A NIGHTLIFE CAROL

Good day! Frogge here! And it feels so good to be back! It has been way to long, and all I can say is, life got a little too hectic for a second… So let’s not waste any more precious time! I have a great interview that I have been meaning to put up for DAYS now… so today is your lucky day that I am here to share it with you.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to sit down with nightlife extraordinaire, Steve Lewis. Mr. Lewis has been involved with nightlife longer than I have been alive, so I figured, who better to talk to about nightlife than him? He is the ghost of nightlife’s past, nightlife’s present, and with 8 (yes, 8!) new nightlife spots on the way that he is designing… nightlife’s future.

With that, I present to you… drum roll please! A NIGHTLIFE CAROL… straight from the taco stand at La Esquina to your computer screen!

steve lewis

Steve Lewis on 6/22/09 Saving the Nightlife for the NPC Event! (PS... The Frogge <3's Chloe!)

The Frogge: I am here with Steve Lewis eating tacos at La Esquina… You’re a busy man, so let’s get down to business. How did you get involved with nightlife? What initially attracted you to this crazy world…

Steve Lewis: (He gasps!) Oh my god! I got involved with nightlife because I did fashion shows for a living… I found that doing them in nightclubs, where there were great lights, great sound, and fabulous people, was a lot of fun. I would do an early show for the fashion industry and a late show for the trendies. And I drew thousands of people, so I said, ‘Hey, this nightlife thing works!’ Plus, I was meeting a ton of hot girls…

TF: When you say you ‘did’ fashion shows, what exactly does that mean?

SL: I produced, directed, and choreographed fashion shows. I did Moschino’s first show in America… I did over 400 shows. I had my own modeling agency, my own make up agency, my own PR company. We used the nightclubs, which wasn’t passé at the time. No one had done it before except for Susanne Bartsch who did a show at The Limelight for Vivienne Westwood and I really liked what I saw, I liked how the people reacted…

TF: So that’s how it all began… Let’s talk about now; because I think this is an interesting time for nightlife, lots of changes are being made… The newer spots have kind of re-invented the club, they are taking nightlife in a different direction… Especially with all of these new “gastro-lounges” such as Avenue, or Abe & Arthur’s… What are some of your favorite places in NYC right now?

SL: I like this place that we are, La Esquina… I am going on record saying that it is the best place in town… I like The Jane, I think it’s very cool. I like a lot of small places… I am really looking forward to Serpentine reopening soon… I find myself hanging out at 1Oak a lot lately… that’s about it… Some local bars… I am a dive bar kind of guy… Why are you laughing at me?

TF: Because I know that you don’t even drink! So I don’t know what you would do in a local bar…

SL: What? I can’t go to a local bar and get a club soda?

TF: Of course you can. I take it back. I just personally don’t see the point of drinking club sodas in a dive bar, unless you are with a great friend and are there for the conversation… but hey, agree to disagree! What do you think NYC nightlife needs right now?

SL: It needs diversity. It needs to stop being afraid of different types of people. There few places out there that draw a mixed crowd… Things need to get mixed up a little bit more… Most places these days are just following formulas… You can pretty much predict the music from one club to the next…

TF: AMEN!

SL: My favorite place in town right now going back to your previous question, is Collective Hardware

TF: LOVE CH! LOVEEE…

SL: So, as I’m sure you know, it’s not a club, its more of an art gallery, and when they do an opening, you get a really great eclectic, mixed crowd… and I like the openings, even though the art crowd is the worst crowd in the world…

TF: Excuse me!! I disagree with that statement!!

SL: Well, traditionally the art crowd was a bad crowd because they smelt bad…

TF: L i t e r a l l y ?

SL: Yes, they didn’t shower… But now-a-days it’s a much hotter crowd, the art crowd…

TF: Did you read the article that The Frogge wrote about Collective Hardware?

SL: Oh, no, I didn’t catch that one… Although I love reading The Frogge, I loved The Mad-Hatter article… I thought it was one of the better articles that I have read this year…

TF: Of the year? Nice! I’ll take that compliment! The Frogge thanks you. Anyway… The past few days I have been irritated because I have been hearing a lot of people who think they know something (keyword: think) saying things like, ‘New York is over… London is the new It City.’ How do you feel about that?

SL: Ummm, yeahhh… London is across the pond… So I am not going to ‘commute’ to London on a weekly basis… Plus it sucks because it’s full of Brits.

