Despite my big hoopla Tuesday night at Avenue, today/tonight is my real birthday. It is very common in clubland to celebrate your special day on another day. I remember, back in the day, every time a Quentin Crisp or another not-so-rich celebrity needed $500, we would throw them a birthday party and give them the loot and a phony club dinner. Sometimes six months separated the event and the reality. A rival club honcho asked me why I did my bash at Avenue and I referred to yesterday’s article and told them that "they asked." It was wonderful.
Last year at this time, and the year before that, and the year before that, I ended many of my evenings at subMercer, that Andre Balaz subterranean paradise in his Mercer Hotel. I would hang outside with lifelong friend/door guru Richard Alvarez and his sidekick Moses, or join the scene downstairs presided over by totally cool, hip, fun, temptress Gabby Mejia. Gabby was the reason to be cheerful for a mixed bag of adults who found this small joint with big music important. It was the kind of place that you didn’t have to think about "what was going on.” There was always Gabby, Richard, and Moses. There was always a great DJ, except maybe when I played, and the crowd was always sexy, always smart, and were never-looking-for-the-same-ol’-predictable programming featured around town. It was my secret spot that I told everyone about. Every summer it would close down as the Balaz crew headed to Shelter Island or other exotic lands to reboot.
Every year, when I lamented the end of summer, the knowledge that subMercer would now reopen was a reason to be cheerful. This year it hasn’t reopened and Gabby has moved on. They say it’s for renovation and I’m hoping they get it open again soon. Without Gabby I’m not sure it will be the same. It might be like Casablanca’s, Rick’s Cafe American without Rick, or Studio 54 without Steve Rubell. Often, a persona is bigger than a place. Andre Balaz didn’t get where he is without some smarts, so I figure he’ll make it right but won’t finish the "renovations" until he does.
Meanwhile the amazing Gabby Mejia is throwing a party and she has lined up all her usual and unusual suspects to make it right. It’s this Sunday in the basement of Santos Party House. It’s free. There are dozens of DJs lined up, including Arthur Baker, Stretch Armstrong, Cosmo Baker, Eli Escobar and Lloydski, Justin Strauss, Citizen Kane, Geology, Rok One, and so many worthy etceteras. I caught up with Gabby and asked her to tell me all about it.
Tell me all about the event.
The party is titled “Break Up The Family,” after the Morrissey song, because it’s a final family reunion of sorts, as the tight clan we’d formed over the last three years in subMercer is dispersing in order for wings to spread, as they purposefully should and inevitably always do. After three incredible years as subMercer’s director, and having started the first legitimate music label putting out original productions (and vinyl) for a hotel, I decided it was time to pursue new musical ventures. I stepped away from management and operations in order to focus primarily on musical programming and curating, and everyone else on the team was sort of naturally graduating onto the next phase of his/her life, too. I thought the song was very fitting, as its lyrics denote a certain maturity in reflecting over the years and one’s own evolution, then realizing it’s time to fly the proverbial coop – but not without first wanting to see and hug all your old friends and peers that were with you along the way.
When subMercer closed for renovations, I was bowled over by the public’s reaction – all the heartfelt letters and social media testaments of the positive cultural impact we had had on the underground music scene – all by fostering an environment of creative freedom for DJs to fully express themselves and their individual styles on the decks. I realized then that we had to get the gang back together one last time for a proper farewell, so I wrangled all our residents for a final showcase of their talents on the decks.
And the legendary Arthur Baker is in this?
I also called Arthur Baker, who is a dear friend, mentor, and personal hero of mine, and he happily agreed to fly from London to headline the party. Arthur is a seminal and legendary producer, who arguably changed the trajectory of dance music when he and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force emerged from a late studio session one night with the groundbreaking hit "Planet Rock," which introduced the world to the revolutionary new sound of the Roland 808 drum machine. He also went on to produce hits for New Order and Rockers Revenge, amongst others. His music greatly influenced a lot of today’s dance music and inspired the careers of many of our DJs. It’s a great boost, too, for any DJ to get to play alongside such a musical pioneer.
Tell me about the decision to move on…and leave the wonderful Andre Balaz family. How could you leave this gig that’s seemingly a dream?
Leaving AB was a hard decision because he was always so encouraging and gave me total creative autonomy at sub to develop and curate it as I saw fit. I’d been with the company on and off since 2004, between four hotels in NY and Miami; but in the end, I realized I had my own, independent goals I needed to pursue, and they understood and supported me in my decision. What is the legacy of subMercer?
subMercer was the best professional experience of my career thus far, and the one of which I’m most proud because we built a reputation of never compromising on the quality of the music or talent that played there. It was so intimate that it really ran like a family. There wasn’t any sort of clear vision I had for the place when I took it over. I DJ myself, and most of my friends are DJs, so it just sort of happened very organically that it became such a music-driven club. Once it started to come together, we really focused on making it really NY-centric to support the underground music community here. A lot of clubs in the city these days tend to book European DJs, but we wanted to support our local community. NY has always been at the forefront of cutting-edge dance music, and we want to keep it that way.
Nightlife in NYC is very bottle dependent. Can a standalone club survive without being in a hotel or part of a larger corporation?
No, I don’t think independent, free-standing clubs need to be bottle dependent to survive. I think you just have to have confidence, high standards, and maintain your integrity in the biz. Integrity is everything; it establishes your credibility and often adds to your longevity. When your output is consistently associated with good quality, people start to rely on that consistency.
