Access Thursdays Brings Back the NYC All-Gay Party

To tell you the truth (which is something I always try to do), I have never heard of Access, a club located on 8th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets. They tell me it’s been there for about a year, and was previously called Elevate. Total blankness. Somehow, these joints have slipped under my radar. They even call the area Chelsea, and I checked that out, and it is true. That area south of 34th where the post office/Madison Square Garden/Penn Station crowd throw up on each other while peeing in corners and shopping for porn and cheap goods is part of fabulous, sexy, trendy Chelsea. Who knew? Lets not quibble. I don’t like quibblers, never have. But I just might name my next dog quibble. I like the sound of it.

There is going to be a new gay Thursday night over at Access. I am told that, except for a Peter Rauhofer stint over at the defunct Stereo, there really hasn’t been a gay weekly party since. This seems untrue, but I’m determined not to quibble about the info. After all, they got that Chelsea thing right. If I were to quibble, I might ponder about Asseteria, and maybe Suzanne Bartsh and Kenny Kenny’s Vandam parties, and then those Wednesdays over at Bowlmor with Amanda Lapore, and then there’s all those other “gay” weekly parties that I get facebooked about. So I asked, and was told not “those gays,” these gays. It’s all so simple when you decide not to quibble. Access is in Chelsea and the Chelsea boys haven’t, I am told, had a real weekly party, except for the Stereo thing, since the Roxy closed. I’d ask lots of questions about how Splash, that iconic club which has been serving this community since 1991, Isn’t considered relevant. But I won’t ask, as I will not quibble! Anyway, there’s this new weekly gay party in a club that is in Chelsea for the Chelsea boys, and it is going to be all that.

Before I ask my pal Christine Jennings about Access, I would like to speak briefly about the Roxy. The Roxy is a mammoth club that sits dormant on 18th Street and 10th Avenue. It was the Mecca of “Chelsea Queen” nightlife for decades. Before the gay weekly thing, it was known as the Studio 54 of roller rinks, as skating was the lure a couple nights a week. It was also the home of parties by Jon Baker and Ruza Blue, who offered us Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash and MC battles. It may be the spot where street hip-hop was embraced by trendy clubland. Quibblers can discuss this for days. In the mid 80’s, it was Lee Chappell and David Lee and mylar-decorated Saturdays with drag queens galore and a mixed bag of Chelsea boys, fag hags, and downtown curious straights. John Blair took it to another level with DJs like Junior Vasquez, Hex Hector, Victor Calderone, Frankie Knuckles, and Merritt. Madonna, Cher, Chaka Kahn, Yoko Ono, Beyonce, and Bette Midler played the room. It was undeniable. Before all this, back in the way back day, the place was called 1018 and was all things to all freestyle people. Vito Bruno ran it and Roman Ricardo played.

The Roxy closed as the condo boom grabbed real estate. The subsequent real estate bust left it undeveloped and empty, a sleeping giant of a club with bars and bathrooms and lights, just needing a guiding light, an experienced hand to revitalize it. The Community Board wasn’t that opposed if it was done right. Recent attempts to re-open the Roxy have failed mostly due to greedy quibbling amongst the players. A few thousand dollars a week separated the men and the boys from the night. Now a liquor license seems unlikely and it sits dormant, a colossal waste. A colossal reminder that quibbling over a few dollars means nobody gets any. Access, despite the grand promises, cannot fill the Roxy’s shoes, or Splash’s for that matter. But it comes with great energy and experienced players and should be fun. Christine Jennings is one of those glue-type nightclub players that makes it all stick. I asked her to tell me about Access. She is a female working this all-male event, but I promise I wont quibble.

