A First Glimpse At What’s Opening and What Never Should Have Closed

A very fat – or is it phat – quiet cat is out of the bag. I am sworn to secrecy about Toy, the new Tony Theodore/Koch brothers-driven spot in the Ganesvoort Meatpacking. I was graciously and quietly given a tour the other day while workman readied the Jeffrey Beers-designed space. I promised to keep it all on the low but once a PR firm sends out invites… it’s time to talk. Toy looks like it will be fun to play with. My goodness that was corny but expected I guess. Daniel, Derek, and Tony gave me the $2-tour and I was impressed. There is a wonderful outdoor space, an oyster bar and multi-levels and faceted mirrors all over the ceiling, fabulous blue booths and ebonized tables, and the whole place is better suited than previous incarnations to embrace those seeking the good life down in the Meatpacking District.

The event the PR peeps are hawking is this Monster Diesel party Thursday night. No, that’s not a truck and an energy drink soiree rather it is the clothing company announcing the launch of its "Noise Division" and a headphone company. Noise at the event is offered up by Theophilus London, Solange Knowles, and Brendan Fallis. I promised everyone I would attend and will do so.

On Saturday night I was hobnobbing at Snap and Stash where bon vivants gathered to watch that wonderful fight where Tim Bradley whipped Manny Pacquiao. After the fight, the models, promoters, and owners poured into the street and then over to Darby Downstairs. I heard Ryan Gosling and a slew of others like that attended. I didn’t see them in the crowd. I did get to chat up a bearded Leonardo DiCaprio who I hadn’t seen in a minute. He used to hang with us at Life and other joints we ran. He’s as cool and down- to-earth as ever and it was great to small-talk with the big star. I don’t much like to talk about celebs in clubs, but when they’re on the sidewalk talking to me I figure it’s OK.

After all the hoopla, I joined my party downstairs at Snap for a bottle of Beau Joie Champagne. My group included Jenny Oz Leroy of Tavern on the Green and Russian Tea Room fame. It’s amazing to me that this city pushed her out of Tavern, the joint her dad created from nothing and now, years later, the building is rotting. It’s a testament to bureaucracy gone bad and it’s complete and utter bullshit from the pencil-pushers involved.

Tavern was part of the fabric of this town. It was weddings and galas and lights and magic. It was visited and revisited by generations. It was memories. It was jobs and tax revenues from one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country, until Vegas exploded the undisputed truth in restaurant revenues. It lays empty, and every warm summer day underscores the huge mistake made by this administration. Admit it fellows…admit that you royally fucked up, dropped the ball, blew it, and beg Jenny to take it back.

If you want this and more in your inbox first-thing, sign up for my twice-a-week email blast. It’s gonna be good.

The New Tavern on the Green

When Tavern on the Green ended a three-decade era of glitz and glamour by shuttering its doors on January 1, 2010, it left open the burning question about what the space would be next. This week we got our answer as the City of New York Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe announced the next keeper of the green will the Emerald Green Group. According to the statement released by the Parks Department, the new restaurant will be “an attractive high-quality accessible venue with a locally-sourced menu and a focus on the park. It will include outdoor seating for 200 to 300 patrons as well as take-out service.”

The folks behind the Emerald Green Group are Jim Caiola and David Salama, who ran Beau Monde in Philadelphia for over a decade. They bring chef and culinary consultant Katy Sparks to the table, who previously worked at the famous The Quilted Giraffe, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, and now closed Quilty’s, which was the catalyst for her winning a spot in Food and Wine Magazine’s Top Ten Best New Chef in America.

Designed by Calvert Vaux and Wrey Mould in the latter half of the 19th century, the original Victorian Gothic building was turned into a restaurant in 1934.  It’s carried the name Tavern on the Green since then, and for the last 30 years it was run by the LeRoy family. Under that group, it became on of the top-grossing independent restaurants in the city. Ironically, the LeRoys filled for bankruptcy 15 months before it closed, which might have been a big reason the Parks Department didn’t renew their lease. Now, the Emerald Green Group is giving the iconic spot a different vibe and plans to make it less formal and allowing more of a walk-up feeling.

When asked about his new project, co-owner Jim Caiola told the Parks Department, “Tavern on the Green is one of the most amazing places in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it? When I lived in New York in the early 80’s, whenever I had a milestone in my life I took myself to Tavern on the Green. I’d look around and feel the magic of celebration, and I knew that one day I would be back.”

Now, we just have to wait another year until fall 2013 when they project it will open again. 

“Inside New York Eateries” Exhibit Explores New Yorker’s Reservations

When I was working in the restaurant industry some odd years ago, I relished the time just before opening. Servers and managers went out back to smoke and bitch and I would stand in the dining room looking out over the polished silverware in the fading afternoon light. The room looked like an empty, half-lit stage just before opening night. Wijnanda Deroo’s third solo exhibit, Inside New York Eateries, presently showing at the Robert Mann Gallery, articulates this moment in a photo series that documents New York’s culinary institutions as they sit empty, before the evening’s cast has taken a seat. Along with views of Milon and the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant—all standing eerily silent—the series also captures beloved, now-shuttered venues.

