The Anchor’s Gunther Bilali Skirmishes Over BlackBeard’s Anchor


Blimey! The Anchor, a go-to spot on the West Spring Street strip, is taking itself seriously … I think. Anchor buckos Gunther Bilali and Jason LaGarenne are obsessed with obtaining an anchor off Blackbeard the Pirate’s sunken vessel, Queen Anne’s Revenge. They’re willing to put their treasure chest where their mouth is and spend a million bucks to obtain it. Blackbeard, a notorious scalawag and Scourge of the Seven Seas, has been the subject of many books and films. After a couple of Yo-Ho-Ho’s he grounded Queen Anne’s Revenge off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. It was found, yep, down in Davy Jones’ Locker, in 1996, and 16,000-plus artifacts have been recovered from it, including the small anchor. This anchor was retrieved by a group of students last year. A larger one remains and has the Anchor Bar salivating for it. “We were all disappointed they couldn’t retrieve the bigger anchor, then we saw an opportunity for an incredible showpiece for the bar,” commented The Anchor Bar’s co-owner Jason LaGerenne. “We’re going to have to jump through some hoops, but I think our patrons will think it’s cool to Instagram.” Unless North Carolina has them walking the plank.
The State of North Carolina got wind of Anchor Bar’s attempt and said ahoy and then no way, we’re gonna blow these men down … maybe. The anchor in question is massive, at 13 feet by 8 feet. Anchor Bar wants it. A letter from the Attorney General of North Carolina, acting as any good landlubber would, laid down the law for our hearties, but before anyone could say Shiver me Timbers, Arghhh! or even Aye! a parlay, a possible compromise dependent on a "charitable contribution," was suggested. Maybe Anchor Bar and the State of North Carolina could be mateys! Will the good fellows of Anchor Bar heed this warning or, in the spirit of Blackbeard the Pirate, plunder the damn thing? I think Blackbeard would want it that way but alas, dead men tell no tales. I asked Anchor Bar owner Gunther Bilali to give us the scoop.
Blackbeard’s anchor … Who came up with this idea and how did they get anyone to take it seriously?
The prospect of acquiring the Blackbeard anchor was really the brainchild of my partner Jason LaGarenne, who’s a boat fanatic. Every time he comes back from the Hamptons he tells me we need a "real Anchor… a serious anchor." So when we started reading about the recovery of Queen Anne’s Revenge, we were fixated. 
Do you feel threatened that you got a letter from the State of North Carolina?
We actually thought it was funny that the Attorney General took the effort to send a formal cease and desist letter! However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of their letter, they basically say that they are open to a charitable donation to support an excavation. We are going to re-approach and see if they’d consider loaning us one of the anchors as a consideration. We understand we can’t permanently hold it now, but I think there’s a gray area on a loaner.
The Anchor is … well, along with Ear Inn, the anchor of the neighborhood that once had Don Hill’s. I guess Sway is still there but different than in the Nur days. Has Anchor Bar changed with West Spring Street or is reliability in the brand a driving factor?
West SoHo is a funny area. Yeah, you’ve had venues like Don Hill’s come and go. I think there’s a mystique to the area that has the right combination of excitement and seediness. A certain kind of reveler likes the hideaway feel of this stretch.
This anchor thing will cost a million bucks. Is it worth a million bucks in publicity? At this point you’re getting that publicity without the outlay of loot. Are you that smart?
Plenty of venues spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on artwork, paint jobs, banquettes, and bars that age poorly within a year. You know this, Steve. I genuinely believe the Blackbeard anchor would be a priceless acquisition. 
What else do you giuys have going on? If you say Captain Kidd’s anchor I’m outta here!
We’re starting off a cool event series with Travis Bass and the crew at Kanon (vodka) which should be pretty sick. We’re also going to launching a nautical drink program involving old-timey coolers and house-made mixers. We will also have lobster rolls on premise through the summer through a Luke’s Lobster pop-up we’re launching this month. 
On a related note, on Tuesday June 12, Sailor Jerry Rum will celebrate Sailor Jerry Day, commemorating the day renowned tattoo visionary Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins passed. He’ be 101 years old. There will be 101 free anchor tattoos done right at 3 Kings Tattoos and a party at Matchless right across the road. Almost all the people I know in Williamsburg are sporting some Sailor Jerry flash, including me. It’s almost a rule or requirement to live here. I’ll be there.

