Good Night Mr. Lewis: Going Big!

With the re-launch of Webster Hall tomorrow with DJs Kascade and Cassidy — on the very same night that Pacha celebrates its third anniversary with Eric Morillo — the question arises — is a new era of the ginormous club upon us? I’m handling the redux of the 137-year-old Webster Hall with my partner Marc Dizon and our team. It’s been a wonderful experience but a ton of work; I’m so beat that I can’t speak, and that’s 80 percent of my game, but hopefully it will look great for you guys come Saturday night. Webster and Pacha are different animals; Pacha is dealing mostly with one circuit DJ after another, while Webster has the big DJs on the main floor and four other DJs playing different genres of music in satellite rooms.

The theory of the big club is that with volume, the common costs that often bring a club down are covered more easily than in a small joint. Publicists, managers, accounting teams, clean-up crews, and tons of other costs run relatively the same whether you hold six hundred people or a thousand. But the high-end potential to make money is far greater in the big joint, which grabs the huge corporate events; a place like Webster is used two hundred times a year for concerts. You can charge at the door, and many, many people don’t mind that if you give them something worth paying for. The real question now revolves around bottle service.

The bottom line in so many places has been, for a very long time, dependent on the sales of bottles of Goose and other potent brews. With the table service mentality waning, clubs must turn to admissions to make up for their losses. Can the smaller clubs get people to pay? Marquee does a great job of it, and as of a week ago Home has begun to charge with great success. Others will follow in swift succession.

I think Webster will be a blast, and I hope you all come down to see it. I’ll be there, and then I’ll head up to see DJ Morillo late. Oh, and Mansion is still with us long after many had predicted it would not be. I think that the public — bored of the model dropping the bottle service (with attitude no less) — will begin to consider the big spots as getting a bang for your buck becomes ever more important. On the verge of Pacha’s third anniversary, I had a chat with co-owners Eddie Dean and Rob Fernandez to see how things have worked out for the ginormous club:

Guys, congrats on three years. The first year was pretty hairy … there was a lot of competition with Crobar, but now Crobar is ancient history, and you guys are still here. Eddie Dean: True … actually I think all three years were hairy. The club business is always going to be hairy no matter where, when, or what.

So how is Pacha different now from when you opened it three years ago? Where you are now? ED: Well I think we’ve definitely attained a level of respect globally; we’re now a destination for world-class DJs. If you’re anybody coming through New York, you want to play at Pacha, and I think we had to earn that. A lot of DJs could play anywhere they want, but they wait, they really want to see that a club is going to be everything it’s supposed to be. Rob Fernandez: Even someone like Danny Tenaglia … I tried to get him to play here, and he wouldn’t play here for ten months. He wanted to see how Pacha would be, to see if it turned out to be up to par. And now we’re the club of choice for all the big talents.

How is the economy striking you? ED: We’re definitely starting to see the effects now. Up until recently it’s been okay, but now around the holidays as people have less expendable income, they’re going to really pick their spots. They seem to come out for the bigger parties, so certain weeks when we may not have a high-profile act, they’ll choose that weekend to stay home. But hopefully everyone is coming out this weekend for the anniversary. RF: We try to have an event here every night because people are jaded, they don’t have money, so we’ve got to make it worth it for them to leave the house.

Are you lowering your prices for drinks and admission? ED: We’ve definitely created options for admission; we have several different ways for getting in for free, reduced; there are all sorts of incentives that we do. We definitely offer table specials, where we didn’t at one point, and we are offering drink service at tables on certain nights. We even offer non-alcoholic packages now for people that may not drink, but want to sit.

How about the bottle service? Is it diminishing? ED: It’s becoming scarce because there are less people to pick from. There are less people who are spending frivolously; I think they’re really being careful. Some people may want to fix up their house instead of buying a new house, or they may go out once a month instead of three nights out of the month. So I think that stands true with tables — a guy who used to get a table every week, now he gets a table maybe once or twice a month.

