A couple weeks ago, a client called me and asked if Sutra, that First Avenue joint owned and operated by Ariel Palitz was a good buy. After an eight-year run, Ariel has decided to say goodbye and leaked the news to connected people. I told my guy it was a good buy. Ariel and I worked on the Nightlife Community thing when I was associated with the New York Nightlife Association. She is a member of the community board, CB3, and therefore sees nightlife from many angles. Community boards are manned and womaned by locals who have a local viewpoint of what should be happening in the neighborhood they live in. Bars and clubs and such are often with odds with new development and people who don’t want to live near these late-night attractions. The not-in-my-backyard crowd (NIMBY’s) wants to turn vibrant cultural neighborhoods into bedroom communities. The flipside of this, of course, is that NYC is a place that has always been know for these late-night places, to the point that it has been dubbed, "The City That Never Sleeps." Outside of my crowd, people actually do want to sleep. Another reason clubs and bars and restaurants need to thrive is that they support students, actors, artists, and that ilk who make this city a place to be. The balance of these two opposing forces lay with people like Ariel and unfortunately others not as openminded. Sutra is still open, still happening, still creating vibrancy and supporting people. It is worth a visit while Ariel finds the right person to take her place.
A casual conversation yesterday ended with much confusion and no conclusions. Is New York nightlife one of the last/worst industries for women executives? I went online and read about progress in the workplace throughout America. I read how the disparity in wages and the percentages of women in management is chipping away at the gender gap. Yet in nightlife the opposite seems to be the case. With Bungalow 8 still closed and not likely to open anytime soon, nightlife’s leading lady Amy Sacco is without a NYC base. And with a hundred joints banging bottles and blasting beats, I can’t think of a single gal running a big show. Ariel Palitz has Sutra, a small but very viable offering on 1st Avenue and 1st, and I’m sure my wonderful readers will tell me about a pub here, or a joint there, but progress to the top of the heap seems to be stalled.
Jennifer Worthington was the go-to gal over at Spotlight Live, but things went sour and that place is as dead as Julius Caesar. Nell Campbell was the name and reason to be cheerful over at Nell’s, and Regine was Regine’s namesake, but that was last century and hardly relevant to this conversation. We’re just talking here and, in truth, this thing is going to take a lot more thought and coffee than I got going this morning.
Suzanne Bartsch is absolutely, undeniably the queen of the queens. Her Sunday parties still rule, but it’s one night a week and a New Years, maybe. Where are the women in charge? Sure there are door girls and lots of managers and some DJs and some promoters. I remember when I interviewed Sally Shan, a very nice person who happened to be female and had the audacity to enter the fray as a promoter. The public and other bloggers attacked her with a vehemence usually reserved for peeps like Justin Ross Lee. Maybe audacity was not the right word. Maybe the right word would be “balls.” Maybe they attacked her because she had the balls to try to break through and this ultra-male orientated business, and they couldn’t handle it. Sally is still around, working 8 days a week and has done all right. But she’s usually just one gal promoter among a pack of wolves. That’s hardly a victory for women’s equality.
There are those women behind the men, notably Mary Boudereu, who is the glue that keeps those Strategic Group fellows together. At Marquee, it was Mary that kept all the wheels spinning. Once at Home, Guesthouse and now Greenhouse and Juliet Supper Club, Megan Gaver is owner Jon B’s number 2, 3, 4 and so on. Frankly I wouldn’t talk to anyone else over there. It’s Richie’s sister, Jackie Akiva, doing it and doing it well over at Butter/1Oak. Everybody knows that the distance between being number 2 and number 1 is an ocean. Gals like Voula often think about opening a place, but just fall short. Of course there are the lesbian event and marketing groups which, thank god, are owned by women. But the glass ceiling in nightlife seems as low as a cocktail table.
The exception: PR women are a force in nightlife PR and always have been. Susan Blond and Claire O’Conner (who ran Limelight for Peter Gatien) were trailblazers and are now joined by bevies of bright ladies telling the exciting story for the clubs, keeping them in — and sometimes out — of the papers and handling big events. It is only here that women are holding their own. There are handfuls of relevant women DJs, ie, Samantha Ronson, Eve Salvail, Roxy Cottentail and Rekha, who followed pioneers like Anita Sarko, Jackie Christie, Jazzy Joyce and a small group of others … but the big slots are dominated by the guys. There are the gal bottle hosts, but enough has been said about that and it doesn’t in anyway help the feminist cause I’m beating around.
I’m going to think about the why’s and the why nots and come back to this. In a modern world and a business that used to be so forward, it seems so backwards and plain dumb that more woman aren’t calling the shots. Maybe it’s time for nightlife to get in touch with its feminine side. Maybe it’s as simple as seeing women in a different light. Nightlife looks at the dames as if they are commodities. Promoters are hired to bring babes to toyland. A promoter is often only judged as good as the number and “quality” of the models he can wrangle. Often, I hear promoters say things like “he has lots of B girls while I have the ‘campaign’ girls.” Cocktail waitresses are not thought of as people, just smiley skirts — bait — to lure the big fish. Sometimes they’re the “half-hookers” of tabloid lore. In this atmosphere of objectification, how can a women hope to be respected?
I was invited by my pal JE to an event which respected the memory of my old friend Baird Jones. Baird took pride in milking nightclubs by seeding their rooms with early birds who got in for free and drank for free. He had some McDonald’s-like claim of millions serviced in this way. One of the quirky stories about my quirky pal is when he sued a club for having a female bathroom attendant in the men’s room. Baird claimed this caused him much psychological trauma, and it was fun fun fun. For awhile.
Nightclubs spend almost as much time trying to stay open fighting lawsuits — most more serious than Baird’s — and fighting courts and cops and other agencies’ attempts to level financial and punitive penalties against them. Whether it’s fruit flies in the sticky liquors or barflies getting in fights, clubs operate with a sword of Damocles hanging over their very vulnerable beings. A case brought by manly advocate Roy Den Hollander said that he and other manly men were discriminated against when the clubs Copacabana, China Club, Aer, Lotus, Ruby Falls, and a couple others lowered drink prices based on their patrons’ sex for a few hours on some nights. He lost this argument, but only after a considerable legal bill was paid by the joints in their defense.
Sutra owner Ariel Palitz has been tenaciously fighting unwarranted noise complaints and an underage drinking violation forever. She’s gaining ground in her struggle, and it’s led her to getting appointed to her community board, where she can protect her own interests as well as those of sister joints. Robert Elmes out in the BK has the Galapagos art space. He has taken positive steps and now speaks regularly in front of precinct commanders and community leaders. Most clubs have a person or persons who attend every single meeting by community boards or police groups in order to keep up with policies, defend nightlife’s position, and hear legitimate gripes from the public. The New York Nightlife Association is at the forefront of creating a cooperative relationship with all city agencies that interact with clubs
As the building of nightclubs and restaurants is my primary source of income, I am called to advise on plumbing, seating, lighting, decor, egress … you name it. Now it’s also important for me to explain to new owners that the business isn’t just opening the doors and ringing up sales. You don’t work just at night, and you better get some lawyering skills under your belt — or be prepared to actually retain a good mouthpiece for proper attorney-level action.