David Graziano & Corey Lane: The Guys Who Kiss and Bagatelle
David Graziano and Corey Lane are becoming moguls. David is a fantastic hospitality/interior designer with home runs like Pink Elephant and the Kiss & Fly/Bagatelle/RdV complex to his credit. Corey comes from an operations background but is well grounded in promotion, especially when it comes to South American house fests. I don’t know one person that doesn’t like or respect them. In an industry which sometimes creates tensions, that’s a mouthful. I caught up to them (and their new publicist Steve Kasuba) at their new restaurant, Ganesvoort 69, where the old Florent restaurant used to be. Florent was in the Meatpacking District when men were still packing meat while other men dressed as women were also packing meat. Late night, a scene of running mascara and sex workers of every persuasion had a bite after a long night. For club operators and staff, it was one of the few places always open where you could get an intelligent late-night meal. It was an after-hours club affair or someplace to fuel up before taking the party to the late afternoon at one of the great house meccas. They kept a lot of the charm and some of the fixtures as Ganesvoort 69 pays its respect to its vaunted past.
This used to be a very fabulous place called Florent, a late-night restaurant which I visited way too many times. What time is it now, Steve? Steve Kasuba: It’s 3:15.
Yeah, it was possible that I was eating here at 3pm from the night before. Steve: Ending your night.
Very possible. And there would be some S&M hookers over here, and some transsexual hookers and some other hookers. Spike Lee, lots of trendies. Florent was one of the great places in New York. In fact, when it went down, a lot of people were very upset because Florent was an institution, and you guys were taking over. As a publicist, Steve, you had to talk about what it’s like to go from this legendary space to Ganesvoort 69 without breaking eggs. Corey Lane: Interesting story about Florent himself. He was in here on the first night of friends and family. He came in with his boyfriend, and he sat and he had dinner. I went over and introduced myself, and I had a drink with him. I told him what our intentions were — to maintain this fun, neighborhood dinery type of feel. I said, “We promise that we’ll do good things with the space, but we have tough shoes to fill.” His comment back to me was, “Honey, my shoes are most of the time high heels. You wouldn’t feel comfortable in them.”
Well, he is that kind of guy. With Florent now closed, I don’t know if he still does his infamous Bastille Day party. Maybe you should do a Bastille Day party with him. Corey: We actually spoke about that. David Graziano: You should finish what Florent said. He did give the green light. He said he was happy with what the place had changed into. He kind of passed the baton on … Corey: He thought that we were a good, young group. He felt our vibrancy. He felt that the place was left in good hands. He passed the torch to us that night. It was very nice to have that moment with him.
Well, I think with any success, whether it’s a band or an institution like this, it’s being true to your school, being honest, and no fault can be found in that. Corey: Good sportsmanship.
I think that’s right. You guys are good sports. You’re the nice guys in the business, and you’re not finishing last. So this is Gansevoort 69. Tell me about he other properties you have. You have RdV, Bagatelle, Kiss & Fly. David: The new addition is Kiss & Fly Sao Paulo.
Now tell me about that. Are you going to actually go there? David: Yeah, we were just there last week. We signed a deal. It’s in motion. We’re in the process of designing it right now. We’re going to open up in March after Carnival. It’s a licensing/consulting deal. We’re going to help them get it off the ground. We’ll do co-brand and stuff with the DJs, stuff like that.
How are you going to operate? How do you control quality from 5,000 miles away? Corey: The first thing you have to do is you have to believe in the company. You have to investigate who these people are, what they’ve done before, and their track record, as well. Right now, we feel comfortable with the group that we’re dealing with. They’re responsible.
Are you dealing with Rudolf? Corey: Yeah, we are.
Rudolf Pieper is my mentor. He’s one of my best friends in the world. David: We’re actually designing with Rudolf. The group has done previous projects in the past that have been very reputable and very profitable.
I actually recommended you. Rudolf called me up and he was asking me about brands to take down there because that’s what he does. He rolled out Lotus. I suggested you guys. David: I don’t know if you’ve met any of Rudolf’s partners …
No. I know that I learned the business from him and Steve Rubell, Ian Schrager … he used to have a Cosmopolitan notebook. The next time that you see him, see if he still has it. On the cover of his notebook, he wrote, “In this industry, there are no friends that I cannot get rid of and no enemies that I cannot reconcile with.” David: We trust that the group is going to have the operational skills to help follow out our business plan. We’ll help them in the first couple months by implementing some of the procedures that we use in terms of steps and service. Corey, actually, that’s his expertise.
Is the idea that the Brazilian elite will be at one point passing through New York, and once they pass through New York, they will be familiar with you and therefore, it feeds your New York operation? David: Yes. Absolutely.
Once you do Brazil, Miami seems to be a natural pass because they do take that route. It’s easier to roll out in Brazil because you have that team in place, and Rudolf who does this for a living. So, is Miami kind of a natural next step? David: Miami has actually been on the map for us for quite some time. Miami’s a little trickier for us. I’m always a little bit hesitant with Miami because it’s so seasonal. Miami has to be exactly right. It’s got to be the exact right space, with the exact right local alliance. I’m from Miami, so I have a lot of connections down there as well, and I know the area really well. I wouldn’t make the move to Miami unless all the elements were right. Corey: We’ve come very close.
Kiss & Fly was an easy brand to take to Vegas. Then Vegas got hit hard by the economy, when Kiss & Fly was absolutely peaking. Have your other properties affected Kiss & Fly? Is Kiss & Fly still the same property to you? Bagatelle is different. Where is Kiss & Fly in your scheme of things? How do you maintain the brand? When people expand into other properties, how do you maintain interest in house and quality? Like Marquee is certainly a secondary brand to Avenue now. That’s like a dozen questions. Corey: With Kiss & Fly moving into its third year, where it’s found its groove is the weekends. They’re packed with European and South American tourists. We’ve become an international nightclub brand. The kid coming in from Germany or coming up from Argentina, or coming up in from most parts of South America and Europe — this is the brand that’s first on their list. And I think that that’s a good position to be in.
