Plumm Space Up for Grabs

imageAs the economy recovers and money becomes available, places that were long ago shuttered or recently deceased prepare for rebirth. Restaurants lay around like old chairs and sofas covered with white sheets like in an old horror flick. The biggest prize in my eyes is Plumm, that ripe spot on 14th Street with a ton of tradition. Nell Campbell had her infamous joint Nell’s there back in the day. It became famous for charging everybody — and I mean everybody — door admission. Cher refused, got turned away, and the little gimmick turned the place into a hit overnight. In later years, I would go and listen to jazz bands and eat good food before the mayhem of the dance halls. Noel Ashman took the joint over and called it NA. Some said it meant “Nell’s Again,” but most thought it was a tribute to his own dapper self. Noel eventually closed NA and transformed it into Plumm, with a gaggle of celebrity investors including Chris Noth, Damon Dash, Samantha Ronson, etc. Plumm proved to be a bitter fruit, never really catching on with a crowd that spent enough money to pay the rent.

Now the space is suddenly available, and investment entities are playing a game of musical chairs trying to snare it. The rub — or is it rubb? — is the rent. Noel was in at around $28,000, and the landlord was looking for $43,000. I hear now it’s at $38,000. That’s a high number in these times, and most of the smart guys have left it on the table. Still, there are a few groups looking. These operators, who I will name in the next few weeks, feel that they still have the bottle chops to make loot. The location on 14th Street just east of 8th Avenue has gotten a lot better, as the shift from West Chelsea and its 27th Street strip to the Meatpacking and the surrounding area has really stepped up. Still, Plumm or whatever it becomes is a real long block away from that action, making it too far to walk (especially in heels), but also uncomfortably close for a taxi ride. With a full kitchen, high ceilings, and cabaret downstairs, this place will be something soon. With its proximity to subways, a downtown location, and two floors, it’s ideal for servicing corporate parties if indeed the upturn brings them back. Noel told me that he still has the liquor license, and that should mean someone will need to deal with him, as a transfer from one group to another is easier than a new one.

The Tasting Room on Elizabeth Street folded rather quickly on the bones of quite a few other joints at the start of the recession. It’s easy to blame the economy, but eateries all around it have thrived throughout (although Rialto also failed and is now redecorated and renamed Elizabeth across the street). Still, it’s a half-hour wait at Habana and Gitane, and Le Colonial is always crowded. The blame for failure at Rialto and Tasting Room can be firmly placed on both places’ inability to embrace and cater to the hood. Now Jo’s opens, and the first thing out of management’s mouths is how they are going to be a neighborhood place.

I spoke with Jo’s owner Jim Chu. “I think the best way to describe what we’re doing here is to make something that is casual but professional, stylish, and laid back. Along with the rise of culinary culture in the U.S., there has been a really ugly sense that there is a limited number of people that get to hold the keys to what makes it and what doesn’t, or that you need to have three forks to make it a real meal, or that drinks need to be $14 to be good. Bullshit. It doesn’t matter how exclusive your plate of foodie-branded supper is, if it’s $49 and you can’t afford to eat it. We don’t subscribe to that, and we made a place we really love.”

Jim is joined by actor Johnny Santiago from Torch and Kevin Felker, who has had various roles from bartender to manager at such places as Pastis, Schiller’s, W Union Square, Tribeca and Soho Grand hotels, and Barmarche. He even spent time at Aureole making pastry because he “didn’t want to spend the money on cooking school.” With an eye on their bottom line and a recognition of the still-shallow pockets of their patrons, I think Jo’s is a model for success. The scene is rising from the carnage of the nuclear winter. My design firm is getting tons of inquiries from operators in similar situations, the banks are eking out money and groups ready and able but who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for credit to become un-crunched, and everybody’s looking to fix up defunct spaces and bring new life and jobs back to the hoods.

Havana Fest Needs Your Space, Rangers Flooded

The Havana Film Festival, celebrating its 10th year, has run into a big problem. It isn’t censorship, the State Department, a Castro, or even overzealous Cuban nationals — it ran into Plumm. Actually, the idea was to run into Plumm and have a great closing-night party there this Thursday. My readers know that Plumm was padlocked by a not-overzealous landlord who not so shockingly wanted to actually collect rent from his tenant Noel Ashman. The Plumm situation will sort itself out in a few weeks with either a new tenant or Noel somehow returning. But meanwhile, my old pal Ed Steinberg of Rockamedia fame needs a new venue to host his closing night soiree.

This uber-hip event — which had screenings at the Quad Cinema, New York Directors Guild Theatre, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, the Ida K. Lang Theater at Hunter College, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — needs a club to step up and save the day. It will be approximately 175 intelligent and cultured adults this Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. You’ll have guaranteed coverage here and a great early crowd. (My favorite film description is for La Edad de Oro or “The Golden Age,” which documents a soccer league from Corona, Queens (my old hood), made up of former world champion soccer players who are now middle-aged men.) If you can help, contact Ed at www.rockamedia.com.

