Stuart Braunstein’s Work in Progress Is Finally Not One

The opening tonight of W.i.P., otherwise known as Work in Progress, is a great relief. W.i.P will be a new space under Greenhouse with a separate entrance. It literally has been a work in progress for about a year longer than expected. I wrote about this joint and the collaboration between the Stuart Braunstein, Rony Rivellini, the Collective Hardware crew, the Greenhouse clan, and spearheaded by Barry Mullineaux, last October. At that time, I believed it would be the next big thing. I haven’t changed my mind. In fact, I believe the potential for greatness is even greater.

The reasons to be cheerful are many. Firstly, Jon B has departed as the spiritual guru of Greenhouse. Now, I get along with Mr. B, who has made more money than most cultivating his B, C, D, and beyond crowd. He shamelessly went where most wouldn’t go, and came out of it with bags of money. He is a happy camper and so are the people he left behind, who he often clashed with. His departure ends the infighting and power struggles that often plagued Greenhouse. Greenhouse just celebrated its third year, and the players who are filling Jon B’s shoes have walk-around money and a good attitude, not to mention a new space to revitalize the whole shebang.

Another reason W.i.P. might be better than expected, is Stuart Braunstein needs it to be. I love Stuart. He is my pal, buddy, and way more than a Facebook friend, but he just might be the most egotistical fellow in the club world, and that covers a lot of ground. He doesn’t try to hide it, apologize for it, or even adjust. He’s just drawn that way. Stuart knows it’s been a long time since Collective Hardware catered to and owned the ultra "in" art and downtown crowds. He’s not the type to rest on his laurels, or even rest at all, in his quest to prove himself once again. Although there were many players involved with the stellar achievement that was Collective Hardware, ultimately Stuart was the king. He took the place, the scene, and the concept to great heights, and then smashed it all on the rocks. He gave it all that he had and there was a feeling at the end that it had to end badly. If it hadn’t, it might have been defined as too mainstream. The failure to stay open insured its uncompromising legacy. Collective set a high bar, and as a semi-legal space, there was a looseness to it, a free spirit which will be hard to expand on in a licensed premise. The task to equal and improve on the past will be difficult, but Stuart is very hungry, and that’s a good thing. I asked him to talk about W.i.P.:

"After the closing of Collective Hardware I went on a journey to South America and partook in Shamanic ceremonies, and discovered a connection to the source and realized that the problem in the world today was “duality”. We are all connected to everything and everybody. Left against right, religion against religion, good vs evil. W.i.P. is a platform for those who have something to say. I was given the opportunity to art direct this room and I’ve opened up my doors to give back to the intellectual, cultured and spiritual communities. The space will be a constantly changing installation, a mad scientist lab podium for those with words and ideas, something I feel New York is lacking." 

Now that’s entertainment. Tonight’s opening will be amazing, because Stuart can do amazing. Sure there will be "surprise performances" and DJs, and the art installations will be wonderful. But in the end, Stuart’s ability to bring us closer to the long lost edge that nightlife used to feature is the reason to be there.

W.i.P in Turmoil as Artistic Visionary Stuart Braunstein Exits the Picture

The Camelot that was W.i.P. is over. Stuart Braunstein, half of the creative crew in a joint centered around creativity, has split the club, leaving behind a trail of bad things to say, bitter regrets, and little else… even the art. According to Stuart, that art which has so wonderfully adorned the art-based club, is being removed today, probably as you read this. His partner Rony Rivellini remains and has been joined by man-about-town Thomas Moller. This story is moving very fast and has lots of moving parts but this is what I got in the last few days.

The core of the beef is the deteriorating relationship between W.i.P. co-owner Barry Mullineaux and Stuart. Stuart claims that "most of my days working for Barry were spent fighting for peoples’ money.” He referred to him as a "non-man" and other terms not appropriate for this family-read column. Stuart insists that he is leaving because he must continue to take the moral high ground and "will not stop doing the right thing.” One of the real sticking points was the damage to a sculpture by Adam Grant.

According to Stuart, all the art was to be insured, but management didn’t live up to their end of that basic requirement and refused to compensate Adam for the loss.  Adam committed suicide after the incident. Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door, but the implication hovers like cigarette smoke in a pre-Bloomberg nightclub.

Another question left unanswered was whether the entire art installation concept was really a sham to get an expansion of the joint at the hip Greenhouse space approved by the community board. There are lots of accusations being thrown around and this promises to get hotter before cooler heads prevail. Since cool heads are rare at Greenhouse/W.i.P. this might get ugly.  But Thomas Moller is an experienced man-about-town and a gentleman and may prove capable of carrying on the Stuart Braunstein legacy.

I asked Stuart Braunstein what the heck was going on. 

Stuart, what the heck is going on?
The owners of the venue have split the creative team behind W.i.P up. A disconnect between mine and the management’s vision of W.i.P has been occurring for quite some time. The original plan was to change the entire room every five to six weeks in the same manner as galleries do. The owners never supported the plan financially, putting a severe strain on my relationship with the art community. My repeated requests and proposals to execute the plan were never allowed to come to fruition either due to lack of funding or shared passion for art.