When I’m out at a restaurant, I barely notice the actual space itself, focusing instead on table conversation, entrees, a famous face a table over, or background music. That’s why it’s surprisingly gripping to see these places void of the energy we use to identify a place, consciously or not. Seeing Deroo’s photo of the now-closed Tavern on the Green is uncanny because of the restaurant’s relationship with the New Yorkers who know its history – and how it came to close.

We’re proud when we see our street corner in a movie scene; we can place ourselves at an empty table in Deroo’s shot of Delmonico’s. It’s both aspirational and territorial—which, in itself, is the magic behind New York’s nightlife at the heart.

Wijnanda Deroo’s Inside New York Eateries will run until January 29th at the Robert Mann gallery. Pop in before your customary dinner reservation.

Photo: The Oak Room, 2009, from Robert Mann Gallery.

The Business & Pitfalls of Boozeness

I received a text message 30 minutes before my DJ set at subMercer that revealed the location of a recently missing pal. Bellevue Hospital now houses yet another friend who fell victim to alcohol abuse and God knows what else. Luckily she is alive, but not exactly “well.” While the city spends unheard-of figures making the bar and nightclub environment safe from the evils of smoking, alcohol — a far more destructive product — is merrily served and of course taxed. I certainly am not advocating a return to Prohibition; it just seems strange that so little effort is made to educate and protect or help a public subjected to a substance which, in so many ways, is at least as destructive as heroin. Whereas heroin is in itself an amazingly efficient destroyer of souls, alcohol can hold its own by providing a gateway for everything else the devil is selling. For decades I have walked brilliant friends to or from rehab, a place that has become a who’s who of downtowners, uptowners, jet setters and the common folk. They gather at AA and NA meetings to find comfort and support to get through yet another day. Citing the dangers of secondhand smoke for patrons and employees, a war has broken out as clubs flail, getting pushed to the edge of closing.

The cost of medical and other city services is used to justify this crackdown, but when looked at from this point of view, the destruction caused by booze makes the smoking ban seem somewhat trivial. Don’t get me wrong — I think smoking is a horrible habit, one that is also detrimental to those who don’t smoke themselves — but I think the enforcement tactics are way too fascist. Smoking is a gnat in the grand scheme of things, while drinking is a T-Rex. Education on the grade-school level and even in the pubs seems to be more than necessary. People are dying and destroying their lives and the lives of those who love them, though very little seems to be done to stop the process. We don’t need any more regulation; we need education. Mayor Bloomberg was elected as a trusted friend but has morphed into a big brother. Alcoholism has been a societal problem for millennium … I just think a greater portion of alcohol tax revenues should be earmarked to prevent its abuse. My pal will survive thanks to those nice people at Bellevue, but what happens to her when she walks back into the real world is the unanswered question.

As an operator or employee in a club, you are surrounded by bottles of sweet elixirs. Blue bottles, yellow bottles, brown bottles line a stairway to heaven and the rate is free for the industry insiders. The staff unwind after work, throw back a few stiff ones with a good customer, or may start their night with a pick-me-up. It’s not much different than having a toot, bump, blast or snort every day. Sure, many (most, even) can handle it, but there are thousands walking amongst us who cannot. I rarely touch the stuff, because I know if I allowed myself the indulgence of booze, women, drugs and their constant availability would possess me. Long-term relationships with intelligent women kept me on the straight and narrow. Secondhand smoke is a clear and present danger to nightclub employees and patrons and the city is right in thinking of their health, but if they are going to address this one danger, address alcoholism along with it.

In other news regarding the fallen in the nightlife world, Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, a senior judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled on Wednesday that New York City owns the name Tavern on the Green. Judge Cedarbaum ruled that the former operator of the landmark restaurant in Central Park, Warner LeRoy, had trademarked the name “fraudulently,” citing that Mr. LeRoy “made deliberate misstatements and omissions” when he trademarked the name in 1981. She dashed the hopes of both the LeRoy family and the creditors who hoped they could find debt relief from the sale of the famous name, which had an appraised value of $19 million. I have sat in Judge Cedarbaum’s courtroom on two occasions and found her to be a fair and honest broker, but Jenny Oz Leroy is a friend of mine, and I know how hard this must be on her. All I can say to Jenny is that out of the ashes, great trees find root. Her energy, vision and abilities and those of her family gave true meaning to the hallowed name Tavern on the Green — a place that was a dump before her father blessed it with his magic. She has his magic, his charisma, his vision and the ability to make people believe in her. I am confident that her next project will benefit from this legacy, this legend … and she will do things that are even more spectacular. I myself and my own legacy will always be there for her.

