Travertine Blowup Brings Out the Lawyers, Mark Baker Swims with Dolphins

So this Travertine/XIX piece I posted Friday seems to have stirred the pot. I think that metaphor is a little weak — it was more like the chubby kid doing a cannonball and drenching the sunbathers by the pool. There’s even a lawyer involved now, although who he represents isn’t clear to me. The weekend was spent conversing through various media with the players involved.

Mark Baker is out in Bali working on some events and swimming with dolphins. Actually, the last correspondence had him too upset to swim with dolphins. Ruben Rivera is off working at W.I.P. and planning moves that will eventually have him on top of the nightlife world. Owner Danae Cappelletto communicated with me via Facebook, which indicates she is back in Australia. So this conversation involves people in exotic Australia, Bali, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg. Now that’s sexy.

Danae was very upset with me, but I gave her the "don’t shoot the blogger" rap, and she apologized and said she was going to send me her side of things today for publication. I did get a letter from a lawyer for "Travertine LLC":

… we insist that you immediately remove the article from your web site and then issue a public retraction.

Had your staff done even a minimal level of fact checking before printing the unfounded and libelous accusations, you would have learned that the content of the article is false. Mr. Rivera, who as his own agenda, resigned from his position in advance of his imminent dismissal for unprofessional conduct and a matter that is being investigated. His quotes are merely the ramblings of a disgruntled, former associate.

Your reported insinuations about Travertine are not only untrue, but have caused and continue to cause damages to Travertine. Worse still, by being a conduit for the public defamation of Travertine, you are effectively interfering with the ongoing operation of the Travertine business.

Danae wasn’t talking lawsuit; she was just asking for her piece to be posted in the interest of clarification. So who knows who’s behind this letter.

Mark Baker has told me he has decided to get out of the project. He seems to be taking the high road here. I love Mark and have always known him to try his best to be a gentleman. I hope he and Ruben kiss and make up. Ruben is out and working and happy. Emails and texts from him are focused on the future and a lesson-learned attitude. I asked Mark if his partner Artan Gjoni was also out. He replied that he hadn’t spoken to him in a few days: "He’s obviously upset surprised and as confused as I am."

Mark wanted to clarify that Ruben quit. I thought that was clear. It said it right up top, first paragraph: "We learn that main man Ruben Rivera has quit and moved over to W.i.P". This is a game of "he said, she said," and as I pointed out to Danae, if everyone would just stop talking to me, I would have nothing to say.

Mark Baker issued his own statement for publication:

Hi steve … After having this distress on my mind for 2 days now I want to "After reading the piece about XIX steve, I feel there are a couple of things that need to be clarified..I would never normally have this dialogue in a public forum as its just not necessary and usually gets misunderstood., but I have to address your piece as it was incomplete not entirely accurate and insinuated that ruben was kicked out of the deal..WRONG. To start with artan and I were asked to come in by the investor to revamp and relaunch the reataurant and club after a renovation. Artan and ruben to be the 2 lead owner-operators and me in supporting and marketing role…. This was to take place during january and re open for february..we were forming a partnership between us and the current owner was to step aside from operations .BUT , there was so much bad blood between ruben and the current owner dustin, we (artan and I ) tried to bring everyone together to work together , but the daily fights and mistrust between them was insane and apparantly irreparable, I advised ruben to take a break and come back energised and fresh so he could be the partner and operator he always wanted to be.. get his commission on the sale and own a piece of the venue, the attorneys were drawing up the contracts on dec 30th !! On jan 3rd ruben announced he was quiting and would pull the promoters out and sabotage the deal. I guess he just didn’t want to deal with the current owner anymore…he had had enough.. .Let’s be quite clear on THE FACTS… Ruben was NOT pushed out of the deal .. HE QUIT OF HIS OWN FREE WILL.. While we were drawing up a management contract for HIM,ARTAN and MYSELF… He walked away from it and was not cut out of anything.

