Friend Gary Spencer has been tasked to carve out a little slice of heaven from mega-club Webster Hall, and brand it as “The Hanky Panky Club.” As creative director, he is opening his ambitious concept with a performance by the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and my favorite DJ in this world: Paul Sevigny. For me, this is an incredible booking. The influence of the New York Dolls on NYC music, and the direction rock took from their lead, is incalculable. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I wore a suit to an office and listened to jazz. On the way to something somewhere, my cab cut to Park Avenue from another avenue to avoid traffic but got stuck again. As I glanced out the window at the very grey NYC of the early ‘70s, I saw the Dolls stumbling over each other in dresses and such with a wonderful entourage in tow. I had seen a light and got an itch that I have spent the rest of my life trying to scratch.
It was a few years later that the Ramones indoctrinated me into the life completely, but it was the Dolls who showed me the path. Rock and Roll, to its devotees, is a religion. Its anthems rarely get old, and the offerings of ancient bands and rock stars still play well to generations. Rock produced today and a zillion days ago will play well to people who aren’t even theoretical yet. It’s an "old school" genre that still delivers, still sells out stadiums. Gary Spencer is approaching the new Hanky Panky venture with an old- school mentality. I will be there to support and, more importantly, to enjoy a slice of the life I have chosen.
Hanky Panky starts with a bang, with the New York Doll’s David Johansen and my favorite DJ and (perhaps) person Paul Sevigny. Why were they chosen for this grand affair?
Friday is going to be a special night; we’ll have David Johansen from the New York Dolls performing, Paul Sevigny spinning.
I wanted to keep the integrity of not only the space but also NYC, and who better than David Johansen of the Dolls to do that? He’s New York and he’s totally rock and roll. Webster Hall is New York rock and roll history, and we have the club that overlooks it – how cool is that!!! Paul Sevigny is a quality DJ; a guy that really knows his music and is a perfect compliment for the Dolls and the room in general. He’s underrated and he crosses so many eras of music in his set. Plus, he’s an absolute gentleman. Deadbeat Darling will be supporting Johansen; they are an amazing band whose latest album “Angel’s Share” was produced by Ken Nelson (producer of Coldplay’s “Parachutes” and “Rush of Blood”). Terry Casey, another underrated DJ, will also be spinning and maybe even you Steve, who knows? It’s all a secret!
It’s in but it’s not. The Hanky Panky Club includes the balcony of Webster Hall. Let’s face it… it’s Webster Hall, but a redefinition of part of it. Webster Hall is very music-based. Tell me about the pairings of bands and DJs at The Hanky Panky Club, and the development of a separate brand from Webster.
Lon Ballinger, the owner of Webster Hall, contacted me and said he was looking for a different demographic, a market that he hasn’t been able to tap into, and that he wanted to open the space that was above the main club. After walking through the venue on a Friday night, I was like – WOW – this is incredible; the energy on the main floor was like nothing I had seen in a nightclub for a very long time. Hundreds of people were having a genuinely amazing unpretentious night out. It was refreshing to see, but it was even cooler to see and live it from the comfort of the balcony, which is incidentally attached to – ta da – Hanky Panky!
I really feel that that’s what people will do: they will enjoy all the trappings and service of The Hanky Panky Club but also enjoy the energy that the main room and balcony have to offer, if and when they need it. In pairingup the music on a Thursday, we will have a soul evening, Fridays will be electronic, and Saturdays will be more commercial/house. The bands on these evenings will also reflect the respective genres in the main room. Your career. Tell me about it, and tell my readers about the wonderful nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow.
I was standing in Peter’s nightclub “Stringfellows “ in 1983, and his director of operations Roger Howe approached me and told me he wanted me to work for the company. I had zero experience at the time, but ended up a week later as a bartender at Stringfellows. Later on, I moved on to be the reception manager at the world famous and way-before-its-time Hippodrome. What I always remember from that is when Roger said to the bar manager at the time, “I want Gary to work at the bar,” and the bar manager said “well, we don’t have any positions available.” Roger said “Well find him one.”
Those guys understand image. They know the rest can be taught; they build all their clubs around selling glamour and image. Plus, they know all about programming. He knows his trade. Peter started off in church halls, then booked The Beatles one night and never really looked back.
Peter will always be legendary in nightlife. He understands what nightlife is; it’s fantasy, it’s sexy, it’s escapism, it’s what should be talked about amongst your workmates on a Monday morning after a wild weekend. But not only does he bring all of those qualities to his clubs, he does it with a swagger and a smile, whilst being able to laugh at himself which is a rare but very-much-needed quality in nightlife.
After I worked for Peter, I fell into a very successful modeling career and also produced the Fashion Café fashion shows worldwide. My modeling career led me to New York where I have lived for the past 15 years. Four years or so ago I went back into the hospitality/ nightlife industry and, before becoming creative director here at The Hanky Panky, I worked for Joe Bastianich at Del Posto. I opened the Rusty Knot for Ken Friedman and was also at private members-only club Norwood.
You told me your approach to nightlife is old school, and you used the word "patience” several times. The need for it …not letting someone who doesn’t "belong" into a party in just because they’re buying bottles… will this fly?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it will fly. If somebody is right for the room and that person decides to buy a bottle, then that’s fabulous. But what I don’t want to do is let somebody in just because they have the money. I’ve seen too many nightclubs ruined that way.
While we’re on the subject, I think service plays a big part as to whether a venue is successful or not. NYC used to be known for its high standard of service, but we’ve gotten so used to everyone coming here for the last 20 years that nowadays, when a cocktail server comes to take your order, it seems like everything is too much trouble for them. Why would anybody want to spend money in an environment like that? That ethic would fail in any other business. The cocktail servers at Hanky Panky will not only be stunningly beautiful, but will also take your order if you are sitting at a table or not. I know many very wealthy people that want to be served fast and efficiently. They don’t want a “table” or a “bottle,” but they don’t want to deal with the bar either – so, they call a server over .
Another problem is that not enough nightlife people are operators in nightlife, so they defer to promotional teams to fill their venues up. Which is fine, but there is no easy fix. It takes just as much effort to fill a room that is promoter-driven as is concept-driven. The difference is that the concept-driven room will probably have far more longevity and be a hell of a lot cooler in the long term, but that’s where the “patience” bit comes into play, and unfortunately the world has become a little too “instant gratification” for my liking.
Tell me about future programming at Hanky Panky and where the name came from.
The evenings will always begin with a live band that will come on at 10:30pm and make way for the DJ around midnight. As I said earlier, we have a soul DJ spinning on Thursdays, so the band will be jazz or soul or maybe even reggae. DJs coming up soon will be people like Christopher Sealy, Bridgette Marie, Tommy D, John Luongo, and hopefully I’ll get some of my English-European mates here as well. And of course, not forgetting your good self, Steve.
When I did the first walk-through – walking up the marble staircase, past the distressed walls – I felt like I was being lead to a naughty secret hideaway. And then I saw this red neon light that was propped up in the corner that said “hanky panky,” and from then on, I immediately named it The Hanky Panky Club. If you read the dictionary definition of the phrase, you will know it’s a perfect fit.
What would you want people to leave HP feeling and thinking?
That they had fun, that they had good old-fashioned fun. That they were served well, and listened to great music amongst good people. There’s not enough of all of that anymore, and I, along with the Hanky Panky crew, intend to change that.