In addition, the venue never took out insurance on the work. Several pieces were damaged or destroyed without compensation to the artists. A $40k sculpture by Adam Grant, a talented young artist, was broken in December. Despite repeated requests to make some sort of restitution, none ever came. Rony Rivellini will remain on board as the principle programmer of EMD. Timmy Regisford has invested in a state-of-the-art sound system, which promises to be the best in the city. Kimyon Huggins and Andrew Lockhart, who have worked with Stuart since the beginning, put together a plan for the future of W.i.P. It was turned down.

The work that is currently in W.i.P will be removed since it was entrusted to CH Creations, not W.i.P Management.  The paintings were by some of New York’s greats, Ronnie Curtone, Mike Cockgrill, Rick Prol, Walter Steding, Gaia, Dick Chicken, Spector, Kimyon Huggins, and more. There was at least $500,000 in work in the place; it had the ability to be epic. With Ben Devoe’s help (an artist employed by CH Creations), I financed and built the centerpiece at W.i.P. "The OZ Project" featured a three-dimensional head upon which images were projected, blowing people away. CH Creations would have changed the way that the club and art worlds came together and a lack of any vision from WIP’s management killed that dream. 

CH Creations has a new project in the works that will complete a circle from Collective Hardware to W.i.P. The last two projects were learning experiences, works in progress. The next piece will be a finished work of art. Finally, we will be working with professionals that share our common goals and artistic dreams, a first for the boys from CH Creations. We have had many forces working against our vision for so long… it’s going to feel great to have competent people on our side."

So who’s running the artistic side of it in your absence?
An artist by the name of Thomas Moller, a close friend of a new manager Frank Heidinger, has taken over the creative control of WIP. His first install consists of Brillo pads in the glass display case that is the bar top, replacing the beautiful jewelry by Rachel Brown, which was taken out cause the top of the bar was leaking and would not be fixed by management. Brillo pads are a good answer for an easy fix, just like how all things are handled at WIP. It makes sense to me that this is the direction they would go. I named it Work in Progress but it should now be called NP, No Progress.

How are you taking all this?
I’m in good spirits and relieved that I don’t have to deal with the small penny pinching pettiness of W.i.P management. I just finished my first feature film called Don Peyote with the folks at production company Studio 13 and a music video I directed called "Army of Slaves" for the band PUi just made it to MTV. 

I’m also currently working with Randy Fields to produce a film about Nico from The Velvet Underground. I’m working with Mark Baker; he is producing monthly installs at The Liberty Theater, the first of which was The Best Little Whorehouse in NY; a new one is happening in June. I’ve also just constructed the Highline Zoo with Jordan Betten from Lost Art that has been getting major press. Jordan and I are planning to host performances in the zoo during weekends for all the highline visitors.  I’ve decided to hold a Friday party. I’ll be DJing with Ashley Rae Perry at Danny Kane’s new spot Bishops and Barons, spinning a great mix of new and old cutting edge music for a clientele that is looking for something different. 

Bottoms Up to Travis Bass’s Latest Nightlife Collaborations

As I told you earlier in the week, there is a lot going on as clubroom continues to play its never-ending game of musical chairs. Thank goodness I was left standing with the silly music playing sans chair many years ago and can quietly watch from the sidelines. Travis Bass, who had such a big hit with Madam Wong’s and Red Egg and those Swedish dinners on Delancey, has taken the revamped Tribeca Grand and made a go of it with a  pop-up bar. He insists it’s not really the TriBeCa Grand because it has its own entrance, but it still is so shhhh, Travis, I mean what’s the point. He also is calling it a pop-up because, like many things in nightlife, the parties come with an expiration date. That date is still undetermined but a guess would put it in mid-November.

At that time, the EMM Group’s much anticipated 199 Bowery space will open. I drive by it almost every day and just love the Monopolgy motif on the construction barrier. EMM’s foray into downtown fabulous includes ex-Collective Hardware maniac Stuart Braunstein and, I hear, ex-White Noise and ex-Mansion man Luke Brian Sosnowski. Luke has a downtown sensibility but also has the ability to sell bottles. This is promising to be a bit of what The Box offered, without the shock and awe. They are looking for talented performance-types, and my guess is that this space will be a hybrid of what EMM does and what these and other players do. It may just scratch that all-things-to-all-people itch that nightlife hasn’t returned to in a bit. The developing cabaret, performance club on Bowery seems highly exportable to cities like Vegas and AC. This is a winner.

Here, Travis Bass gave me all the details about the yet-to-open Bowery spot, pop-up bar, his role in it all, and his greatest weakness.

You launched Tribeca Grand at the close of Fashion Week. Was that a strategy?
We didn’t want to launch the “Bottoms Up” pop-up bar on a high during Fashion Week and then have half our crowd leave for Europe for three weeks, taking us down to a lower note. So we launched it when they were gone and it did amazing! Now everyone is talking and hearing about the pop-up party known as “Bottoms Up.” Now that everyone is back from Paris Fashion Week, we are gonna take it to a higher note!

