Good Night Mr. Lewis: Santos’ Party House

With Christmas just moments away, I wanted to sit down with the Santos’ Party House boys; I think this is the best joint in town of its type. Rosebar, Cielo and1Oak are all different but in many ways the same. Next week, for New Years, I’ll try to get into what I think are the years’ most important places and stuff like that. Bogie had it right, or at least Sam did when he sang, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.” This is my mantra. I believe that 2,000 years ago there was some guy just like me who had a little joint in a good location in Rome. He was close enough to the forum to grab some of that business, but near enough to the Temple of Venus to excite the natives. He served some swill and had somebody offering the modern tunes of the day on a lute or a lyre. He had a hot chick behind the bar and an ex-gladiator or two to keep the patrons in line. On slow nights, maybe he had a promotion: a toga party or an orgy.

The people came out for the same reasons that they come out today: to escape or celebrate their realities, to meet some folks they don’t know, or to gather with their friends. People like to gather in joints and let their hair down. If operators can keep it simple or at least stay focused on the fundamentals, they are one step up on a great deal of the competition. Most operators get caught up in the hubbub and egos, and other distractions confuse the issues. The boys over at Santos zeroed in on the truth real early on and from what I’ve seen, they have stayed the course. Their New Years’ Eve line-up is overkill. They are giving back to those who support them. This year I lost my best friend, Arthur Weinstein; he was rarely wrong about people and places and he declared Santos’ “a hit” — and so it is.

I’m sitting with Derek Ferguson and Larry Golden, Ron Castellano and Andrew W.K. at Santos’ Party House. Tell me where the name came from? I get it all confused, the name, the address, before you had 100 Lafayette and now… Andrew W.K.: We’re actually 96 Lafayette now, we moved. We moved two doors down from 100 to 96. We wanted a little more space and Ron, one of our partners, is a very skilled architect, designer and builder and was able to allow us to get 8 more feet in space by moving everything 8-ft down the block. On the sidewalk you can see the difference a little bit, but essentially it looks almost exactly the same. Has there been a profound effect on the clientele because of this move? Andrew: It’s interesting. It’s just a little more relaxed, just 8 more feet of room.100 was a great number but we wanted the 69, and then we wanted to turn that mother out, so it’s turned out.

69 is a Vietnamese restaurant across the street, right? Andrew:Right, and 96 is two people pleasuring themselves back to back.

Now I went out on a limb when you guys opened and said that you were going to be the shit–the greatest thing in the world, and you were supposed to send me a t-shirt and you never did. Andrew: Yea, I know. We ran out actually, but we just ordered some last week.

You owe me a t-shirt. Larry: Yea we do.

So I went out on a limb because I felt that if people tried in this world to do something cool, that it could actually be done. I think most club owners compromise from day one, and you guys sort of made a decision not to compromise. You chose to have great music and to do it for the kids, that was the decision. How has that affected you financially? Derek: One of the things you said in that original statement was that it was true to our school and that’s why you felt confident in our success. We’ve tried to do egalitarian parties that everybody can more or less get into and enjoy. And also parties that represent the flavor of the city and the various scenes that we’re all a part of that affect the city’s nightlife. But there’s pressure from commercial interests for branding and marketing bullshit that goes on. The whole corporate suits thing is something that we really haven’t done, and I think as a result of that, you’re seeing some affects to the bottom line in terms of…we could be doing more corporate parties, we could be doing more sponsorship things and yet we’re not.

Now there’s five of you, who draws the line, how do decisions get made? Ron: I think for the most part we’re all in the same way of thinking. Derek: We share the same vision. But when you’re talking about money and you’re talking about the purity of your message, there are times when there must be cross purposes. You’ve got to pay rent, you’ve got to party and you might not be as cool as you want. Andrew: My personal feeling is just a case-by-case- instinct. And that’s been the way I think we’ve really done most things. I don’t think we’ve had to draw any very hard lines over what we do. I think the whole place is a result of our individual tastes and trying to apply that to as broad a scope of the city as possible and working from there. So we really work on the fly, that’s why it’s a constantly evolving creative space because we don’t just have a rule book that says “this is what it is, this is what it is” and that’s why the name keeps changing, that’s why the place looks different.

Let’s go through the name for a second. Tell me about the name, how does the name evolve and why is it evolving? Is it done or purpose or is just happening? What is Santa/Santos? Derek: Well, first we were worried about a lawsuit from the North Pole… Ron: And we wanted to create a place that had an inviting sort of confusion. The traditional approach, which could be with any business, but especially with a nightclub in New York, is to pick a name that is somehow perceived as impressive and catchy that people would instantly understand and be able to go to. You really want to get it out there and shove it down their throats because there’s so much competition. So part of it, I think, was just trying to do the opposite of what we thought was normally done, or what we thought you were supposed to do and instead being more subversive. Changing the name and not having people even know what the name was or where it’s located and not being able to find pictures of it, just to draw people in. Because when there’s so much being offered to you all the time, especially culturally, it takes a little more for someone to have to step up and say, “okay, I’m interested in this,” but if you pull back a bit, especially in New York, if people want to find out then they have to take that first step. We wanted to make it an interactive experience, especially at the beginning, so that people would be able to make up their own mind and not really be told what it is by us. Andrew: Yea, we were like this is what we are and this is the coolest but no wait, actually maybe we’re not and who knows what we are?

So you don’t want to be defined too easily, you want to keep evolving and changing. Derek: I think the name is more irreverent than anything else. It’s like Santa’s Party House, okay, what does Santa do? He chills most of the year, and parties and then does a day and a night of work. But if you look at it from a sort of literary critical level, there’s the shift to Santos, who is the trickster figure of Santa Claus in many cultures. Like Black Peter, that’s the guy who is punishing certain kids, he’s leaving them a lump of coal, which is kind of harsh and he’s rewarding the good kids. If you think about the way club scene is, they’ve got the line and a similar concept: I well remember being outside of Spa, and it’s either — you’re not coming in, or you’re coming in — there’s a little bit of punishment and reward. And we wanted to be a place that’s about reward, where Santa goes to party but also like Andrew said, there’s this subversive trickster element to it. The shift to Santos is the ghost of Santa, I think, as Andrew described it. Andrew: Yea, a non-physical presence. We wanted to work as a collective, we even went beyond us and tried to think in this collective unconscious nightlife headspace and that would be signified by this character Santa Santos.

That’s a very important thing, to think outside of your own persona. Derek: Yea, it’s the concept of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. It’s the idea that you’ve tapped into this collective unconsciousness of what people are doing and it sort of coalesces into action, it’s an art and that’s how it’s defining itself. Andrew: But here it’s manifested as a location.

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