Lucky Cheng’s Owner On the Big Move to Times Square

When the city closed the gay bathhouses, others came in and reinvented them. Hayne Suthon led the charge for her family, converting the old Club Baths into a series of restaurants and fun lounges. Cave Canem was a Roman- themed joint that had me on day one. Its conversion in 1983 to the drag queen-heavy Lucky Cheng’s was an inspiration. Owner Hayne was the belle of the ball. Throw together Amy Sacco (before she was Amy Sacco) with a little Susanne Bartsch, and a Barnum and Bailey ringmaster with serious legal schooling and bizness-savvy, and you have Hayne.

All was good until the neighborhood changed. The East Village/LES’s conversion from hipster heaven to dormitories for slaves and students left them without their base. Bachelorette and birthday shindigs filled the Lucky Cheng’s room,and Hayne eyed the new Times Square. A year or two ago, I told everyone in town that her space was available and the best game in town. Now, operators are clamoring for it and deals are done… almost. Someone will make it nice for those who are now around. Money will be spent to pay for the rent, the renovation, and other things. The neighborhood can now support that. Whatever fabulous that comes in will set a bar… a tone for the area. Sutra Lounge, available and nearby, should also be scooped up by entrepreneurs going with the flow.

Hayne will bring Lucky Cheng’s to Times Square – and, therefore, the world – this Monday, the 15th. It’s a dream come true for her and her loyal companions. NYC…just like I pictured it.

How will the new space differ?
The difference is the space. It’s a beautiful and theatrical setting, and it’ll feature a different show-formatting. We’ll seat a little over 300 people with a massive staff of waitresses, bartenders, hostesses, and yes, managers – all of whom will perform. There will be an MC also doing a few numbers, but that part of the show will feature less audience participation and more stand-up comedy. With the high ceilings, the two Asian performers have created costumes with height. They’ll have sequins and massive wingspans. Black lights will be a part of the Asian dance numbers. And Richard Krause’s food is going to be simply ridiculously delicious.

How will your marketing change?
The demographic will change: we’ll have tourists, theatergoers… but most importantly, cast and crew of several shows have discovered us and plan to host very organized events and become regulars for after-work drinks. Although not a destination per se, we need to focus on bringing business through concierge outreach, street teams of queens, and partnerships with Broadway shows. Totally new sales and marketing strategies are being developed.

What is your history with the old Lucky Cheng’s space on lower First Avenue?
My history with that building dates back to 1986, when my family purchased the Club Baths, and demoed the building with up-and-coming graffiti artists who filled and tagged 40-yard dumpsters daily. I transformed it into Cave Canem, Lucky Cheng’s opened in 1993 while I was pregnant with my daughter Josephine , who is now attending Sarah Lawrence. Both Lucky Cheng’s and Josephine have grown up together and are simultaneously graduating to the next level.

The Man Show: No Girls Allowed in NYC Nightlife

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?

Industry Insiders: Fabrizio Brienza, Signor West

Mr. West’s exuberant Italian door person Fabrizio Brienza on looking marvelous, not being a crackhead, and how he selects New York sexpots to cross his velvet ropes.

Where do you hang out? When I don’t work, I never go out. For me, it’s like going to the office on a Saturday. I don’t want to do that. I live in Tribeca, and I go this little Italian place called Capri Café. It’s very low key, but they are my friends who run the place, and they cook just like my mom. So I go there all the time. I like the Tribeca Grand sometimes. For places to go out, I like the Box and Rose Bar. I like places that are a little bit underground and not commercial at all. I like to hide sometimes. I don’t like to be in the club with all the club people all the time. I like to be the opposite. Low key. For outdoor bars, I like the rooftop at the Gramercy Hotel.

Who are two people that you admire in the nightclub industry? I admire Suzanne Bartsch. I really admire her. She used to do my parties when I worked at Pivali (a club in New York). And I admire her because she’s the real deal. Nobody can do a party like Suzanne. Her parties are guaranteed to be incredible. I also admire of course, the people I’m working with now — Danny Devine and Jus Ske. They’ve been in the business so long, and they know what’s up. I admire Danny A, because he is a great promoter. He really knows everybody in town — in the entertainment business, in every business.

How would you describe yourself? I think I’m pretty unique. I don’t really like to describe myself. I’d rather other people describe me. What am I going to say? That I’m the best? No.

How are you different when you’re working? When I’m working, I always put up a show. I try to be the idea. It’s like being on stage. I like to dress up. I like to look different. I like to look like I’m in a movie. I wear a big fur coat and suits. I think the look of nightlife is everything. It’s a superficial world. If you look good, you are good. If you don’t look good, you’re not good. The sound and the visual are everything in nightlife. Visually you like to see beautiful people and with sounds, you always love to hear good music. I try to give people these two things the most.

What is one thing that people may not know about you? That I’m not a crackhead.

What is one positive trend that you see in the nightlife industry now? I think that in the moment of recession, it’s a good time to be creating and doing something different. Because I think that’s what the nightlife is all about. I hate the corporate parts — they all look the same. I like the edgy stuff. I like when people take risks, and people are leaders and not ships. I like when people open up their clubs, and they want to do something different that’s not all about the trends. They know that a trend isn’t going to work, and they’re never going to be original. I think that now is the time to create art. Nightlife is an art. So to me, the more original you are — the better it is. Respect yourself, don’t be afraid, and have fun with it. It’s not like you’re murdering anybody. I like when people express themselves, and I wish they expressed themselves more. Especially in New York — it’s supposed to be the best city in the world. I would like to see more crazy people out. Crazy good, crazy fun. It’s not like the nightlife is corporate work. It shouldn’t be like Meryl Lynch. I would like to see more free minds and free-spirited people doing whatever they feel like they need to do.

What’s the crowd like at Mr. West? Mr. West has a very nice crowd. Upscale, cool people. Lots of models, some industry people, lots of hipsters, some celebrities. A very cool crowd.

If someone came to the door at Mr. West who wasn’t on the list, what would make you want to let them in? First off, I’m just gonna look at the fashion. If her fashion looks good and she’s stylish, that’s enough for me. Cool, stylish, dressed like she knows what’s up. If she’s beautiful — done. That’s all I need to know. Then if she’s like a serial killer once she gets in, that’s her problem. To me, if someone looks good, that’s enough.

What are you doing tonight? I’m working. Unfortunately.

Photo: Chelsea Stemple