Nightlife impresario Dirk Van Stockhom on his new venture at 98 Kenmare Street, being a 13-year-old English playboy, and why Sudan is the new global hotspot.
Where do you go out? I am very much a bar/restaurant guy. I go to Rose Bar … when I can afford it [laughing]. Milano’s on Houston. My favorite place in the whole of New York is the Ear Inn on Spring Street. It is the most classic bar because they don’t give a damn. It is full of regulars and some of the most interesting people. You also do see models and actors, next to regular people. It is no bullshit, great drinks, great food. The owners are two of the nicest people in the world. It is a real community bar. Big supporters of the arts. Don’t tell anyone though, it will spoil it [laughing].
What is your newest project’s name? The restaurant on Kenmare doesn’t have a working name yet. The lounge will probably just be 98 Kenmare. There will be great cocktails. Now for me with any place I am a part of, like the one on Kenmare Street, it must be accessible. In other words I can’t charge people $16 per drink in that neighborhood and not expect people to raise eyebrows about it. You have to get value for money, and you have to deliver. It will be a restaurant/lounge. The restaurant will be on the ground floor, and we’ll have Italian food with a hip cocktail lounge. When I say hip, I don’t mean because of who is behind the place. I want them to go because the food is good, the service is good, and the ambiance is good. If you have all those things, you don’t need to coerce people to go. They will go because they feel comfortable. We’re looking to open in the spring.
How did you start in this business? I was raised in a very small village called Suffolk in England. There was a pub in my town that, believe it or not, was the coolest pub in the whole county. It was run by a guy called Steve Chick who was probably in his 20s. He was the coolest guy, always had beautiful women, drove Jaguars. Every Friday and Saturday night the place was like an old school disco. People would come from miles around, from all the other villages. At a young age I started a service parking cars on my road and charged for the service. I actually made decent money at it. I was the richest 12-year-old! From that I met Steve. I would come in during the week to stock bottles, help in the kitchen. He had a really good restaurant too. Thinking back on it, that was probably my entry into the business. That’s what attracted me to it. Steve would take me in his car and drive me around. I was a 12, 13-year-old kid surrounded by these beautiful women and leading an interesting life that perhaps a 13-year-old shouldn’t lead.
You worked at Life also. Being the general manager of Life was challenging. Also I became the host/maitre d’ in the Sullivan Room. Then I also did the door at Bowery Bar for Mark Baker and Jeffrey Jah. After Life I managed Float, which was probably the most popular place I ever worked. Float was the first place that had that bottle service/European mentality. Everyone was like, “Uptown? You are out of your mind!” My response was all these kids who come downtown live uptown; the trust fund kids. We made $160,000 a week without promotion. It was a huge amount of corporate business. Then I went to Miami to open Crobar and then back to New York to open Crobar here. I became known as an opener. Then I opened Bed and was back working with Jeffrey Jah and Mark Baker, Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano. Then I was supposed to open a restaurant/bar with Michael Ault on 27th Street, and that didn’t work out. That was a crush. But then Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg brought me out to Vegas to run the marketing for Tao. Tao is a monster business. It is phenomenal how they run it — they are businessmen. They work their asses off. Then I got the call to help open Mansion, four days before they opened during Fashion Week this past February.
Clubdom has moved away from the artistic people. Clubs were social clubs for artists who didn’t belong to places like Soho House or Core club. Society had deemed they weren’t worthy of belonging to those type of places. From a community point of view, that’s what nightclubs were. It wasn’t so much about making money. Then there were the businessmen who strive to be part of that scene. People saw there was marketing value to be part of a high profile venue. An investor was guaranteed entrance into these places and be surrounded by beautiful women and celebrities and hold court like a king with bottles of champagne. It became a marketable commodity to close deals. So many deals were done over a bottle. During our time in this business, there was this trend that everyone had their celebrity friend and that person became their representative in the nightlife. Those relationships were made over a crack pipe — sorry. They were forged over drinking and cocaine until all hours … over tons of cocaine. If you wanted to have that celebrity at your place or have their event, there you had to deal with that person. So the whole business started working that way.
Is there a city that is doing it better than New York? A friend has said to me we should move to the south of Sudan where they put up shacks in the middle of nowhere with a boom box and homemade beer and these guys are making a fortune. Those guys have got it down. Screw the other cities. A boom box and a tent and you too can make money [laughing].
Where are you going out tonight? I want to check out Chloe 81from a design point of view. I will probably stop by the Eldridge because I like Matt Levine. Anyone who would give me an Eldridge card is OK in my book [laughing]. I also might stop by Little Branch. That’s more my pace these days. I also really like Bongo.
You really do go out! Yeah, but I am done by 10 p.m. I don’t sleep in the way I used to, but I also don’t work ‘til 4 a.m. anymore, either.