This Week’s Top NYC Happenings: Harlow, Pennsylvania 6, KTCHN

WEDNESDAY (tonight): Richie Notar’s Latest Parlor Harlow Opens 
Studio 54 and Nobu legend Richie Notar flies solo with Harlow, his glamorous new restaurant and parlor bar. Part of a 1926 gift from William Randolph Hearst to mistress Marion Davies, the space still has its original chandeliers and stained glass. Modern art (there’s a Warhol) updates the look, providing an elegant backdrop for a globe-trotting seafood menu. The raw bar nods back to Nobu with Japanese accents. For dinner, it’s creative combos like salmon with chorizo-Asian pear salsa, or Australian wagyu with fresh chimichurri.

Harlow (111 E. 56th St., Midtown East) opens Wednesday the 20th. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Mightier Penn
High ceilings and popping red seats highlight the comfy confines at Pennsylvania 6 (pictured), the newest pub in MSG’s hood. Check out the space Wednesday night while celebrating the launch of Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout season with the malt masters of Brooklyn Brewery.

Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout Launch Party at Pennsylvania 6 (132 W. 31st., Garment District) on 7pm to 9pm on Wednesday the 20th. Get the inside-info on the pub at the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SUNDAY: Oscar Admirer
KTCHN at The Out NYC knows that the Academy Awards are more fun with champagne, a big screen, and a lively crowd. You’ll find all that, along with dishes cribbed from the 1929 awards, prizes for the deftest ballot jockeys, and edible Oscars to take home.

The Academy Awards Viewing Party at KTCHN (510 W. 42nd St., Midtown West) starts Sunday the 24th at 7pm. No table minimum; reservations required. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in NYC by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

Industry Insiders: Justin Wyborn, Nobu Poster Boy

Nobu West Hollywood’s man in charge, Justin Wyborn, speaks proudly of the “sense of family” within the Nobu empire. The Aussie-born GM is undoubtedly a poster boy for the company’s family-friendly sentiment. Wyborn has worked at Nobu London, Miami, and the flagship New York City Nobu 57 location. He also opened Nobu Melbourne, Hawaii, and San Diego in addition to his current West Hollywood post.

How did you get involved with Nobu? In 1996, I took a year off university to complete a one-year cadetship at the Savoy Hotel in London. Halfway through the cadetship, I heard about Nobu opening at the new Metropolitan Hotel in London, and a year earlier I had read an article about Nobu New York and loved the concept, so I convinced my university to break my cadetship, which enabled me to work at the new London outpost.

You recently opened the West Hollywood branch. What goes into opening a new location? L.A. has definitely been my favorite and most challenging opening so far. There are so many different people and cultures in the city, and they all come with their own set of idiosyncrasies. I was lucky enough to spend just over two months here before we opened, and I took that time to visit other restaurants and get a feel for what Angelinos were after. But it’s been a year and a half since we opened here, and I’m still trying to find L.A.’s formula.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? We came into L.A. 20 years after Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant, so we’ve been constantly pushing ourselves to think outside of our norm. It’s no longer only about great food and great service, it’s also about entertaining and creating a full night out. Working in L.A., and having to deal with the current economic environment, my job has also included creating events that push the restaurant outside of its normal boundaries of food and service. I now have extracurricular events at the restaurant for just about every night of the week. For instance, every Wednesday I work with Ashlee Margolis and her A-list to create a weekly “tastemakers” dinner.

What’s the most important thing you think people should know about the Nobu brand as it continues to expand? Our mantra is still the same as when Nobu first opened in Tribeca. All of the owners — including Nobu himself and Richie Notar and Meir Teper — are still extremely hands-on with all of the restaurants. They’ve encouraged a strong sense of family within the company and with each restaurant. This sense of family and our passion for our product allows our brand to remain one of the strongest in the world. 

Of all the cities you’ve worked in, which do you think has the best culinary/nightlife scene? London is my favorite for nightlife. It’s a city with great traditions that really thinks outside the box, and it has some really unique clubs and bars that allow you to forget about the gray, cold weather outside. L.A. has great restaurants, and something to offer for everyone, but you just have to find it. Being an Australian, I’m proud to say that Melbourne has some great affordable restaurants. I still think that the best Italian is found in Melbourne — simple and fresh. That’s all you need. New York is all of the above in one city, and I always look forward to going back. Especially for the late-night bars and restaurants.

Any positive trends you’ve noticed in the industry recently? We’re starting to see some unique places open in L.A. that are taking a chance. Street, for instance, has a great concept — street food from around the world. It’s a fantastic idea.

Any negative trends? There are too many people in L.A that are quick to chop down anyone who tries something different or takes a chance. It seems that many people are unable to take a risk and push themselves or their establishments unless they see others making a successful move first. This level of unoriginality and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” tend to create a negative feel within our industry here.

Who do you admire in the industry? Besides Nobu himself and Richie Notar — Luis De Casas, the director of Nobu openings, has been a great influence in the development of my career. He’s helped me look beyond the basics of a restaurant.

