Eugene Closes & More on Cielo
Sometimes the sound of panic is barely audible — like in those slasher movies where the victim is silent, holding her breath, fearful of the unseen menace all around. This is the state of New York City nightlife; a number of spaces are on the brink, and all are slashing and burning payroll. The irony is that it was only a few months ago that landlords were trying to force clubs out, but now they see them as hostile tenants — which is way better than no tenants at all. Now comes word that Eugene (a club most people didn’t know was still open) bit the dust.
Named after a man about town, Eugene (Gene) Dinino, the space lasted ten years. It even expanded to include the fabulous-for-a-moment Gypsy Tea, which also sunk. It was a place where Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss of Marquee and Tao made their mark. Paul Sevigny of Beatrice had a run there too, as well as Plumm’s Noel Ashman. Its art deco elegance was a successful lure for too many to count corporate events by uber coordinator Neal Erman. In recent years, Eugene emerged for a second as Madison, which was possibly the worst-managed club in history. Then a couple of guys named Joe Atuana and Keith Dorsett had about five minutes of fame, had no idea what to do with it, and they ended it.
I caught up with Gene Dinino and congratulated him on a great run. He conceded that it was time. He had the space for fifteen years, and he fought to get the place open for the first five, paying rent all the way. I wish Gene luck; he’s one of the good guys.
With the Cutting Room’s demise earlier this month, 24th Street will be oh so quiet. The two clubs probably employed 150 or so people, which I guess is nothing in a city predicted to shed about 150,000 jobs. Cabs won’t be picking up fares, and garbage guys won’t stop and screech, and booze and cups won’t be at all necessary. Local restaurants won’t get patrons coming in for a bite before, and so on. Our wondrous world of clubbing is shedding its weakest links. We stand staring at the tip of an iceberg big enough to sink a fleet of Titanics, and the smart money knows that most of the berg is under the water, silently waiting. Eugene won’t be the last to go. Soon, some hot ones might shock you with their disappearance. To all the Monday-morning quarterbacks and those whose vast knowledge of how a joint works ends at swizzle sticks, I want you to know that running a place isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. So these days … well, it’s going to take a lot of love.
Cielo is a great club in the midst of this banging. With eyes on the horizon, they are thinking about cautious forward moves. Here’s part 2 of my interview with owner Nicolas Matar. This is how a successful club mind works:
I interviewed The Ministry of Sound last week, and they’re moving into Friday nights at Mansion. What were your thoughts when you heard that? Mansion, the old Crobar space, is the one of the largest club spaces in the city. And in this day and age, it’s not easy to fill a space of that size. The Ministry of Sound was the company that invented branding in nightlife when they opened their club in London in 1991. They were the first to release DJ mix compilations, so I think that for many years now they have been trying to enter the US market to either open venues or do these branded events. Mansion seems to be their first foray.
How does it affect the house music market? Is some of your crowd going to want to go to the Ministry of Sound? Are they competitors? I don’t think it’s going to affect Cielo because they’re going for a much more commercial, mass-market audience with Ministry at Mansion and with the lineup that I’ve seen for the opening night. It’s something completely different than what we’re doing here. But I think it could be a wise business move for them because it’s a huge venue and they need to fill it, so I wish them all the best for that.
You were a resident DJ in Pacha Ibiza; how did that translate into owning a club? It was in the 90s, and it was the heyday of house music. That’s what really inspired me to come back to New York and open up Cielo.
Are there any other ex DJs who are owners in this town? I don’t believe so; I was one of these anomalies I guess. I started DJing when I was really young, but I still made myself go through business school.
What is the relationship between Cielo and Pacha now? Cielo and Pacha have a very very close relationship. First and foremost, the family that owns Pacha — the Urgell family — I’ve known them since I was 19 years old. For me, Pacha Ibiza was like the Garage or Studio 54 — that was the club that changed my life. Anyone who went to Pacha Ibiza between the late 80s throughout the 90s will tell you it was the best club that ever existed. The residency there inspired me to come back and open this place. With Pacha New York, I have a very close relationship with both Eddie and Rob. Rob actually hosts a night here, called “Dance Here Now,” and he does it usually twice a month at Cielo on a Thursday night alongside Benny Soto, one of the big promoters in New York, who is also one of my managers.
So I’m looking at the design … I walked into Cielo the first time, and I went whoa! To me it was a breakthrough. I thought at that time that it was the best-designed club I’d ever seen. As I sit in here six years later, it looks exactly the same, and I still think it’s one of the most relevant designs I’ve ever seen. It was a collaboration between my partner and I — and I only have one partner by the way, his name is Philippe Rieser. We collaborated with Stephan Dupoux and Dan Agne. To this day, if you asked them who was the most anal client they ever had, they would say it was me.
Well, you’re an owner wearing a DJ hat, and a DJ wearing an owner hat; you’re very much involved. The banquettes are padded, the walls are padded, the dance floor is hugged in the middle; everything was done so that the sound would be perfect. It was purpose-built for dancing. The goal was to focus all of the sound in the epicenter, which is the dance floor area, so that when people are seated on the banquettes on the perimeter, they can have a conversation.
How much time was spent on it? We were lucky first and foremost to find this space. The concept for a nightclub that my partner and I had from the very beginning had to be done in a square, very symmetrical room with a centrally located dance floor and seating around the perimeter, which is an age-old discotheque layout. In the 90s when Giuliani shut down nightclubs and we had all this ridiculous cabaret enforcement, you had a proliferation of all these lounges. They all had really bad sound systems, and they just were not made for dancing. In those days, if you remember, they even used to put signs on the walls saying “no dancing allowed”. So you either had those lounges like Chaos, Spy, and places like that, or you had the big, underground blackbox kind of clubs, like Soundfactory and Twilo. There was never that happy medium between a nice, opulent, comfortable lounge and an underground club.
I interviewed the Martinez Brothers recently, and they were incredible kids. With the Internet and the ability to download and use Serato, etc., we’re going to see more of these young high schools kids who are breaking out. Is this the beginning of a new era? The only way that club culture is going to move forward in this country is for a new generation to get involved. Because right now the problem that we’re having is that it’s an aging demographic. House music and the people who listen to it, for the most part in this country, are getting older — they’re in their 30s, 40s, 50s. So unless a new generation starts to embrace this type of music, it’s not going to go forward,. I hope that there’s many more Martinez Brothers, and I hope that Hollywood and radio will start championing this kind of music.
Besides the Martinez Brothers, who are the next wave? Who will be the next Danny Tenaglia or David Morales in ten years? There’s no one you can compare to the Martinez Brothers … their story is unique. And it’s very hard to predict who the stars of tomorrow are going to be in terms of DJs. The city that I’m city the most creativity coming out of these days is Berlin. It used to be London, but in the last five years, it’s really moved to Berlin. London was the epicenter for as long as I can remember, London and New York, but Berlin now, even for soulful house, a lot of songs that we’re licensing for the compilation, are from labels from Berlin. It’s a place like New York in the 80s where you can go as an artist, get a huge loft, pay nothing in rent, and just live there and enjoy life and party and not need five jobs to get by.