BlackBook Exclusive: ELEW And Rachel Brown Bring Piano Soul To Rihanna Cover ‘Stay’

Throw the fiercest rockjazz pianist, the honeyed voice of a Harvard grad with Bermuda roots, and Rihanna & Mikky’s aching hit "Stay" into a recording studio, and you get an acoustic, summer rendition that transports you to a late-night beachside bonfire. The stripped-down version – a collaboration between musician ELEW and singer Rachel Brown – showcases ELEW’s signature tender vivacity at the keys, and Rachel’s soulful dive into a song known for its yearning Rihanna-in-a-bathtub video. 

And when you’re done watching the video, get to know ELEW in our very special interview. He’s ecstasy.

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Extended Stay & Ajaxx

The Stay Hotel opened up just as the economy sank, but through a series of adjustments it has managed to stay ahead of the recession. New still sells, and Times Square ain’t what it used to be … it’s stocked with a steady stream of tourists. It’s better in many ways than it was before the sanitization, but I, of course, miss the old Times Square. When I was young — yes, there was a time — I had a strange hobby: I would put on some very old clothes, a hat to cover my face, and put a bottle of Welch’s grape juice into a brown paper bag, then lay down or sit propped up in a doorway in a very dangerous pimp-thug-whore environment and listen, watch, and absorb street life. No one ever noticed me. I was invisible. I absorbed the jargon, learned the rules, and saw incredible things. Later, Times Square would become Disneyfied, and the old ways were exiled to another Main Street. The Minnesota strip where pimps would turn 15-year-old runaway farm girls into women who were never saved by Travis Bickle has been converted to some Midwesterners’ vision of Times Square, with new neon and less risqué messages. Girls, girls, girls turned into McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ruby Foo’s.

Today, my firm Lewis and Dizon was awarded the design gig for the three-story roof lounge at the Stay Hotel. The other day I wrote about Griffin, and a loyal reader named Doyle thought it inappropriate that I write about what I’m working on. He thought it was a conflict of interest. I am a prolific designer of hospitality spaces because there are those who think I know what I’m doing and trust me with their projects — which in many cases means trusting me with their lives, or at least livelihood. BlackBook hired me to write for them because they think I’m connected to the scene. I use this rule. If I would write about it if I wasn’t involved with it, then I should do so. On these projects, I’ll try to just lay down the facts. However, if I didn’t think it would be great, I wouldn’t do it, so it’s a de facto endorsement.

The three-story roof lounge at the Stay Hotel will overlook bustling Times Square below. It will be operated by Greg Brier, who also handles the ground-level restaurant Aspen Social — Marc Dizon and I designed that joint. He is also the operator of Highbar around the corner. The roof lounge will be called Ajaxx, a reference to one of the big ski-sloped mountains that tower over Aspen, Colorado. Greg wants a retro-Times Square feel meets Tokyo in 2088. It’s Blade Runner with Club USA mixed in (or do we say mashed-up these days)? Club USA was a spot I was involved with before my design days. My one design contribution was finding a rather brilliant guy named Steve Dunnington to build that fabulous blue slide. Ajaxx will serve hot dogs and those famous Highbar signature sliders to a crowd that wants a great view, fresh air, and a tasty cocktail. They want to open the joint one June 1, so I have less than a month to pull this off. Usually a month or six weeks is spent just on refining the design, so I’m in for a wild ride.

Summer Nights: Changing of the Guard

A game of musical chairs is being played by most of the major promotional entities as the summer roof season is upon us. While the highly successful 230 Fifth will still dominate this market just as the Empire State Building dominates its incredible view, some places remain unsettled or don’t have a clear opening date due to a myriad of problems. Highbar is getting a quick polish, while the roof at the Stay Hotel is still under construction. Mixed reports come from Cabanas and The Park, and the highly-touted Above Allen will finally get to open its windows amidst hopes that the sound spill doesn’t disturb too many hotel guests and nearby residents. Daemon O’Neil, Rose Bar’s patient, sweet, and very good-looking door guru (not to be confused with Damion Luaiye), is packing his clipboard and heading over to the Bazaar Bar at the upcoming Trump Soho hotel. The economic downturn, a weak dollar, and a laundry list of safety issues make travel abroad a lot less attractive this season. I hear reports that Hamptons summer rentals are sluggish, yet the Surf Lodge in Montauk is riding high.