What is your role at Access Thursdays? I will be at the door for this new party, and am helping my friends, DJs Alex DeSantos & Midnight Society, promote

Why is there a need for this party? NYC needs a new gay party. Since the closing of the Roxy, there hasn’t been a weekly gay party, outside of Peter Rauhofer’s stint at Stereo, that has stuck. And being that it’s on a Thursday night, the boys will have a good party to hit up before they run off to Fire Island for the weekend. With former members of Peter Gatien’s team at the helm, this is going back to basics: great vocal-house DJs, dance-drive, with go-go boys and a lot of energy

Tell me about your club history. I started clubbing in the early 90’s while attending college at SUNY Purchase, a half-hour upstate. Danceteria was the very first club I attended, shortly before it closed. My friends from school brought me to Limelight’s infamous Wednesday party, when the Club Kid Era was in its full swing. Kenny Kenny was at the door, and I walked up with trepidation, fake ID in hand. I met Tom Buckley early on, and I was hooked. We were there every Wednesday, then would head to Colors or Future or whatever after-hours was open. I moved to NYC at the end of 1995, and hit the Tunnel for Junior every Saturday, then Save the Robots. After working some corporate jobs, I went to the Roxy for its infamous gay Saturday night, met a bartender who told me they needed a receptionist at their sister venue, the hot supper club Eugene. At the time, Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss were doing Friday nights, catering to the uber-fabulous crowd. Though I preferred the draw of the larger, house-music driven clubs, I loved working at Eugene and even grew close to its quirky owner, Gene DiNino.

My role expanded there to helping with corporate events, and when half of the space was re-done and opened as Gypsy Tea (which was spearheaded in part by a certain Mr. Steve Lewis), Gene put me at the door with doorman Aalex Julian to track the promoters. Upon Julian’s departure, Eugene’s James Savage took over and we were at the door together for over a year. During that time, promoters hired me independently to do their doors at Temple Bar, Rock Candy, Home, Rebel and others.

After 5 years at Eugene/Gypsy Tea, I left for an opportunity at Pacha, which had just celebrated its first year open. I worked in the marketing office during the day and did the guest list at night. I learned a lot working for Eddie Dean and Rob Fernandez. At this point, I took my first job as a manager at The Whiskey in the W Hotel Times Square. The Whiskey, a franchise owned by the successful Gerber Group, was the opposite of what all of my other jobs had been. It was very corporate, down to the color of hair ties the girls could wear while working. I was in charge of an entire staff as well as a security team, and it was a huge learning experience. With an all hip-hop repertoire, very strict rules and long hours, it was very trying most of the time, but in the end, prepared me well for future opportunities. After a year at The Whiskey, I was lucky to get a management position at Cielo, which had always been one of my favorite places in the city. Cielo features the best DJs in the world, in an intimate space. I call it ‘clubbing for grown-ups,’ and have been there for nearly two years.

What is different to today in clubs? Today’s clubbing is far different than when I first walked up to the doors of Limelight. It is more about bottle service and smaller, more ‘exclusive’ spots where people care more about seeing a cast member from a reality show than they do about the music. The whole mess of 27th Street certainly didn’t help, but at what point are all of the club owners to blame when there happens to be a lot of stupid choices made by their patrons? I was young and clubbing, too, but didn’t decide to walk home at night. I miss the days of the big club. Losing The Roxy was so, so sad. That had been my home away from home for years. I also miss the ‘freak’ element of the crazy cast of characters, some of whom have done well for themselves, like Richie Rich and Astro Erle. There was a great energy back then, and as dark as some would like to paint it, I had a blast. I don’t feel it’s the same at all now, except for some of the parties in the house scene and the more underground feel of places like Mr. Black.

Tell me about Cielo and your relationship there. Coming from my perspective now, Cielo is exactly where I should be. Owner and renowned DJ Nicolas Matar is passionate about keeping the space alive with new talent, as well as featuring long-running parties like Monday’s Deep Space with Francois K, and Roots Wednesdays with Louie Vega. Having been open for 7 years as of this January is a feat in itself, and Cielo won ‘Best Club’ at this year’s IDMA awards at the Winter Music Conference. Outside of my management duties, I work closely with the marketing office to implement strategies to reach out to different demographics. The young kids that listen to house music today are not going to wait in line at Tenjune.