The whole thing stinks and everyone looses.ruben expects everyone to quit also and walk away or everyone is" NOT LOYAL" .. The staff, the promoters artan me and everyone has to "quit" because ruben has.. I think its crazy as there is always a middle road and ruben for once could have owned his own place, albeit with partners.. Well..welcome to the real world of nitelife where everyone has to have partners.. And you have to work with them and compromise.. Everyone else has to anx does…. That’s life. "My way or the highway" doesn’t work. So EVERONE looses here, I have decided to step away from the deal also at this moment as its just too much drama.. And we don’t want to upset ruben do we.. That’s my piece…. How sad. Could have been great.

The space is still great and most of the players are as well. I suggest that a real-deal sit-down is in order when everyone can be gathered in the same hemisphere. Mark Baker is a gentleman, as is Artan. I have always found Ruben to be wonderful and more than capable. He was doing very well by any standards in a small basement lounge after the restaurant failed. He kept that place afloat and was anxious to continue with Mark and Artan running the restaurant above. Then, this implosion happened. Danae is a sweetheart and a great chef who isn’t the first operator to have a problem getting traction with a restaurant in NYC. We await her statement and are aware of the time differences. Mark Baker and I have been talking as he is getting up and I am crashing and vice versa. He’s swimming with dolphins while apparently some people want me swimming with fishes. Déjà vu all over again.

Namaste from Bondi Beach: Danae Cappelletto Just Wants Peace

So if I’m beating a dead horse, let me know, but I have a feeling the Travertine/XIX space is not dead at all. It is getting more free ink here than the people at Fineline Tattoo are giving out this Saturday in honor of Sailor Jerry’s 101st birthday. I love all the players at Travertine, even the players who aren’t players anymore and possibly never were. It gets confusing as everyone is nice and every story is completely believable. So were’s the beef? I promised the owner and former chef Danae Cappelletto a chance to speak her piece. She only speaks Australian so it was a rough go a couple of times. We were being all Facebook-fuzzy nice when I told her about the lawsuit her company threatened me and Blackbook with in a legal letter put out yesterday. The Facebook exchange went as follows. I will translate when the Australian gets too thick. I’ll also correct some spelling.

i’ve just read the new piece, i got a hand it to you, you do write an intriguing story. Thank you Steve, I hope this all goes to bed soon but in the mean time i do appreciate you giving us the opportunity to respond.
Mark and ruben are friends(of mine) but there is only one truth…i really believe this might serve to clear the air and end up good if egos are put aside… so who over there put the lawyers On me?
oh god no not on you!
i’m putting a statement together for you now, and no the letter was certainly not in any way directed at you x
Well it was sent to bbook… asking for a retraction and removal of post… its all good get me your statement and i will do my best to get it out
The letter was really to stop guys that had nothing to do with the project from jumping on this, i have no idea how that happened its mindboggling!
Here is my statement for you – Thank you again
Steve, you know the funniest thing about all this is, there’s people (Mark Baker) making comments back and forth here that were never involved in the project! its Bonkas!
Honestly, sometimes you have to laugh –and I do appreciate that you are just the messenger. To be honest, with the huge ego’s floating around and all the self-serving misinformation I really don’t want to bore your readers making more corrections. Lawyers do that. I do wish Ruben the best of luck running his new door post.
Our economy and the neighborhood have changed a lot in the last 3 years since we started and I feel your real story will come in due course when the updated concept is revealed by the new team. Namaste – from Bondi
So the letter is not directed at me or bbook but says we …i had it all wrong and wanted us to take it down and print a retraction?????
Well as you can see from the above Mark was not involved in the venue so its all nonsense
Ahh now namaste from bondi is confusing.. there is Bondi in the l.e.s. or an australian reataurant..which bondi? which namaste?… and what you are saying was no deal had been finalized with mark baker
Ok so i assume its spice namaste from bondi beach new south wales
LOL sorry – Namaste (meaning peace) from Bondi Beach yes that is correct nothing had ever been remotely close to finalized with Mark
Namaste is a term used over here to say "peace" and i am in Bondi Beach in Sydney Australia x i’m sorry for the confusion
That Australian sure is a funny language. George Bernard Shaw once said that England and America are "two nations divided by a common language." Maybe that’s all that’s going on here. Maybe a translator is needed to help these people get it all together. Baker wasn’t talking in the same dialect as Ruben. Mark was talking fabulous and wonderful and amazing, lots of jetsetter speak while Ruben was talking L.E.S. street-real.. all about respect, what I’ve done, and can do. Danae and I had a little trouble at first . She lambasted me in Australian from Bondi before we re-upped as great friends and not just Facebook friends. The lawyers are talking in "legaleze," a language only they seem to understand. They seemingly targeted me, when the owner Danae (speaking in Australian) clearly holds me harmless. I had that beef with that other guy saying "Jew" this and "Jew" that, but I can easily also chalk that  to a language barrier. He probably meant no harm, just that where he comes from it’s a common expression.
As the poet Mick Jagger said at that famous Atltamont concert right before, or was it after a biker stabbed someone who had a gun, "Brothers and sisters, come on now! That means everybody just cool out. We can cool out … why are we fighting?" The biker and the gun-toter were speaking a common language and got right to the point. Everybody understood what they were saying without all these words. What are they all fighting about? As Danae said (in Australian) "It’s Bonkas!". Nobody is talking about what the fighting stems from. It seems to be all egos on the surface and maybe that’s all it is… slices of pie not being divided as everyone likes and power shifting around and not being clearly defined… and maybe that language thing too. Well, anyway, Namaste from BBurg!