Tavern on the Green’s Halloween Nightmare + James Gandolfini Gets Slappy

I may be a day late on this story, but at least I’m not $60 short. It’s the Halloween that will never end. It lingers in the mysteriously disappearing stale candy in the mushy pumpkin by the door and a few sprinkles of glitter on my cluttered desk. It screams at me on Facebook as 1,733 (as of this morning) unhappy Facebook folk have organized a “We got scammed by Tavern on the Green 2009 Halloween!” group. Thousands of comments recall the true Halloween nightmare these people and many others endured. Many have asked me to weigh in on this, including my editor, so I made some calls.

First off I have known Alex and Leo Baskin for over 10 years; I can’t say we are friends, we have always enjoyed a friendly relationship. That is because I have never known them to be anything less than honest brokers. I rarely hang out with lowlifes unless I can tax them a lot of loot. I enjoy a very friendly relationship with Tavern operator Jenny Oz Leroy, and although we have never done business together, I do hope to work with her at one point. In the 10 years I have known her, I have found her to be the stuff that dreams are made of. Her honesty and desire to always do the right thing have endeared her to me. I make these statements because some of you out there insist that I disclose my relationships with the people I write about. I think that is fair. With that in mind the 1,734 (I just rechecked) angry Facebook friends can’t all be wrong, and many of them have asked me to address their grievances.

Tavern on the Green is as used to big events as a venue can be; for example, they hosted a monster event for the New York City Marathon just hours before the Halloween bash got underway. It seems inconceivable to me that they were not prepared to properly host 2,350 patrons at this sold-out gala. 2,350 is their legal capacity. The question arises whether the promoters, led by brothers Alex and Leo Baskin, oversold the event. An early press release from Tavern pointed fingers and toes at the promoters. It stated that Alex, Leo, and friends “irresponsibly sold anywhere from 4,000-6,000 tickets or more, putting people’s safety in jeopardy for their own profit.” It got bad for a minute between the two parties, with Alex and Leo’s phone number being forwarded to Tavern’s lines, and the promo group blaming the venue. Then the two parties started talking smart and this release soon gave way to a new joint release, where regret and refund policies were laid out. It seems that someone might have printed counterfeit tickets with the wrong time on them, etc., etc., etc.

Tappy Phillips, Channel 7’s fabulous reporter, is no sappy. A ticket with a number in the high 4,000s was shown by her, and unless it was a fake or they started the tickets numbers at 2,500 instead of 0, something is fishier here than the coconut crusted shrimp with mango salsa that guests were to eat that night, washed down by torrents of free Grey Goose. Guests paid $60 a head, or $130 if they wanted to sit in a chair at a crowded table. 6 rooms, 12 DJs, plus a chance to win a trip to Paris or $10,000 cash, an extensive banquet menu, and free Goose all night long in the romantic Central Park venue made this an easy ticket to sell. Outlets for ticket sales were abundant, and the promoters Alex and Leo had sub-promoters who had sub-promoters; somewhere down this food chain, greed might have chimed in. I can’t believe it was the brothers Baskin.

With online sales as well as hard ticket sales and a package that sold itself, somehow way too many tickets got sold. It should be noted that Tavern did pack out fast, and many people had a great time even though it was shut down by the NYPD at 1:30am. Everyone agrees the police did the right thing. An estimated 3,000 people were near riot in the cold rain. Revelers didn’t just lose their cash from the ticket purchase — they lost their Halloween, plus the money they spent on transportation and costumes. They also lost their confidence in the promotional system associated with big nights.

With New Year’s Eve — the biggest night of the year for advanced sales — looming large, Alex and Leo must step up to save their reputation. It seems that they have taken steps to refund valid tickets. I read hundreds of comments on the Facebook “Scammed” page. One bright lass asked:

What is the definition of “valid ticket”? Is a “valid ticket” a ticket sold by Alex & Leo themselves leaving the sub promoters to deal with their own refunding after they have been refunded by Alex & Leo? OR Is a “valid ticket” a ticked deemed to be genuine by Alex & Leo after reviewing the copies that we are supposed to attach via email? This makes a big difference so patrons know who to go after for their refunds. If this is a case is there any distinguishing factor on the “valid ticket” which would allow us to figure out if there was any chance of our ticket was a fake. If there are fake tickets it would be better for us to know now so we know to go directly after the individual ticket seller that we used.

The definition of valid ticket will be much discussed as the companies that sell mass tickets for New Year’s must assure a public that they will end the year right. Halloween mass promotion is big business, but it’s small potatoes compared to New Year’s Eve. New Year’s is Tavern’s last night, as another operator will be moved in and Jenny Oz Leroy will find someplace new to make magical. With hundreds of thousands of events under her belt, this debacle won’t hurt her rep. When I spoke with her on the phone, she said that Tavern hadn’t been paid most of the money owed to them either. She is working hard with the promotional entity in trying to make things right. My conversations with Leo Baskin were all about him doing the right thing. Yet thousands seemed to have been hurt here, and the Facebook group seems to be talking to law enforcement. Someone will follow the money trail, and questions will eventually be answered This Halloween won’t end for quite awhile.