What’s a nice girl like you doing working at gay clubs and such? Whoever said I was nice, besides my mother? I have always had the best times at gay clubs, starting from my early years at Limelight, and especially during my time working at Eugene & Gypsy Tea. I’d get done at the door, and head straight over to the Roxy to catch the end of Rauhofer. The gay scene embraced me from very early on, and still feels like home to me. If people don’t get it, I really don’t care. I never go out to “meet” someone. It is all about the music and the people I am with, period.

What is this space? The space is a fully-renovated club with 2 levels, a new sound system, an amazing dance floor with high ceilings, and a dark, underground feel. This is a fully back-to-basics party, with a big room, dance-driven DJs, hot bartenders, go-go boys, and an old school team that believes a good DJ and dance space will keep the boys happy. There is no VIP room, there is no bottle service. We are going back to 1994 with this party. Access is set to become the next fully-gay club in New York City. Both Monday and Friday night parties by Louis Loca (Mondays are “Papi,” Fridays are “Uncut,”) both of which appeal to the “Blatino” crowd, have been very successful. The appeal of Access Thursdays is to bring back the NYC all-gay party similar to the vibe of a Roxy Saturday night. DJ Alex Tech (aka Alex De Santos) will be spinning the main floor with Midnight Society (Curtis Atchinson & Erik Elias). I will see you there.

An Interview with Gerber Group’s Mystery Man, Scott Gerber

A few years back, when I was a partner in SLDesign, I had the pleasure of working with Scott and Rande Gerber, who hired us to work on their rooftop at the W Hotel Buckhead. Rande Gerber is, of course, that former ex-model who is married to Cindy Crawford and is the face of such brands as the Whiskey, Whiskey Blue, Whiskey Sky, Whiskey Park, Whiskey Bar and Grill, Wetbar, Underbar…you get the idea. He also heads up those Stone Rose joints. With somewhere near 30 properties worldwide, Gerber Group is one of the world’s top hospitality brands.

The Gerber group just opened three new venues in the new W Santiago and a Stone Rose Bar and Grill at the JFK Delta terminal. They also offer the midnight bar collection, which is a complete line of seven essential cocktail mixers “made with all the finest all natural ingredients.” With all these amazing achievements and projected developments, Rande Gerber and the Gerber group are household names. However, my Chihuahua has almost as much name recognition as Rande’s brother and partner Scott Gerber.

A google search of his name took me to a ton of Rande links. But Scott Gerber is responsible for directing all of the business operations, including new business development, negotiating partnerships, liaison with property owners, overseeing management and coordinating construction of the properties. He is a gentleman and a scholar with a BS in finance from the University of Arizona. I caught up with Scott yesterday and shot him a couple of questions. He’s a very busy guy.

I googled you and found practically nothing. It basically just refers people to your brother Rande or the Gerber group. Why do you prefer being in the background? It’s much safer that way. [Laughs]. I run the business end of the business. Rande is more involved with the design and aesthetic.

We all know that Rande is much more than just a pretty face. Is there a clear separation of duties? Yes, there’s a clear delineation. Rande wouldn’t get involved with the day-to-day operations.

How many places are you operating and how many more are in the works? We operate 30 properties and we’re having conversations about 10 more. Probably we’ll start up 5 of these this year.

This JFK Stone Rose Bar and Grill fascinates me. Nowhere in my experience is food and service worse than at an airport. I guess that’s changing. Tell me about your synergy with Delta. Our midnight bar collection is being served on Delta flights. Instead of just getting a little bottle and a mixer we make margaritas and cosmos. We teamed with Delta on this and it’s an in-flight revolution. I travel every other week and I know what has been available to a traveler. Were often waiting for a plane for one, two or even five hours. At Stone Rose we have a full bar and menu so you have a relaxed and stylish spot while you are waiting. Our menu gives you a great sandwich or steak and a variety of bites like buffalo mozzarella salad, buffalo wings. Much more than the typical traveling fare.

I guess with increased security we are all forced to spend more time in the airports waiting. Did that extra time factor into your decision to open an airport location? Of course. Travelers are told to be there two hours before their flight. Everyone comes at least one hour early. We wanted to provide something besides the cheesy places that are currently the norm. You can now get a great drink and food while you wait for your plane. Delta asked us to get involved as they try to take their brand more upscale. They even have David Barton exercise facilities at their terminal at JFK.

