Industry Insiders: Sal Imposimato, Behind the Music

Nightlife is a 24-hour job for Sal Imposimato, the regional director of entertainment for the Morgans Hotel Group (which includes the stylish Hudson, Royalton, Morgans, and Mondrian Soho hotels), who’s in charge of all nightlife programming.

Far from leisure-suited lounge singers and karaoke nights, these hotels host the hottest acts around, from the Kills at the Mondrian to the legendary parties at Good Units inside the Hudson, which have drawn crowds with top-notch turntablists like DJ Cassidy and Questlove, and even a Cinco de Mayo party complete with masked Mexican wrestlers. Although these events take plenty of daytime hustle to organize, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love to create, and New York is my canvas,” Imposimato says. “Working in nightlife and giving people an escape from their day-to-day reality is a great thing.”

BlackBook Protests at SL & I Land in the Hospital

Any night that ends up in Bellevue can’t be all bad. Your humble servant managed to hurt himself badly enough to require attention and numbing pills. The cute doctor quoting Gloria Gaynor said “I will survive” with the oomph and believability of the disco diva. I believed her and here I am. Instead of flowers, send sympathy notes to Kenmare, which has just won The Eater Award for Best Shitshow of the Year. The other nominees were Artisanal, The Lion, Rouge Tomate, Shang, and Abe & Arthur’s. What do I know? I love most of those joints. I was downstairs from Abe and Arthur’s last night, attending the Blackbook magazine November issue release bash at SL. I told everyone that the joint was named after me, and everyone protested. November is themed “The Protest Issue” and I wrote a piece for it about those “Shitshow” winners from Kenmare, Paul Sevigny and partner Nur Khan.

Sante D’orazio shot my pals with Don Hill, at Don Hill’s. Freida Pinto, the babe from Slumdog Millionaire, is on the cover. I don’t know what she is protesting about or who, so I’ll be reading my copy after this to find out.

I didn’t know too many people at the soiree. I don’t know how you get invited. I usually hear about BlackBook events from unrelated people, and call up protesting: “Hey! How come I wasn’t invited?” It’s invariably an “oversight” or something like that, but sometimes I feel like the black sheep of BlackBook. I kind of don’t mind that and will not protest. Maybe that should be on my business card. DJ Anna Cavazos and Patron tequila kept everyone from protesting anything. As I departed into the night, unaware of my eventual fate, I stopped by Abe and Arthur’s to see if it was, indeed, a shitshow, as Eater implied. It was packed and vibrant. I guess the crowd hadn’t heard about the nomination, or they showed up in protest. Somewhere in the night I imagined Nur giving Paul a high five.

I was on my way to the Blind Barber when I was miss-happed. My face, which earlier in the day was described by my potential television producer as one “made for radio” got even worse. Something about a tooth getting infected and the inner ear and all that made me look like Deniro’s Jake Lamotta, late in the Sugar Ray fight. I would have protested, but only my Amanda was on hand to get me much needed help. I have spent many a morning at Bellevue over the years. Sometimes I did something to me: fell off a ladder changing bulbs at my fab 80’s joint, Liquid Sky, a punch not ducked, or a bad meal from a late night pre-letter-rating restaurant. I always preferred the late great Saint Vincent’s Hospital—better crowd. Mostly, I was there for others who scuffled their way in or took something that eventually put them in an unconscious situation. Last night it was me, a dozen cuffed creatures of the night, and all sorts of miss-happing people. My Amanda was cruising cute doctors while I drifted into sleep from my medication. She liked the one who looked like Rob Lowe. I couldn’t protest.

According to my pal Dani Baum, Blind Barber was hot. It was hosted by stylelikeu.com, with my super chic friend Malcolm Harris hosting. Louis XIV DJed this happening. Dani was waiting for me along with stylelikeu editors Elisa Goodkind, and Lily Mandlebaum, but alas, I was a casualty. I wanted to go to the Royalton to visit the newly renovated 44, now called Mon Chouchou, where my old pal Lyle Derek is clearly bringing it. Last night was a party/dinner for Debbie Harry as she celebrates her new tour. I have known Lyle since the 90’s. I’d say he worked for me forever, but he would protest, and in the end the story would conclude with me working for him. The good promotional people are like that. They own everything they are part of, push it forward and make it work. It only works if it’s that way. Half the club “owners” in town don’t even own their own shirts, but that’s another article. Lyle is one of the best— taking events through the soup and nuts, making them super fun for the attending nuts. Over the years he has produced legendary events and weeklies. He gave me Joan Jett as well as Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Spa. He also did Ben Sherman’s first US fashion show for me, some early Vice Magazine events, and some events so unforgettable that no memory survives to talk about them.