Speaking of another nightmare, I watched that video of James Gandolfini slap a Guest of a Guest photographer. Now in my order of things, it goes rats, roaches, leeches, agents, attorneys, paparazzi, mosquitoes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The young photographer was one of a gazillion people with cameras heading over to the Halloween parade when he spotted the ex-Tony Soprano. James came rushing over and slapped the guy down to the ground while a cohort — presumably not Paulie Walnuts — tried in vain to wrest the camera away. Now I’m not a lawyer, but I have watched Law and Order a lot and have stayed in Holiday Inn Express hotels, but this seems to be an assault and an attempted grand larceny. Earth to James Gandolfini, you are not a mobster or real tough guy, you just played one on TV. Getting your picture took comes with the fame, and without the fame you’re just a fat ugly bully with no style or cool. You are not really the promised one. You should be ashamed.

Anyway, full press release about the Tavern fiasco on the next page.

VALID TICKET HOLDERS TO HALLOWEEN ON THE GREEN TO RECEIVE REFUNDS Event Ruined by Unanticipated Influx of Partygoers with Counterfeit Tickets

NEW YORK, November 3, 2009 – Event promoter Alex & Leo Entertainment, Inc. have established a refund procedure for valid ticketholders to the “Halloween on the Green” event held at Tavern on the Green on Saturday night, October 31, 2009. The event had to be shut down by the New York Police Department due to overcrowding conditions caused by the sale of hundreds of counterfeit tickets by unauthorized promoters.

Alex & Leo Entertainment will be responsible for organizing the refunds requested by valid ticket holders through the following procedures:

(1) Those who purchased valid tickets to the event online using either a credit card or PayPal may request a refund directly from the online ticket seller.

(2) Those who purchased valid tickets using cash should email their refund requests to Halloweenrefund@gmail.com. Each request must include a copy of the ticket(s) purchased, together with the place and date of purchase, as well as the ticket holder’s mailing address. Alex & Leo Entertainment will process each such request within four weeks of receipt.

The Halloween event was ruined when hundreds of partygoers – unknowingly holding counterfeit tickets – arrived two hours early for the event, creating long lines for admission and depriving many revelers holding legitimate tickets entry to Tavern on the Green. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries at the event, but the New York Police Department shut down the party at about 1:30 a.m.- before the situation became unsafe.

“We have promoted thousands of parties in New York since 1994, and this is the first time something like this has happened,” said Leo Baskin, president of Alex & Leo Entertainment, Inc. “With the advances in photocopying and Internet commerce, counterfeit tickets have become a real problem in the industry. We will be modifying our ticket sale policies to avoid such a situation in the future. We are truly sorry for the inconvenience this situation has caused our customers and our business partners.”

MEDIA CONTACT:

For Tavern on the Green Shelley Clark, sclark@platformcomm.com PLATFORM COMMUNICATIONS (646) 489-8582

Meeting the Munchkins at Tavern’s Swan Song

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up in the high 60s, is this very special place called Tavern on the Green. The 70th anniversary party for the most wonderful, most watched and most classic film of all time was held there last Friday in an event to benefit Elizabeth Glazer’s pediatric AIDS foundation. I hung out with good friend Jenny Oz Leroy, Tavern’s “current” owner and host of the gala. My nightclub career has allowed me to meet legends such as Pelé, Wilt Chamberlain, Stevie Wonder, a Beatle, a few Stones, Madonna, Sting, Bono, some Zeppelins, Prince, and some Sex Pistols. But maybe my biggest thrill came at this event. Here were Jerry Maren, Margaret Pellegrinni, Reinhardt Raabe, Ruth Duccini and Karl Stover — little people who starred as Munchkins in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

image

They sang their famous songs and told amazing anecdotes as I deja vu’d. There were ruby slippers everywhere — artwork, poppies, a yellow brick road, a witch’s broom, a Scarecrow, a dozen Dorothys, a Lion and a Tin Man. Lorna Luft, Liza Minnelli’s sister and the daughter of Dorothy, was on hand as well. Judy Garland’s kid broke precedent and sang a medley of songs from the flick. Jenny Oz Leroy’s speech gave me goosebumps as she gave us a little bit of her history and that of her famous family and The Wizard of Oz. I learned how her dad, the legend Warner Leroy, got Toto after the movie but gave him back as he was a “nasty little dog,” and that the tornado was a sock. The city has yanked the magic carpet from under Jenny’s feet and given the joint over to Boathouse operator Dean Poll. This was an unclassy move by a Parks Department that will, I believe, ultimately regret it. Somewhere in the back of her mind as she stood on stage brandishing that family smile and Oz-like optimism, Jenny must have been hoping that a few clicks on the heels of those ruby slippers accompanied by a bunch of “there’s no place like homes” would make it all go back to the way it was.

