Industry Insiders: Josh Katz, Vibe Creator

Josh Katz is the co-owner and founder of EL Media Group, a premier custom music provider and audio/video installation company. Along with his partner Ernie Lake, Katz works with hospitality and nightlife venues worldwide customizing music programming to create a client-specific atmosphere and soundscape.The transition was close to seamless for Katz, a music business veteran, and EL Media Group is expanding rapidly—almost solely by word of mouth. More on the concept after the jump.

Background: I’ve worked with literally thousands of bands. I did sales and marketing for BMG; I worked at Jive Records and helped launch Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. I always had a passion for music from my childhood growing up in Roslyn, New York. I was seeing music non-stop. Then I went to college in Ithaca and I promoted shows there all the time.

First concert: It was Asia when I was 10 years old.

On the foundation of EL Media Group: I met my partner Ernie Lake about 13 years ago. When I was working at Jive Records, I was marketing Backstreet Boys and all that teen pop. Ernie was doing remixes at the label. About six or seven years later, we hooked up and started doing new compilation record CDs. At this point, we’ve done over 300 of them. We sell CDs in close to 50,000 hotel rooms: the Hard Rock Las Vegas, The St. Regis, Tao, Hotel Gansevoort and Thompson Hotels.

On the scope of their operations: The CDs are how we started, but that matriculated and came back into everything we did. The people we made CDs for came back to us and said, “How do we get this music to play in our lobby or our restaurant or our rooftop?” A light bulb went on and we started doing programming. I went out and started finding the best DJs everywhere and getting them to work on programming for us. Through word of mouth, it just took off. We defined the company at the same time that the whole meatpacking district was coming about and we started doing music for everyone there. We reached a point in ’06, ’07 when we were turning away business. We were just so busy. One of the biggest things is that I’ve spent a significant amount of time on is scouring the city and Miami and Vegas finding the best DJs—recruiting them to work for us and setting up music for various hotels and restaurants. That lead to the next progression, which was putting in sound systems. The people we were doing music for would call us and say, “Oh listen. My speakers aren’t working or this or that.” Before we knew it, we were outsourcing all of that. It became so much outsourcing that we went and bought an AV company. That’s where we are today. We do a background music service. Some of the biggest clothing chains have called and said, “You know what you’re doing for them? We want it.” They realize the importance of it.

On replacing DJs: [This concept] replaces a DJ. In the past, it’s been Muzak or just shitty music in the background. We’ve been the pioneers of putting great music into retail stores, restaurants, and hotel lobbies and making music a part of the overall experience where its not just background anymore. We call it music styling because it’s part of the overall venue. We try to stay involved in the whole design aspect.

On the process of creating the vibe: Right now, I’m working with a casino in Vegas and it’s all about the overall concept of the venue. When you walk in the door, what are you going to feel? What’s the feeling you want? It comes down to your senses. What’s it going to look like? What’s it going to smell like? What’s it going to sound like? That’s a big part of it. We try to get in on the early stages of the people putting the design together and we try to understand the overall brand and what they’re trying to achieve. Then, we create music playlists to create a mood. We do the music on a streaming system, and it’s different for breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, depending on the needs of that venue. Then, the CDs we create incorporate the music from the lobby and extend it into the room so guests can take it home.

Recent projects: We’re working with Five Napkin Burger, doing a place in Long Island City for them. And Food Park at the new Eventi Hotel. We just did Prime Co. on the Upper West Side, the new Gansevoort on Park Avenue and STK Midtown.

Go-to places: I’ve been really into Provocateur. I always love Nobu 57. I just love the whole vibe and the food in there. I enjoy Avenue. I definitely like Bagatelle. I really like Philippe and The Palm in the Hamptons.

Where Celebs Go Out: Stanley Tucci, Tom Colicchio, Alessandro Nivola

Stanley Tucci at The Luxury Collection Destination Guide Launch with Assouline: I like to go to a lot of different places, but certainly Mario Batali’s restaurants. The beef cheek ravioli at Babbo is so delicious and so incredible. Just about anything he cooks is okay with me. I always stay at the St. Regis, here in New York. ● Rosie Perez: I love Gino’s in Bay Ridge. The arroz con gandule at Luz in Brooklyn is a favorite, and the roasted chicken is the best deal in town. Here in the city, Dok Suni’s for Korean barbeque, at First Avenue and 7th Street.