He has done it all: doors, go go dancing, producing, and promoting. He put Courtney Love at Plaid, which ended up in all the papers as a mic stand somehow ended up attached to somebody’s face. I wonder if the dude went to Bellevue for that? He was behind that Squeezebox film about the long-running party at Don Hill’s. He told me yesterday that he will return home to Don Hill’s on November 21st with a new weekly called Dropout. He even has a clothing line called God Save New York. Coincidentally, when I went to Bellevue last night, my Amanda was sporting a GSNY hoodie. It’s all Sex Pistol font and fabulous. These days they sell at Ricky’s. He tells me Moby, Debbie, Karen Finley, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, and a gaggle of others sport his wares. The amazing Miss Guy will DJ Sundays. She was the Squeezebox spinner, and more fun than anyone, except maybe last night’s Bellevue crew. I don’t really miss them and I haven’t slept much or well. I would protest, but who would listen?

Photos by Zhanyi Jiang.

BlackBook Obsessions Party @ The Royalton

Last night at The Royalton (a hotel we’re obsessed with, by the way), some extremely well-dressed people (all of whom we happen to be obsessed with) got together for a little party we were throwing. The occasion: Our Obsessions Issue, featuring cover girl Christina Ricci (who one of our editors is totally obsessed with).

The event was cordoned off behind some velvet rope, way in the back of the Royalton’s legendary lobby bar, in what’s called Forty Four. It’s as sleek as midtown gets, with sunken banquettes and yacht-worthy wood, and we’re obsessed with it. But wait. What’s a party without songs? And what are songs without a 37-year-old androgynous New York punk playing them? DJ Miss Guy was on deck (and on the decks), providing the perfect soundtrack to sip to. Tequila Honeysuckles were the choice drink of the evening, a refreshing blend of Milagro, honey syrup, and lemon juice, served up. It was a drink worth obsessing over. Check out the photo gallery, courtesy of Joonbug.com.

Industry Insiders: Alan Philips & Josh Shames of Sky Group

Alan Philips and Josh Shames are founders of SKY Group and Deluxe Experience. Their clients include One Group (STK), Gerber Group (Whiskey Bar), Morgans Hotel Group (Hudson, Royalton, The Shore Club), Borgata Hotel, Brier Group (Highbar) … the list goes on.

What are your favorite places in the world? Alan Philips: Sushi of Gari. They have the freshest fish, simply and creatively prepared, in understated surroundings. I don’t think that there is anywhere you can experience something as delicious and unexpected as the salmon tomato onion sushi. Bagatelle has incredible energy and music, very New York. I recently had the pleasure of staying and experiencing the newest Morgans Hotel in Miami, Mondrian Miami. Marcel Wanders has designed a spectacular hotel that captures the surprise and whimsy that you first felt when entering the Delano 20 years ago. Josh Shames: The Box is an amazing New York experience, and I’ve never felt the energy from a nightclub that I have felt at Palladium in Acapulco, Mexico. 2000-plus people, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls over looking the Acapulco bay. As for restaurants, the China Club in Hong Kong or Il Latini in Florence, Italy, are the two of my favorite dining experiences. If I had a last meal, then it would be Don Pepe’s in Ozone Park.

