A Lone Swinger Awaits Verdict in China

Please note: Undoing multiple half-dressed women’s bras at the mall is kosher in China, partner-swapping in the privacy of one’s own home is not. Last month, twenty-two Chinese swingers went on trial in the southeastern city of Nanjing. They were accused of “group licentiousness,” and all but one man plead guilty to the charge. A verdict is expected this week for that man, Ma Yaohai, who is fighting for his right to sexually party.

Ma is a 53-year-old computer science professor, and he’s arguing that there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults meeting in private places to do their thing. “What happens in my house is a private matter,” he has said. “I didn’t do anything that hurt anybody else. I didn’t force anyone else.” His defiance has sparked a deeper debate about sexual and personal freedom in rapidly-changing China.

Ma used his tech skills to setup an internet chatroom for swingers called “Traveling Couples” (his screen name was “bighornyfire”). He also sometimes held orgies in the apartment he shared with his mother, who has Alzheimer’s. A verdict is expected tomorrow in his case. If convicted, he could face five years in prison. Meanwhile, a woman in China who won a contest for quickly freeing scantily clad women from their bras in a shopping mall took home a gift certificate for $146. There is no justice in this world.

Industry Insiders: Med Abrous, Mile-High Mover

Thompson Hotels’ director of promotions and entertainment Med Abrous, on his once-in-a-lifetime guest performance with Prince, bringing movie night to clubs and the bright side of the bottle-service decline.

What’s the best night you’ve ever had at one of your venues? A little over a year ago, I put together some concerts in the Roosevelt Ballroom for Prince. He performed six shows for about 300 people per show. It was so intimate, and he put on such an amazing show. During the third show, I’m sitting with a group of people — the crowd was almost more famous than he was, which is really weird — and he starts playing this riff, then calls my name and says, “Yo Med! Get up here.” So I get up onstage with Prince, and he’s playing “Play that Funky Music White Boy,” and I basically sing onstage with him playing backup guitar. It was amazing. I have a picture to prove it because it sounds like such a tall tale. I think that was pretty much the highlight of my life.

Was your performance any good? You know what? I have moves. I’ve really got moves. I was even doing mic stand tricks; I was milking it. Can I sing? Not really. But I put on a show — I was very entertaining. It didn’t help that I didn’t know all the words, but he was helping me out a little bit. It was one of those things where it’s like, okay, try to top this.

How many Thompson properties are you responsible for? I’m based out in LA right now, and I take care of all the front-of-house stuff for the Tropicana Bar, Teddy’s, Above Beverley Hills, and our new property Above Allen, which I’m really excited about. I’m responsible for programming the music, hiring the DJs, hiring promoters where they’re needed, and coming up with creative ideas to drive business.

How did you get into the hotel business? While I was going to Parsons, a lot of my friends were DJs and into nightlife, so to make some extra money I started throwing parties, and I got pretty good at it. I’ve always been interested in hotels, and even though I run the bars, it’s really all-encompassing because bars can be very much one-note, while hotels are multifaceted and have a more interesting operation. Jason Pomeranc, who owns the Thompson Group, was a good friend of mine — we had some mutual friends — and he hired me to do the Tropicana Bar, then we started to do Teddy’s and … voila! Who do you admire in the industry? I think somebody who’s really done it right is Sean MacPherson. He seems to have a great sensibility and great sense of timing for all the places he’s opened. I really respect his work — he’s got a ton of places, including The Bowery Hotel, Swingers, and a great tequila bar called El Carmen in LA. They’re places that last because he makes them accessible and not too exclusive. He delivers a great product with great service and a cool aesthetic. I would definitely use his career as a model.

What’s the best part of your job? I actually enjoy the creativity behind coming up with different concepts that people would like. For instance, in the summertime at the Roosevelt’s Tropicana Bar, which is kind of an oasis inside Hollywood, on Sunday or Monday we’re going to be doing movie nights. We will have different people curate the movies, and we’re building special menus with truffle popcorn, colby hotdogs, etc. It’ll be a night when people don’t necessarily want to go out and rage, but they’ll go and see a movie in a bar. Finding different ways to find revenue is something I really enjoy. The second thing is that I actually genuinely like people. Some people in this business actually don’t, but I tend to get along with people and enjoy most of their company.

