Riff Raff’s 1 Year Anniversary, and Commune Hotels and Resorts’ Newest Addition

The three-day weekend that seems so long ago has me confused about what day it is. I can’t decide if it feels like Wednesday or Friday, but it can’t be Thursday…can it? The beautiful weather has me itching and scratching to go out. It has lurched my cabin fever into spring fever. My 30-minute DJ stint at Lit Lounge’s 10-year anniversary also confused my schedule. Of course I’m on tonight at Hotel ChantelleJustine "D" Delaney was scheduled to go on after me, and we caught up before in a big way as dude after dude played impossible tracks to a spectacular crowd of downtown denizens of the deep art/rock world. Justine told me of her recent engagement and showed me the ring and introduced me to the doctor she snagged. Nice guy. We reminisced about working together at Life and then Spa. She would come in during the day to chat or pick up a check and I’d turn on the sound system and we would put on records (remember those?) and annoy the staff as we explored the old sounds. After our sets, I retreated into the Fuse Gallery to hang with Erik Foss and his crew. I met amazing folks including artist Joe Heaps Nelson, whose show "This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things" opens at Fuse on February 25th. Lit lives and thrives, entering its second decade because it feels like home to so many of us. Foss joked that he was going to try to go another 10 without renovating and I agreed. You don’t fix things that are perfectly imperfect.

The weather allowed me to don my old leather jacket which, like Lit and maybe Foss and myself, is becoming more perfectly imperfect as time goes by. Amanda and I talked of Oscars and where we might go to watch it. The Darby has a big dinner/viewing thing going on and there are always friends’ house parties. I haven’t seen The Artist and will tomorrow, for sure. I loved The Descendents, and Hugo was a masterpiece, but for me The Tree of Life is just gorgeous.

I wanted to check out Riff Raff’s celebrating its year anniversary. I have never been and really want to. Riff Raff’s is part of Fourth Wall Restaurants and owned by Michael Stillman. Fourth Wall owns and operates The Hurricane ClubQuality MeatsMaloney & PorcelliSmith & WollenskyThe Post HousePark Avenue Seasons, as well as nightlife venue Riff Raff’s. Those are great joints and I am interested in meeting Michael who, at a very young age, has built this impressive empire.

Last but certainly not least for today’s spew… Salvatore Imposimato my dear friend who did such an amazing job at Morgans Hotel Group has a new and very exciting gig. Light Group moved into Morgans, and Sal has moved on to be the executive director of entertainment for Commune Hotels and Resorts. Sal sent me this:

"Commune Hotels and Resorts is a collective, uniting two different hotel brands, Thompson Hotels and Joie de Vivre, into a truly independent, multi-platform company. Our mission is to offer our guests a wide range of eclectic, local and inventive experiences in authentic settings, without the bureaucracy that a big brand imposes. Nothing short of revolutionary, our ethos is about individuality, community, locations that are authentic to their environment, and the kind of exceptional service that makes travel unforgettable."

He starts April 1st as he has another baby due, any second. I dined at The Darby last week with my Amanda and his lovely wife Andrea. We asked for a table for four and 8/9th’s but of course that seemed cleverer before it was said. Andrea was the door girl at the Boom Boom Room before she blew up (with baby). She worked with me at my doors for years. She is beautiful, bright, and amazing and I am curious if this second child will finally get her out of nightlife.

Thompson Hotels, with Sal programming entertainment, will be wonderful and a fixture in this column’s must-attend events listings. The company has 40 plus properties in its portfolio. Congratulations Sal and Commune!

Industry Insiders: Marc Rose and Med Abrous, Night Gamers

Tired of the bottle service-heavy, interaction-light nightlife of Los Angeles, best friends Marc Rose (left) and Med Abrous (right) opened the Spare Room, a unique lounge in the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, early last year. The lounge features bespoke cocktails, vintage bowling alleys, and a variety of gorgeous handcrafted board games. The combination has proven wildly successful among partiers looking to socially network without staring at pixelated screens. We asked the innovative duo how they managed to get Angelenos to put down their iPhones and pick up their Scrabble tiles. 