Howling Into the Night

Summer ran howling into the breezy cool air as me and mine took our nightly stroll with fabulous friends to 16 Handles ice cream. After tasting each other’s original tart with coconut covered lychees and coffee with crushed Heath Bar, we settled onto a St. Marks Church park bench and decided whether we’re hanging in BK or Manhattan. During our heated debate, we ran into my favorite misnomers, DJ Miss Guy Furrow and DJ Michael Lily of the Valley Cavadias. They told me about their gigs. Guy is still killing it Thursdays at the Hudson Hotel, and has ongoing gigs at the Ace. Michael (Lily) is also DJing at the Ace on the 2nd and 3rd Saturday of each month, and is at Anchor Bar every Thursday, as well as the Metropolitan in Brooklyn on the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month. Lily, a performer/DJ/movie star, will also be spinning for the opening of the Cyber/Fetish/Gender-Hacking Party at Santos Party House. He’s also booked for Click and Drag co-founder Rob Roth’s exhibition Back To The Future at the Wild Project on October 13th. That’s located at 195 east 3rd street. He will be DJing at the upcoming Bowie Ball on the 10th of October with Lady Rizo.

This week, Lily will sing at the Howl Festival as part of the production of the Tweed Music Series: Carnaby Street the Sensational Swinging Sixties. I asked Lily why the Howl Festival was so Important, and he replied, “It’s an attempt to bring the East Village back to it’s hey-day, to bring back the creativity which was the reason we all moved here in the first place.” The Howl Festival is upon us, and is a viable solution to nightlife doldrums. The festival will give a much-needed September revenue stream to participating venues, which includes the Bowery Poetry Club, Ella Lounge, Bowery Electric, Gallery Bar, The Poetry Project at St Mark’s Church, and many others.

The Howl Festival was inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem, “Howl.” Since 2003, it has celebrated the vibrancy of East Village artistic culture. From their website:

“For more than a century, the East Village has been home to poets, jazz musicians, Vaudeville and Yiddish theatre, artists represented by blue chip galleries, and those painting in the subways, rock stars, and performance artists. Building on this tradition and inspired by long time East Village resident Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem, HOWL! Festival was founded in 2003. The mission of HOWL! Festival is to honor, develop, create, and produce. With an estimated 100,000 visitors last year, the many performances celebrate local cultural icons, and lionize, preserve, and advance the art, history, culture, and counterculture unique to the East Village and Lower East Side.”

I will also be attending Thursday night’s Howl event for Facebook friend and fellow Stuyvesant High School graduate Richard Lloyd. Yes, that Richard Lloyd, who’s band Television shape-shifted the whole CBGB scene. The bill, which includes Richard Lloyd, Band of Outsiders, and the Deans of Discipline, is a can’t-miss fun for all. There are also Howl Charities attached to the events, which run through next Wednesday. Check out their website for a complete listing.

Industry Insiders: Jason LaGarenne, Anchors Aweigh

Jason LaGarenne, General Manager of The Anchor, is setting sail for unknown territory this fall and opening a bar/restaurant/nightclub with Gunther Bilali (pictured Right), an investor in The Anchor. Although details are slim at this point, the future partners agreed to give BlackBook a sneak peak and a few hints about the new joint. After three and a half years at the West Soho establishment, where business is still booming, LaGarenne decided to split his nightlife know-how (having previously worked at Hamptons hot spots Star Room and Conscience Point) between his old haunt and a new gig. More after the jump.

Backstory: I’m originally from Brooklyn. I went to high school out in the Hamptons, where I met a lot of people involved with nightlife and that’s how I got started working in the clubs out there. I was at Conscience Point when Lizzie Grubman drove the car through the crowd. That was my first summer there, maybe the third day I was working.