What goes on here? Who comes? How has this place reinvented itself?
What goes on down there is magical. People have really been able to lose themselves and dance their asses off! The crowd is much of the same loyal fashion/art downtown crowd that we have picked up along the way since Red Egg and Madame Wong’s, with some new faces mixed in that are really into this new concept of dancing a bit and then hiding.

First off… Bottoms Up is not in the Tribeca Grand Hotel, but a world onto itself. You can’t enter through the hotel. We took the space into the basement and turned it upside down and made it the place you come to party and dance all night! Before that, it was a great space to see big bands and go to early parties. We built it out as a place you can go crazy on the dance floor or vanish into all the hidden spaces. It’s a place where you can escape from everything that is happening on the streets above you. We were going to call it “Pop-Up Vegas” as it feels like a casino, in the fact that time there has no meaning.

199 Bowery opens, and you leave. What can you tell me about EMM Group’s latest adventure and your role in it all?
The space on Bowery is going to be amazing. It will be a culmination of everything that my team and I have been doing for the past two years. The space will be like nothing you have seen before and, using the abilities of EMM, we will be able to curate experiences that have never been possible before in our scene.

Are you a promoter? A curator? A director? All of the above? More?
Dictator or Director?? Ha!

I think the best way to describe me would be all of the above, except a promoter. I put together the team and then work with my team to curate the room. I like to come into a space that no one else wants or even thinks about, move a few things around and punk it out for a few bucks so we make the money back the first weekend. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My #1 strength is my ability to surround myself with an amazing team that truly loves each other and will go to battle for each other — Eamon Kelly (Best Friend/Door), Vance Brooking (Best Friend/sweetest human alive), May Kwok (Best friend/DJ) — all three have been with me since Madame Wong’s and Red Egg. Our bartenders Dave Mason and the two George’s have also been with me since Wong’s as well

My weakness is trying to find a balance in life while being in the nightlife industry. Being a healthy person that does clubs is a contradiction of terms. I am in love with the punk rock lifestyle and attitude of doing clubs, and it really hurts the day after.  Like many people that do clubs, we all need to find a balance between the late nights and having a normal life.
 

He’s Back: Tonight’s W.I.P. DJ Aaron James

A Welcome Back Jack party is a must-attend. Jack refers to Aaron James. Aaron returns from abroad (and maybe a broad), has honed his skills, and is ready to take on the town. He is a great DJ, landing in a town that has accepted mediocrity in that job. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. There are probably more fantastic DJs than ever, but we are in a time where there are more venues than ever. Every Tom, Dickwad, and hairy-assed Jerk is now a DJ… err, including me. The loosening of restrictions on dancing in non-cabaret licensed joints has every restaurant, lounge, and hole in the world with a DJ booth. Most DJs use computers to ply their trade so the need for a space-consuming DJ booth is no longer a concern. A table in the back of the room works just fine. W.I.P., just about the best joint in town for a crowd that doesn’t want the same old mash-up sounds and black card weilding suits is getting their Wednesday night party together. Tonight, it’s DJ Spooky joining DJ Aaron James who returns from a long hiatus. Aaron used to work with me back in the day and I’m gonna come by and give a hug.

Where have you been?
I left the States in late 2008 following the Rock The Vote Tour (RTV), an epic experience which saw me collaborating with the likes of The Beastie Boys, Sheryl Crow, Eve, TV On The Radio, Santigold, Talib Kwele, Jack Johnson, Bootsy Collins, Santigold, on and on. The City was under the hammer of the Recession, and I had been in a rut for quite some time … too much monkeying around, not taking things seriously, squandering a lot of opportunities. RTV was a huge wake-up call as to what could be achieved if I put my heart and soul into it. Following the Tour, I manifested an opportunity to serve as creative director of a new venue in New Delhi through an old friend. We went on to win the Best Club in the city that first year, and it became one of the transformative experiences of my life. I could not have imagined then that I’d spend the next three years of my life in India, but the fun kept coming, and it was as if I was aging in reverse. And so I stayed, rocked every major city in the country, got ranked in the Top 10 DJs living there, and most recently toured with Pitbull on his first-ever India tour. The last year or so I have had a concerted focus to travel and play outside that country, and slowly I’ve been crossing cities off the list … Columbo (Sri Lanka), Kathmandu, Shanghai, and Ho Chi Minh.  When I get back there, I plan to hit the SE Asia circuit hard … the region is so alive, the economy’s cash is rich and eager for Western entertainment … and I am ready for bigger, more exhilarating markets.
 