You’re a bi-coastal boy. Where do you hang out when you’re in New York? I love to eat. I’m a closet foodie, so I have some go-to restaurants whenever I come to New York. I love Frankie’s in Brooklyn on Court Street, and I’m always discovering new places like Inoteca, which I really like. Frank, I’ve been going to forever on 2nd Avenue and the Corner Bistro to get my Bistro burger on — it’s the world’s greatest burger. In terms of bars, it all depends on what neighborhood I’m in, but there are a lot of great bars on the LES (besides Above Allen, of course) like Pianos and a lot of little local joints. But having a lot of friends in the business means that I have friends who own bars, so when I’m in New York, I usually do the rounds of all my friends’ bars, like 3 Steps on 18th Street, and then the bigger, popular spots also.

And in LA? In LA, the closest bar to me is the Chateau Marmont, so I like going there — the Bar Marmont is really great. There’s also been an emergence of a lot of really cool dive bars like The Woods, El Carmen, and Bar Lubitsch that I enjoy.

Which of your bars do you spend the most time at? Teddy’s. It’s kind of like my baby. It’s something that I work really hard on and has managed to stay successful for a long time. It’s a great space. In LA, a lot of places tend to be really slick and overdesigned, but Dodd Mitchell designed this space, and it really has a lot of character. The Roosevelt is already a historical landmark, and the design really lends itself to that. It has kind of a wine cave kind of feeling — it’s dark and comfortable — and we have great staff, great service, and it’s become kind of like Cheers, where people know each other and know that there will always be a good crowd and great music. We have great DJs that we always rotate, in addition to live music, so it’s become almost an institution at this point.

What positive trends do you see in the hospitality industry? Well, it’s more of a reality and not a trend, but the state of our economy is forcing us to do things differently and more efficiently. I think it’s actually a good thing that for the first time in a long time. People are going to actually have to live within their means. People are really tightening up their belts and trying to find interesting ways to still be successful in this economy. Bottle service, for example, is starting to fizzle, which I think actually has a good effect in the long run. I remember when bottle service first started; I was talking to Steve Lewis about this earlier. I remember that Life was one of the first places that people actually didn’t have to be cool to get in … they didn’t have to be artists anymore. And all of a sudden the investment bankers and hedge fund guys could come in and buy bottles and be in an exclusive place, and I think it hurt nightlife in a huge way. Now, with those people not spending as much money, and bottle service not being as prevalent in New York especially, I think it’s coming back to cool people coming together. Artists, etc. People who didn’t necessarily have money before the crash, and can still go out. I think that’s had a positive effect on nightlife.

Where do you see yourself in the future? I think the natural progression of things is to open my own place, but I’d definitely like to be in the hospitality business. I’d love to start with a small hotel and see what happens.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going to my parents’ house and having a home-cooked meal.

Industry Insiders: Ivan Kane, Nightlife Thespian

Ivan Kane, the metteur en scène behind Ivan Kane’s Café Wa s French Bistro and Piano Lounge in Hollywood and Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce Nightclub and Burlesque at Mandalay Bay in Vegas, opens up on his idols, theater requirements, and the death of the velvet rope.

What do you do? I create. It’s what feeds my soul. I wear the hat of a businessman by default.

When you’re not running the show, where can you be found? Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle in New York City. Old school vibe. Dark leather. Comfortable booths. Whimsical murals. Dan Tana’s Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. East Coast vibe. Red checkered table cloths. Great veal Parmagiano. Joe Allen’s in New York. After-theater crowd. Great salad. Posters of Broadway shows that have failed line the walls.

Who do you admire in your industry? Sean MacPherson. On both coasts, he has great bars, restaurants, and hotels. From Swingers and Yamashiro to Waverly Inn, they have lasting qualities. He doesn’t try for flavor of the month. Also, Ivan Kane. Completely unique. Always different. Dares to think outside the box. Cares.

What’s been good in your industry lately? New places keep opening. The consumer has many choices, which is a good thing.

Name something you think is played out. Velvet ropes are passé. Community is what is needed and wanted.

What is something that people might not know about you? This should be obvious. I love theater. All of my venues are theatrical. I believe nightlife needs to be an experience.

What are you doing tonight? Rehearsing Cabaret with my 15-year-old son … he’s playing a lead in the play. Working, touching tables at Ivan Kane’s Café Wa s.