Where are you from and how did you get here?
Marc Rose: Born and raised in Brooklyn. I was a diehard New Yorker, never thought I would leave. I went to NYU’s Tisch school and majored in drama. I got involved in nightlife from a young age. I was promoting and throwing parties, and I helped to open a very popular club in the ‘90s called Life. Then I left it all. I was 24 or 25 and I took off and came to LA to pursue an acting career. I got off to a great start and worked at it for a number of years before I found my way back into this business.  While I was here I also started a creative marketing agency called Treehouse. I realized that I was using my ideas to further other people’s brands, when I really wanted to create a brand of my own, which is how the Spare Room came to be. We really consider the Spare Room more than a bar. We consider it a brand. 
Med Abrous: I was born in Manhattan, but I have been out in LA for almost ten years now, which seems crazy. For about seven years I have been the director of bars for Thompson Hotels, which are based here in LA at the Roosevelt. Besides having a background in the hospitality industry, Marc and I are best friends. We always wanted to open a bar together, so we finally did. 
 
Where did the concept for an upscale gaming lounge come from? 
Marc Rose: We had friends who were no longer going out because the experience became really just about bottle service, people on their cell phones, and no one interacting with each other anymore. The idea of going out was supposed to be the social life, but no one was really socializing with one another. And our friends were looking for a place that was somewhere between a restaurant and a nightclub. So that’s why we wanted to create this lounge. We found ourselves in people’s homes in the Hollywood Hills and they’d have dinner and then set up a game. It would really bring out the best and the worst in people. We always say that you never get to learn about people more than when you compete against them. We wanted to create a place and an atmosphere where people can drink and have fun, but also where they can whip out a game and compete against each other, or against strangers. It was about talking to each other, looking at each other, not looking at your phone the whole time.
Med Abrous: Exactly. In examining the landscape of nightlife in LA, we found that there has been a void. There was nowhere for people to go to interact socially that wasn’t a nightclub or a restaurant. There was nothing in between. We developed the idea of the Spare Room and found that we can create a place that is vibrant and lively, but where people can actually talk and interact, and the common thread that we found was games. It seems so simple, but it breaks down a lot of boundaries that people have for themselves, and when they come in groups. 
 
It seems to encourage a level of engagement that is both old fashioned and refreshing. 
Marc Rose: I think the number one misconception is that people think we are a throwback or retro bar, and we are not. We are just trying to reintroduce the classics to people and reinvigorate the sense of community. The best thing is when strangers challenge each other to a game. And whether they compete for fun, or they compete for the loser to buy the winner a drink, it is a win-win for us. 
 
What kinds of games do you have there now? I know there are a couple of vintage bowling lanes. What else do you have? 
Marc Rose: The bowling lanes are the star of the show. They are a couple of old lanes that we went down to Texas and found from the foremost collector and supplier of bowling equipment. We restored them to their original beauty. As far as the other games go, we offer everything from backgammon to chess, checkers, Connect Four, Yahtzee, Jenga, Mancala, Monopoly, Scrabble, and various card games. But these are not the games that you can just go and purchase at a store. All the games are handmade. We worked with local craftsman to customize or completely custom-make the games we have. We have Monopoly sets that are plaid and suede, or leather, and Scrabble sets that are made from various acrylics. We have a custom-made Connect Four set made from walnut. These are games you’d want to put out on your coffee table. We feel like gaming is a lifestyle. We hope that people take the idea home, and that’s why we are in discussion to create our own line of games and selling them separately. 
 
The competitive element brings out the best and worst in people, but hopefully mostly the best.
Marc Rose: But even if it is the worst, that’s ok too, because it is good to learn that about people. We have seen some first dates go really bad at the Spare Room, which is interesting. 
 
That must introduce an interesting dynamic. If the girl beats the guy five times in a row, his ego is going to be hurt. 
Marc Rose: Right, and we have also seen it become a great icebreaker. I think another big thing about the Spare Room in general is that we opened it inside of a hotel, which is where we see this brand growing. We are in discussions now in some other markets to open the Spare Room, but it would only be in a hotel. We see this as a great amenity to a hotel guest, as well as a great local scene. We feel like these are rooms that our parents and grandparents had, and we sort of missed out a little bit. We are trying to bring that element of activity back.  
 