TF: Agreed… And people say the French are obnoxious!

SL: London is one thing, New York is another. London does not have the racial diversity that NY has. I just think NY is far more diverse… Paris will always be cooler than London…

TF: That’s a given! Tell me something that I don’t know… Tell me what you look for when you are running a club, and you are standing by the door, tell me what makes you let one person in over another… What do you look for? Because I know that is goes deeper than “just being hot.” And I HATE it when people talk smack about clubs, calling them shallow, cause they only let in hot people… I know there is more to it than that.

SL: I look for an opinion. I like when the people present themselves in a way that contributes to the party, I think most people who know how to run a door will say something along those lines. If you aren’t a supermodel, or a rich billionaire that’s going to spend a lot of money, I want them to be people who thought about what they were going to put on… People who are in the community, who are doing something with their lives… an artist… Now if you are a stockbroker, there is nothing wrong with that, but don’t come to my party, I am not interested in you. It’s just not my scene.

TF: You were involved with many, many clubs…

SL: Yes, lots of clubs… Danceteria, The World

TF: Not The World that was in Times Square!

SL: No! Not The World that was in Times Square, that place was a dump!

TF: I know, that’s why we needed to clarify…

SL: The World that I am talking about was on East 2nd Street, it is one of the top five clubs that ever existed…

TF: What are the other four?

SL: You didn’t read my article? I just wrote an article on this…

TF: Of course I read your article, but I want you to tell the people who may not have read your article…

SL: I’ll say this… The World is in the top 5, Studio 54 was top 1… For the other 3, read my article, it was in the August issue of Black Book magazine…

TF: So there is a mystery 3… and if you want to know what they are, you have to go check out Blackbook…

SL: And it’s my five… it’s not necessarily yours…

TF: Well, of course… it can’t be the same as mine because I have only been alive half as long as you… No offense, it’s just a fact…

SL: I am not offended! I am keenly aware of my age… And I like to think of it as experience…

TF: Well it is…

SL: I’m still kicking… But, there has been a lot of great clubs. There is only one club that is open right now that makes my top 25 and that is Bungalow 8

TF: Which, sadly, is pretty much always empty now… Should we have a moment of silence for Bungalow?

SL: But for 7 or 8 years, it had a really strong history… It has a legacy… Bungalow was consistent for many years…

TF: So what were some of the clubs that you actually ran?

SL: Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, The Red Zone… Plaid, which I think was one of the greatest clubs of all time… Of course no one will agree with me, but I think it was way ahead of its time. It opened up with mash up music… open format, nobody was doing that at the time, there was a band space…

TF: And Courtney Love performed there! I love her!

SL: Yes, she did…

TF: It’s great to speak with you about this because I you are one of the few people who has really been around long enough to see the progression of nightlife, of the clubs, from let’s say, the time of Studio 54 until now… Let’s talk about DJ’s… Who do you love?

SL: Paul Sevigny… I love listening to him, I think he is so much fun, he can do anything. Cassidy is great… even though I am not a big fan of the mash up, but Cassidy mixes in music that the other DJ’s don’t… I have been listening to DJ Berrie a lot, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of him, but he has surprised me lately… Carl Cox, Steve Aoki, Junior Vazquez… he is great… Funk Master Flex, Q-Tip, Mark Ronson… Justine D… Larry T, sometimes… A good DJ can get me out of the house sometimes… Tiesto won’t get me out of the house.

TF: Why would Tiesto get anybody out of the house?

SL: Well, that’s unfair. Tiesto is a stadium DJ… He just doesn’t play the type of music that I am interested in hearing. But, there is no room for musical snobbery.

TF: Did you just call The Frogge a snob?!?!

SL: I think you are a snob!

TF: Uhh, excuse me! I am a little offended, Mr. Lewis. If you are going to make such an accusation, please do explain!

SL: Most people who have a blog, most bloggers are snobs… But I think you have to be a snob to be a blogger… It goes with the territory… I’m a snob too.

TF: Okay, fine… I’m a snob, you’re a snob, we’re all snobs… Moving on… So basically you went from producing fashion shows, to running nightclubs… Now you are designing nightlife spots… How did you get involved with the design aspect?