As hospitality drives the major hotel chains, the Gerber group is the big kid on the block. The Stone Rose in JFK raises the bar and creates a whole new market for food and beverage brands. I’m sure that very soon other hospitality groups will get into the act. Will it be long before we see Pure at the Las Vegas airport? Or Tao, LAX? How about La Esquina, LaGuardia? Customers want things the way they want them, and that means everywhere. They want Whole Foods not Met Foods. They want high end design and style in their boutique hotel, not just in the room, but in the clubs and restaurants that bring the beautiful locals to them. Luxury, boutique brands, with increasingly enhanced amenities, will be available to them wherever they go. Thank god I have a place to hang and eat at JFK. The Delta brand means something more to me today than it did the last time I traveled. What a great idea. If I ever find myself in Santiago, Chile, maybe visiting my friend Lindsey Risk, I’ll stay at The W and visit the Gerber Group’s Whiskey Blue, W Lounge and Red 2 One. I know I can expect high design, great service and an understanding of my needs.

New York: Top 10 New School Hotel Bars

Boom Boom Room (Meatpacking District) – Eighteen floors above the Thigh Line, Eyeful Tower’s Boom Boom Room layers on even more sexual innuendo. Sex, too: nothing like floor to ceiling windows revealing the glittering city at your feet for getting you in the mood. Most now spot in town. (For now.) ● Jane Hotel and Ballroom (West Village) Latest smash from Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode gets all Edwardian on the WVill. Nights can run a little wild out this way, but that’s copacetic with the kinds of guests that the Jane Hotel attracts. ● Above Allen (Lower East Side) – Lush Life, indeed. Lofty Thompson LES rooftop heated up fast. Stephen Sprouse prints harken to downtown ghosts, while shmancy $15 cocktails shout out to hood’s posher present.

subMercer (Soho) – The Mercer’s stealth subterranean hang. Elusive and exclusive. Red banquettes with matching stripper pole, lovely for shrooming socialites. ● The Pool Deck (Upper West Side) – Get a neon tan 12 stories above Broadway. Empire Hotel guests mix with savvy UWSiders, everyone chows down on mini-cheeseburgers and foie-gras PB&J’s. Old-timey signage completes the mood-setting skyline. ● Hudson Bar at Hudson Hotel (Midtown West) – Incredible Hudson Hotel space taken straight from that ending scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only missing the fetus-like organism enclosed in the light orb thingy. ● Rose Bar & Jade Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel (Gramercy) – Ian Schrager turns to ‘80s art star Julian Schnabel as resident designer at Gramercy Park Hotel. Bars feature bohemian vibe, walls crammed with big art (Basquiat, Twombly, and…Schnabel). Tight ship lets famous faces get comfortable. ● The Whiskey (Midtown West) – Rande Gerber takes his Whiskey neat, with a splash of psychedelic floor, some top-40, and a dash of expensive tourist from the W Hotel upstairs. ● Thom Bar (Soho) – Class act inside the 60 Thompson, not as exclusive as the members-only rooftop, but on point in all other respects. Perfect acoustics let you hear both the music and what that L.A. import in town for one night only is yapping about. ● The Lobby Bar (East Village) – The Bowery Hotel hammers in final nail coffin of old-school wino playground. Wood paneling, stuffed animal trophies, twin oils of hunting hounds give off English manor library vibe. Half expect Kat Von D to come strolling in with breeches and a riding crop and order a Pimm’s.

Industry Insiders: Alan Philips & Josh Shames of Sky Group

Alan Philips and Josh Shames are founders of SKY Group and Deluxe Experience. Their clients include One Group (STK), Gerber Group (Whiskey Bar), Morgans Hotel Group (Hudson, Royalton, The Shore Club), Borgata Hotel, Brier Group (Highbar) … the list goes on.