Her dad and my idol in this biz, Warner Leroy, turned Tavern on the Green from nothing to something. He spent $10 million in 1973 dollars on a renovation and gave us an Emerald City. It opened in 1976 in a tornado of publicity and success. Until those Vegas joints opened, Tavern was the perennial highest-grossing joint in the USA. Jenny will take the name with her, and the new joint will be just another place. Tavern was made of steel and concrete and glass for sure. It was decorated with fine chandeliers and moldings and furniture, but its soul came from dreams, and soon — January 1 — those dreams will move on. It won’t be the same without the magic, and you can’t buy or outbid for that stuff.

image

Jenny’s history is yet to be written. On October 6, she will turn 31. When her great-grandfather, the legendary filmmaker and studio boss Harry Warner was 31, he and his brothers (flush with a $1,500 profit from their film Dante’s Inferno) formed Warner Studios, which of course became Warner Bros. Her grandfather Mervyn Leroy is credited with discovering Clark Gable and Lana Turner and a bunch more. At 31, his breakout film was Little Caesar, propelling himself and his star, Edward G. Robinson, into celebrity. At 31, Jenny’s dad Warner opened his breakout restaurant nightspot Maxwell’s Plum. Her sister Carolyn has Plum as a middle name. Maxwell’s was the home of Manhattan’s fastest set; it was Joe Namath and Warren Beatty and every model in town long before there were promoters to wrangle them. From his New York Times obituary:

”Nobody can out-showbiz Warner in a restaurant, and probably nobody would want to, but in defining the edges so authoritatively, everybody took notice,” said Danny Meyer, a New York restaurateur. ”He forced the rest of us to reckon with how people are going to feel in terms of the drama of our atmosphere. You cannot open a major New York restaurant today and not be aware that showbiz will play a role.”

Warner Leroy did lots of other cool stuff, like the Russian Tea Room and founding Great Adventure. When Lorna Luft was about to sing, she explained that she never sang the songs from The Wizard of Oz. She was “never comfortable” with her “legacy.” Being Judy Garland’s daughter does I guess have its pressures, and her medley was nice, or pleasant, and for a worthy cause, but it did lack the magic, the intangibles that her mother brought to the crowd. Jenny Leroy is not uncomfortable with her legacy, and she owns that name. Tavern on the Green without a Leroy is the Yankees without Jeter. Already the unions are starting to complain about what they hear regarding plans to reduce their loot . This union has a serious track record with successful, long strikes at the Rainbow Room, the Plaza, and at Tavern. This is going to be war.

As I looked up at the Empire State Building, turned ruby red for the celebration, I thought of King Kong and how the imaginary ape created the legend of a building which will always be the grandest in the world, even if some are built with more stories. The story of the Empire State Building being built in the midst of the great depression, of romance and film, make it a must-see for every tourist long after it wasn’t the biggest. The stories that count are the ones told by fathers to sons and in books and flicks. The charisma of the place hits you like a ton of ape whenever you see it. Tavern without the crystal, furnishings, and dreams will be just another place, and why would any tourist even bother?

I heard they’re putting public restrooms outside, so the new dining guests won’t have to mingle with the joggers and dog walkers and other park users anymore. The Leroy family welcomed them inside; they were a part of the city’s fabric, and they understood the concept of hospitality a bit more than Mr. Poll ever will. He just doesn’t have it in his genes. Just like Lorna Luft, the new restaurant where Tavern (the King Kong of all joints) lived will be pleasant and nice. But just as Lorna Luft is no Judy Garland, Dean Poll ain’t a Leroy. Jenny Oz Leroy is turning 31, a magical age for her clan. She was thrust into control at 22 when her dad passed. Now she has a lot of experience, an infectious charisma, and she owns the Tavern on the Green name, but that of course is a horse of a different color. I’d spend some time and try to figure out her next move, if I only had a brain. I probably wont return to Tavern again, and the new place probably will not interest me. It just won’t be the same without Oz.

Adam’s Apple Owner Passes, Tavern on the Green Fights to Survive

It’s not unusual for a 90-year-old man to be found dead. It’s just that the man found this past Thursday, bound and bludgeoned to death, had survived so much. Felix Brinkmann survived Auschwitz and two other concentration camps and had talked his way out of death a number of times. Mr. Brinkmann was one of the owners of the classic club Adam’s Apple — part of a strip of 1st Avenue hotspots including Dangerfield’s and Magique. I was dating a beautiful girl named Barbara back in those days. We would drive my ’62 Impala to Manhattan and hit the hotspots on first by the 59th Street Bridge. It was the summer of Son of Sam, and a New York Mets World Series run and my first New York nightlife experience.

