From Club Promoters To Hotel Developers
How filling the dance floor leads to filling beds.
Pheromones and adrenaline. The hint of something illicit. Intoxicating music. For years nightclubs have been the place to let inhibitions run free, an escape from reality. Many a wild night at the club has been continued in a double room high in the heavens, so it’s hardly surprising that top hotels have sought to emulate the allure of the club, through seductive lighting, design and texture.
Probably the most famous nightclub owner/promoter turned hotelier is Ian Schrager, who with partner Steve Rubell founded the legendary Studio 54 in Manhattan. The home of disco and debauchery, Studio 54 has given Schrager’s brand the magical celebrity pixie dust that has boosted all aspects of his hospitality career, including his chain of luxurious, sexy boutique Hotels.
However, Schrager is not the only one who’s made the jump from the velvet rope to the velvet bedspread. New Yorkers of a certain age will remember the New York clubs that came after disco such as Danceteria, Sound Factory, Red Zone and one called Building. In 1989, Building was the go-to place for the city’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. Launched by nightlife entrepreneur Eric Goode and club promoter and future manager/record executive, Patrick Moxey, the club was redesigned to the tune of $1 million by Argentine Architect Carlos Almada.
Brought in to run the show was Howard Schaffer who now works for The Standard hotel chain as the “Vice President of Exceptional Talent.” Back in the ’80’s he and Moxey were responsible for some exceptional talent making it through the doors of the Building in the shape of Da la Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Run DMC and many more.
“I just made the place physically work,” Schaffer told the Standard Hotel’s website. “I was not involved in inviting people. I put the security team together. I hired all the bartenders, waitresses, etc. The 20’s on the West Side were really interesting. There were like a lot of weird after-hours places, a lot of sex clubs. It was similar to Tribeca because there were a lot of warehouses, and the landlords were not doing very well. So if you went up to them and said, ‘I’ll give you $5000 in $20 bills if you let me throw a party on your eighth floor,’ they would do it. But Building was legitimate. We rented. We leased the Con Ed station.”
Purveyors of Building will also be familiar with the famous Limelight nightclub, where dance sounds and salacious goings on occurred in the ’80’s and ’90’s in a converted church. The building had a less notorious period afterwards when it became a rather tacky shopping mall. Upscale gym chain David Barton, which caters to a downtown largely gay clientele, restored some of its former glory, by dimming the lights and turning up the decibels for Chelsea’s hard bodies to strut their stuff.
Becoming a hotelier is not for the light of wallet. Whereas as a nightclub’s success could be based on the DJ’s playlist for any given night and his/her celebrity status, a hotel needs tremendous investment and vision over a long period of time. Budding entrepreneurs could take a note out of Schrager and partner, the late Steve Rubell’s playbook. When the pair went to prison for accounting impropriety and drug possession charges associated with Studio 54, they offloaded the nightclub to relieve their debts. Banks didn’t want to go near them when they came out and talked of opening a hotel. Instead, so they tapped the new owner of Studio 54 who owned a rundown hotel. The owner of The Executive, on 37th and Madison still owed them money for the sale of the nightclub. In exchange for the money they were owed, they received a fleabag hotel. They hired a designer to renovate and, once it was done, asked their celebrity friends, Bianca Jagger and Cher, to stay there and invited newspaper gossip columnists to write about it. They charged $200/night and the hotel went from nothing to a glamor crash pad with 91 percent occupancy rate in no time. And if you wonder why feet on the dance floor and celeb pals translates so well to bodies in beds, there you have it.
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