That’s always been your crowd, Corey. You’ve always been involved with South America. Corey: That is true. We’ve always had a South American crowd, and it’s certainly grown stronger with the European market. Some of our higher-end clientele has moved into RdV. The crowd has been replaced by more of the tourists, more of the transient crowd. The regular crowd that was more prevalent at Kiss & Fly, the higher-end Europeans, has moved over to RdV. They’ve made their mark in New York, and what’s replaced them at Kiss & Fly is more of the tourists.
I actually hear nothing but good things about Kiss & Fly. A number of my friends go on a regular basis. It’s a very strange niche club because it’s not shallow, it still has a great crowd, it has musical chops. It’s actually more fun than other clubs like that. Yet it stands alone. Sometimes it’s forgotten. It’s sort of like you’re not in the mix. You’ve positioned yourself to be to be a little bit off the beaten path. It’s very much like Florent. It’s always there. It’s always going to be there. It’s reliable. David: We share some of the same clientele with those places, but we don’t have a direct competition with them. We like that. I think that its helps. it keep its lifespan and keeps it lively. Steve: Black-Eyed Peas performed last night — an impromptu three songs at Kiss & Fly. Corey: They just jumped on the mike. They asked for a mike and performed three songs impromptu. Last week we had P-Diddy’s birthday party. We do have a mix of what’s happening in New York and a mixture of international crowd, as well.
I’m not a house head. I actually get a little nervous every time I hear house music. Corey: House music is a very general term. We play very, very happy European vocal-style house music.
I do go to see Junior Vasquez now almost every time he plays. David: He plays our Sunday nights.
So I’m going to end up there. Corey: He’s going be there next week actually.
I think Junior has absolutely come into his own. Corey: I’m going to come out because I haven’t heard him in a while.
The last time he played, the crowd gave him a standing ovation at the end of his set. David: Nice.
It was just the most amazing, uplifting thing. It’s great that you’re doing Junior Vasquez on a Sunday. I think that’s great. What time are you starting with that? Is it an early thing? Corey: Yeah. It’s an evening party rather than a late-night party. It starts at 8 and goes until 1 or 2.
It can go early or later if you need to? If it’s something that happens? Corey: If its something that’s happening, yeah. The crowd is definitely hitting earlier.
Let’s talk about RdV. I have not been to RDV. Why is that? You have never invited me. David: Have you physically seen it?
No, let’s walk over after this. Corey: RdV was, when we were initially trying to put together a design, supposed to the room that was the mature side of us. We had Kiss & Fly, which was our playground. And then RdV was going to be more mature — but still playful and sexy. We also wanted it to be a place where it wasn’t overly crowded and you can sit down in kind of a lounge environment. We made larger seating, larger set-ups for groups of people to gather in a very living room-type of environment. So when you’re down there, you get the feeling that this could be somebody’s wealthy playroom. The décor is set up around that. It’s elegant. It’s rich. We have lots of casual, soft light. But it also, again, has our trademark thing, which is a great sound system if you want to pump it up.
As an old-school operator, I think bottom line. If the seats are spread out and they’re really comfortable. How do you accommodate your bottom line? Do you need to get a certain amount per table? Do you have a great rent deal? As operators, how do you make money without cramming people in? David: It’s three venues in one building. RdV is really not about the bottom line … of course, you don’t want to lose money. But we don’t have to bang people over the head for table service or bottom service. In the end, it’s not about that.
Kiss & Fly is paying the bills. David: Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly are paying the rent. The success that we experienced from Bagatelle and Kiss & Fly allows us to run a more exclusive downstairs. We don’t have to apply bottle rules. We don’t have to enforce certain things. Corey: We don’t have to open the door up. David: The place is only available to a very specific demographic of people.
There’s been a big move into clubs and lounges in hotels. A hotel is blessed with the privilege or the ability not to have to really pay rent. Publicists are paid by the hotel. Insurance, security … a lot of the fixed costs of operating, the very high costs of operating are absorbed in the natural operation of the hotel. When they bring in a place like the Boom Boom Room at the Standard, it really doesn’t have to pay the bills that an Avenue or a Kiss & Fly or a stand-alone club does. There are people telling me that the days of the stand-alone club may be numbered. All the clubs at one point will move to hotels for a lot of reasons. Another reason is licensing, plus less police presence. You are a stand-alone club: You’re a restaurant, you are a club, and you are a lounge all in one operation. Are these people right? Are the clubs doomed? Is the hotel model the way it’s going to go? David: I think that we operate very similar to a hotel without the rooms in the sense that you take a hotel production, the food and beverage of the hotel. They often have a restaurant, maybe two, a club, a lounge, and then they have rooms above them. Well, we have the restaurant. We have the club. We have the lounge. We just don’t have the rooms above them.
But it’s the rooms that are making the money. Corey: Yeah, but look at Vegas. The numbers that they do off the floor — they’re astronomical. They’re making 50% of their revenue from their food and beverage. I think that you’re right … at some point I do think that incorporating yourself into a hotel gives you some protection and some benefits. David: It also helps drive business because you have people staying in the hotel. The nightclub venue and the hot restaurant also help drive business to the hotel. So there’s a synergy between them.
Are you getting offers from hotels? David:Yes. We’re looking at a couple different things. Corey: That’s a direction we would like to go, as well.