On the new joint: We’re keeping the location quiet right now. We just started the construction phase. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I can tell you that it’s going to feature three distinct spaces under one roof, and we’re not going to go down the familiar route of bottle service. We’re putting together a nightlife all-star team. Now, everyone’s coming to Soho, so we’re going below Canal Street. We’re trying to stay away from everyone else. It’s a few blocks below Canal in TriBeCa. It’s a space we’ve had our eyes on for a while. We’re shooting to open during fashion week in the fall

On filling the void: We feel like there’s a lack of creativity in nightlife. It’s just like one club is copying the next club. All of the clubs that opened in the past couple of years say they’re going to do something different than bottle service as soon as they open they do the same old route, the same bottle hustle. So we want to try to do something more creative.

On bottle service alternatives: Someone is always going to want to buy a bottle and you can always offer that. But when I say a bottle service venue what I mean is the places where getting in is dependent on how many bottles you buy. That kind of attracts a generic crowd. That’s why all the clubs are just homogenized. It’s the same people, you hear the same promoters involved, it’s the same kind of crowd. For a while, that happened with the finance crowd and created a really dull environment. If getting through the door is dependent on how much money you spend, that isolates a lot of people. The coolest people aren’t necessarily going to come in and spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a table.

On the reasonable doormen at The Anchor: Some people that work the door have a sense of humor about it. Our doormen are really funny. We’ve had a couple different characters out there and they’re just nice to people. You come up to the door, you’re going to a place to go out and have fun and dance and spend money. Do you want to be met by a complete asshole at the door? That kind of sets the tone. We don’t abuse people. The people that don’t get in are the people that have the attitude of doormen at other clubs, if that makes sense.

On the ‘celebrity hangout’ aspect: When there are celebrities in there, they just mix with everyone. They’re at the bar drinking. We don’t hide them in a corner or show them off. When Kanye West came in, he left his security guards in the car and just walked in and was hanging out at the bar. Kirsten Dunst comes up and just orders drinks at the bar and buys drinks. They’re not off in a corner with a bottle and security guards. Generally, people have responded very well to it. We don’t have people snapping camera phone pictures and going up to them. They’re just part of the crowd

On being star struck: I don’t really get star struck. I’m more impressed with people that have actual talent. Like when DJ AM was DJing, that was amazing. I was excited by Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.

Drink of choice: My favorite drink is just a straight, all-natural margarita. A version of it with Partida Reposado, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice.

Go-to places? I use to hit up all the clubs but I’m pretty tired of it. Lately, I’ve been going to Painkiller. I go to Locanda Verde and for old school Italian, definitely FIlli Ponte Restaurant in TriBeCa.

Areas he’s over: Any of the meatpacking places. I just avoid that whole area. There’s a large influx of douche bags that go there now.

W2W2: What to Wear to Santos’ Party House, as Victim of Circumstance Girl

The Spot: Santos’ Party House (Chinatown) – Big, sweaty, hot bi-level boite with sick sound and killer acts for dancing downtown darlings.

Patron Saint of Style: The Victim of Circumstance girl, the most amazing imaginary girl I’ve ever met, thought up by the creative mavericks behind the Victim of Circumstance line, a division of the contemporary knitwear company Qi Cashmere. Their VOC girl is a made-for-press-releases dream girl, a fake muse who happens to be a freelance fashion photographer living in SoHo and partying at Santo’s, mainly because her hip-hop idol Q Tip from A Tribe Called Quest DJs there (she takes him with a side of Zeppelin and Hendrix). She is also a regular voyeur at The Spotted Pig, Botanica (where she trades stories with Sandy the bartender), the Anchor, and Sweet and Vicious.

Ambiance: Did we mention big and sweaty? Also a loose door good enough for downtown cream like Terry Richardson, Chloë Sevigny, Gavin Brown, and our imaginary VOC girl.