I caught up with super duper and uber owner/outdoor space promoter Jeffrey Jah of 1Oak and other fabulous places, and he told me he was bringing back the “changing of the guard” at Groovedeck at Hudson Terrace this summer. “With Groovedeck, we’ve assembled an insane team from Bijoux (Dimitry and Francois) to Pavan and the 1Oak team. We’ve booked the Hamptons Magazine summer kick-off party as well as Lydia Hearst hosting the last International Film Premiere event.” I asked Jeffrey how the whole outdoor summer club thing started for him.

It’s pretty simple … the first real outdoor parties were “Groove on the Move,” with Mark Baker and I back in the early 90s, moving from the Central Park Boathouse to Tavern on the Green, and then permanently at Bowery Bar with Eric Goode and Serge Becker. There really were no other outdoor parties; then in 2000, I moved to Pier 59 Studios and created the deck with Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva — that’s where Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente were given their fist taste of club promotions. They were low-level maitre d’s. In 2003, we were forced to move it to BED (the same team), and then they tried to get smart, and Baker, Remi, and Karim sold them on a cheaper deal without the 1Oak crew, but they were done after four weeks. We missed two seasons, and we’re now back at Hudson Terrace.

I asked Jeffrey if the problems with international travel these days, the weak dollar, and pandemic diseases would keep people closer to home. “Yes, the economy will keep people here. New York is the capital of the world. What’s more important is that Europeans will venture more to America with the weak dollar and get more value for the buck. We will see a lot of Euros this summer. New York is resilient, we’ve seen worst times apres 9/11. People want to blow off steam, and if the product is good, they will come again and again. A lot of people are not taking houses in the Hamptons this summer because institutional money and jobs evaporated over the last half of 2008 and first quarter of 2009. Hence I’m betting that we will see a much stronger city summer.”

I also asked Hudson Terrace co-owner Michael Sinensky about the economic impact. “If you can build one of the nicest venues in New York City, people will come out to escape what’s going on in the world. In this economy, you have to really service the customer and think outside the box to keep your patrons entertained, happy, and feeling satisfied enough that they’ll come back. I don’t think it’s all about having the best promoters and DJs and strictest door anymore — I think that’s a formula to stay open 6 to 12 months. Hudson Terrace wasn’t built to follow the models-and-bottles formula and meet their steep table minimums. Instead, we’ve taken pages from our other successful eating and drinking establishments such as the Village Pourhouse, Sidebar, and Vintage Irving, with offerings like pitchers of sangria and margaritas.” They’re pitching a happy hour concept from 5-7 p.m. I’m proud to say that Hudson Terrace was designed by my partner Marc Dizon.

The roof parties and a stop-start economy will get us through the heat of summer. An added value is that outdoor parties are generally blessed with quieter music, as sound travels and Manhattan gets more crowded by the minute. The music played in most clubs theses days — especially the clubs catering to these particular crowds — has stagnated. The isolation of Hudson Terrace and Jeffrey’s commitment to play it a little forward should educate a crowd to new tastes. Steven Greenberg’s 230 Fifth bans hip hop altogether in favor of mostly rock fare. This space is the highest-grossing joint in New York nightlife history. I know only a little about music made in this century, but I do know this: The crowds I DJ to these day are growing, and my CD collection isn’t. I play almost an entirely rock set, and there seem to be a lot more people interested in it than a year ago. Oh, if you want to hear me DJ or toss an egg or discuss clubdom, I’ll be at 38 Howard Street off Broadway tonight; I go on at 12:30 a.m., right after the bands.