What are your favorite places in the world? Alan Philips: Sushi of Gari. They have the freshest fish, simply and creatively prepared, in understated surroundings. I don’t think that there is anywhere you can experience something as delicious and unexpected as the salmon tomato onion sushi. Bagatelle has incredible energy and music, very New York. I recently had the pleasure of staying and experiencing the newest Morgans Hotel in Miami, Mondrian Miami. Marcel Wanders has designed a spectacular hotel that captures the surprise and whimsy that you first felt when entering the Delano 20 years ago. Josh Shames: The Box is an amazing New York experience, and I’ve never felt the energy from a nightclub that I have felt at Palladium in Acapulco, Mexico. 2000-plus people, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls over looking the Acapulco bay. As for restaurants, the China Club in Hong Kong or Il Latini in Florence, Italy, are the two of my favorite dining experiences. If I had a last meal, then it would be Don Pepe’s in Ozone Park.

Who do you admire in your industry? AP: Ian Schrager has continued to innovate for decades and maintain an individual point of view. The amount of time, energy, and commitment to your vision it takes to do what he has done is incredible. Imagine having Studio 54, Morgans Hotel Group, Palladium, Gramercy Park, and now this partnership with Marriot on your resume. Nobu Matsuhisa — he did not just create a restaurant, he created a whole other cuisine. Then he opened tons of locations that never sacrifice the quality of product. And just when you thought he was done, he kept creating new and intoxicating dishes that never cease to amaze. JS: Its cliché, but you have to mention Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager as they changed New York nightlife and the hospitality industry forever. No matter what has been done since, it has all been an extension of what they accomplished years before.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in your industry? AP: I like that people have been offering more inclusive experiences. Jamie Mulholland and his team did it this year at Surf Lodge. The vision and customer experience is all-encompassing from beginning to end. The restaurant, the bar, the hotel — it all goes together and is fabulous. I believe that customers want more for their hospitality dollar, and in this economic environment, they won’t mind spending money, but the quality and excitement better be there. I don’t think there will be tolerance for products that are sub-par. Additionally, I am excited about things moving away from bottle service. I like table minimums, and I believe that this will force operators to be more creative. Great ideas come out of necessity. JS: For a while, people thought that if they opened a nightclub or lounge and put a door person outside behind ropes, their place would be filled and generate revenue. I believe people have wised up since then. Operators, owners, and investors are starting to be more creative with their venues and concepts than they were five years ago

What is something that people might not know about you? AP: I love to cook. When the family gets together, my job is to cook. JS: I am left-handed and I go to every Broadway show.

What are your staples? AP: Books are Wolf of Wall Street, Good to Great, and Outliers. Artist is Da Vinci. City is New York to live and Miami to visit. JS: Destinations are Florence, Italy, and Aruba to relax. Politicians are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

What are you doing tonight? AP: Going to Nobu 57; I’ve been obsessed with Dover sole tempura since I got back from Miami. Then Ella to hear Brooklyn Dawn spin. JS: I never make plans that far in advance.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? AP: DVR. My girlfriend and I watch way too many shows. Lost, Sopranos, 24, Big Love, Californication, Gossip Girl, Weeds, Brothers and Sisters. Okay, this is getting embarrassing. JS: My Blackberry.

Drink of choice? AP: Patron Silver on the rocks with two limes. JS: Iced coffee in the mornings, diet raspberry Snapple during the day, and anything with ice in it at night.

Person you’re dying to party with? AP: My mom. JS: Myself. I’m always so concerned with everyone else’s experience, I forget what its like to have a good time.

What’s next in ’09? We’re developing a new web-based project called Deluxe Experiences that will launch in early 2009. I have been working on it for a year, and we are really looking forward to seeing it come to life. We are also managing an artist Brooklyn Dawn — she is a super-talented female DJ whose energy, skills, and sound are something totally different in the downtown scene. Everything she does is so genuine and exciting. Also, began a new area of our business focused on servicing our lifestyle clients and synergizing them with our hospitality clients. 2009 is going to be a very interesting year in the hospitality business, as people are definitely going to have to find new ways to make money.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Greg Brier, Midtown Maestro

Greg Brier is the man behind Highbar, Amalia, Aspen, and the soon-to-open Aspen Social Club in Times Square, designed by yours truly. Greg is a very dear friend of mine. Of course, he hires me once in a while to design his spaces. I’ve done two and half spaces for him so far. I did Aspen initially, then Amalia. Now we’re sitting in the Aspen Social Club at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

First of all, Amalia and Aspen Social Club are in this Times Square/Midtown area, and Aspen is really in the Chelsea thing. And instead of being downtown or in the Meatpacking District where everyone else is, you’re in Midtown. Explain what you like about it. Well, I mean in addition to that, we just opened Highbar in Midtown as well.