Anyway, I picked up my friend Donna at the employees’ entrance of Madison Square Garden after the Rangers game last night. I wanted to hang with fans in blue jerseys as they celebrated a predicted home victory that would put them 3 up in their playoff series against the heavily favored Washington Capitals. I don’t follow hockey, and indeed I haven’t seen a game in over 20 years — although I once went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out — I know, sorry. I made the 23-block trek from a meeting at Matt Isaacs’ office through a cold driving rain that reminded me of that scene from Moby Dick when mad Ahab is taking them around Cape Horn, and he looked up to see the miracle of Saint Elmo’s fire, just as I looked up to see the digital news scroll telling me that it was Capitals 4, Rangers 0.

I knew there would be no joy in Mudville as I trudged through the New York City sludge, and I was met with sad faces as I folded my sad umbrella and entered the Garden. I joked “we will need an ark” to get to the bar across the street, The Local. I then noticed the distinctive smell of large animal poo, and I was told that the circus had recently left, but the smell still lingered. We dashed to The Local, which is the place to hang after a game — but not on this night. The glorious roof deck was a lake, and the sad fans dressed in true blue were trying to keep a stiff upper lip as they chugged Jameson and other tried-and-true remedies. I had a Heineken to fit in. The waitstaff — world champions on any other night — offered a smile as they served my beer. They obviously never worked in a club.

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Plumm Out of Options?

imageYesterday, DBTH reported that the Plumm, Noel Ashman’s celebrity-powered nightspot, had been closed. Sometimes being a nightlife writer puts me in conflict with my other career of club/restaurant designer. Noel had me and my partner Mark Dizon lined up to give the downstairs a quick new look. I knew there were problems, as Noel just couldn’t pull the trigger on the redux. I could not report what I knew because Noel was a client. DBTH broke the story, and after reading Scott’s post, I felt I had one less reason to be cheerful. Plumm was shuttered, and I was out a design fee. I called Noel last night to hear his side of things: “Plumm had a four-and-a-half year run, which in the end ran into a real tough economy.” He went on to say that the club had been “plagued by lingering debt from NA,” the previous club in the space, which Noel also owned. I could never put a finger what NA stood for, and Noel still won’t tell. Most thought it was simply “Noel Ashman” or “Nell’s Again” (from another way-more-accepted joint that lived there). Some quipped it meant “Not Again,” and I’m sure my more snarky readers can go even farther.

Noel asserted that he and his celebrity partners — which include Chris Noth, Samantha Ronson, and Damon Dash — are “not out of options. We are weighing different scenarios and may indeed be back in.” I asked him if, for now, he is out, and he told me, “Yes, but the situation is complicated … The landlord is basically a scumbag, and that because of litigation” he couldn’t elaborate. Other options he and his celebrity friends are mulling over include “the opening of a completely new spot.” All the cards have indeed not been played. Noel is still on the liquor license, and anyone who wants to take over the space must consider going through him as a path of least resistance. Although the community board will surely have their say in this process, it is much easier to transfer than to obtain a new license.

My designer hat has already been approached by people in direct contact with the landlord, and it seems he wants a restaurant as a tenant. Again, here I am in conflict to speak to a very fluid situation, but the restaurant seems a good idea. Unfortunately, the asked-for rent is way too high for an eatery. A quick look around the hood sees the space next door, which has had so many bad clubs in it. The last name in the that space that caught my big ears was Dirty Disco, and that like all other entries failed or flew under my radar. Manor, a half-block away, also was way less than a smash. I remembered that there were other tenants involved in the Plumm; Noel rents the upper floors of the building to a kindergarten. I asked him if their lease was in jeopardy, and he said “Yes, I would think so … the landlord is a terrible person to deal with.” This story is far from over.

Plumm Outta Room

imageOpenings and closings. Re-inventings and re-hashings. Clubdom is reeling like a Detroit car company. Now Plumm, Noel Ashman’s three-year-old celeb boite, is expanding to accommodate its celebrity crowd — they need a bigger place but don’t want to go anywhere. I caught up with Noel in the unused Plumm basement lounge while Saturday night raged up above. I was rather surprised as I was being whisked to Noel’s table — not only was the place packed, but the crowd was hot. Not “three years ago hot,” but better than the other places I was hitting that night. A steady stream of hip hop treats led me to Noel’s table, only to realize that he wasn’t there. I glanced up to see who was playing, and there he was: DJ Ashman. Noel offered two more tunes, and we headed downstairs to see what could be done.

When the joint was Nell’s, I was a regular at the downstairs bar. It hasn’t changed significantly, but I was there to talk about change. We were joined by the dapper Tim Spuches and entrepreneur Damon Dash (who has an interest in the joint). An hour of “we could put this here and that there” resulted in a plan. The entire time we were meeting, young ladies heading to the restroom politely asked if they could pose for a snapshot with Damon. He accommodated every request with a pose and a smile. Noel looked at him at one point and said, “I don’t know how you do it,” referring to the constant “heys” and poses. Damon is just great about it.

I’ve got the plan in order and am mulling over design ideas. Decorating will start as soon as the investment loot is put in place. That shouldn’t be as hard to do as last month. I’ve been approached by a couple of Wall Street types interested in putting money in places with reliable operators. A great joint can return investment at a much better rate than stocks and real estate, even during the Dow 1400 days. Now with stocks and condos becoming real risky business, loot is looking for creative places to land. A bonus is that girls who never glanced once at you might start glancing twice.