Without the beautiful Barbara I wouldn’t have had a chance to see this world. She was a great girl whose own history as the daughter of concentration camp survivors gave her a serious nature far beyond her years. I would see the playboys and athletes hit on her all night, but she stayed true to me even though I seemed always outclassed. Adam’s Apple served us an adventure of food and disco music … it was polyester suits and “what’s your sign” conversation. It was “the hustle” on two dance floors hung impossibly from the ceiling. The old guys always gave you a show, and it was absorbed by me at a time when I was planning on being a Wall Street suit and living forever with my beautiful friend. Little did I know while trying to keep up with my vibrant date I was getting an education that would define my future.

After Adam’s Apple, we’d stroll up 1st Avenue to owner Warner LeRoy’s Maxwell’s Plum, the best place in town. The best place in any town. A ceiling as complex and beautiful as that Os Gemeos mural on Houston Street, as imaginative as Dali on a happy day, it was a watering hole for the beautiful people. A great bar in the center of things and the hottest singles joint around. Jets quarterback Joe Namath would be chatting up starlets and models just inches away from Warren Beatty or Barbara Streisand. Cary Grant and Bill Blass and uptown class mixed with the mods. It was the epicenter of a new sexual revolution. It was playboys and girls right out of Vogue magazine. It was also a four-star restaurant. Warner LeRoy quickly became one of my idols. His flair his, showmanship, and commitment to quality guaranteed smashing success. I watched him work a room, always moving in a suit that you couldn’t miss, glad-handing and smiling at everyone. When he looked in my eyes and asked me “if I was having a good time” one evening, I felt for the first time that thrill of being noticed that later became my addiction. He opened Maxwell’s in 1966, and it lasted until 1988. In a New York Times article written about its closing, he “likened its demise to that of an affair that had gone on too long, in the end losing its spontaneity and adventure.” He added, “You can’t keep something going forever.” Adam’s Apple made it to 1991. These old guys really knew how to build them.

LeRoy’s words may ring true, as his daughter Jennifer Oz LeRoy is fighting against an all-star cast of restaurateurs and operators to retain control of her beloved Tavern on the Green. The “Oz” in her name is a tribute to her grandfather, the Academy Award-honored Mervyn LeRoy. He produced The Wizard of Oz and Little Caesar and so many others. He discovered Clark Gable and Lana Turner. Jenny’s roots are in showbiz and restaurants; she has the flair and tenacity in her genes. At 22, at the sudden death of her legendary dad, she was flung into control of Tavern, as well as Warner LeRoy’s other institution, the Russian Tea Room. The LeRoy mark on this town is a tough tattoo that won’t come off easily. Any day now a decision will be made on Tavern’s future. Come New Year’s Eve, either she will retain control or a Trump or a Danny Meyer or a Cipriani will bag it.

Felix Brinkmann’s untimely demise at the hands of a couple who will soon be grabbed and garbage-bagged speaks of a spirit that the good nightlife people always have. Although they chase the money it isn’t as important as the juice — the rush they get from shaking a hand and making someone feel wanted. I will always be a saloon-keeper no matter what path is destined for me. When I sit on a beach in some Caribbean paradise, I watch how the bartender slings it, how the decor could be popped up, how the cash ring could be improved. I got it bad, but there’s no rehab for my monkey, and anyway you have to want to be helped.

At the end, Felix was still working — managing a mixed-use building. He put in seven days a week not because he had to but because he had so much love of people and the action that just fading away wasn’t an option. I know Jenny LeRoy, and she’s not going to fade away either; she will fight for her legacy, and if she loses the place, she still owns her name and the Tavern trademark. And she has those genes … she will land on her feet and blow us away. Whenever I see her, I remember her dad looking into my eyes, validating me — I’ve told her that. I can’t imagine this town without a LeRoy-run Tavern. It would be like that time when the Japanese were buying Rockefeller Center, or the Dodgers and Giants moved to LA. It wouldn’t feel right. Tavern on the Green is a landmark not because it sits on valuable real estate; it is a landmark because of the spark Warner LeRoy gave it. It is a gift to us from one of the two greatest nightclub/restaurant people this town has ever known. It must remain in the hands of a person motivated by love for his dream — it must remain with Jenny LeRoy. Her spirit and commitment cannot be trumped.

Summer Nights: Changing of the Guard

A game of musical chairs is being played by most of the major promotional entities as the summer roof season is upon us. While the highly successful 230 Fifth will still dominate this market just as the Empire State Building dominates its incredible view, some places remain unsettled or don’t have a clear opening date due to a myriad of problems. Highbar is getting a quick polish, while the roof at the Stay Hotel is still under construction. Mixed reports come from Cabanas and The Park, and the highly-touted Above Allen will finally get to open its windows amidst hopes that the sound spill doesn’t disturb too many hotel guests and nearby residents. Daemon O’Neil, Rose Bar’s patient, sweet, and very good-looking door guru (not to be confused with Damion Luaiye), is packing his clipboard and heading over to the Bazaar Bar at the upcoming Trump Soho hotel. The economic downturn, a weak dollar, and a laundry list of safety issues make travel abroad a lot less attractive this season. I hear reports that Hamptons summer rentals are sluggish, yet the Surf Lodge in Montauk is riding high.