The Look: For Miss VOC, worldly, eclectic and ultra-mixed is her MO. The girl shops at Oak and Opening Ceremony, and she mixes her hip-hop/classic rock look with vintage from Tokio7 and LaGarconne. Light dresses with heavy studded boots, black and white geometric sweater dresses that call to mind Twiggy or Bridgette Bardot, or a unique fringe skirt she wears with a vintage tee tucked in, are perfect for the downtown-meets-musictown Santos’ advocate. A mix of textures and patterns appeals to this everywhere girl, the carefree way she throws on a printed one shoulder dress with heavy leather straps is the epitome of Miss VOC. Artsy details like a Rodarte notebook are important, but her camera is her best accessory.

W2W2: What to Wear to Santos' Party House

Get the Santos’ Party House Look: Clockwise from left: ● Shoes: Alexander Wang (available at Opening Ceremony) – $760 ● Shoes: Velvet Angels (available at Oak) – $358 ● Looks: Victim of Circumstance (available in Spring 2010) ● Notebook: Rodarte, Opening Ceremony – $18

New York: Top 10 Places Where Dudes Will Buy You Drinks

Last week we commissioned our intern and woman-about-town Sarah to give us her list of the ten places in New York where guys are usually willing to dole out for her drinks. Granted, she’s about 5’10” and blonde — that’s her with a charming young escort above — but still, anything’s possible. Take it away, Sarah.

1.The Box (Lower East Side) – You don’t go here unless you want to get really fucked up. Because of this, there are many patrons surrounding the bar who are ready and willing to include you in their party because they are most likely already fucked up. Just flash a smile (maybe even a boob), and you’ll be getting free drinks in no time. If you find yourself in a stalker situation, you can always run and hide at the upstairs bar.

2. Tenjune (Meatpacking District) – This is one of the only clubs of its kind that doesn’t make me want to puke directly after walking through the red ropes. It’s small inside, so you’ll be able to get close to other drinkers at the bar, and you’ll probably meet someone with a table who will provide all the necessities for the rest of the night. 3. G Spa (Meatpacking District) – The rooftop at the Gansevoort is pretty nice when it’s warm out and the clientele is not as bad as it could be on nights other than Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. However, this is where you could find a hip businessman or an old playboy sipping on cocktails, just waiting for you to come over and say hello. There are always cabs waiting outside, so if you’re in need of a quick getaway, safety is just a hop, skip, and a wave away. 4. Soho House (Meatpacking District) – If you’re so lucky to know someone with their own membership, press “the club” button in the elevator. Here you’ll find plenty of nicely dressed men and women looking to canoodle and schmooze with each other about augmenting their fortunes by combining their efforts. Go into the pool table room where you can actually smoke inside and play a game. I’m sure your partners will ask to buy you a drink, and if not, perhaps you’re good enough to hustle a drink or two (at pool). 5. Pop Burger (Meatpacking District) – Bridge and tunnel aside, this place is great for taking shots and eating burgers. If you know someone who has worked here, tell them to take you out because the Pop Burger Posse never forgets — i.e. they get free drinks all night. The Pop promoter, Doug, will also definitely buy you drinks if you pay attention to him and neglect to mention how dumb he looks in his pink scarf. 6. The Anchor (Soho) – Great for cheap drinks, cute dudes, and a big space to dance like your hair is on fire. Even if you don’t get free drinks, you’ll have a fun time, and you’ll probably make out with someone. 7. Café Noir (Soho) – This place holds so many memories for me, I had to put it on the list. You’ll have people buying you drinks, I guarantee it. 8. Happy Ending (Lower East Side) – This one-time erotic massage spa turned hipster dive bar is a great way to start the night out right. I’m not really guaranteeing someone will buy you a drink, but it is open-bar Tuesdays from 11 to midnight. 9. Angels & Kings (East Village) – This place has an open bar basically every night, and if it doesn’t, it’s selling vodka drinks for $2. 10. Ulysses (Financial District) – For those of you craving some banker attention. Maybe go out after work for happy hour and take some of the stimulus money back by making suits buy bevs for you and your crew.

See also: Top 10 Places to Maintain an Eating Disorder.

Industry Insiders: John Whitledge, Trovata’s Fashionable Prankster

Trovata’s John Whitledge on pulling off the best Fashion Week prank of the decade.