What type of music are you offering up?
My repertoire has expanded ten-fold. Schooled in the NYC lounge scene, I have never been a single-genre DJ … and now even less so. In my last few weeks in India, I rocked a reggae party, a Latin party, commercial house, progressive/tech house, dubstep, breaks, and glitch. I’m all over the map really, but I obviously tailor the set for the particular venue and audience. It keeps it fun, and keeps me fresh.  I’ve learned over the years that if I’m bored, it can only mean one thing … I am boring.  I intend to keep mixing things up going forward, take risks, be daring.  And I will never again allow myself to be lazy, otherwise this job, not to mention my life as a whole, becomes meaningless.
Aaron James in Magazine resized
 
What do you fear about NYC nightlife these days? What are you hoping for?
Hahaha, fabulous question. Happy to say, all my expectations would just be hearsay, drawn from the input from friends who’ve been here this whole while and remain disillusioned with what’s going on here. I’m gonna give NYC a chance to surprise me, and find out for myself where the scene is at these days. I want to be startled. I hope to find a thriving, vibrant, diverse, sexy … more organic, and loving kind of energy than when I left. I still do miss the old-school New York vibe, when it was less about the posing, and more about the dancing and the loving. Is it impossible for us now to go forward by going back to that, I wonder? Let’s see. As for any personal fears, I suppose in the back of my mind I fear falling into the same color-by-numbers rut I was in before, musically speaking. But I’m determined not to let that happen. I’m sure it all boils down to the choices we make, so I’m looking to make only good ones. I’m confident there is a role for me to play here where I can bring my own personality to the tables, I just need to find it. Certainly making my "debut" at W.I.P. tonight (Wed) is a damn good place to start. There’s been synergy from the get-go. Andrew Lockhart of projekt:nyc roped me in. An old friend, he’s been on the cutting-edge for years. And I knew from the moment I sat down with Stuart Braunstein it was a perfect fit. I asked him what he expected of me musically, and he said for me to be myself and do "Me." Now that’s music to my ears.  
 
Tell my readers about your NYC DJ experience and why you are back?
I started out DJing in NYC back in 1997, two years after moving here. My first-ever gig was at Match Downtown for $60 and dinner for a six-hour set. Through Match, I met someone who hooked up a fashion event in the Sullivan Room at Life, more like a photo shoot with background music. The dullest gig imaginable, but that’s where I met Mark Baker who commented that I had played his favorite song that day … and the next thing I knew I was the regular Friday resident in the Sullivan Room for the hottest club that New York had seen arguably since Studio 54, and certainly ever since. In fact, you gave me many of my early breaks, Steve, and I’m happy to give credit where credit is due. Those were memorable years, and I went on to spin in most of the major venues across the city, including a two-year residency at Crobar.  Shortly after Crobar, I became disillusioned somewhat with the scene and put the bulk of my energy into private events, which at the end of the day were more lucrative and less taxing. Truth be told, I have to acknowledge as well that the scene may have become disillusioned with me. One of the biggest promoters in the game at the time once said that I didn’t take my job seriously. Though it hit me with the force of a battleaxe, he was right, and those words have been an inspiring force in my professional life ever since. I’m back now, primarily because my business visa expired, and to refuel my energy reserves that have always been deeply rooted in this city. I may have left New York, but New York never left me. The city itself, and not the nightlife scene, is what excited me most about coming back.  Just walking the streets again makes me feel so damn alive. I can’t say how long I will stay here before again heading abroad, for now it remains indefinite, but while here I definitely feel excited about the opportunity to shine. 
 
Aaron James resized
 
What’s still in your set from the last time you were here?
Virtually nothing, I presume. I’ve got a whole new bag of tricks. For the most part, I was caught up in the Top 40 sing-a-long karaoke machinery that had become NYC nightlife. One of the reasons I ventured out was out of boredom, and likewise, to prevent myself from becoming boring. I’m not against commercial music per se; I just needed a break from it. I needed a game-changer. Playing abroad, people were more tolerant and let me flex my creative muscle. If you don’t flex your muscles ever, you can’t build them.
 
Were you so much older then and younger than that now? Or are you now wise beyond your years?
Brilliant, thought-provoking, and particularly relevant question. It wraps my brain into a pretzel. Let me say this: it feels BIG to be back. There is nothing like reinventing oneself that is more challenging, and thus more exciting. I’ve always been wise beyond my years, but I haven’t always been smart, and I’ve made some unwise decisions along the way.  Not to say I’ll never make another mistake, but I don’t know that person anymore. I am not the same "Me," both personally and professionally.  I wouldn’t call this defining moment a disconnect at all, more like a seismic reconnect. For the past three years, I have been through an intense period of growth, a tsunami of change. Now in the calm after, I have a chance to truly reflect and feel it all catch up to me somehow. It’s as if there is this seamless fusion going on where my Past is pouring into my Present, assimilating and bridging the two worlds … and I am becoming more and more whole. At the end of the day, I am more happy than I have ever been, and I am more healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. What else matters really.

W.i.P Strikes Back: Disneyfied Statement Inside

Yesterday’s article about Stuart Braunstein leaving the cozy confines of W.i.P. has whipped the good people running the art-based night spot into a frenzy. In the spirit of there-are-two-sides-to-every-story, and almost everybody in the business is at times a two-faced, bold- faced lying con artist, I had numerous conversations with W.i.P. ownership, management, and employees to get their version of the absolute truth. Absolute truth is rare in clubdom. Everybody is often a little right and a little wrong. Sometimes both parties or multiple parties can be correctly labeled as incorrect or shady.

Lets get this straight: Stuart Braunstein can be difficult. Hell, he prides himself in it, but he is a talented creative type and that is becoming rare in the club business. The fact that he ended up leaving over beef with the bean counters comes as no surprise.