What are your favorite places for dining out in LA and NY? In L.A., The Bazaar, Jose Andres’ place, is great; the city needed it. I went to Fraiche in Culver City last week, which has great, simple, and clean dishes. They do their simple menu very well. In New York, I like Atelier, Joël Robuchon’s place at the Four Seasons. I’ve sat at the kitchen counter many times to eat, and it’s amazing. My favorite late-night place is a small yakitori restaurant called Totto for simple, grilled Japanese.

You work around Japanese cuisine all day, so what’s your idea of comfort food? I rarely cook, but I love the lazy-day-off breakfast and lunch places. My favorite is Square One in East Hollywood. It’s such a random location, but my girlfriend and I tend to find ourselves there for a late meals all the time.

The Top 10 Industry Insiders of 2008

Our Industry Insiders series has covered the personalities that drive nightlife, dining, hotels, and related scenes throughout the world. We’ll continue targeting more movers and shakers throughout 2009, but from the past year, here are the ten people who generated the most fervent reader reaction (both love and — the other thing).

10. Amy Sacco – She may no longer rule New York nightlife with an iron guestlist, but she still has plenty of admirers. 9. Richie Notar – A hometown boy made good, from shirtless busboy at Studio 54 to white-tie hotelier to the stars. 8. Michael Achenbaum – The man behind the Hotel Gansevoort has been known to draw the attention of a hater or two.

7. Lionel Ohayon – His design firm is responsible for the look of many cutting-edge venues. 6. Remi Laba – The Meatpacking District maestro On boring models, the grub at Pastis, and bringing down the house (music). 5. Jeffrey Chodorow – The owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries dishes on Ian Schrager, disses on Rocco DiSpirito, 4. Derek & Daniel Koch – The day-party twins build an unlikely empire. 3. Ivanka Trump – Donald’s diamond daughter describes her new hotel ventures. 2. Rachel Uchitel – From losing her fiancée in the 9/11 attacks to running VIPs at some of the hottest joints in New York and elsewhere. 1. Aalex Julian – The infamous Tenjune doorman trashed his foes and became the poster boy for anti-doorman malice.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Richie Notar Doesn’t Sweat the Recession

image[See Part 1 of Steve Lewis’ interview with Richie Notar.] We’ll get out of this recession, and Richie Notar’s Nobu will thrive through it. He believes, as I do, that the high-end joints will survive, while a lot of the wannabes will close their doors. People will eat at a Nobu, or have a cocktail at Rose Bar, even if they’re about to hock the Bentley, if only to show their peers that they’ve still got it. Sure, the cuffs may be shot out to hide the “stainless” Rolex, but those on top always know what time it is, anyway.

I enjoyed my sit-down with Richie. He made me feel like he wanted to always be my friend, like he really was happy to be next to me, having a chat. The cell phone didn’t ring, and no minion came to interrupt us with something “important.” I believe these traits are most important for a person in the hospitality field. I remember when I worked for Steve Rubell, and I would have this weekly meeting, and the phone would be ringing off the hook, the secretary blasting names — “Steve, Liza Minelli on 3, Calvin on 4, Jellybean on 1, Bianca on 6 …” — and he’d just wave them off because we were working. It was an amazing feeling that he would postpone talking to theses giants because he was talking to me. I went through walls for Steve, worked insane hours to prep for those meetings. I’d have every statistic, every angle covered because he felt our time together was that valuable. and I was honored to work for him.

Richie came through that system, and I think, like me, he still puts in the hours, still prepares, still values the time of others. There is no way anyone can describe what Steve Rubell was really like. I can tell you when I was running joints, I looked around my room and always thought to myself, “What would Steve or Andy (Warhol) think if they walked in right now?” Sometimes they did. When those two passed — way too soon — a little bit of that edge was lost. So guys like Richie and I do our best for ourselves, for those memories, and for a public we just can’t get enough love from. I build them now and write about them and I get paid some loot, but I do it for the love, for the action, and I think I see that in Mr. Notar, too. It just feels great when you sit in a room that you created and watch cool people enjoying their lives.

You’re opening a location in Los Angeles; tell me about it. Is this your first one in LA? Yes, we have one in Malibu, but the origin of it, which I’m not involved in, is called Matsuhisa, (which) was Nobu Matsuhisa’s first little restaurant that he opened 22 years ago. De Niro fell in love with the food, and it became his Hollywood canteen. There’s no real design; movie pictures and plastic lobsters on the walls; it would be considered almost kitschy, which is cool, because it’s back-to-basics. But here’s the dilemma for me: That’s the original, it’s a different partnership, but it started from there. How do we not hurt that or compete with that, but create a different persona for the restaurant? I’ve said this before; you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Japanese restaurant in LA, so how can we be different? I’m still trying to get my head around the dining habits of Hollywood. It’s a spoiled city, they want a lot of love. It’s me, me, me, so I’ve tried to do that with them.