SL: I got into design because I was always involved with the design process of the clubs that I was going to run. I was involved with the design process of The World… of Club USA… The famous slide of USA, that was me… I redid The Limelight… I always wanted to tweak them for my own needs. At one point, I guess, I did the money deal for Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano, but I was on my way to jail, so I couldn’t run Butter, but…

TF: Wait, hold on, that was a funny little side comment… You were on the way to jail?

SL: Yes, I was on the way to jail. Everybody knows I went to jail. It’s part of my shtick. But, yes, I was on the way to jail, but I had to design Butter… It was the first time that anybody ever asked me to design something that I wasn’t going to run myself…

TF: Not bad to have Butter be the first spot that you designed…

SL: It won best restaurant from Time Out, and some other awards… Now, it’s seven years later and it’s still kicking. So when I got out of jail, design seemed to be the route to go… So I became a designer.

TF: What else have you designed?

SL: People know me for Marquee and Butter. But I did Aspen Social Club… Aspen…

TF: Which are both g o r g e o u s …

SL: Thank you. I also did the restaurant Amalia… One of the rooms at Tao in Vegas… I think it’s called The Buddha Room… Home/Guest House… Prime… There was no budget for Prime, but I did it…  Webster Hall… which I hate… They say they spent over three million on it, but they are lucky if they spent $175,000.

TF: Lies!

SL: I am not going to even get into this now… But I call it Webster Hell! It’s a great concert venue, but it’s one of the worst clubs… maybe the worst club in NY…

TF: Probably the worst club in America… But anyway… It’s important for me to talk about the Nightlife Preservation Community

SL: I began to see a constant attack by the powers that be…

TF: What powers that be? Do you mean cops?

SL: No… The cops are just being used as a tool by the people who are pulling their strings. There are certain people who have other interests in this town… Certain people have decided that every area of NYC is ripe for condo/co-op development… and that there is no room for clubs… The nightclubs are being chased out by the bedroom community. I formed the NPC after getting the go-ahead from the NYNA (New York Nightlife Association) who are great people, they have been fighting for many, many years one their own… So my vision is to, in the next election, endorse 4 or 5 great candidates… by sending out hundreds of thousands of emails to inform people of which candidates support our cause… So we started with a party to announce the formation of the NPC, but a party is just a party, “an announcement.” The real action will take place during the elections… We are going to try to get 4 of 5 people elected who can make the difference.

TF: Do you think this particular problem is what has affected the clubs on 27th street? They used to be great… once upon a time… and now they are kinda blehhh… What do you think caused the fall of 27th street?

SL: The decline of the clubs on 27th street was a disgrace! The clubs were thriving… and then somebody eyed the neighborhood and decided that with The High Line coming… it was a good place to put up condo/co-op developments. So the city re-zoned that area. Originally that area was given to clubs. You could get fast track licenses. The city said, “Yeah, build over here, invest your money, and we won’t bother you!” So Mansion went in there and spent millions! The same with Home/Guest House… Pink Elephant, Marquee, Bungalow, Prime, Suzie Wong, Cain, Sol, Stereo, Ruby Falls… The list goes on… And then somebody eyed the neighborhood, some real estate guys who thought they could make a buck over there… So it was re-zoned to a “mixed-use” neighborhood, and then came the harassment. The police used the excuse of the excuse of that poor girl dying…

TF: Which one? Laura Garza?

SL: No, the one who came out of Guest House. What happened was, she used her old sister’s ID to get into Guest House… Once she was in, she didn’t buy any alcohol in the club. But the point is, she could have boarded a plane with that ID. A real ID, is a real ID. When she came out of the club, her car was towed. She went to the NYC pound, and the NYC police didn’t give her back her car because she was too drunk. Then she wandered out onto the west side highway, where she was kidnapped and tortured to death by some asshole… who ended up being caught, because he used her cell phone… what a bright boy… The point is… the club got blamed… Newspaper headlines blamed the club, when it wasn’t the fault of the club… And then the harassment came… With in just a few years later, many of the clubs closed… Home/Guest House, Bed, Spirit, Sol, Stereo, Secret… And the clubs that are still there… like Pink Elephant, Cain, Bungalow… They are being affected… And this is criminal. And yes, I am using the word CRIMINAL, because I think it really needs to be investigated… I want to know who is pulling these strings… who is making these decisions?

TF: So what happened to the clubs on 27th street, do you think it is similar to what happened to The Beatrice?