Ruben Rivera & Mark Baker Separately Address Their Recent Bust Up

Nightlife is sometimes a game of musical chairs. Sometimes those chairs move around, go up and down, disappear two at a time, or even come back. As my 8- year-old-niece might say, "It gets wonky." That Travertine, XIX space is being redefined once again. As reported here earlier, Mark Baker and Artan Gjoni came on to finally get the restaurant working right, but now we learn that main man Ruben Rivera has quit and moved over to W.i.P., which just gets better and better. Ruben will man the door and add his flair to the totally hip spot. He is the real deal, one of the most talented people in the business. I adore Mark Baker and Artan, but am leery about them going forward without Ruben.

Ruben took Traverine/XIX from the throes of defeat into the winners circle. It was a great place to hang. The crowd, music, and ambiance were exactly right—hot, cool, forward, new, and yet real old school New York nightlife. It was all Ruben. The new investors brought into to invigorate the space proved to be less than cool. I met one of these dudes in the kitchen space for a little meeting a couple weeks back. His language was "Jew" this and "Jew" that about some problem he was having paying off a debt that affected his credit with a liquor distributor. It was quite surreal. I looked at my watch to see what year it was, and pondered if I was in NYC or a lot south of the Jersey Shore. Suddenly, he realized I might be Jewish. I saw the revelation hit his addled brain and made it easy on him. I looked him in the eye with a wry smile attached and said, "Oh don’t worry, I’m not Jewish." I let a pause get ripe, and then stared into his eyes hard and said, "But my mother was." This dude may prove to be a problem, as Mr. Baker and Artan bring their brand of sophistication into the space. Ruben had to leave. The atmosphere was a little too weird for me, and I can handle most weird. I’d ask for an apology but then I’d have to communicate with this fellow again and anyway, I’m pretty thick-skinned. I wasn’t surprised yesterday when I heard Ruben had enough. I caught up with everyone except that Jew-spew guy. I understand his point of view already. First Ruben, then Baker.

You left XIX. Why?
I simply felt like I created a brand that had legs and value, and the new investors/partners had a different plan that did not coincide with my vision, or the vision and reputation XIX stood for. In other words, XIX represented me. Yt represented what NYC nightlife used to be when it was free and live. Their new vision had nothing to do with that. My feeling was, why fix something that ain’t broke? But you can’t win ‘em all.

It was a tough haul, but you really did well there. What were your greatest  accomplishments?
It was rough at first, but thanks to the help of Jonny Lennon, 4AM, and DJ Sinatra, we pulled it off. I sat in that empty room and thought of all the amazing parties I’ve been to in NYC over the years, and what they all had in common was the energy. I feel like if you let people feel free, they have less frustrations. The purpose of a nightclub is to leave your worries at the door and have a great time celebrating life. Why not do it in a welcoming environment instead of the normal oppressed setting? I feel like I proved to myself that I can do something different in NYC. I didn’t have to do what everybody else was doing. The response has been amazing. Bespoke group Cody, Doug and Brooks Rand believed in the venue and pushes it hard. Not many people involved, but always the right people. That’s what counts.