That’s right. I forgot about it because I didn’t design it. [Laughing] You’re right, it’s not as beautiful as all the other places, but it’s successful, and it is in Midtown.

I hang out downtown and have always been a downtown guy. I started to realize there’s no dividing lines in New York. People live in Midtown, they live Uptown, they live on the East Side, they live on the West Side. A lot of people claim they live Downtown, but nobody can afford to live Downtown. So they’re all living up here anyways, so our whole ideas was to take this kind of downtown cool aesthetic … a more artistic, creative aesthetic, and put it into a Midtown environment and see how it would work. And it’s been incredibly well received, because these guys are so used to seeing this cookie-cutter design in their restaurants.

In this area? In this area. And all their restaurants and all their nightclubs. We knew that if we came up here and developed and created stuff with you and really kind of redefined the lines of what’s cool and hip, making Midtown just as hip and cool as downtown. By creating the right elements with design, our staff, music, etc., it would be successful, and it has been a huge success.

Well, the W Hotel really broke through many years ago. They broke through with style, some sort of style, some sort of programming. The Whiskey and Randy Gerber have been up in this area for a very long time. So there was a successful precedent, and certainly you are capitalizing on that knowledge. I remember you and I having conversations when we were designing Amalia and talking about whether people would come or not. Specifically to the downstairs, which is like nightclub or lounge for Amalia. I said to you that I believe many people live uptown, and if they’re going to the other clubs downtown, they need a place to go before and a place to go after. So you’ll do well. Yeah, it’s a great stop-off before you start heading downtown for a late-night space. I think in addition we really need to talk about the fact that right now, the economy is in the shitter, and basically we are going to depend on our tourists to an extent, and we’re in the right position to be to be depending on tourists.

I hadn’t heard that! As a designer, I designed this wall [at Aspen Social Club] to be visible from the street. The idea was that there’s thousands and thousands of people walking by this restaurant every day, and you just want to grab them and have something visual for them to see. And the foot traffic around here is unbelievable. Absolutely, but the tourists we’re going for are the high-end kind of European tourists; people that can really appreciate this design. You know, they walk by and see these cookie-cutter generic spaces, and nothing really impresses them. When they’re coming from Europe, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or wherever they’re coming from, they’re used to very high-end materials and cool stuff happening inside their restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. And we’re one of the few people that are actually doing that in the Midtown area. It’s really attracting those people.

When you stand outside, you basically have Pig & Whistle to your left, a deli to your right, and of course this beautiful restaurant. Back in the old days, in the early 1980s, when 44 was open at the Royalton, Conde Nast used to hold court there. Some of the coolest professionals in the fashion world are working in this area, and they’re looking for a cool place to hang out. And I think it’s so refreshing to them that they can walk out their front door and they have a very cool place, like they did back then. So again, it’s not a brand new concept — we’re bringing back basically something like you said that started back in the Midtown area and re-creating it.

Back when the economy was crap also. One of the things that we want to talk about is the versatility of the space. It does function as a nice place to sit and enjoy an informal dining experience or lunch. But in addition to that, the lounge has a DJ. I think what will end up happening is that promoters and nightclub people who end up going to Marquee or 1Oak may come here, have dinner, and they may stay later. I think more people will come by later at night — it’s a sexy enough space. In the 1980s you used to have a model next to a drag queen next to the guy in the business suit. And that’s really what made the party fun. That’s what we’re re-creating. There are times that I look over and I’m like, “What is this, 1989?”

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.


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.