SL: The Beatrice was a different story. The Beatrice had different problems… Most of the problems at The Beatrice had to do with smoking…

TF: What kinddd of smoking? (wink, wink.)

SL: Well, I am not going to get into that. The bottom line is, the smoking ban was not dealt with intelligently. The smoking ban states that no one is allowed to smoke inside of a club, which is where the problems started for The Beatrice. People were going outside to smoke and the neighbors were complaining about the noise. I think that if the clubs were allowed to hire police officers to control the noise, this problem could have been easily eliminated. But The Beatrice was not allowed to hire police officers and as I am sure you know, nobody respects regular security guards the way they would an officer…

TF: The Beatrice tried to hire police… and they weren’t allowed? Who didn’t allow them?

SL: The city. Ray Kelly and his administration do not allow the clubs to hire police officers.

TF: And why is that? You would think they would want that… it sounds like a good, safe idea…

SL: He [Kelly] believes that it would spur corruption… But I feel that is just an excuse, of course there are ways around that.

TF: That’s kind of silly… Silly, silly Ray Kelly… Okay, last thing we are going to talk about… your blog… your column, whatever you want to call it… Good Night Mr. Lewis… I really like it, I read it often… How do you find the stories that you write about?

SL: It’s sort of like the world tilts to me now, but in the beginning it wasn’t like that… I had to get out there and scrape around… find interviews… I had no idea what I was doing. Now, I get fifty phone calls a day from people who are pitching me ideas… I think in a year from now I will get most of my stories from leads, from the people who are calling in. But this is what’s happening… People [club owners] feel that a story is going to get out anyway, and a lot of people are turning to me because they know that I will give them a fair shake. They figure, if they give it to me first, they know I will speak the truth about it. They want to make sure that the story gets told correctly, and since I don’t have much of a personal agenda… they figure they can give the story to me first before it ends up on Page Six , Gawker, DBTH, ect. As time goes on, I am getting more and more credibility, people are trusting me, and so more people are talking to me.

TF: Tell the people where they can check out your column!

SL: Blackbookmag.com… under nightlife… Good Night Mr. Lewis. It’s there Monday-Friday… and one article a month that comes out in Blackbook mag…

TF: Closing thoughts: What do you love most about nightlife?

SL: I love the exchange of ideas. The ideas can be expressed through clothing, through music, through conversation, style… I love music… I really do go out to hear music… I like to mix with people… I am single now, and I think one of the best ways to meet people is to say, “Hey, you want a drink?” I like the fact that I can meet different kinds of people in one place… There aren’t a lot of other places where you can exchange the same kind of energy as a club…

TF: What advice would you give to the club owners of today?

SL: Don’t worry about the other guys too much. Worry about your own place. Make sure you own place is good… Do your own thing… Do what you want to do. Stay true to your school. Don’t worry about what the other guy is doing or what you think your crowd will like. If you are in this business, you must know something… so do what you like. Let the club be an expression of yourself… your heart, your soul, your mind… Let it be organic… That’s why The Beatrice and The Jane had success, because they are an expression of Paul… of Matt… of Carlos… The great clubs are a reflection of the person who created it… That’s why Bungalow was great, it was a reflection of Amy Sacco… If you think this business is an easy buck, your gonna fail… If you’re not in this business because you love it, this is not the business for you.

TF: That was a beautiful last line. Let’s end here. Thank you…

SL: Thank you!

So there you have it… A Nightlife Carol with Mr. Steve Lewis… We talked about the past, we talked about the present, and I can not wait to check out his (8) new spots in the future! Especially the one that will be 14th street (It’s in the same spot where The Plumm used to be.) I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one…

RIBBIT OF THE DAY: I’m giving it to Mr. Lewis… “New York City nightlife needs diversity!! It needs to stop being afraid of different types of people!! There few places out there that draw a mixed crowd… Things need to get mixed up a little bit more.”

I agree! Lets stop following the formulas people! Stop playing the same music and the same crap over and over again… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if I hear Boom Boom Pow or Poker Face one more time, I will hang the DJ!

We are living in an interesting time… let’s start acting like it!

Love your friend,

The Frogge ❤

PS- Don’t miss out on all the great bands that are playing this week for CMJ! Thursday night PUI will play at SANTOS PARTY HOUSE! 10:30 sharp! Be there! (I hear they have a new drummer who is pretty damn good…)

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