Alessandro Nivola: Sunny’s, a bar in Red Hook, which has bluegrass bands on some nights. It’s where they filmed On the Waterfront. And a restaurant called The Good Fork in the same neighborhood. The Red Hook Bait and Tackle is a bar that’s seedier than Sunny’s. In Boerum Hill, there’s a great place called Mile End, a hip, Jewish deli. They smoke their own meats and have this incredible beef brisket. ● Estelle: Avenue and SL, I love ’em both. ● Krysten Ritter: I love Brooklyn Bowl. Kenmare is a fun place to go. Aurora in Williamsburg on Grand Street has a wonderful, little beet salad with hazelnuts. ● Timo Weiland: I love to go to Norwood and Gramercy Park Hotel. Sugarland in Brooklyn, so much fun. It’s off-the-beaten path, but a wild dance party. ● Daniel Boulud at the James Beard Awards: Right now, DBGB these days, because it’s one that keeps me the most busy. I like Marea, Le Bernardin, Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. ● Tom Colicchio: I live in the West Village, so I, often, go to Barbuto or Spotted Pig, ’cause they’re in walking distance. The food’s all good. I try different things all the time, so I don’t go back and try the same thing over and over. ● Wylie Dufresne: We like to go to PDT for a cocktail late at night or some tater tots. 15 East is a favorite. We just came from the new Terroir in Tribeca that was great. DBGB just opened up in our neighborhood. The hundred-layer lasagne at Del Posto was pretty special. ● David Burke: Corton was great. From the Garden is a favorite dish there. ● Michael Oher at Big Brothers Big Sisters Sidewalks of New York gala: I live in Baltimore. I love seafood, so anything on the Inner Harbor. The Cheesecake Factory is there. At PF Changs, I get the shrimp-and-chicken fried rice. ● Sebastian Copeland at Pepcom for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Into the Cold: My favorite sushi is in the Valley at Nozawa, which is a place that Spielberg goes to and tried to have Mr. Nozawa open a restaurant in New York. He serves you the food, so you can’t ask for what you want. He kicked out Cherlize Theron one time. He’s known as the “Sushi Nazi.” ● Miranda Cosgrove at Sony Music luncheon celebrating the release of her debut album, Sparks Fly: I go to Mozza in L.A. It’s like a pizza place. They have squash blossoms and really, good margherita pizza. Hungry Cat, on Sunset, has the best dessert. It’s like a chocolate souflee. ● Phil Ramone at opening night of Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway: Bravo Gianni’s on the east side. Sardi’s because I want to feel the history, and they have a good wine list.

Prince Harry Does Polo

On Saturday, I had a lesson in culture and geography. Do you know all the islands which surround Manhattan? There’s Ellis Island, Staten Island, the mysterious Roosevelt Island (ever met anyone who lives there?); there’s also Wards Island (doesn’t sound tourist-friendly), and to the south of the city, Governor’s Island, just an Olympic stone’s throw from Battery Park. You get great views of the city, and every year, Governor’s turns into a little bit of Bridgehampton. Britain’s Prince Harry was on the island on Saturday to play polo against Nacho Figueras for charity’s sake. Since the officially released guest list only includes some of the attendees, as guests started arriving, rumors were already swirling (don’t they always?) about who would be coming. Is Madonna here? She’s not on the guest list. Someone spotted her with her son, I think.

Being a member of the press is the same as being a private dick. You wait around a lot, and you do a lot of gawking at strangers. Guest arrivals were spread over an excruciatingly long three hours. People had to be driven to the grounds in trolleys after landing at the island by ferry, likely making transport logistics quite a nightmare for the event’s staff. Among the guests I noticed Kate Hudson, a smiling LL Cool J in an earth-colored three-button suit and hat, and Donna Karan and her daughter sporting matching tans. When asked where her solar hat was (de rigueur among polo match guests) Donna Karan was taken aback a little by the question and said “I made a boo-boo.”

Maybe the real star of the day was New York City herself, the Manhattan skyline in the distance providing a glorious backdrop for the event. There hadn’t been a game here in 70 years, except for last year’s inaugural game. No wonder I couldn’t remember the last time a polo game was held here — can you? By the way, people in my inner circle have been asserting that Governor’s Island doesn’t count as New York City, but I disagree — different discussion, perhaps.

Veuve Clicquot did a fine job of organizing the guests under large tents and provided all amenities. One thing I noticed, however, was that the media entrance was not even carpeted (for next time, organizers, add black flooring to your to-do list; it will go great with the Clicquot orange). Guests paid $500 for admission (this is a charitable cause, remember) and were treated to lunch, champagne, and afternoon tea by the St. Regis. The public could watch from across the grounds and help themselves to cash counters located nearby. The weather could not have been better for this occasion. Large, downy clouds anchored a silvery-blue sky closely above, and there was even a slight breeze.