The club, after many backs and forths and ups and downs, decided to take the high road in their response. In other words they didn’t dwell on the fact that Stuart does spend a portion of his time on Earth high and acting like a wacko. If we scolded every club honcho who got high we’d be doing nothing else today and through the glorious weekend ahead. If we reprimanded every player who acted like a wacko we’d miss the summer. W.i.P. ownership sent me their Disneyfied version of the story. They chose to issue this as "W.i.P. ownership".

"Regarding Stuart- he was fired for numerous reasons including a physical altercation with a female employee. There were ongoing verbal  and physical disputes between him and employees of the venue as well as with talent. 

Thomas (Moller) was brought in to curate a true work in progress evolving art program that would include well know artists, non for profit art associations, emerging artists and galleries as well as private collections. He wants to expose the wide range of visual arts that are currently being created by young artists. Thomas Moller is excited to be on board and will be releasing the names of the artists exhibiting in the next show in the coming weeks. Currently wip is featuring a collection by Ryan Keeley. He is happy to announce that WIP will be working with Sarah Walko and Triangle Art Association for this upcoming show.

Along with other business improvements WIP has just made significant improvements to its lighting and sound systems. We will continue to work with our existing art partners such as Projekt Gallery to produce early evening art related events and are committed to exposing a greater number of people to New York’s emerging art scene."

Others were less Disneyfied. I got "Stu was an asshole" and "since day one super difficult" and "his energy sucked every night". I got "he was always high and had many physical encounters including throwing Jessica Rosenblum to the floor." My favorite call from a good friend described Stu as a "mutt drug addict." The crazy thing about these comments is that Stuart will be grinning ear-to-ear when he reads them. 

A comment to yesterday’s column demanded an apology from me to Barry Mullineaux, an owner to be named later, as he didn’t want to be named here along with CH who semi-autonomously sent this in.

"Adam committed suicide after the incident. Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door, but the implication hovers like cigarette smoke in a pre-Bloomberg nightclub." This has to be one of the most irresponsible and idiotic instances of "reporting" that I have ever read. The fact that an artist (who is not the subject of this article) committed suicide, while very unfortunate, is completely irrelevant to any of the subject matter. This is confirmed in your writing ("Stuart would not lay that on Barry Mullineaux’s door…") but by including it you are creating and perpetuating a completely unacceptable accusation. Someone who considers themselves to be a writer (and constantly refers to themselves as a gentleman) should be completely ashamed at including this sentence in an "article." You owe an apology, in writing, to Barry for even the slightest insinuation of something so terrible. If you want to write an article about a talented young artist whose life was cut short, do that. If you want to create tasteless drama for the purpose of getting more readers, go get a job at The National Enquirer."

I Disneyfied Stuart’s statement yesterday with his permission. I will not apologize because that is what was said. I didn’t know Adam and was unaware of his suicide until it was brought to my attention a couple of days ago by Stuart. He felt it important to mention and so I did. I am sure that Adam’s death was caused by a string of unhappy events and things and that the destruction of his work and failure of the club to do its part by insuring it was only part of it. Stuart also agreed that there were obviously other issues and that’s why the suicide shouldn’t be left on Barry’s door, but he was also clear that Barry had lied about the insurance for the art work and that Adam was distraught over the drama.

I consider Barry Mullineaux to be one of the worst characters in nightlife, a business filled with shady characters.I don’t have to talk to him so I don’t. I don’t have to deal with him on any level so I won’t. Apologizing to him is a joke. He’s an asshole and I’m using my full name and I’m out here saying it. If he didn’t insure the art and that caused grief to a grief-stricken suicidal artist, he shouldn’t be arrested or accused of whacking poor Adam, but that’s where it stops. Stuart’s claims are unsubstantiated and put forth by him and he didn’t object to my wording in yesterday’s article even if I "Disneyfied" his actual statement …a tad. Conclusions are up to the individual and CH can come to his or hers.

A good friend defended Barry to me saying that he "isn’t the anti-Christ" and that he “holds it together.” He told me Barry pays those who "fulfill their promises and produce.” My friend added that "there are so many low lives in this industry we would need a year of articles to expose them all". So Barry is respected by some and I bet even liked by others, and Stuart is hated by some and disrespected by others. Barry and Stuart worked together at W.i.P. and W.i.P. was, for a minute, wonderful. Such is nightlife. It takes two and often a few to tango. It needs artists and bean counters and people to sometimes behave badly to make it work as well as WIP did. I hung out last night with the fabulous Thomas Moller who’s stepping in to fill the power vacuum left by Stuart’s departure. Thomas, as I told you, is a gentleman. I have seen him crazed and behaving badly. We work in clubs. We sometimes lose it – even the gentlemen amongst us.

For the record, Stuart Braunstein can be a prick, especially when he is high which happens too often.He fucks up, he gets physical, and is sometimes a hot mess when a cool head is needed. I sometimes hate him…but I love him more often. At times I think he’s a joke and at other times he’s a genius. He and I have had some serious beef and now we are friends. We’ll have beef again… and then we will be friends… again. I absorb the beef and chalk it up as club stuff. He uses the excuse that he’s artistic to cover up way too much bad behavior but hey…he’s an artistic type, an avowed trouble maker who also often makes magic. Now his bad behavior has kicked him to the curb and the cycle starts all over again. I can’t wait to see what this wacko and high prick comes up with next. I’ll cut the long line…thank you.