Who do you admire in your industry? AP: Ian Schrager has continued to innovate for decades and maintain an individual point of view. The amount of time, energy, and commitment to your vision it takes to do what he has done is incredible. Imagine having Studio 54, Morgans Hotel Group, Palladium, Gramercy Park, and now this partnership with Marriot on your resume. Nobu Matsuhisa — he did not just create a restaurant, he created a whole other cuisine. Then he opened tons of locations that never sacrifice the quality of product. And just when you thought he was done, he kept creating new and intoxicating dishes that never cease to amaze. JS: Its cliché, but you have to mention Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager as they changed New York nightlife and the hospitality industry forever. No matter what has been done since, it has all been an extension of what they accomplished years before.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in your industry? AP: I like that people have been offering more inclusive experiences. Jamie Mulholland and his team did it this year at Surf Lodge. The vision and customer experience is all-encompassing from beginning to end. The restaurant, the bar, the hotel — it all goes together and is fabulous. I believe that customers want more for their hospitality dollar, and in this economic environment, they won’t mind spending money, but the quality and excitement better be there. I don’t think there will be tolerance for products that are sub-par. Additionally, I am excited about things moving away from bottle service. I like table minimums, and I believe that this will force operators to be more creative. Great ideas come out of necessity. JS: For a while, people thought that if they opened a nightclub or lounge and put a door person outside behind ropes, their place would be filled and generate revenue. I believe people have wised up since then. Operators, owners, and investors are starting to be more creative with their venues and concepts than they were five years ago

What is something that people might not know about you? AP: I love to cook. When the family gets together, my job is to cook. JS: I am left-handed and I go to every Broadway show.

What are your staples? AP: Books are Wolf of Wall Street, Good to Great, and Outliers. Artist is Da Vinci. City is New York to live and Miami to visit. JS: Destinations are Florence, Italy, and Aruba to relax. Politicians are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

What are you doing tonight? AP: Going to Nobu 57; I’ve been obsessed with Dover sole tempura since I got back from Miami. Then Ella to hear Brooklyn Dawn spin. JS: I never make plans that far in advance.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? AP: DVR. My girlfriend and I watch way too many shows. Lost, Sopranos, 24, Big Love, Californication, Gossip Girl, Weeds, Brothers and Sisters. Okay, this is getting embarrassing. JS: My Blackberry.

Drink of choice? AP: Patron Silver on the rocks with two limes. JS: Iced coffee in the mornings, diet raspberry Snapple during the day, and anything with ice in it at night.

Person you’re dying to party with? AP: My mom. JS: Myself. I’m always so concerned with everyone else’s experience, I forget what its like to have a good time.

What’s next in ’09? We’re developing a new web-based project called Deluxe Experiences that will launch in early 2009. I have been working on it for a year, and we are really looking forward to seeing it come to life. We are also managing an artist Brooklyn Dawn — she is a super-talented female DJ whose energy, skills, and sound are something totally different in the downtown scene. Everything she does is so genuine and exciting. Also, began a new area of our business focused on servicing our lifestyle clients and synergizing them with our hospitality clients. 2009 is going to be a very interesting year in the hospitality business, as people are definitely going to have to find new ways to make money.

Industry Insiders: Sarina Salvo, Casa la Femme Phénoménale

Casa la Femme’s Sarina Salvo on re-opening the sultry Middle Eastern hotspot in the West Village, why they are unique in New York, and partying with camels.

What do you do? I basically do everything at Casa la Femme. I don’t have an exact title because I’m really spread out through the whole restaurant. I’ve been with them for 12 years, so I basically can do everything from the event planning for everybody. I’m able to put through all of the parties. Anything people want. If someone decides that they want to have a camel, I would figure out how to have a camel in here, to staffing, to the flow of the restaurant. When we did downtown, I started as a manager there. Uptown when we did the boutique one, we went through the review process and I was just basically there on the floor, 100%, with the staff. In a nutshell, what do I do? I guess I represent them. I represent Casa la Femme. Other than the owners, I guess I am Casa la Femme, in a sense.

What are some restaurants or bars that you like in New York? Favorite restaurant is Peasant. Raoul’s for a good steak. I haven’t been going out since I’ve been working so much.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Probably [Casa la Femme owners] Medhat Ibrahim and Anastasi Hairatidis. I wouldn’t stay with people if they didn’t inspire me and push me. Twelve years working with someone …

What is one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry now? Now? Actual hospitality. Actually being caring with the customers. You know, with everything that’s happening with the whole economy and jobs, I think that people are actually giving what they need to give to the guests, giving them an experience, what they deserve. Now you have to convince people to go out. You have to. You work so hard for your money, and everyone used to go out anyways, and it was a given, so it was taken for granted — from everybody. Now you have to work to be able to get those.