I caught up with super duper and uber owner/outdoor space promoter Jeffrey Jah of 1Oak and other fabulous places, and he told me he was bringing back the “changing of the guard” at Groovedeck at Hudson Terrace this summer. “With Groovedeck, we’ve assembled an insane team from Bijoux (Dimitry and Francois) to Pavan and the 1Oak team. We’ve booked the Hamptons Magazine summer kick-off party as well as Lydia Hearst hosting the last International Film Premiere event.” I asked Jeffrey how the whole outdoor summer club thing started for him.

It’s pretty simple … the first real outdoor parties were “Groove on the Move,” with Mark Baker and I back in the early 90s, moving from the Central Park Boathouse to Tavern on the Green, and then permanently at Bowery Bar with Eric Goode and Serge Becker. There really were no other outdoor parties; then in 2000, I moved to Pier 59 Studios and created the deck with Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva — that’s where Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente were given their fist taste of club promotions. They were low-level maitre d’s. In 2003, we were forced to move it to BED (the same team), and then they tried to get smart, and Baker, Remi, and Karim sold them on a cheaper deal without the 1Oak crew, but they were done after four weeks. We missed two seasons, and we’re now back at Hudson Terrace.

I asked Jeffrey if the problems with international travel these days, the weak dollar, and pandemic diseases would keep people closer to home. “Yes, the economy will keep people here. New York is the capital of the world. What’s more important is that Europeans will venture more to America with the weak dollar and get more value for the buck. We will see a lot of Euros this summer. New York is resilient, we’ve seen worst times apres 9/11. People want to blow off steam, and if the product is good, they will come again and again. A lot of people are not taking houses in the Hamptons this summer because institutional money and jobs evaporated over the last half of 2008 and first quarter of 2009. Hence I’m betting that we will see a much stronger city summer.”

I also asked Hudson Terrace co-owner Michael Sinensky about the economic impact. “If you can build one of the nicest venues in New York City, people will come out to escape what’s going on in the world. In this economy, you have to really service the customer and think outside the box to keep your patrons entertained, happy, and feeling satisfied enough that they’ll come back. I don’t think it’s all about having the best promoters and DJs and strictest door anymore — I think that’s a formula to stay open 6 to 12 months. Hudson Terrace wasn’t built to follow the models-and-bottles formula and meet their steep table minimums. Instead, we’ve taken pages from our other successful eating and drinking establishments such as the Village Pourhouse, Sidebar, and Vintage Irving, with offerings like pitchers of sangria and margaritas.” They’re pitching a happy hour concept from 5-7 p.m. I’m proud to say that Hudson Terrace was designed by my partner Marc Dizon.

The roof parties and a stop-start economy will get us through the heat of summer. An added value is that outdoor parties are generally blessed with quieter music, as sound travels and Manhattan gets more crowded by the minute. The music played in most clubs theses days — especially the clubs catering to these particular crowds — has stagnated. The isolation of Hudson Terrace and Jeffrey’s commitment to play it a little forward should educate a crowd to new tastes. Steven Greenberg’s 230 Fifth bans hip hop altogether in favor of mostly rock fare. This space is the highest-grossing joint in New York nightlife history. I know only a little about music made in this century, but I do know this: The crowds I DJ to these day are growing, and my CD collection isn’t. I play almost an entirely rock set, and there seem to be a lot more people interested in it than a year ago. Oh, if you want to hear me DJ or toss an egg or discuss clubdom, I’ll be at 38 Howard Street off Broadway tonight; I go on at 12:30 a.m., right after the bands.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: The Immortal Carmen D’Alessio

Carmen D’Alessio is one of a kind — and thank God! If there were more of her, we would never sleep. She is the original VIP hostess; she has hobnobbed with the aristocracy, the players, the rich and the famous. Her apartment is filled with nightclub and celebrity memorabilia that leaves you speechless (and that isn’t common for me). I’ve known Carmen for a very long time, and she seems to never age. She helped make my clubs so very relevant to a sect that is unreachable for virtually any other nightlife promoter. Carmen’s crowd not only flies first class — they often own the airlines. I sat for hours with Carmen and listened to tales of Andy Warhol, Halston and Mick and Bianca; one wondrous story after another, all backed up with autographed photos of an age that seems incomprehensible today. I told Carmen that she should write a book, and she asked me to help her; I’m going to seriously think about it.