Even the beef I have with Barry is merely club stuff.He’s never insulted my mother or ripped me off, and being a low life doesn’t make him a bad person in clubland. Shoot, I have friends who say him and I should hang. Maybe his art is playing the role that turns me off. Maybe being "one of the worst characters in nightlife" is an art form.  That’s my Disneyfied version of it. Have a good weekend.

EMM Group’s FINALE Brings The Edge Back to NY Nightlife

FINALE, the long-awaited EMM Group entry at 199 Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has finally opened – and it’s a game changer. This is a place created by a well-heeled, bottle sales-based group with creativity at its core. To those who pooh-pooh bottle service and blame it (and Rudy Giuliani) for all the terrible things that have ever happened to New York nightlife, I say pooh-pooh to you. Without bottle service, burgeoning rents, insurance, and salaries would have buried nightlife. The problem is that clubs banking for big bucks have catered to the bores with black cards, a scene that’s unbearable to the artistic set. FINALE embraces the downtown scene with performance types on staff, and bartenders and waiters dressed and ready to perform at the drop of a beat.

For far too long, entertainment in major nightclubs has consisted of little more than a forced smile from a wannabe model rushing through the crowd holding a fiery stick while a DJ plays tracks the rich dudes and their lady friends love to hear over and over again. But FINALE offers the hope that, in an effort to set themselves apart from the pack, operators will once again employ creative types to define their brands.

Back in 2007, The Box thought outside the box with its Did-I-just-see-that? brand of entertainment. For some, it went too far, but The Box is still there, and Sleep No More and other nightlife fringe concepts are bringing in creatives and spenders in equal measure. Their devotion to pushing downtown artistic programming has been justly rewarded. FINALE offers an opportunity for the public to expect even more. If it continues its success, other operators will follow its lead, and maybe the suits and ties will no longer dictate club programming. From my experience, once you start traveling towards the edge, a great deal of the public becomes interested and wants more.

EMM provides balance as they balance their bottom line. The artful mixing of downtown with the swells has worked for eons and is working at FINALE now. Plus, having a management team that’s in tune with the times helps.

Some words from the founders:

“Nightlife in New York is a bit stale at the moment—nothing new or different has opened in several years,” says co-owner Mark Birnbaum. “Both the timing and the new Lower East Side location of FINALE are perfect to attract new customers who don’t go to the Meatpacking District or Chelsea to eat and party, while bringing many of our current clientele along with us.”

“Moving down to the Bowery puts us in a unique position,” adds partner Eugene Remm. “Just as Bungalow 8 emerged on West 27th Street, and Lotus took root in the Meatpacking, we hope to be the first to bring an entirely new concept to the area. With this project, we break away from our current mold and create something entirely new on all fronts, from our music format to the location itself and the ways in which we can creatively program the entire space.”

Whether the big spenders will continue to be comfortable heading that far downtown to experience an increasingly weird mix of entertainment—and whether the creative set will keep emerging from their Brooklyn lofts to lend artistic authenticity to the nightlife venue—is far from certain. But with success stories like Abe & Arthur’s, CATCH, SL, and Tenjune in their portfolio, EMM’s Birnbaum, Remm, and partner Michael Hirtenstein are just the men to turn the mix into magic.

APL Loses Its Chef, Can Greenhouse Be Cool?

On those cop TV shows, sometimes someone close to a cop is whacked, which means that the cop can’t get involved with the case because he or she is too “close.” Of course, the cop who is relieved of duty or assigned to a desk job just can’t stay away, instead spending the next 48 minutes tracking the bad guys and bringing them to justice or to a quick and violent end. I sort of feel that way today. The restaurant that I built around chef Camille Becerra, APL, is parting ways with her before it even opens. As construction was completed over the last couple of months, it became clear that the owners and Camille weren’t getting along. It was like cowboys and Indians, and although at times it seemed like it was going to work out, well, it didn’t.

Camille isn’t the type to feel comfy on a reservation, and the cowboys were inclined to box her in. Camille will move on to do her thing and without a doubt will be wildly successful. The girl can flat-out cook. At the Blackbook soiree at APL, she wowed us with all sorts of fun, unusual, and, more importantly, delicious treats. I will follow her anywhere for her Zeppole’s filled with Serrano and figs. My fear going forward is that Mark Dizon and I collaborated heavily with Camille in the design of the place, which was meant to be paired with her visions of colorful food and drink. Maybe this will still happen with the new chef. For all intents the joint is ready to go. Sure, there’s a bathroom mirror to be hung and a light to be focused here and there, but 2 hours of work will have it ready.