On the other side of that, what’s one negative trend that you’ve been seeing? I mean, obviously, people losing their jobs and things like that. I know so many people in the business that are losing their jobs all throughout. I had interviews the other day, and I had like 140 people showing up. And that’s really scary. I feel bad. I had people who were general managers and managers begging to be servers. And they come from all the hottest restaurants. Anyone. You know, they have experience. So that’s a negative big time. Also, I know so many people in the Morgans Hotel group. You know, Royalton … people getting just laid off. It’s just horrible.

How will this affect Casa la Femme? Since we’re not open, I mean, I really can’t gauge it. But I would assume that we’ll see some negative things out of it. I used to get a tremendous amount of calls, just banging down the door when we’re open, everyone’s really excited, so I can’t gauge it at this point. But I’m assuming that its not going to be every single night. People are more conscious. We’ll see. I’ll approach it in a different way. I’m willing to be able to work with people, I understand that it’s going to be a budget thing and anything can be done to be able to accommodate people. That’s what I want to do. What’s one thing that people might not know about you? I guess maybe that I’m super private. Because people are so used to seeing me as chatty and floating around, but I’m definitely more reserved and quiet. Which is shocking. The total opposite from when people see me dancing on a table with a bottle of champagne.

What are some of your signature drinks going to be? We’ll have vodka-based ones, champagne-based ones. We did have a mango martini that was fresh juices and fresh mango nectar. Someone was just calling the other day about a French Kiss. That hasn’t been done in like nine years. I’m sure once we release them, they’ll be fab.

Who do you think Casa la Femme will be competing with for clientele in the West Village? No one. We won’t have to compete for anybody. We are totally unique. Any type of clientele is not going to be a problem. It’s just because we cross over into so many different types. We can have the models and that type because it’s sexy, it’s hot. We’re known for that. We’ll also have the people from the neighborhood. There’s a million Thai places, there’s a million Italian places, but there’s no Casa la Femme. If anyone has tried to do something like us, they haven’t succeeded on this level. There’s a reason that we’ve been around 15 years.

What’s the vibe at night? The music will switch up in the evening. There will be people sitting with bottles of champagne, relaxing and watching the belly-dancer. We’re going to stick to chill world music, like Hotel Costes type of loungey music. We’ll also have a Middle Eastern influence in the back. If we have a private party, we have a lot of friends, it could go into anything, like Rolling Stones late at night. It depends on what crew is in here. We have a pretty insane sound system. Anastasi is all about the music, so we’ve loaded the space up with lots of speakers and sound-proofed the place.

The Mondrian Gets Tivo

imageThe Mondrian South Beach, set to open December 1, is adding another feature to its roster: Tivo. The Mondrian opted for the deluxe Tivo package so guests will be able to record two shows while watching a third. If this pilot Tivo program goes well, look for the Tivo at all the Morgans Group Hotels, which include: New York’s Morgans Hotel, the Royalton, Hudson Hotel; Miami’s Delano, The Shore Club; Los Angeles’ Mondrian; San Francisco’s Clift Hotel; Scottsdale’s Mondrian, Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel, and London’s St. Martin’s Lane and the Sanderson. All the more reason to order room service.

Openings: SLS & Mondrian Hotels, Los Angeles

While every other hotel group has been scrambling to launch twee eco sub-brands, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, in conjunction with L.A. nightlife hotshots SBE, has been plotting in the direction of megaluxe. And so, this winter, Beverly Hills will see the launch of the SLS Hotel — the first of a new lineup of ultra-chic lairs. With interiors by Philippe Starck, the SLS will be awash in boutique-y hotel trappings (sleek furnishings, designer minibars and a futuristic gym), but with 297 distinctly posh sleeping quarters, it will more likely be luring guests away from the Peninsula than from hipster magnets like the Standard.

