Industry Insiders: Richie Notar, Concierge to the World

He’s literally run the gamut from shirtless busboy at Studio 54 (identified in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book on the disco as “Pecker 54”) to white-tie hotelier to the stars. Richie Notar is a hometown boy made good.

Point of Origin: I was born in Jamaica, Queens. I used to play ball on the Trumps’ lawn, and now I know all of them socially. When I was about 15, the owners of Studio 54 — Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell — had a place called Enchanted Garden in Queens, their foray into the club business … a little-known fact. They wanted to upgrade from guidos to celebrities. A friend asked if I wanted to hang out there with him for, like, $2 an hour, so we were washing dishes! This little guy comes in and says, “What are you doing?” and I said “I’m washing dishes.” And he said, “I like your style, so you should come out and meet the people.” It was Steve Rubell.

Before long, I was driving for him, and then he asked me to work at their new place: Studio 54. Nobody knew the magnitude of what it was about to become. So I started as a busboy there. And, incidentally, the reason we didn’t wear shirts was because I was wearing the uniform — shorts and a vest — and about half an hour into the opening, a girl “borrowed” my vest, so I was shirtless. Steve went nuts. He kept saying, “Those outfits cost us a fortune, blahblahblah …” And then a light bulb went on over Steve’s head. He realized that he had some of the cutest, hottest boy bodies in town in those vests and ordered everybody to take them off.

Yeah? At least I didn’t steal your socks. Thanks! It’s basically like a gym. We had these tube socks, gym shorts, and a vest. The vest went, and the rest is history. Showtime is now doing a series on Studio, and the writer is calling me this week to consult. I’m in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book as “Pecker 54.” I remember Disco Sally and all of the regulars. The nightlife thing was strange in the Seventies. You could be doing anything in town — charity gigs, dinner — but after midnight, you had to be at Studio 54 every single night, and Sunday was the best. It is really remarkable that the psychological timing was right. After Studio 54, I worked at Morgans Hotel — the first hotel that they gave their employees designer clothes by Armani and Calvin Klein (they were often better dressed than the hotel guests). New York was very staid by the Eighties, and I think we’re going to see a transformation in every aspect of fun now. In a year or two, people will break out again. Everyone is so busy on their Crackberries that nobody has time to have real fun. There may be three or four hot venues, but you’ve got to put in the work to make the great place where everybody has to be like Studio … the add-a-link tour with 20 minutes everywhere, and then a place to meet up.

Occupations: Socializing is a lot of work. I’m out at the each venue, and from what I see, I’d like to make it fun again. Today, it’s like keeping up with the Joneses: If somebody misses a party, they consider the whole evening a failure! For some, it’s never enough to just enjoy an evening spent at one place. That’s why I like staying at one person’s house out at the beach — like Peter Beard’s place. And that’s why this was the summer that wasn’t. I work every day … besides the maintenance on the Nobu restaurants, we’re staffing Dubai, which is opening next month. It’s like Vegas on steroids. We’re in the Atlantis with Sol Kirsner, and the most difficult thing we face opening anywhere is finding employees. Whenever I open a restaurant, I take a key employee — a head chef, a head waiter — and work around them. Anyone who is running a restaurant for me started as a waiter or a host. “Luke” was a waiter in Vegas; I moved him to Hawaii to be my manager, and now he’s committed to go to Dubai for a year.

Then at the end of December, we open in Moscow — it’s like the Wild West. We get so many Russians at the place in London: price is not a thing for them, and it’s good for us. But we need consistency there and everywhere. We have a great following in London, and I think it’s going to work in Dubai and Moscow. These are already locked-in. I just had a meeting at the Bel Air Hotel about the new hotels. I loved the old Brown Derby and Chasen’s. I love old Hollywood — and I’d like to put “newness” into Sardi’s. We’ve got two new Nobu Hotels — one on Wall Street, the other in Herzliya — not as far apart as they look. We did an event for the Children’s Hospital in the Holy Land, and after the fundraiser, I had my first watsu massage right by the Dead Sea. Herzliya is the St. Tropez of Israel, and the hotel will be right on the marina, overlooking the sea.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I’m really involved in animal rights, and I have four dogs and am into dog walking. What I’m trying to do — as time gives us more power to do good — is to set up something that is good for the ocean. We make our lives out of fish now at Nobu. But I have a two-year-old daughter, and I want to put something together for her that will preserve the oceans, the fish, the mammals, the sea life. It’s important to get more knowledge about the environment we all share, above and below water. We’re all now just putting fences around things under water, just making too much of an underwater zoo for my taste. We have a restaurant in Malibu, so while I was there, I fell in love with ocean life. Dolphins are very holistic, and I’m becoming more and more aware of what we have to do to promote life in the future. I take the blue kelp supplements grown underwater in Monaco.