After almost a year of delays, when an egress was denied by a landlord and an alternative had to be approved by the buildings department, the joint now loses what I consider its greatest asset. The jury is still out on whether APL, pronounced “apple,” proves to be full of worms or a Golden Delicious. As far as me being too close to the action to report unemotionally or fairly – well, when clients hire me they are aware that I write and they understand that I tell it like I see it. They often reap the rewards when I tell their story. Sometimes I get criticized for writing glowing reviews on places Mark and I design. I try to always write as if Steve Lewis the designer and Steve Lewis the writer are different people. Alas, it’s hard to do — like that cop on TV, it’s hard to remain detached. I want APL to succeed because it’s something I helped create. I want it to work, but the loss of a chef hours before a restaurant opens is a questionable decision at best. My work there is done and I cannot dwell on it or lose sleep on it. I can only hope for the best for all parties involved.

Stuart Braunstein, ex-Collective Hardware honcho, is real close to being back in the game. With the full cooperation of the boys over at Greenhouse, he’s gearing for a February 1st opening of the basement space at that venue. He’s deciding between two names for the art-based watering hole. “Work in Progress” is my choice. His other option seems to be “The Altar Ego.” Icky poo on that one. If he wants to call it “Icky Poo,” I will consent, as anything is better than Altar Ego, with the possible exception of APL.

Stuart will present a blank canvas to a select group of artists, who will install their work as the joint’s design. About 30% of the space will be changing constantly, compared to the 70% that will change only sometimes. Stuart feels real comfortable that Jon B, Greenhouse’s notorious owner, actually gets it. I think Jon does as well. What other owner would embrace this crowd, this concept? The bottom line is that Jon is always aware of the bottom line, but this basement boite comes with a low overhead, and stands to add much-needed cache to his brand, which is at best is associated with bottles, bimbos, and bridge and tunnel.

Although Greenhouse and Juliet (Jon B’s other venture) have had moments in the sun, they are generally considered “B” clubs. But adding a layer of downtown credibility may extend his run and give him relevance with those who discount his huge success. Stuart says, “I got a good feeling he’s going to do the right thing, and if he does and this works the way I feel it will, we can take it to another level.” He’s asked me to design a small section and I think I will. Collective Hardware ended badly. Most passionate endeavors do. However, in it’s hey day, it was the only game in town. It was the only game that was unpredictable and smart and savvy, that catered to those who just don’t care about a table next to a Lohan or a squadron of models. By providing a blank canvas and the material budgets to scenester artistic types, Stuart will attract those seeking an edgier nightlife than what’s being provided.

Alig did something similar back in the day with the after hours joint Lotto. He redecorated an abandoned office with seven rooms, each week giving club artists 100 bucks per room to do their thing. Lotto was a success until it wasn’t, and maybe this idea will wear thin, or the powers that ”B” will get greedy. Whatever happens, Stuart should be congratulated for trying something newish, and Jon B should also be applauded for embracing the concept. February 1st starts with a friends-and-family-type run, and soon after the adoring public will be invited.

“The noise some people make” is not a comment from one of my readers, but an EP from my friend Madison and the band that bears her name. I will be on hand at 9pm tonight at Marty’s, 247 West Broadway, for a celebration of its release. The songs are catchy and rock and cool, and come from a sweet little gal who becomes a monster on stage. Madison is wonderful and I will be there to support.

Stuart Braunstein’s Collective Greenhouse

The space underneath Greenhouse seems to have found a curator. Collective Hardware’s Stuart Braunstein—who sometimes goes under the aliases Stuart Bronz, Stu Sweetness, or Bronz—will bring his considerable talents, attitude, and connections to a joint that wouldn’t be cool even if they left the doors open in January. Greenhouse is a machine, and those that like it love it, and there is nothing wrong with that. I like everybody there except for a few and they know who they are. I mean, I did throw my birthday bash there a few years back and my Blackbook one year anniversary bash, and I deejayed there a bunch, but sometimes “rifts” separate men and sometimes spaces evolve or devolve into other things. I still think it’s one of the best rooms in the city, and I was indeed the fellow who convinced Jon B to get over there and partner up with my lifelong friends Merlin Bob and Timmy Regisford. They have been keeping that Shelter party around since the birth of nightlife, and are deserving of mad props. The room Stu Sweetness is gonna make work is downstairs, next to the room with all the leaves. It will have its own entrance and not much else in terms of décor.

Blank walls are opportunities for a guy with a blackberry filled with decades of artist connections. Stuart will let those types do their thing and the space will change into something new. I spoke to him last night while he was upstate and I was passing out. He is excited about the project, and therefore all of us should be. Collective Hardware crashed and burned on the beach of good intentions, nice tries, and “Let’s try to get away with these.” For a minute it was Camelot, with Stu and his partner Ronnie Rivellini bringing it back to the old school days with a thoughts like “Sprinklers? We don’t need no stinkin’ sprinklers.” I think the 3.4.or 5 story joint was for the most part safe, but it certainly skated that line of Kosher and legal. But that was it’s charm. It was like 1981 on the Bowery again, and so many people, including your humble servant, pitched in to make it swell. Parties there left you exhausted and satisfied and often enlightened. The art, the music, and the scene was unparalleled in recent times. Found furniture, prostrate doors made into tables, improvised lights, and a new image, painting, sculpture or tagged wall made this Bowery hang the “in” place for a brief while.