What has been your most memorable season so far? I think the most memorable Fashion Week was Fall 2007 with the faux Eastern European socialite couple. We weren’t planning on doing anything during Fashion Week, but since my partners had just left the company, we were really encouraged to participate in the week in some way. I literally came up with the idea two weeks before the show, so it was pretty amazing that we put it all together so quickly.

We didn’t have the actors selected until Thursday night (we started on Friday) and they were in LA. They flew into New York City on Friday night, came straight to our showroom, and then they were out and about cruising around town one hour later in a white 1954 Rolls Royce, a bodyguard (our graphic designer), a cat handler, a publicist, and of course their feline friend. It was all a bit outrageous. Each day the plan changed based on how it went the day before, so the lack of a fixed schedule delivered a consistent adrenaline rush. The other memorable Fashion Week was Spring 2008, when we got the chance to collaborate with Perry Farrell. I hope that when I’m his age I still have the same passion that he has.

The 2007 Fashion Week scheme was unique. Can we expect any similar creative antics in the future? I hope so. That was such an unexpected and magical week. There were so many variables that had to fall in line, and the fact we pulled it off for eight days was unimaginable. I think it will be pretty hard to top it, but I’m always trying to do something that is unique, unexpected, and memorable.

Has there ever been a disastrous moment backstage during a show? You always have a model that does something wrong, but in the grand scheme of things it’s all gone pretty smoothly. I think the biggest panic is when the models don’t show up on time, especially when everyone has already taken their seats.

What do you feel in the moment right before the show starts? Really nervous. I’m usually pretty laid back, but right before the show, I definitely get the butterflies.

What do you feel in the moment right as the show ends? Relieved, but at the same time a bit awkward. You really don’t how the show went until you get the reviews the next day, so for that night you are in this mental state of no man’s land. Elated, nervous, and confused.

Has the economy had a tremendous affect on the way you’re running your show and after-party this year? Yes, we were fortunate enough to share our space and production costs with a few other designers and were able to secure enough sponsorship from our generous sponsors to cover the costs of the show. Without this support, we wouldn’t have been able to take part in the week.

What do you have planned for the after-party? We are hosting it at The Anchor Bar. Just good music and free tequila!

You’ve won quite a few prestigious awards. Which one meant the most to the team and why? I think the CFDA Vogue Fashion Award stood out the most. By all means I felt that we were the outsiders to the industry, and therefore the underdogs, so I was pretty surprised that we ended up winning. It was very memorable. Lastly the chance to work with Reed Krakoff as our mentor for a year was invaluable and an amazing learning experience.

Who are your dreams celebrities to sit front row at a Trovata show? Barack Obama, Peter Beard, or Steve Jobs.

Are there any other shows that you’re looking forward to seeing this season? Rag & Bone, Hutson, Proenza, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. I think they are all amazing at what they do.

New York Fashion Week Fêtes & Predictions

imageNew York Fashion Week is just around the bend, launching February 13 and running through February 20. Despite cutbacks suffered on numerous fashion designers’ fronts, there’s plenty to look forward to. New York’s The Cut is doing its part, offering a roundup of the best parties slated to take place. My money for the most raucous is on Bblessing, Terence Koh, and Surface to Air’s fete at BEast this Friday night, Victor Glemaud and Camilla Staerk After-Party at Kowloon the same night, Trovata’s Ed Westwick-attended After-Show Soiree at Anchor next Tuesday, and, last but not least, model-turned-designer Erin Wasson for RCVA at Milk. After all, Wasson’s presentation/party last NYFW included both NYC firemen and free tacos.

As for overall fashion week predictions, is wagering there will be more models of color on the runway this time around (let’s hope so, as last NYFW was pathetic), a staggering number of house parties (Giorgio Armani is hosting one at his new 5th Avenue digs, while Jenni Kayne is staging her presentation at her parents’ place), and a slew of new jewelry collaborations — including Alexander Wang’s new line — which will perhaps take the place of the now defunct ‘It Bag’.