This was meant to be an exhibition game for Britain’s Prince Harry’s charity. I suppose running foundations and visiting schools are some of the things a member of the royal family has to do from time to time. Lingering on yachts and ducking shutterbugs has got to get so yesterday so quickly. Prince Harry visited a school in Harlem and made a stop by Ground Zero. The high-profile event was Saturday’s game, however, which was played for the benefit of the Sentebale Foundation, set up by Prince Harry to help Lesotho’s orphans.

I often learn something new and strange about people at these social events. The Sudanese model Alek Wek showed up on the island with her arm in a cast. Well, she should probably not be allowed into your kitchen, as it turns out. Apparently she was preparing dinner and there was an incident involving a large kitchen knife and some shallots (and possibly, a bottle of ultra-rare grappa, Alek?). Wek downplayed the whole thing, commenting that she looked forward to “everyone coming together and celebrating his cause.” Referring to Prince Harry, she said, “this young man giving back, it’s wonderful.”

As befits tradition, many of the guests did not come through the press entrance. But we did get to see Chloe Sevigny, Marc Jacobs and his Brazilian boyfriend (the two kept rehearsing for the best on-screen kiss award, but in front of the cameras), and polo champion Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, looking godly and bronzed. About playing Governor’s Island, he commented that, “the Manhattan skyline is the perfect backdrop for a polo match.”

For those of us living in caves, Nacho Figueras is from Argentina and is also the captain of Team Black Watch, who played against HRH Harry’s Sentebale team that day. Oh, and he is also the face of Ralph Lauren’s Black Label collection, thanks to Bruce Weber playing matchmaker for the Page 6 hottie and the couturier. Although this was an exhibition match (Governor Island’s polo grounds are smaller than regulation size, and the match lasted less than an officially sanctioned game), Figueras was intent on defending his prize won at last year’s tournament. This year, in deference to his blue-blooded opponent, Figueras graciously conceded the trophy to Team Sentebale. Since this was billed as a state visit, the British press corps was here en masse, all wearing diplomatic press badges and jockeying for position to snap the money shot. The game itself started right on schedule, in fact, just minutes before 3pm; it lasted just over an hour, and a trophy was awarded in a ceremony held afterward on the grounds.

Photo: Sacha Berkman

Jay Mohr Takes Our Pop Quiz

imageComedian Jay Mohr has been all over our screens, from his impressions of Christopher Walken and Sean Penn on Saturday Night Live to playing Tom Cruise’s nemesis in Jerry Maguire. His current gig is a starring role in the CBS sitcom Gary Unmarried, where he plays a wisecracking single father navigating his way through the dating scene, post-divorce. Mohr is also doing stand-up, and swings through New York this weekend for some dates at the Gotham Comedy Club. But first he tells us about his love for chocolate-covered pretzels and meeting the Champ in our blissfully unattached (but always looking!) Pop Quiz.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up? Believe it or not, in elementary school I wanted to be an actor. In the back of my mind I always thought bartender wouldn’t be bad in a pinch though.

Do you have any tattoos? Just one. I have a life-sized tattoo of myself covering my entire body.

Are you superstitious? I am not superstitious about any bad stuff. I love certain numbers and take them as good omens when they turn up. I also have numbers that correspond to my friends. I have a friend named Matt whose favorite number is 17. So whenever I see a 17, I think of him, stuff like that.

First album you bought? Love Gun by Kiss.

If you could have any super power, what would you choose? The power to heal. Or maybe the power to be able to change super powers.

What restaurant would you eat at every day if you could? Benihana. If I ate there every day, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting the smell out of my clothes and hair.

How many times a day on average do you think about sex? Just once. But then it’s go time.

Have you ever been arrested? Never.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Chocolate-covered pretzels.

Do you have a favorite bar in New York? Nope. I’ve been sober for quite a while. If you see me in a bar, I’m telling jokes.

Ever been star struck? Whenever I have met boxers, I have gotten pretty star struck. I met George Foreman when he hosted Saturday Night Live. I walked into the room to shake his hand and said, “Hi Champ.” It was the first time I have ever called someone “champ,” and they were!

When you get good news, who’s the first person you tell it to? My wife.

What do you always watch if it’s on TV? Baseball. Any two teams. I just freaking love baseball.

What do you normally sleep in? My bed.

Where’s the craziest place you’ve had sex? A mental hospital.

What’s on your computer wallpaper? I have actual wallpaper. It’s a pain in the ass to keep re-gluing it up after I scrape it off.

If you could be any literary character, who would you be? How pretentious is it to say Jay Gatsby?