Is that hood viable? Kenmare goes, now this—although Jonny over at Goldbar is still good.
The hood is great, but it’s a lot different from any other hood in NYC that offers nightlife. It’s a real community. People know each other in the east side of town. They support each other. A great percentage of XIX’s success last year was the fact that I catered to the people in the community. I didn’t flood the place with out-of-towners. Bottom line is Jonny Lennon was there first he worked out the kinks established himself at Goldbar and allowed me to eat there with him. I’m forever grateful to that man.

How would you describe the nightlife brass ring you are looking for?
I will own my own venue outright, with no other opinions on how to do it but mine and my team’s. There’s no better gift in life then to be able to afford to be free creatively. Oppression is the enemy for people like us, Steve, but you already know that. A very important lesson learned is never partner up with people that are not on your level. It creates jealousy, and be careful who you throw a bone too—it’s a business filled with opportunists. Most people are trying to use people to get what they want. Me, I always thought it was about the love and music.

I caught up with Mark Baker, who is in Indonesia doing Mark Baker things. It must be noted that both Mark and Ruben and I are close friends and I hate to see this kind of stuff happening.

Tell me about this power move. You and Artan at XIX/Travertine. Ruben is out. What’s up with that?
I wouldn’t call it a power move. It’s quite simple. Artan and I have always loved the Travertine space. It was beautifully built and the food was good, but way too fussy and with expensive ingredients. A less than perfect marketing/PR plan and some plain bad luck, and it was destined to close. There was no way it could have survived in that hood—the lounge was always an afterthought for them and didn’t have any synergy with upstairs, so all in all, the whole thing didn’t gel and the restaurant closed. Ruben put his heart and soul into managing and promoting XIX, and had some great nights going, but in the bigger picture of creating a profitable biz without the restaurant, it just wasn’t realizing its full potential. An investor was brought in to redo the space, take out the current owners, and the plan is to renovate, bring a great chef in to make a tastier, simpler, and less expensive menu, make the restaurant accessible to both locals, late-nighters, and  a cool, chic clientele that can enjoy the lounge too. A great cocktail menu, parties, events, and a fashion week launch will bring this venue to where it should be. Ruben was asked if he would like to be a partner, but I think his history with the previous owner was so strained that he just didn’t want to deal anymore. It’s a shame. I love Ruben and his efforts at carrying XIX were immense. I think he just burnt out on the whole thing, so he quit. Life goes on.

Is it going to be renamed?
It will be renamed, redesigned, exorcised (to get rid of the bad energy, lol) and relaunched with a fresh new look and some exciting stuff. All will be revealed closer to fashion week when we relaunch. It’s a diamond of a venue, intimate, sexy, cool and the right size and layout.

Any players besides you guys?
I don’t really want to name names right now, but all the usual suspects are inquiring. We will be putting a fresh new team together with a couple of surprises. I think the space needs a break from the attention its been getting. It’s cold and it’s January. Spring will bring a fresh new outlook. 

Now this sounds really cozy, but it actually is kind of not. My sources say Ruben was doing great in the XIX lounge space, but the upstairs restaurant needed some real players. He solicited Mr. Baker and Artan. Now he’s out, and that doesn’t sit right. Somebody convinced management or management convinced Baker and Artan that life could go on without Ruben. It was clearly Ruben who made the connections. He’s too much of a stand-up guy to complain.

A few years ago, I was brought to Vegas by a major NY club player to design a restaurant at a famous casino. A few weeks in, my boy was out, but he didn’t know it. The casino went behind his back and asked me if I would go on when they booted him. I replied with only a strange story:

"A man walks into a bar and sees a hot girl and sits next to her. After a few minutes, he asks her, Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? She stares down her swizzle stick and replies, For a million dollars I would. He turns away, and a few minutes later, he turns to her again and asks, Hey, would you sleep with me for a hundred dollars? She gets agitated, and asks, What type of girl do you think I am? He calmly replied, We already established that, now we’re just negotiating price"

They understood that it was a no go for me. I wouldn’t betray my friend for a fee, hefty as it was. The story said I was willing to sell my soul and be a whore if the money was undeniable because then a friend would understand. I’m not sure what went down behind the scenes, and Ruben’s back. I do know that he is out and they are in. Maybe Baker’s and Artan’s price was met and Ruben will understand. I’m weird though with shit like this. Sometimes people refer to me as a stand-up guy. The thing about being a stand-up guy is sometimes you got to stand up and walk away when a stranger is trying to separate you from a friend for a few bucks. Be careful, Mr. Baker and Mr Artan. If it was done to Ruben it can be done to you. Mark, what happens when they come for Artan? Hey, no worries as you said—life goes on.