You’re all over the world, and LA is coming now, 17 joints later — is it about not understanding LA? I don’t understand LA. Well, I kind of like Malibu. I’m a kid from Queens, so I see a dolphin and some mountains, and it’s a good day, you know? We’ve had the place in Malibu for ten years, and it’s very hippie-ish, and very cool, but LA was a no-go zone because Matsuhisa was there.

So now you’re just now figuring it out? Yeah. First: Does LA need another Japanese restaurant? Probably not. So what we’re focusing on is an experience. I don’t want to compete with the sushi, because if you have well seasoned rice and good fish, our sushi’s not going to be too different from yours; so it’s Nobu’s signature dishes, the bar, the lounge and our outdoor patio that are really groovy. We have a driveway with a fence that’s paparazzi-proof, and turns out that’s a high point in Hollywood, so people like David Beckham and George Clooney love coming in.

Everyone knows we’re in an economic downturn. How’s the Nobu client being affected, and what’s Nobu doing to address this? You try to avoid it, but the reality is everyone’s in denial, and sometimes, it really smacks you in the face. In certain restaurants, like London, it’s really fantastic, but little things like lunches downtown, because it’s so close to the Wall Street area, you could feel it. But places like Las Vegas, it’s very difficult, the food traffic is down. We’re still doing OK compared to other people who’re closing, but in places like LA, we’re going to do something cutesy, like “tightening your belt hour” or “bailout bites.” I was trying to motivate the staff, and I told them this is history; whether it’s the 1920s or Prohibition, or even when 54 started and New York was stagnant, things go in waves.

But you can’t keep people down, certainly not New Yorkers. So I think soon people will digest that they have to change their lifestyle a little bit, and then they’re going to persevere and have “fuck the economy” parties. You’re already seeing them around a little bit — maybe people aren’t going to buy a third home in Palm Beach, but they’re certainly going to go out. And actually, for us, it’s almost a reverse psychology, where people will come to Nobu and they’ll sit at one of the front tables because they want to show people that they’re okay in this economy. We’re involved in a lot of egos in this world, and they want to sit up front and go, “I’m fine.”

You have this great mantra, “In order to have a good dining-out experience, you leave your cellphone at home, surround yourself with people you like, go where you feel comfy, not the expected place, go local if you can, and do not network over food.” I think just like they hang those choking signs, they should hang that in the front of the restaurant. I think the question was “What’s a good time for a night out?” and I think people expected me to say something pretentious. I’ve been around way too long to be impressed by something that’s not meaningful, and I love neighborhood joints. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, but in Italy you dine among friends, and it’s about the conversation in addition to the food being good. It’s this banquet, you’re chatting, and it’s an event. I always try to remember that, especially in the restaurants. We do family style here, and you feel more at ease. This is the type of place that’s user-friendly; you’ll come two or three times even in a week; I’ve had people come for lunch and dinner. If you go to some of the bigger event places, you’ll go for an anniversary or a birthday, and you don’t go back for a year.

Now, one of the things about the recession is that you have Nobu Next Door, downtown. Is that an everywhere thing, or only in New York? There was a space that became available next door, and at the time, we were saying no to more people than we were saying yes. We didn’t want to lose that opportunity to have something, and we thought just like Armani has Black Label, Emporio, and AX, we’ll try to provide something for a different demographic. So I’m going to take a little credit for this. I said, “Why don’t we just call it Next Door?” They loved it, and we just called it Next Door.

How hands-on is Robert De Niro? How often do you talk to him? I talked to him this morning, to be honest with you. He’s an interesting guy because people don’t know what to make of him, he’s very quiet and protective of his private life. But it’s no secret that Bob De Niro was instrumental in putting together Nobu by bringing it to New York, by taking the chance. I didn’t know anything about it — my friends made fun of me when I said I was going to run “this Japanese restaurant”. He’ll add his input, but at the end of the day, he’ll say, “OK, I would probably do A, B, C, D, but you do what you want, or what you need to do.” I value his opinion. Both of his parents were artists, he grew up in the Village, he’s incredibly sensitive, he’s well traveled and has great taste.

And he’s really responsible for holding Tribeca up. When I lived there, he was one of the champions of that neighborhood, and it wasn’t as easy to live there as you think. Years ago it was a ghost town, it was tough.

What’s coming up? We’ve opened up in Dubai, soft, meaning it’s not really a big splashy party. It’s on Palm Island. Dubai is like the Hamptons now — everyone from London and Europe goes there.

So, from dishwasher to Dubai? Yes, no doubt, it’s been a great ride, with so many experiences; we should collaborate on a book. But it’s true, I’ve been really fortunate, because life experiences to me are more valuable than driving around in a Bentley or anything that’s materialistic and comes and goes.

I agree with that, what I take with me from the past — I don’t remember the cars I was driving, but I do remember some of the people that were in them with me. Yeah, you know, sometimes it’s great to stop and reminisce about those times, because when you talk about a bad climate now, people are referring to times that were really just … fun. Hands down. You still go to places in London, and there is a Studio 54 night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tune in tomorrow for more Richie Notar action.
Buddy Guy Tickets Genesee Theatre Tickets Waukegan Tickets