Level V Sinks

If Hanson can’t make it, who can? At 10 a.m. yesterday, management was informed of the closing of underground Meatpacking club Level V, part of Steve Hanson’s B.R. Guest empire. It was one of four places closed. The others — Fiamma, Ruby Foo’s Uptown, and Blue Water Grill Uptown — were restaurants dependent on broker bucks, which are becoming quite endangered lately. Level V, on the other hand, was the underground lounge/club beneath Vento, the corner restaurant in that v-shaped building at 9th Avenue and 14th Street.

The Hanson team tried their best to have a separate identity for each place, but they did share bathrooms, and neither place ever gathered the kudos they sought. Even with the best location in town, Level V could never muster an A-list crowd, and instead settled to grab what came by. Its promotional theory was basically that of a spider: build a web in a busy spot and hope for your clients to fly into it. I asked an axed Level V employee why it didn’t make it and was told that the restaurant mentality never could grasp the necessities of club promotion. They could not grasp paying promoters and decided to keep every dollar for themselves. He said he was always asking them if they would, “rather have 50% of $50,000 or 100% of $15,000” but they never grasped it. The concept of a promoter-driven club diluting the Vento brand was the reason cited to opt out. Not dealing with lowlife promoters is one thing, but shutting the doors might be a bit worse.

I’ve never felt that the Vento brand was all that great anyway. All of Steve Hanson’s places are well run, and the food is always solid, but the atmosphere at Vento is very 1992, and Level V

Upon returning from his New Years’ Eve at the Fontainebleau in Miami, another source reveals that Steve was faced with a “huge cashflow problem.” The Dos Caminos in Las Vegas’ Palazzo Hotel, with a $20-million-plus-plus-plus build-out and launch, is doing — I was told — “A mere 150 covers a night. The entire casino and resort hotel has performed poorly.” My source said that “the mounting problems with this spot are so bad that only ego and thoughts of a terminal blow to the brand are keeping it afloat.” Still, more bad news comes from the newish restaurant Primehouse that he operates on Park Avenue South. Despite a $10-million-plus build-out and launch and a Himalayan rock-salt-tiled aging room for steaks, my source tells me, “It’s a bust.” She said, “There’s no more money coming down the pipe from the famous merger of Steve Hanson and Barry Sternlicht,” which seemed just a short while ago to be the greatest deal ever made. The real question here: If Steve Hanson isn’t making it, what does it mean for everyone else?

A New Space Under the Street?

imageI took a week off to regroup and begin the New Year. I was around town, visiting clubs and trying to get a grip on what will be, and on Thursday I attended an art opening at a former assistant’s gallery. I’ve had a hundred or so assistants over the years, and the one thing this diverse group has in common is that they hate being called assistants.

Ivy Bernhard, who is now Ivy Brown, used to coordinate fashion shows for me back in the day when I made my living producing and choreographing these affairs. It was long before the tents, and we did our shows at clubs because lights, sound, techies, stages, and such were all available at these spots. And at that long ago time before the great meteorite whacked all the dinosaurs, it was cool to have a show at a trendy nightclub. I went to a Susanne Bartsch presentation of Vivienne Westwood, loved what I saw, and ran with the ball. I ended up doing about 400+ shows, including some real good ones: Katherine Hamnet, Matsuda, Stephan Jones, Martine Sitbon, Moschino, and like 395 others. This was before I tried my hand at nightlife — well, back then Ivy was my right hand (and often my left as well).

So, I popped in to see her at the Ivy Brown Gallery, which is in the Meatpacking District in that triangular building which defines 14th and 9th above Vento and Ara and Hogs and Heifers. As I was walking up the four flights, Yoko Ono was walking down. She has had a long relationship with photographer Bob Gruen, and Bob’s wife Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen was the artist showing her work. Cut-Work is amazing stuff and I urge you to check it out. I immediately ran into my mentor and the man I named my Chihuahua after, Arturo Vega. Although he’s accomplished many things, Arturo is best known for creating the artwork for the Ramones, being the guy that introduced them to those who babysat them in the beginning, and he also toured with them as their lighting director. Anyone fortunate to have seen the Ramones witnessed a lighting display that was unparalleled in its day. Arturo later ran the Ramones’ website and merchandising until deaths and differences occurred. We chatted about the work, bathed in the crowds filled with stunning beauty and intelligence, and then chatted up Ivy.

Ivy and I invariably talked about the project going on under the cobblestone of 9th avenue between 13th and 14th streets. There is a vaulted space under the street that Steve Hanson and the owner of 675 Hudson Street have been trying to develop for quite awhile. This never-before-used space has been shown around town to A-list owner and promoter types for well over a year. With 12-foot+ ceilings and actual street manhole covers as part of the ceiling, it is a wondrous room. I was a part of the design team with Chris Sheffield when I was co-owner of SLDesign. I left this project behind when I moved on, but it has always intrigued me. I was told that the community board had signed on, and the troubles they were having with the Department of Transportation were being solved. Yes, since it literally lives under a street, the DOT must be in the loop. The entrance to the space was to be through Ara, the small joint on 9th between 13th and 14th named for the building’s owner. A little bird told me that construction had begun again, but Ivy said she hadn’t seen any. Indeed, no dumpster was on 9th Avenue that evening, and I’m left to wonder what has happened. As it is a new year, I’ll start off lazy and not investigate. There’s a part of me that just doesn’t care anymore about what happens there. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to let that part win a few.