbe, for example, offers 12 beautifully decorated one- and two-bedroom condos, many with jacuzzis – along with a full-service gym and beach club. Maya Villa is a marble-filled wonderland with regional Mayan art and stunning views of the Caribbean sea. Porto Playa, meanwhile, is a jungle-like resort with tropical plants and waterfall views. And El Taj (pictured above) is the newest and most luxurious of them all, with 57 condos and every conceivable amenity.

Daytime Action The beach isn’t going anywhere, so tear yourself away from the chaise longue and check out some of the sites in the interior. Explore the jungle on an ATV, get all archeological among ancient Mayan ruins (Tulum is just an hour away, and there are various ruins in town), or check out the animals at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, where a kayak tour can put you up-close and personal with some of the most colorful birds in the world. (I’ve got you in my sights, tri-colored heron.) Art buffs can find works from some of Mexico’s most talented artists at the galleries along 5th Avenue, while jazz fans get their groove on at the annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival. Life’s a Beach With some of the most perfect strips of sand in the tropics, Playa del Carmen is paradise for beach bums. The coast is dotted with fashionable beach clubs, starting with perennial favorite Mamita’s Beach Club, which boasts a champagne bar and DJ. Kool Beach Club, with its awesome name, is definitely a good spot to watch the beautiful people sashay around while reclining on a white lounge chair. Indigo Beach Club, meanwhile, is a morning-to-night hot spot, with yoga and various exercise programs for the health-conscious, and amazing drinks and bites for the rest of us. It turns into a slammin’ nightclub once the sun goes down.

Feed Me Remember, the diet starts after the vacation, so leave that calorie-restricting weirdness up north and indulge like a champ at some of Mexico’s choicest eateries. Start with a bite of history at Yaxche, which serves the kind of food the ancient Mayans would have eaten when they went on their beach holidays. Then indulge in more contemporary Mexican fare at La Cueva del Chango, a gorgeous restaurant tucked into a lush garden (try the kiwi margarita). And to go a bit international, slide into a table at Mosquito Blue, where the Italian food comes with a Mexican accent. Party Up In Here As we mentioned before, Playa del Carmen approaches its partying with a bit more subtlety, but they can still throw down with the best of them. The city is dotted with excellent nightspots, where you can dance till dawn or sip your suds in peace, whatever floats your boat. Buy a sexy backpacker a drink at Om Bar, a lively bar that happens to have a hostel attached to it. La Santanera is the spot for shaking it, with a good-looking crowd and top DJ’s spinning mixes you’ll wish you had on your iPod. Pink Elephant is Playa’s newest import from the States, with the attendant bottle service and servers so hot they melt your ice cubes. It’s the way to lounge, if you can afford it.

So here are a few ideas to get you started, but Playa del Carmen is best when you discover it yourself, either through the brilliant rays of morning sunshine, or the comfortable buzz of an afternoon rum. ¡Buen viaje!

[images via Del Sol Photography]

Terry Casey Talks New York Nightlife

My old friend Terry Casey is getting a little older and will celebrate his birthday at Home Sweet Home this Thursday. He isn’t getting any wiser, apparently, as he has asked me to DJ for an hour. I will be sandwiched in early around 8pm between Rocco Ancarola and veteran spinner Walter V. That’s like 80 years of club experience throwing music that isn’t muzak at you. Terry is one of those bright, go-to guys that I go to for advice or insight on what’s going on. He can be seen everywhere as his taste in nightlife is as diverse and eclectic as his grasp on music. I am honored to play for him.

Tell me about your upcoming birthday event. My birthday event is a fun, non-serious affair combining music, art, and fashion. There will be DJs, an art show with great artists (courtesy of Javier Leonard of Leonard Tourne Galleries), and a small fashion show. The venue really helps with this, as it has a real gallery with a cool cocktail bar attached. Artists want the best setting for their art and Home Sweet Home’s new gallery space offers that. They don’t want just a few walls in a nightclub/bar/lounge setting with bad lighting. I picked a wide selection of DJs and friends to do two rooms of music. It’ll be everyone from the bottle/social scene to the DJs playing the Brooklyn warehouse parties—I like to connect the groups (dots). I asked you, Rocco Ancarola (Pink Elephant, Lavo) and Walter V (Studio 54, Danceteria) to play music in a gallery setting and what more experienced nightlife crew could I have found for a 3 hour opening session? The crowd will get to hear these people play songs they want to play and not just the radio or karaoke/wedding DJ songs like most spots in NYC. Later in the evening we’ll open two rooms, with one for indie dance music and the other with electronic DJs like Varick, Carlos Mejia and more from the techno/minimal/warehouse party scene. That includes parties like Sheik N’ Beik (Julio Santo Domingo’s), Blkmarket Membership (Taimur and Fahad), Low Pitch Orchestra (Carlos), Flawless (Jen and John), Made Events and many more. These parties introduce new acts before they become mainstream and bring culture to the New York scene.