The SLS is arguably more about contemporary elegance than theatricality, but still features plenty of over-the-top places to see and be seen. D.C.’s superstar Spanish chef José Andrés will oversee the hotel’s decadent culinary piazza, which will offer a patisserie and a sexy tapas bar; there will also be an on-site Moss design shop. And in a neat little twist, the original Starck interiors of new-generation L.A. hotel the Mondrian have just been given a post-millennium makeover by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz. Unlike the recent stylistic massacre that went down at the Royalton, Ortiz instead imbues Starck’s minimal palette with a few doses of playful color: blues and purples in the lobby, orange in the bar and striking red accents in the sleeping quarters. Rooms also get sustainable bamboo floors and grandiose framed mirrors. The Penthouse Suite goes for baroque, with a palette of antique gold and bronze and flamboyant crystal chandeliers. And as for the Skybar, well … you probably still can’t get in.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Greg Brier, Midtown Maestro

Greg Brier is the man behind Highbar, Amalia, Aspen, and the soon-to-open Aspen Social Club in Times Square, designed by yours truly. Greg is a very dear friend of mine. Of course, he hires me once in a while to design his spaces. I’ve done two and half spaces for him so far. I did Aspen initially, then Amalia. Now we’re sitting in the Aspen Social Club at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

First of all, Amalia and Aspen Social Club are in this Times Square/Midtown area, and Aspen is really in the Chelsea thing. And instead of being downtown or in the Meatpacking District where everyone else is, you’re in Midtown. Explain what you like about it. Well, I mean in addition to that, we just opened Highbar in Midtown as well.

That’s right. I forgot about it because I didn’t design it. [Laughing] You’re right, it’s not as beautiful as all the other places, but it’s successful, and it is in Midtown.

I hang out downtown and have always been a downtown guy. I started to realize there’s no dividing lines in New York. People live in Midtown, they live Uptown, they live on the East Side, they live on the West Side. A lot of people claim they live Downtown, but nobody can afford to live Downtown. So they’re all living up here anyways, so our whole ideas was to take this kind of downtown cool aesthetic … a more artistic, creative aesthetic, and put it into a Midtown environment and see how it would work. And it’s been incredibly well received, because these guys are so used to seeing this cookie-cutter design in their restaurants.

In this area? In this area. And all their restaurants and all their nightclubs. We knew that if we came up here and developed and created stuff with you and really kind of redefined the lines of what’s cool and hip, making Midtown just as hip and cool as downtown. By creating the right elements with design, our staff, music, etc., it would be successful, and it has been a huge success.

Well, the W Hotel really broke through many years ago. They broke through with style, some sort of style, some sort of programming. The Whiskey and Randy Gerber have been up in this area for a very long time. So there was a successful precedent, and certainly you are capitalizing on that knowledge. I remember you and I having conversations when we were designing Amalia and talking about whether people would come or not. Specifically to the downstairs, which is like nightclub or lounge for Amalia. I said to you that I believe many people live uptown, and if they’re going to the other clubs downtown, they need a place to go before and a place to go after. So you’ll do well. Yeah, it’s a great stop-off before you start heading downtown for a late-night space. I think in addition we really need to talk about the fact that right now, the economy is in the shitter, and basically we are going to depend on our tourists to an extent, and we’re in the right position to be to be depending on tourists.

I hadn’t heard that! As a designer, I designed this wall [at Aspen Social Club] to be visible from the street. The idea was that there’s thousands and thousands of people walking by this restaurant every day, and you just want to grab them and have something visual for them to see. And the foot traffic around here is unbelievable. Absolutely, but the tourists we’re going for are the high-end kind of European tourists; people that can really appreciate this design. You know, they walk by and see these cookie-cutter generic spaces, and nothing really impresses them. When they’re coming from Europe, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or wherever they’re coming from, they’re used to very high-end materials and cool stuff happening inside their restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. And we’re one of the few people that are actually doing that in the Midtown area. It’s really attracting those people.

When you stand outside, you basically have Pig & Whistle to your left, a deli to your right, and of course this beautiful restaurant. Back in the old days, in the early 1980s, when 44 was open at the Royalton, Conde Nast used to hold court there. Some of the coolest professionals in the fashion world are working in this area, and they’re looking for a cool place to hang out. And I think it’s so refreshing to them that they can walk out their front door and they have a very cool place, like they did back then. So again, it’s not a brand new concept — we’re bringing back basically something like you said that started back in the Midtown area and re-creating it.