Can you tell me a little more about the cocktail program?
Marc Rose: Our beverage director is Naomi Schimek and she is amazing. I refer to her as our chef more than our beverage director and bartender because she is constantly pushing the envelope. We paid so much attention to the little details of this place, down to the scoring pads and the scoring pencils, so the cocktails needed to match that. We don’t consider ourselves at all to be a pretentious cocktail bar. We are very proud of the cocktails we offer and the ingredients we use and the spirits we choose, but our idea is to help to educate people who don’t know everything about cocktails. We don’t want to intimidate people. We want people to learn and have fun. 
Med Abrous: Absolutely. The most important thing for us is to provide a great service. The cocktail program that we have is always changing. There are a lot of cocktail bars that look down their noses at people, and that doesn’t make for the most pleasant experience. We make handcrafted cocktails accessible. We are a high-volume cocktail bar. It is important for us to get cocktails out in a timely manner, but also that they are made with the utmost quality and care. By no means are we a farm-to-table cocktail bar, where there are tons of greenery and fruits. We do use all fresh fruits, but we try to highlight the flavors of the spirit rather than covering the spirit up with a ton of seasonal ingredients. Our cocktail menu is divided into two sets: the classics, which we switch seasonally, and our original cocktails.
 
How would you handle someone who wants to try something new but doesn’t really know what they want? 
Marc Rose: People come in and we ask “What do you normally like to drink” or “What are you interested in trying?” We are ok with giving samples to people. I always tell our bartenders that if someone doesn’t like something, make them something that they will like. Something new that we are about to put in the space is a customer recipe library. If you came in and you created a drink with a bartender, our bartenders would help you to name that cocktail, and would record that in a little library card catalog behind the bar so that every time you come in it will be filed under your name. 
 
What is your favorite game to play when you are at the bar? 
Marc Rose: I am a big Yahtzee fan. I think it is a game that you can play all night long. It takes some level of paying attention while it gives you the freedom to gaze around the bar and interact with people who aren’t in the game, and it can go down to the very last roll of the dice. 
 
Do you have a particular cocktail that you like? 
Marc Rose: I am a rye whiskey guy. I usually drink that neat or with one rock inside of it, but there is a drink on the menu right now which is an homage to a Brooklyn bar, and it’s called the Slope. It’s a variant on a Manhattan. That would be a go-to for me.
 
You have succeeded in a space where many have tried and failed. What’s the secret?
Marc Rose: My partner and I really care about what we do. We care if people are having a good time, not just that they came to our place. It doesn’t matter if we are packed or mellow. Obviously we want to do good business, but for us it is more important to see people using the space as we intended it. I think if you care, and you build a space that you would want to be at every night, it’s sort of contagious. I built a bar that I would want to go to every night, and it seems like other people get that same feeling. 
Med Abrous: We have put things into perspective and see our business as not being a sprint to the finish, but a marathon. We have grown organically. We keep improving our product by examining how we can make things better, whether by refining the games or refining the cocktails. So far people have responded very well to the meticulous nature of both Marc and me and how we run our business. It is in the little things. More and more people appreciate a comfortable place where they can have fun, as opposed to standing in a dark nightclub where you can’t tell how much care or passion went into it. 

American Invasion: Thompson Hotels Open The Belgraves in London

It doesn’t get much more British than Belgravia, the posher-than-posh London neighborhood where row upon row of cream-colored Georgian townhouses surround lovely green parks locked to anyone not landed-gentry enough to have a key and a double-barreled surname. Everyone seems like they should be called Gemma or Jemima or Jeeves, and they all look like they emerged from the womb in a Burberry trench, clutching a long black brolly instead of a rattle. None of them even has bad teeth.

Within the district, Montcomb Street, a particularly delicious crumpet on the tea trolley of delights that is Belgravia, is the kind of place that makes you (or at least me) wish to be British, achingly so. This petite row of winsome shops and eateries—Rococo Chocolates, nouveau gastropub The Pantechnicon, fashion designer Stewart Parvin (who holds a Royal Warrant from The Queen, herself) and a branch of the food-porn-y veggie-centric cafes from hot-shot chef Yotan Ottolenghi—fills daily with dapper gents in perfectly tailored suits speaking with clipped consonents into ever-present Blackberrys and women dressed so conservatively, they all look primed for their first day of work at Sotheby’s. (And I wonder: Are Londoners more attractive than New Yorkers, or am I just a hopeless Anglophile? Or is it just that the rich are always prettier, and in London, I somehow manage to only ever see the rich?)

Into all this comes The Belgraves, a months-old property from the American hotelier Thompson—you know it for L.A.’s Hollywood Roosevelt and New York’s 60 Thompson, among others—which renovated and moved into a mid-20th-century structure formerly known as Belgravia’s ugliest building. So what’s an American interloper doing in a place like this? Quite nicely, it turns out, quite nicely, indeed.