Favorite Hangs: I don’t have a favorite anything, it’s like asking you which kid is my favorite. I like the neighborhood joints. I would like to have been a part of the beat generation in the Village. I live by Central Park in Manhattan. It’s my oasis. I love 103rd Street and the Gardens, and the turtle pond at 109th. My wife is currently training for the marathon, so I occasionally run with her. She’s from Dublin and is over there now in training — and trying to keep it together with all the social stuff, which isn’t helping with the marathon training. Out here on Long Island, I go out for Montauk eats, meaning that I like the cooler and the hipper. I tend to adhere to artists, creative people out here.

Industry Icons: I was very obligated to Steve Rubell and Ian Schraeger: I absorbed their personalities, but incorporated what Andre Balazs has done with his hotels and there’s Jeff Klein’s Sunset Towers: it’s small and he’s kept the integrity of it, besides: he reminds me of Steve Rubell — he’s very in tune. I’m fascinated by hotels, just because there’s so much that goes on there, not just the restaurants and the lobbies and bars. I don’t like what’s too overdone, or where the service is crap, or where they have idiot models behind the front desk.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with, other than every model in the city, of course (who doesn’t work the front desk of a hotel, that is)? My wife and daughter, but it’s not that I want to be seen with anybody, it’s about my agenda. I like creative people: Howard Stern is my best friend. Every night at one of my restaurants, there’s something going on, and just being at one of my restaurants satisfies my social life. At any one of them, for instance, you might see the agent for the Williams sisters who invites me to a party, or there could be some guys who were friends with me long ago who invite me to join them. I like eclectic crowds, nothing obvious. Something that’s made my life interesting is that I can be sitting on the stoop drinking beer, then join a bunch of people at Nobu to drink champagne. Locking yourself into a particular crowd is too limiting. In Europe, they turn their phones off during weekends. I like the mentality!

Projections: I want people who know the trend to work for me, but I don’t want them to get swept up in it. Trends change. Go back to the formula that’s made you successful. You have to expand and keep edgy — to experiment. But go back to what made you successful. We’re going to embark on a great hotel division. My focus is to create a lifestyle complete with pacifying every one’s highest iconic ideals. At Nobu, we’re kind of allergic to the economy: we’re fine; we’re great. Best grade of sushi, best grade of clientele without hurting the environment.

I want to be doing resorts. We were in the Japanese mountains at the mineral baths, the most soothing place I’ve ever been in my life. I was looking at Ram’s Head in Shelter Island with Andre Balazs and at a place down the block. You want an oasis that’s achievable to go for a weekend. With everybody stressing about being the next millionaire, we need a hotel out there like any from the Aman chain in the Far East, but with the best service and much better food. I love that whole vibe with a great spa, meditation, yoga. We work really hard, but we’ve got to calm down very hard, too. I want to know what the next Hamptons is going to be. Offshore? A skiing place in Idaho? You’re almost a victim of your own fabulousness in a place like Aspen. I’m like concierge to the world. I don’t have to be in the right restaurant and have the right table to have fun.

What are you doing tonight? I’m decompressing out East before my family arrives on the Island tomorrow, so I’m going to the Clam Bar in Montauk and having a glass of wine with something grilled, then going to bed early to rejuvenate. I’ve got my laptop and am doing work, but I’m trying to relax, be healthy. Right after Labor Day, I’m just screwed work-wise with restaurants and hotels openings. We’re injecting capital into the group from London to Dubai to Moscow. I’ve been beating up my body for years, so now, I’m in post-Olympics, pre-marathon training!