Where do you really want to be right now? Right here! The St. Regis Hotelin New York.

What’s the first job you ever had? Dishwasher at the Verona Diner in New Jersey. I took it very seriously. That was the clean era of the Verona Diner.

Favorite Muppets/Sesame Street character? I love Grover. I like Mr. Hooper, but I love Grover. I had a notebook for school that had Grover on the cover in mountain-climbing gear. It was my junior year.

What’s the best advice you ever got? “Tell me who you’re with, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Industry Insiders: Rande Gerber, Lounge Wizard

Do a Google image search of Rande Gerber, and you’d be hard pressed to find a photo of him that doesn’t include his supermodel wife Cindy Crawford. Gerber is a tabloid fixture thanks to his famous wife and famous friends (think George, Brad, Matt), but guess what. He also owns bars. A lot of them. He’s the self-described creator of the lounge concept, his Whiskey brand a permanent guest in hotels all over the country. Here he talks about his start in the business, his Vegas hotel with George that almost was, and why being famous can’t hurt (that much).

Point of Origin: Well, it started in about 1990. I was actually working in commercial real estate in New York City. And I was representing Ian Schrager and the Paramount Hotel, and at the time he was interested in bringing whatever nightlife he could to the hotel. And he wasn’t happy with anyone in New York, and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. So it was kind of an opportunity to do something that I’d never really ever thought about. But I did entertain at my apartment in New York, and I thought “Hey, it’s a commercial space. I can design it the way I want.” And the deal was great for me — there was no rent for a couple of years. And Ian really wanted me to do something to bring in life to the hotel. And I created this lounge atmosphere, which at the time really didn’t exist. So I brought this lounge concept to the hotel. That was the Whiskey at Paramount. From there I opened a few more bars. I went to Los Angeles and opened a Whiskey there. And eventually, after about five or six places, I was approached by Barry Sternlicht, who at the time had this concept to open a W Hotel chain. And signed on to help him create the W’s and do all the bars in the W Hotels. So now we have the Whiskey Blue in the W Hotel in L.A.

So owning bars was never a long-term goal of yours? No it was never a goal of mine. I was always interested in architecture and design, and it was really an outlet for me to be able to create spaces for people to socialize. And like I said, whether it’s in my apartment in New York or my house in LA, I like to entertain, and I like to create a space where people can meet. Whether it’s meeting for the first time or offering them a place to go with their friends and just socialize, have some conversations, have a couple of great drinks, and listen to some good music and not have to clean up afterwards.

Give me a quick run through of the kinds of places you’re running now. We have a brand called Stone Rose Lounge, one of which is in the Time Warner Center. And that’s another really upscale, more sophisticated and elegant place — which is also similar to what we typically would do except it’s a bit more elegant, but still attracting a very high-profile clientele. And we have Whiskey Park which is in Trump Park on Central Park South. So we briefly started this Stone Rose concept in the Time Warner Center. And we brought one to Los Angeles, and we just opened one in Scottsdale, AZ.

Known Associates: I am partnered with Starwood Hotels, and I have a partnership with Hard Rock Hotels. That’s the Rank Group, so we have a partnership with them. We have Biloxi, and we have San Diego right now. And we’re talking about a few others. Who else? We’re partners with Sol Melia, and we have the Melia Hotel in Cancun, and we have a great place, the Melia Hotel in Madrid. We have a place on the top floor there, a patio area. And that’s called the Penthouse. And then downstairs we have a great restaurant and bar called the Midnight Rose. And we have a partnership with Sofitel, so we have the Stone Rose in New York at the Sofitel.

What about the casino and hotel you were planning on building in Vegas with Brad Pitt and George Clooney? I contacted them a while back to build a hotel and casino, and we had purchased a piece of land and come up with some ideas and some architectural drawings of what we wanted to see on the site. And within a year, we got an offer for our property that we couldn’t say no to. Our neighbors decided they needed more property and they made us an offer and we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey as much as we would love to build this concept, it would be a really bad business decision to turn down this kind of money. It was really just George and I. And then we had discussed with Brad to maybe do some architecture and design cause he’s very talented as far as design.

Do you have any places in Vegas right now? No, I had two places in Vegas which I sold about a year ago. I had a place called Cherry at Hard Rock and a place called the Whiskey at Green Valley Ranch. I was friends with the owners of the hotel and the company, and it was a public company which they were taking private. And I was their only partner over there, so they asked me if it would be all right if they made an offer to buy my places back, and they wanted to take everything in house. And I said, “Of course. We’re friends and partners.” So we worked out a deal, and I sold them back to them. And now we have new opportunities to go back. We’re exploring a few different opportunities. But I don’t do what most of those guys do — these mega, ultra clubs of 50,000 square feet. I keep mine a bit smaller and more intimate.