It ended the only way it could: in a disaster of paper, red tape, broken dreams, and promises, with all the usual suspects picking at its bones. Its death throes were painful to watch as we all knew that nothing like it would come along again any time soon. Many love to dwell on the end and define the space by the last few days rather than the multitude of amazing nights. That’s jealousy spoken in “I told you so” from people who never tried to do much but tie their own shoelaces and follow the next guy down the block.

Stuart and his partners tried to rewrite the history of downtown and they fell short. Their success was not only in the trying, but was realized over and over again until a world that has banished this sort of magic crushed them. Stuart being enthusiastic about a new project is fab. The shoelace tiers will say things like “Omg, that place sucks. Why would he do something there?” or “I’ll never go because he’ll never pull it off.” Those same sorts will be telling the doorman who they really are in just a few weeks. They will play follow the leader as soon as they find out it’s safe to show their face. Stuart doesn’t need their blessing. He just needs the canvas that has been provided and maybe a break from the comparisons to Collective. This will not be Collective on Varick. It will be its own thing, a product of Stuart’s state of mind and amazing grace.

He carries an anger in him, and maybe a bit of unreliability and unpredictability, but that’s the person you need leading the parade, because anyone can bang the drum. Stuart is my friend and I don’t call many people that, despite what my Facebook page says. Just because you met my dog and he didn’t bite off your pinky, doesn’t mean you are actually my friend. My friends come from battles and trysts and years of support and love. Stuart and I have had our differences, but I was never actually going to whack him. We’ve screamed at each other, glared at each other, threatened each other, cursed each other, and came out of it trusting each other—befriending each other. Passion is what he brings to the table, and soon it can be your table at that joint underneath Greenhouse.

Camille Becerra’s Moveable Feast

They’re calling it The Hunger, but the friends, family and press that showed up at Grotta Azzurra restaurant last night knew nothing about skipping a meal. The Hunger is a moveable feast that’s parked itself at Grotta for the next few days. Top chef alumni and dearest friend Camille Becerra has teamed up with Sky Group’s Alan Philips and Josh Shames and her unusual suspects including Erickson and Eli to dazzle us with this “pop-up” restaurant concept. Camille has taken over the kitchen and basement dining room located eight feet from the door of Goldbar. The Hunger team plans to move this event to various restaurants in coming weeks.

A press-heavy crowd representing Urban Daddy, Downtown Diaries, Paper magazine, Grub Street, The New York Post and Gothamist were on hand for good conversation and free food. The Voice’s Michael Musto chatted up my lovely lady friend, and there were way too many smiles and laughs for it to be a pleasant conversation. Top Chef guru Tom Colicchio was on-hand as was warring waitron Tarale Wulff and Double Seven/Lotus/ Los Dados/Union Bar mogul David Rabin. Call me fickle (or maybe I was a little pickled), but I had a real positive interaction with old friend-turned-enemy-then-back-to-friend (I hope), Todd English. I used to really love Todd and it was great to put the silly hate behind us. The food was great, the crowd interesting and chatty, and my only criticism is the place itself. The basement dining room has brick, stone and ceramic tiled walls, hard floors and low ceilings. The result is a cacophony of music and talking that had you leaning in to hear what your neighbor was saying. As a designer, sound in a dining room must be a consideration. They must soften the surfaces here with either curtains or padding or people will never enjoy the experience.

Word comes that Collective Hardware, that art gallery/performance space/hotbed of downtown culture has been shuttered. I spoke briefly with co-operator Stuart Braunstein, who was in the midst of shooting his movie who confirmed this tragedy. He was not depressed over what probably was an inevitable occurrence and told me they have “things” in the works. I’ll find out more when he wakes up today. With my two favorite haunts La Esquina down for the count and now Collective …moving to BK seems like a plan for this man.

My man Travis Bass is hosting dinner tonight @ Pravda (9pm). From 11pm to 4am is ‘Skuze-Moi’ Soiree, hosted by Travis and Simonez Wolf. Travis’ dinner parties at White Slab last year were legendary fun. I highly recommend befriending my man.

Last night, after dinner I was off to subMercer to spin my unusual concoction of ‘A’ sides, ‘B’ sides, and ‘CU later’ sides to an adoring public. A couple of Belgian tourists air guitaring to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” was my highlight. I shall return tonight at the request (demand) of sub’s Gabby Meija. Says Lady Gabby:

“Basically, tonight we’ll be doing something totally fresh, electrifying and fun! We’re bringing back some theatricality and a lot of whimsy to nightlife by transforming subMercer, for one night, into a glow-in-the-dark fun house. We’ll be hosting knitwear line Krel Wear’s DiscGlo fashion show and party. Miami-based designer, Karelle Levy, is a textile artist and knits designer who experimented and spun an entire collection out of glow-in-the-dark threads. She has now hosted a series of unconventional and interactive fashion shows and parties with this line, in which the models interact, dance, and party with the audience. She has successfully thrown such events in Basel, Switzerland for Art Basel, NYC and the Hamptons, Miami and most recently in LA. It is also her birthday party, so it’s going to be especially wild. Citizen Kane and Camp Gabby (that’s me!) will be DJing and playing disco, funk, soul and house gems all night. Doors open at 10pm and the show will start at 11pm, so we advise you get there early, as seating will be limited.”