Are the DJ prices going to come down? RF: Not as much as we would’ve liked, but they are coming down out of necessity. But its funny — for the really big DJs, it makes them more valuable because you know if you have someone like a Tiesto, it’s a sure thing that people are willing to pay more for these guys. So it seems like their prices aren’t going down. ED: The haves and the have-nots just like everything else. There are certain DJs that have earned a level of respect, and they kind of still name their price, but everyone else, they’re just hoping that you’re going to book them again.

At the end of three years, there are three large clubs left: Pacha, Mansion, and Webster Hall. You are the only international club, but do you see the other clubs as competition still? Or do you think that you’re off on your own doing something unique? RF: At the end of the day, there’s always going to be somebody, and it might be a big club, or it might be a small club that’s our competition.

What small club would be competition for you? RF: Even Cielo for example; they’re down in the Meatpacking District, but if they have the right talent on one night, they can hurt us. I remember the night they had Steve Lawler. I look back during last summer, and a lot of people who come to this club on Friday nights went to Cielo that night. So it can be any little club. ED: Or it could be a special event, like Paul Van Dyk playing at Roseland Ballroom. RF: So for us, we just focus on what we do, because there’s always going to be somebody coming along. It’s never going to be easy, and we can’t really pay so much attention to our competition. We have to pay attention to what we’re doing.

You’re DJ-oriented; do you do well when you have a great DJ, but not as well when you don’t? ED: No, we just promote differently — we try to reach different audiences by tailoring our promotions differently. In a club this size, we’re constantly trying to turn the page and find new angles and new ways to reach different audiences — that’s a nightclub by definition, you’re somewhat of melting pot. We still pride ourselves on reaching all audiences here. On Friday we had more of a Chelsea crowd in here; Saturday night we had the Martinez brothers and a little different crowd that night; so we try to mix it up a little bit. RF: If we have a whole bunch of different crowds coming here, then they feel they can come here any night.

Well that’s the question — whether or not a large part of your crowd comes no matter what? RF: Well, I think that if we do a night with the Martinez brothers, then one night is a techno night, people will know that any night they come here there’s good music. And it may not be their bag exactly, but they’ll like it and they know it’ll be good; it’ll be top notch, no matter what the genre. ED: We figure if we reach out to everybody, it’ll bring up the club as a whole.

And three years in, you guys have the North American franchise of Pacha. RF: Montreal, San Francisco, Miami, Vegas, Puerto Rico …

Is that what we’re talking about? ED: Well right now we’re being cautious and trying to learn from some of the other guys who grew and expanded too fast. We’ve turned down several opportunities in Miami and multiple opportunities in Las Vegas. We’ll do what we feel is right when the time is right. We’re not compelled to just open a club and expand because that’s what people think we should do. RF: Some of these opportunities are pretty attractive on the surface, but when you look at it a little more … ED: I’m not looking for a good deal — you’ve got to get an unbelievable deal, because good deals don’t cut it anymore.

And does it have a lot to do with not diluting the brand? ED: That’s part of it. We know how hard it is to run a club here in New York, so to double the size of our capacity we really need to be sure that it’s going to work. I think that if you spoke to me three or four months ago, I would’ve sad that the next logical step would’ve been Miami, but now I think Vegas has emerged as the next logical step.

Vegas seems to be the next logical step for a lot of people, but of course things aren’t that great out there either. ED: No, I think that if we do something out there, it’s not going to be small — and if we were to enter into any sort of agreement in the very near future, that we would probably be looking two years out, if all the economic predictions are correct (which will be the first time ever). I think that would be good timing.

So you’re basically getting close to a deal right now, and two years from now the build-out would be done, and that should time with the end of current economic crisis? ED: If I had to say so, yeah.

So on your third anniversary you’re looking west, like Horace Greeley said? ED: That’s right.

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