Back when the economy was crap also. One of the things that we want to talk about is the versatility of the space. It does function as a nice place to sit and enjoy an informal dining experience or lunch. But in addition to that, the lounge has a DJ. I think what will end up happening is that promoters and nightclub people who end up going to Marquee or 1Oak may come here, have dinner, and they may stay later. I think more people will come by later at night — it’s a sexy enough space. In the 1980s you used to have a model next to a drag queen next to the guy in the business suit. And that’s really what made the party fun. That’s what we’re re-creating. There are times that I look over and I’m like, “What is this, 1989?”

Industry Insiders: Jeffrey Chodorow, Fusion Fan

Jeffrey Chodorow, owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries, dishes on Schrager, disses on DiSpirito, then row-row-rows his colorful boat ashore. Point of Origin: I was born in the Bronx, but my father died the year I was born, so my mother and I moved to Miami. I grew up in Miami Beach, where we lived with her sister. They were both manicurists in a Cuban barbershop, and they used to go to Havana for the weekend — which, incidentally, is how Asia de Cuba eventually came to be. I opened China Grill because I knew the Asian and Cuban pantry, so it seemed like a natural. I grew up very poor in a very wealthy Miami area where we went through school drills, hiding under our desks during the Cuban missile crisis. Some friends built a bomb shelter in their property which was nicer than our apartment! This was before Castro came in.

Occupations: With my very logical legal background, I got seduced by the restaurant business in Los Angeles. I was supposed to buy a football team, and I met this guy at Spago. The next day, I was having a meeting with the bank that had the stadium in Foxboro, and we stopped at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. Next thing I knew, I was back in New York, opening China Grill. The guy who had the lease where I wanted the restaurant at 20th and 6th reneged, and another friend who was a broker had a space available immediately under the CBS building at 6th and 52nd. I hated it. It was shaped like a dumbbell, a big barn with a narrow corridor, but the architect said we could make it work. I made two decisions that, in hindsight, were the major factors in the success of China Grill: I moved the entrance from 52nd to 53rd, across from MoMA and the Hilton. At that time, all the customers came from the Upper East Side for the nighttime business. All my friends in the restaurant business said “Four restaurant have failed there,” and I was obligated to be open for lunch. I figured the way to get people in there for dinner was to exempt the first six months from lunch, so when it opened, it only opened for dinner. All the people at CBS complained! I needed to force people to come for dinner, and eventually opened for lunch.

Everybody in the industry speculates that you and Ian Schraeger met in jail. Yes? No? This whole episode is a weird story-in-a-story. By 1987, Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell were already out of the Morgans Hotel and into the Royalton; their financiers were doing a building up on 6th Avenue. They were supposed to do the restaurant with Brian McNally, but they couldn’t get a liquor license (Brian didn’t have any money at the time), so they wanted to meet me. They came and asked if I’d like to do 44 in the Royalton for them. I met Steve first. We share a passion for Twizzlers licorice, and there was a jar in his office. Then I met Ian. They both told me the story of how the Royalton was going to be the next generation of a social gathering. The whole thing sort of seduced me into the mix. It was like oil and water, but they put up all of the money for everything but the liquor license. I don’t know why this was, but Ian said, “We’ll put up all the money for the hotel, and you put up all of the money to open the restaurant (payroll, graphics, etc).” There was a hitch. They wanted me to buy a Phillipe Starck hostess stand, a kind of Winged Victory of burled walnut that was tapered from the top down. It cost $30,000. Ian said, “Look, Jeff, if you want to do the deal, you’ve got to buy the stand.” It was impractical, there was no top, there was no drawer space, there was no place for the phone — I had to put Velcro on it — but it was a gorgeous piece of furniture. I put the stand next to the hotel column, so when you enter the hotel, you look down the blue carpet and see this beautiful piece of furniture.