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Projections: We continue to build spaces. We opened Whiskey Park in Atlanta at the W Hotel. We’re doing a Whiskey Blue at the W in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve recently over the past year come out with a line of drink mixers called Midnight Bar Collection. We have margaritas and Bloody Marys and mojitos. It’s an all-natural drink mixer line, which is doing fantastic. A lot of the high-end retailers have picked it up. There’s Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel, and Crate and Barrel, and places like that, and it’s doing really well.

How did the drink mixers start up? What would happen was every time I would go to a party, a private party or a friend’s house, they would ask me to mix up some margaritas or put together the Bloody Marys for them. So I would go to my bartenders, and we created recipes within Gerber Group. We have our own recipes for all of our drinks, and if we can, we have all of our bars create the same drinks so it’s consistent throughout the 35 places that we have. So if I’m in LA, I’ll go to one of my places and I’ll pick up a couple of gallons of each that they mix up for us, and I bring them to the parties. And after numerous requests to just bottle them and start selling them, I did, and it really took off fast. I was fortunate I was invited on the Oprah Winfrey show because she really likes the mixers, and I got to talk about it there.

Do you have any innovations you’re working on? I have a few other concepts that we’re very close to.

Well tell everyone so they can copy them. You know, when I started the lounge concept 17 years ago, it didn’t exist, and now everyone’s opening up a lounge. I’m definitely flattered that other people appreciated what I did and are trying to do the same thing. So even when I do come out, I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing. But I definitely have a different direction that I’m going with some of my newer places and different concepts. And I’m sure that when I do them, other people will do the same.

Industry Icons: I respect people like Barry Sternlicht, who everyone said couldn’t compete in the boutique hotel industry because he’s coming from such a corporate giant as Starwood Hotels and who just said, “Yeah, watch me.” And he did it, and he took over. He literally built this brand, this W brand. At the time he had the St. Regis and Sheraton and some other mammoths. But he started the W Hotel, and that’s taken off. It’s the biggest in that industry. I think Andre Balazs has done an incredible job. I mean wherever he goes, he’s got the golden touch. And he does it in a more subtle way, but I really appreciate his aesthetic and the way he operates his company and his hotels.

Industry Rivals: It is a very competitive industry, but for me, I’ve been in it for over 15 years. I’ve had 35 places and another 5 under construction. So I don’t feel the competition, and I don’t see it. I think there are people out there doing some wonderful things. But from what I hear, I think a lot of these places go in and out really fast. People assume they can go in and open a place and make a lot of money in a year or two and then it’s over. For me, I’m in it for the long run. I’ve never closed a place in all my years of business. I don’t really see the other people in my field out there as competition. I think we all have something unique to offer, and I’m very happy with my company and our continued success.

Favorite Hangs: I think when I go out to a bar, it’s always my place. It’s either Stone Rose or it’s Whiskey Blue because my friends are always there. So whether I’m there or not, all my friends are there, so it’s always nice to pop in; and truly, I create spaces out of my personal desire and what I like. I don’t go around and do research and say “Hey, what’s needed here?” or “What do people want?” It’s really what I like. So if I’m creating something I really enjoy, that’s where I want to go.

You have a famous name and a famous wife. Do you think your coverage in the tabloids and your famous friends helps your business? Well, there’s no doubt that exposure is great for a place, and I get plenty of exposure. But we’ve always had this philosophy to never discuss any high-profile people or celebrities that are in our places. So we’re a company that never calls the press to say, “Hey, so and so was here yesterday and they were drinking this and they were with this person.”

Is that common practice? Oh yeah, I think most places do that. And I think that’s very short-sighted because if a celebrity comes to a place, they’re not necessarily coming in for publicity. And my attitude is they come, they’re having a good time, they’re having a few drinks, they’re letting their guard down. They don’t want to be talked about the next day. They don’t want to have to worry about ‘Oh Jeez, what did I do?’ and then have to read about it in the paper the next day. I think the reason they all come back to my places is that they know their privacy is going to be protected. And we’re not going to talk about them. So I think that’s one of the keys to our success. And ultimately we have employees who have been with us from the start. And I think that’s a big key. Everyone wants to know someone. When you’re going out to dinner or to a bar, you want to know the hostess or the maître d’ when you walk in. You want to know you’re going to be taken care of. I can go to the local diner, and I love it if I see George when I walk in. He has my drink on the table, and knows what I like and how I like it no matter what. It just feels good when you walk in and you can know someone.