Halos, Heartbeats, & Rosewood Land in NYC Tonight

Tonight sees the opening of Rosewood (5 E.19th Street). I’ll be there. I like everyone involved in the project and well…yes, they are paying me. I will be DJing in the lower-level den which the press release describes is for "a more eclectic crowd.” That’s me. I’m opening for the fabulous Kelle Calco, one of my favorite DJs. Upstairs, Danny Rockz and Zeke Thomas provide the music. They had some preview thing the other night and it was a major celebrity fest. The building space has been many clubs, mostly with silly names like Roam and Boudoir. Nobody went to these places, so it will feel real new now. Naysayers and nut jobs will say it’s cursed. Bah humbug! My first of many this season, says I. There is nothing wrong with the space that a little experience, some love, good DJs, and common sense won’t solve.

The experience comes in the form of Redd Stylez who, as Gary Oldman once quipped in True Romance is practically related to me. Redd has been associated with a dozen places over 15 or more years. He is the creative guy; the guy tasked to fill the room and make it sing and swing. He will do just that. Hiring Ruben Rivera to do the door is a great start. Ruben has a great following and a solid eye for what works. Like all great door folk, he is not afraid to say no and also not afraid to say yes. The latter part is something that newbie door folk rarely understand. Creating a mix and letting in that borderline patron and making a club money at the same time is the difference between red and black ink. Redd doesn’t want red ink.

Inside Rosewood will be one of the fastest and, he will tell you, best-looking bartenders in this ‘Burg: Blaise Johnson. Heis fast. There’s some drink he made up called the “White Rose” which I will try after I turn things over to Kelle. It’s Appleton Rum, Chambord, and blood orange puree. Sounds yummy. Rosewood will open Tuesday through Saturday, and I’m hoping they do well.

Saturday night I attended the 4AM electronic dance music event at the Highline Ballroom. I didn’t know what to expect. The place was sold out, jammed with a crowd down the block. When I arrived, DJ Dalton was frenzying the crowd. Promoter pal Cody Pruitt and I discussed how refreshing it is to attend events outside the usual boxes…the familiar clubs. He helped me out at that Dos Equis party at Masonic Hall a few weeks ago. Then, and over the weekend and seemingly always, he brings a great crowd to any party. He is singlehandedly convincing me that promoters, who usually referred to me as the "P-word," are not all bad. Last I saw him, he was going to cut off his long locks. Alas, it was only a couple inches and I feel mislead.

Also of note is tonight’s charitable event Halos and Heartbeats, hosted by the ever-fabulous Tish and Snooky at the new Cutting Room. Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic fame sold me my first pair of pointy shoes when they had their store on St Marks. I ruined them and a brand new leopard-print sports jacket while going over a barbed wire fence one typical night a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. They are the most wonderful of people. Their hair dyes are coveted to this day. Tonight’s event features performances by Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. It will benefit Frankie’s Friends foundation, which funds grants for life-saving veterinary services from their Hope Fund to treat pets whose families cannot afford the cost of care. There is a live, silent, and online auction to raise funds. For tickets to tonight’s event, see here.

Ruben Rivera on His Celeb-Studded Parties at XIX

It’s all about fit – the round peg in the round hole, and all the et ceteras in the square ones. Nightlife often tries to force things. An uptown promoter in a downtown space might not be able to perform; a great DJ who spins a certain genre might be placed in the wrong room with the wrong crowd. Ruben Rivera at Travertine is the perfect peg for the perfect hole in the ground. His basement spot XIX is continuously jammed with the right stuff.