China Grill in Manhattan was on fire, too and before long, Ian called me, “Nobody said the idea wouldn’t travel; how about you do the space in Morgans Hotel? I know it’s a bad location, but I’ll give you a fabulous deal.” I only made one condition after the Royalton: I wasn’t enjoying it because I felt pigeonholed to do a hotel restaurant. I called Ian and told him that I wanted to do a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant. The deal was done. Jefferson Carey was my first chef of Asia de Cuba, and I felt the menu had to be a certain type. At the time there was no fusion, so it was revolutionary in those days. But I thought if I could create demand from outside the hotel, it would work. I was set on Chino Latino restaurants. He was amazed. He had just gotten engaged, and his fiancé was Cuban. Later, the New York Times said the newest thing was a Nuevo Latino restaurant — mine. Meanwhile, Brian had opened in Ian’s Delano in Miami, and it was doing good business, but doing no money. So Ian asked me to take it over in 1996. It became Asia de Cuba.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I would say, I’m interested mostly in food related things, my other big interest is IICA contemporary art at [alma mater] Penn, and I have donated a reasonable amount of money to the school. My son was also at Penn and is interested in contemporary art, plus I thought it was an opportunity to do something. Also, there are a lot of creative people out there … great cooks who aren’t chefs. Ask Rocco [DiSpirito], one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars!

Favorite Hangs: My favorite hangouts are not all in New York. I love some of the Cuban places in Miami like Yakosan, a place in North Miami Beach, a Japanese tapas bar with all small plates. I like quirky things. They also have spaghetti bolognese; all of the sushi chefs hang out there. I like Versailles; Ciochi, the place on Sixth and Collins, a Cuban hole-in-the-wall for the Cuban sandwiches and black bean soup, and the Latin American Cafe. In New York, the Cuban hangouts like Park Blue with its list of half-bottles of wine and phenomenal drinks; Sakagura on 43rd between 2nd and 3rd, on the north side of the street, in a white office building … on the floor there’s a little sign for Sakagura. You walk past the front desk to the fire exit and down the stairs to the wooden door that leads to the sake bar. No sushi, just small plates of Japanese food, across from Sushi Yasuda. In the basement, it’s all surprise. I like the old style places. I love Dan Tana’s in LA. I love Nanni’s on 46th. Old time places … they’re not trying to do anything modern. There are certain dishes on the menu where the food is great. They’re hangouts I gravitate to — the old stuff. I try all the new stuff.

Industry Icons: I think the reason my relationship with Ian works so well is that we had so much mutual respect for each other. He gave me the ability to think beyond what I knew. I realized when I got back together with him that if you looked at it objectively, it would make no sense, but he was so successful that you couldn’t pick it apart as to what made it so successful. When I opened Asia de Cuba in Morgans Hotel, he wanted to send out a postcard. So I get the mock-up, and the front is like a beautiful photo of Morgans with three doors, a great postcard. The estimated price was $80,000 — and it was 1997! I almost fell off my chair. That was why our relationship worked: It may not have made sense to me, but if he felt passionate, I respected his vision and he respected my business acumen. Ian Schrager and Drew Nieporent, we’re all battling the same battles. I have tremendous respect for them, and I don’t view it as competition. I feel that we’re just up against the same thing.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I think I’m kind of a private person. I’d rather spend time with my family than anybody. Of course, we socialize, but there’s nobody in particular that I spend an inordinate amount of time with.

Projections: Right now, I’m very focused on international, and I want to do India and China. I just got back from Monte Carlo. It’s such an international place, and you wouldn’t know there was a global community there.

What are you doing tonight? Last night, I took my wife to Georgica Pond for three hours with lobster. I was on the phone the entire day and I was actually impressed that I could row that far! But I was an Eagle Scout and had a canoeing badge. Tonight, I’m having dinner with my eldest son who graduated from Wharton last year, and is going to law school. I’ve offered him a job! We opened the Kobe Beach Club in the Hamptons next to the Lily Pond, and he decided to open Kobe Hot Dogs! When I was doing Ono, he was closely watching! He went out and got the equipment, brought the chef and the relishes and these special iced teas and a papaya drinks … he’s a bright kid. I have a 19-year-old who wants to be a sushi chef. He’s at his first year at Boston University. A few years ago he wanted an apprenticeship in Tokyo in a sushi restaurant in the Chanel building. So being a foodie has really paid off for the whole family.