A woman in a managerial, programming position is rare in nightlife. What did you do to be one of the boys, or did you just say “fuck that” on day 1?
It certainly wasn’t always easy being a woman in senior management and being a music booker (two completely different jobs) – but I wear velvet gloves over my iron fists, and I’ve learned how to assert myself if/when necessary. In the end though, that’s really all irrelevant. Once again, it’s your integrity that earns you the respect of your peers.
You spend a lot of time in Miami and you confided in me that you will be spending more. You have a decade of excellent nightlife experience and a strong musical base. Tell me about the cultural differences between NYC and Miami besides the beach, the weather, and the Cuban sandwiches.
So much that’s great about Miami — for starters, it’s culturally Latin. There’s great music and a burgeoning art scene and Art Basel. I’d like to bridge the two cities musically more, bringing Miami DJs up here, and vice versa. Last year, for Miami’s Winter Music Conference, I was able to put together a two-night underground party with a killer lineup that included Arthur Baker, Radio Slave, Rory Philips (who flew in just to DJ our party), and a slew of other big name DJs from LA, London, and NY, as well as too many DJs asking to jump on and play, too, after they had just headlined at Ultra. It was a ridiculous lineup that would have taken most promoters months to coordinate and organize, but I got it done in one afternoon, four days before the date of the party.
Gone are the days of the grunting, cross-armed, meathead bouncer. Inspired by the example of revered nightlife fixture Gilbert Henry Stafford, the current generation of doormen are sophisticated and stylish toughs who adorn — and block — New York’s tightest doors.
Aalex Julian, Simyone Lounge and Abe & Arthur’s – “In the end, the man makes the clothes. It’s not always what you wear, but how you wear it.” Aalex wears blazer and shirt by Tom Ford, jeans by J Brand.
Richard Alvarez, subMercer – “People need to wear their clothes rather than be worn by them.” Richard wears leather patchwork jacket by Maison Martin Margiela, vest and tails by Norisol Ferrari Bespoke.
Binn Jakupi (right), 1Oak/a> – “Clothing is an integral part of setting the tone for the place that you represent, and it is of the utmost importance that you do it with your own style.” Binn wears shirt and tie by Dolce & Gabbana. Genc Jakupi, The Box – “The Box, being about performance and extravagance, requires a more theatrical form of dressing up.” Genc wears suit by John Varvatos.
Photography by Adam Fedderly. Grooming by Tracy Alfajora for MAC Cosmetics.
I felt like that little mouse in the lab maze as I traveled past the cabinets of bar supplies and wine lining the winding entrance to subMercer. I was visiting my newest, beautiful friend, Jennifly, who had cordially invited me.
A tanned scarecrow of a figure, dressed dapper and walking with runway attitude, brushed past me. I knew him, but like thousands of others that bump past me, like those ships that do that in the night, I couldn’t put a “Who? When? Where?” to the familiar face. I turned back to look, and his head leaned and twisted on an impossible neck down to his waist. He peered back at me and asked, loud like Oz behind the curtain, “What is your name?” I said it, and he pranced over with more “OMG”s than my wedding night. I saw it was my dear friend Richard Alvarez, with a tan to make George Hamilton envious. He grabbed me by my Gucci leather and we screamed, “OMG you look great!” until it was really embarrassing. He really does look great, though.
Like me, Richard has endured and survived pitfalls, and skids, and falls on a long winding journey to looking good at subMercer last night. He showed me around, I said “Hey” to a crowd of neighborhood Brits and scenesters. Then we pranced again upstairs to catch up, in the fresh air of that beautiful last night. We caught up and waxed poetic on just about everyone. Although Richard is a Facebook friend, I hadn’t seen him in the tan in probably eight years. Our conversation inevitably turned to Pat.
Patricia Fields has been a friend of ours from before (that’s before Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada propelled her into the national conscious for being what everyone I know already knew). Pat’s the undisputed style queen of downtown. This stuff is often noted in papers and media, but what isn’t said enough: how she has supported hundreds of talented, stylish, underground types for decades. Richard was lucky enough to have her, for without the mother of the House of Fields to step up, he and many others wouldn’t be around and looking so good.
We talked about the Life Ball ‘09 being held this Saturday in Vienna. Everyone was going, it seems, except for him and me. We gave ourselves some soft “hello’s” and vowed to be there next year. This will be the 17th annual Life Ball, and it’s a big deal. In the past, fashion shows featuring the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Donatella Versace, John Galliano, and many others have helped raise millions to fight the war against AIDS. This year, Patricia Fields will introduce my other Facebook friends, The Blonds, to European fashion. Last year, the gala raised over 1.4 million Euros. Half the money goes to Austrian programs and organizations fighting the good fight. The other half goes to amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research.) This is “Europe’s largest and most spectacular annual charity” event.
Richard and I recalled a Life Ball back in the day at Roseland. Suzanne Bartsch presided over that affair, and the dearly departed Leigh Bowery, who has been such an inspiration to designers like Jon Galliano, performed. I remember sitting down and chatting up Steve Rubell and Ian, all decked out in tuxes. All the unusual suspects were there that night. My memory jolted to that room, that affair. It haunted me like that scene in the ballroom with Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I could see the ghosts of many galas past, and the devastation, brought on by this terrible plague, hit home. Yet here was Richard, with his trademark billion dollar smile, as enthusiastic and fabulous as ever. A beautiful old friend, a beautiful night, a smile on my face, and an “OMG,l thank you god for giving me such an interesting life.”