Since you closed Le Royale, what have you been up to? Is there a venue in your future? Le Royale closed when it was still very very busy, with four months worth of bookings and global acts coming to play a 150-person DJ room. That’s not a good or normal reason to close a club but it’s also not normal for your business partners to not show any accounting for the business. To this day I have not received any accounting from my former partners, David Baxley and Elaine Romagnoli. The issue will hit the courts in the next few weeks and they can explain their actions to a judge. Their actions were damaging to staff, promoters, vendors, and to me who all lost a lot of money and two years of my life building a strong brand. Their actions were dishonest and I expect to be able to show their actions were not in good faith in a court. At first, I took a year off doing no events and just listened to lots of music and worked on a few small projects away from nightlife; I was not sure if I wanted anything more to do with clubland. The ugly side of this business left a bad taste in my mouth, it was a sad experience. But it’s made me a lot wiser and I have already pulled out of deals with similar characters trying the same type of stuff. I understand that clubs and bars are a business and expect them to be run with honesty and care. My love comes from the inspirations of music and creative people, and combining those is so much fun; nightlife can be such a creative avenue for people and it caught my heart many years ago. Will there be more clubs from me? Yes. I expect there to be more ventures but it needs to be the right deal and a place that can make people feel at home. I’m working on a few things now but talk is cheap, as we all know.

Tell me about technology and the changes DJs are adapting to. What I have been doing since Le Royale is listening to lots of new music to make myself happy. My favorite is a new music style called electro swing which combines old swing music with electronic beats like house and hip-hop. I recently DJ’d a night of 90 percent electro swing music to see what people thought and was pleasantly surprised. There are pockets of people in many cities around the world making this music and sending it to each other and spreading the word globally—how fun is that? I’ve also been checking out new DJ technologies, which in recent times has moved to a new level. I came into the music business from being a DJ and I started out in London at 16-years-old, buying import dance releases from NYC, Chicago and Detroit. It was mostly house music at that time, but over the years my taste expanded as I grew musically and learnt more about music. Now I’m open to everything from dubstep, to classic rock, to world music and everything in between. At the moment I’ve been excited by DJ Controllers and Midi Controllers—I hate to say it, but CD players and turntables are going to be history in clubs soon enough, because the future is here. I currently use an S4 Controller by Tractor and it just blows my mind. I don’t need anything but the controller and it does more than a CD or turntable ever could with music. I have to thank DJ Kris Graham (Diva) for turning me onto this. Kris is a nerd surrounded by beautiful women, but he’s a nerd, I’m calling him out on it right now.And of course, the Technics SL-1200 is still an amazing piece of engineering.

What are the positives and negatives about the current New York nightlife scene? I think the positives are that social clubs are booking and promoting new music, not just booking people to play the radio. I believe that’s partly because of YouTube and other outlets promoting new music, which now gets to the masses and not just DJs. At this time there’s no need to wait on radio stations and the losers at MTV to play new music. MTV wanted us to believe that reality TV was bigger than music and more profitable to shareholders but I think it’s safe to say that YouTube has a brighter future then Viacom. You only have to look at Lady Gaga’s career and how the web took her to new highs. Then, if you look at Lavo, Provocateur, SL and other socially/bottle-driven clubs, they have taken a serious approach to booking the established and rising stars in electronic music.

In Brooklyn we have world-wide sensations and New Yorkers need to be proud that we have such a creative force in our hometown. We also have a new rising star in festivals with Electric Zoo and you have to give it to Mike Bindra for taking that chance and seeing the vision in doing a purely electronic music festival. We are also lucky to have Bowery Presents in NYC and great live music shows at Bowery, Webster Hall, and Music Hall of Williamsburg. Le Bain has a great music policy now, with Jerome and Neil Aline and Cielo is a stable for house heads. On Fridays, Webster Hall Friday is dubstep heaven and draws the biggest acts from dubstep and electro. The brunch/restaurant parties in NYC are off the hook, day and night, including Lavo and Bagatelle. Rocco Ancarola’s Sunday night is my favorite party at the moment and the DJ plays almost no house and no hip-hop, so that’s rare. There are lots of performers and it’s held in a restaurant so you see people like U2, Paul Oakenfold and movie stars dancing on tables to world music.

Negatives, well that’s easy: Some aspects have not changed much, including bottle service, door policies, a lack of diverse crowds, too much focus on money and no culture, to list a few. Also, rent is too damn high, as our friend who ran for mayor said.

Where is Brooklyn headed? Brooklyn can only get bigger and better, it’s where the youth of NYC look to live, not Manhattan. It’s very international especially Williamsburg and Dumbo. People used to move to places like Williamsburg to save money on rent and now they live there because they want to be with friends. To me, Williamsburg offers what Manhattan is not able to offer—a real community. Manhattan is becoming very generic, which is not cool to watch because there are still areas that feel like community, for example the West Village. But most people can’t afford to live in those areas so it’s a luxury for them. More people will move to Brooklyn from all over the country and the world before even touching down in Manhattan. There’s already more people living in Brooklyn over Manhattan so it can seen as its’ own city or even funnier, Manhattan as a suburb of Brooklyn (that’s a joke). Brooklyn can expect some of the issues from Manhattan over time, like more chain stores (Starbucks, etc) and rising rent costs. Rent prices have gone up a lot over the last 10 years, and more than doubled and tripled in some areas, but there’s been great progress for the communities in Brooklyn and Queens at Manhattan’s cultural expense.

Are you British, or is that a speech impediment? And why are you in New York? I’m a big city guy, born in London and was very lucky to be born in what I’m told is the music capital of the world, although NYC and Brooklyn are fighting back strong.

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.”