The question is — will anybody believe that these events actually happened? Can anyone understand today what drove those creatures of the night who together created a fairytale world? I used to hang outside Studio 54 and watch the fabulous arrive; I weighed a buck thirty-five, had long hair, ripped jeans, a Ramones shirt, and a real nice leather jacket (it probably had some buttons with Cheap Trick or the Sex Pistols on it). Steve Rubell would invariably pick me but I would never go in, as I was a Max’s Kansas City kid. I was into punk and just came to watch that ultimate door scene. Little did I know that what I saw was teaching me about a business I would later thrive in. I wished I had actually gone in. I didn’t know what I was missing, and looking at the photos, I realize that nothing, no club will ever match the glamour of Studio 54.

I’m sitting with Carmen in her fabulously appointed apartment in Midtown. Right next to Central Park, which is the reason I’ve lived here for over 30 years. I couldn’t be anywhere there wasn’t near Central. It’s the only piece of greenery in the city, and I am an outdoors person, believe it or not. I come from Peru, and I was born by the ocean, in Lima, so this is my escape.

How did you come from Lima and become this incredibly fabulous nightlife person? I believe that it was destiny. I came to visit a friend of mine from Chile, who had told me I needed to come to New York to visit. Even without knowing New York, as a teenager, I had suggested that it was the place where everyone was free. Eventually, when he moved here (Gee Burgos), he invited me to come. When I came, I visited a beloved girlfriend of mine, Susan Salas, who was working for the United Nations. She had an idea, “You speak so many languages, would you like to be part of the UN? Would you like to come and stay here? Would you like to be an interpreter? I can organize it, let me introduce you to the chief of personnel.” And before I knew it, that same afternoon I was meeting Chris Reider, and I became an interpreter. Before I knew it, I was with the United Nations. This was 40 years ago.

How many languages do you speak, and how many husbands have you had? Five languages and three husbands.

You’ve got to catch up. It should be even. Well, I have three official husbands: Carlos D’Alessio — I was married to him for three years; the second was Enrique T., married seven years; then came Richard Gitlin, my beloved hubby who was the son of the VP of Warner Brothers records. We were married for five years during the heyday of Studio 54.

You have an Andy Warhol piece over here, which is addressed to you, a picture of you and Mick Jagger over there, and even Richard Bernstein. This is an incredible history of New York nightlife. And in that picture down there [points], I’m having lunch at the Russian Tea Room, and if you look at it carefully, in the back is Dudley Moore, staring at me, probably wanting to hook up with me, but I’m so busy with that young stud.

Every time I see you out, you have a young man on your arm, and this is a very modern thing. Nowadays this is very common, but back then you practically invented it. You are absolutely right. I invented something that has become the trendiest thing to do with older women. Studio 54 opened in 1977, but in 1976 I met Rick, and he became my third husband — he was 21, but I won’t say how old I was in those days.

But you were older? Much older, and the funniest part of it all is that every single time after that I met someone I became romantically connected with, he was always 21. Even today, it’s the magic number. It’s a really good number.

I’ve seen you out for many years, and you have the most fabulous people with you always. I walk up to pay my respects, and Carmen introduces me to Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, or the man who owns Air France. You are connected to a set that nobody in this town is connected to. These people want to “slum” downtown, they want to vibe out with the vibrant young crowd, and with Carmen, they can be introduced to this other society. Absolutely. I will label myself as the hostess with the mostest, because that is a role that I adore. My friends from out of town make sure that when I visit, I am royally entertained — so in compensation, when they come to New York, where no one else can take them, I can take them in a second. If the Waverly Inn is trendy today, and I have friends of mine arriving now, and they say, we would love to go to the Waverly, I make a phone call and we are set. If they want to go to the Rose Bar and it’s the toughest door you can imagine, they will honor my friends and I at any given time. This is something I do with pleasure, because I like to move in the best circles. And above anything else, I love to entertain my friends in the way they loved to be entertained.

How long is this going to go on for? This is going to be going on forever, because life goes on, and I go on with life. I’m going to Punta del Este for New Years baby, me and the players!

When are you working now? I’m doing only projects that appeal to me because they are special venues. I’ve been very successful in the summer doing Thursday at Tavern on the Green. It’s the most beautiful venue to do in the summer, and it’s right up my alley in Central Park. You can imagine that fantasy place; for me it was a situation that I was pinching myself because I was thinking how can I be working in fairyland and making money. I was so pleased to convey all my beautiful friends every Thursday to this paradise. Everything is outdoors: DJs, BBQ, drinks, music, dancing, young people, just amazing. The party started at seven because I don’t want to start doing things at eleven anymore, it bores me. I’m also doing another beautiful venue, Highbar, during the summer. When I’m sitting at the terrace overlooking the whole skyline and enjoying a drink, I’m on top of the world, it’s beautiful. I like special venues, and I want my friends to see beautiful things through me. Right now, needless to say, I’m going to be doing a party at the Greenhouse — so eco-friendly, and it looks so beautiful.