In large measure, this is due to the slightly irreverent work of bad-girl British decorator Tara Bernerd, a socialite turned designer who streaks her hair pink and here has created a blend of high and low English and American style, mixing uptown with down, punk panache with Savile Row swagger, Soho-style sandblasted brick with Scandinavian antiques and cushy chairs from designer David Linley—who also just happens to be The Queen’s nephew. Bernerd herself calls the look “rough luxury,” which sounds like an entirely paradoxical, and therefore perhaps rather American concept, while Thompson co-founder Jason Pomeranc points out that “our first hotel, 60 Thompson, was always ideologically based on the intimacy of British hotels. That’s something that’s always been an inspiration to our brand.  We wanted an Anglo-American fusion in terms of design, service and atmosphere.” 

For the Anglo element, Pomeranc turned to Bernerd, of course, but also to local starchef Mark Hix, who loaned not only his name and his skills to the hotel’s modern British lobbyside restaurant, but also his collection of canvases by YBAs (that’s Young British Artists) to the hotel’s walls. On the American end of things, there’s the stylized but still in-your-face American flag behind the check-in desk, as well as more subtle and comforting notes, like the bellmen in Levis, plaid shirts and Chelsea boots “rather than the typical top hat and tails you’d normally find in Belgravia,” notes the hotel’s American-born general manager Joseph Kirtley, who spent more than a decade with Morgans hotels in New York, Los Angeles and London before Thompson wooed him away to The Belgraves. “As an American brand, we were able to have a little bit of fun with it all.”

Upstairs, the fun continues, in the hotel’s 85 rooms and suites, all done in shades of platinum and grey, with rich (you might even say royal) aubergine and Bordeaux-colored velvet accents. It’s the ones on the park side of the building, and sitting on the hotel’s upper floors, that you’ll want to book, what with the tufted-velvet banquette alcoves built into their bay windows and the views up and over Belgravia’s mansard roofs. These extend out towards Buckingham Palace, Victoria, Green Park and Picadilly beyond, all of which are lovely places to visit, though you well may find yourself jonesing for the charms of Belgravia when you do. But don’t worry, Gemma and Jeeves will be waiting.

Roofs on Fire: Rooftop Bars Are a Proven Hit

As packed venues at A60Jimmy, and Le Bain have proven, rooftop bars were the year’s top hotel trend, according to a new report released by Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels. It covered a number of aspects of the New York City hotel scene, but the rooftop bar was by far the most dominant new trend. Pioneered by boutique properties but recently embraced by bigger chains, it’s not hard to see why. a good rooftop space can bring in up to $120 per square foot in peak months, translating to profits up to 50%.

There are a few factors that make these bars successful, including a large enough space (the flat, pre-war rooftops of New York buildings are the perfect setting) and a killer view, of which New York City has many. And in a city where other kinds of development and additions are curtailed, it’s a logical way to expand as well as offer something of value to your customers. And the trend is spreading:  “The concept has caught on in other U.S. gateway markets like Miami, Chicago, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, as well as international hubs,” says Amelia Lim, Executive Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels. 

Lepore LBD Attracting Attention at Thompson Hotels

Waitresses at Thompson Hotel bars recently began wearing a dress Nanette Lepore created exclusively for the boutique chain, and the sexy little black dresses are drawing plenty of attention. The designer frocks feature exposed silver side zippers, a cutout back, and ruching all over—the better to flatter every cocktail waitress body type. You can see the waitresses and the dresses at the Thompson LES in New York, the Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, and the Donovan House in Washington DC. Thus far, they’re generating plenty of chatter. “A lot of people ask if it’s Dolce & Gabanna because of the zippers,” Katy Lernihan, a waitress at the Donovan House’s rooftop lounge, tells USA Today. “They ask where they can get it and who it’s by.” Of course, the Lepore-Thompson collaboration is just one of a growing number of hotel+fashion mashups.

Earlier this year, W Hotels named its own fashion director to help create a “fashion point of view” for the hotel chain; the Missoni fashion clan opened the Hotel Missoni Edinburgh last year, and a Kuwait City property is set to open this fall; the first Gucci hotel is slated to open in Dubai later this year, and Elisabette Gucci, daughter of Paolo and fourth generation style clan member, has plans to build 40 luxury boutique hotels in the next decade and a half, with a focus on properties in developing countries, from Russia to Brazil. And, earlier this year, Armani opened his 128-room namesake luxury hotel in Dubai, and there are also plans for a Gianni Versace Spa in Dubai. Sounds like perfect locations for Sex and the City 3.