Its casual, dark, street-smart atmosphere is a haven for those who know exactly who they are and what they want, which surely includes privacy, intimacy, and great music. It’s a place to party with your friends without attitudes and crowds. The restaurant is going through a few changes and will re-launch as a better fit for the neighborhood. Danae Cappelletto’s considerable talents didn’t seem to translate to this location. She was a talented square peg trying to squeeze into an unforgiving round hole.

Ruben Rivera comes from a door position where he met all the right people and learned from his mistakes and those of his employers. He learned well. Travertine is red hot and it’s all his fault. We are buddies. He is respectful, intelligent, and aware of who he is and how much he needs to learn to get it right. He learns from his mistakes, while so many in the business just deny them. He isn’t last year’s Ruben Rivera. He’s grown considerably, but in doing so has never lost sight of his lifelong values, friends, and where he came from. He’s a man who gives and gets respect, and that is at the core of his success at Travertine. I interviewed him yesterday afternoon as we both waited for our wonderful dentist, Dr. Farzin, to cure us of — and cause us — pain.

Travertine has no press and no PR, yet you are always packed with an A-list crowd. How are you doing it? I opened the place with lots of help from friends and great music. It’s a very intimate venue so I figured we’d start slow and let it grow through word of mouth, like the days before cell phones. There’s a mystery to that type of PR that attracts people, it’s a bit more real then just hiring every promoter in New York.

Which celebs have showed up? I always say that good clubs don’t need celebs to attract crowds, it’s the opposite…the club’s crowd attracts the celebs. As far as celebs, we’ve been blessed. I don’t do anything in Page 6 or any other publications. I think it’s a comfort zone for those who are obligated to go to other venues. a sort of a free zone for famous people. It’s refreshing to see an A-lister such as Scarlett Johansson come in and socialize with guests and dance all night. By the way, did I mention that people really dance at XIX? They really get down. The people and privacy and dancing is what’s attractive to celebs. I won’t mention anyone else on the list but it’s quite extensive and impressive. How about the food? We’re going through some complete changes at Travertine. We’re going in a different direction with the menu. I really want to give people in the downtown community what they want—quality, great tasting, well-prepared comfort food. They’ll know it will be open late night so everyone will be able to stay in the neighborhood and eat late.

What’s it like being the man controlling the space instead of just a door? What do you miss about handling the door? It’s crazy! It’s all about sticking to the script and knowing what’s hot and what’s not. I see that door man problems are a lot different from the shit I deal with now. The politics of booking DJs is crazy! That alone can make a man insane. Just things like simple repairs, AC, liquor orders, maintaining staff is difficult, but I have a great staff. Big Benny’s done a great job at the door, and Jay Lyon and Justin have been a tremendous help. I almost miss the days when I just had to show up looking good and send people away. Or the funny stuff like when you walk out holding some poor guy’s arm, yelling, “Who the hell let this ass in?” ha. I definitely don’t miss the losers that couldn’t get in and would annoy me all night. Guys: If you get turned away, just go home. You look stupider if you hang around talking shit. The door is the key to the room and if you don’t have swag, style, comedy, wit, or if you’re high, thirsty for press and tips, you’re not a good door man. The club will reflect its’ door and I’ve seen it ruin places almost instantly.

Talk to me about your DJs. What’s working and what’s trending? I’ve got to thank DJ Sinatra, he was the only DJ that believed in XIX when we opened. He was spinning to 20 people the first month. Now everyone wants a night. I mainly deal with 4AM but I’ve had almost everyone of DJ importance in NYC come through, including Cassidy, Ruckus, Mick Boogie, Sam French, Nick Cohen etc. It’s really the most important component to what makes XIX. You can’t get a better sound system and you really feel a DJ’s music intimately at XIX. I’m excited about the music every night and the people in the room are musically literate so they also appreciate it. The energy is amazingly live when Sinatra is in the booth on a Saturday night.

What’s missing in nightlife today and what’s improved from the good old days? To be honest, after I left Juliet I spent the year in Los Angeles came home to XIX and haven’t been out much. I support “Funday” at Gold Bar but besides that I haven’t been anywhere in a while. I try and get rest every chance I get. I guess I’m old school because I really can’t mention anything that I like about this club era. I’m from a great era of night life the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, so I’ll just keep those great memories and try my best to duplicate that energy at XIX. I think it’s working out so far.