Good Night Mr. Lewis: The Southside Boys, Part 2

I am deeply honored to be nominated by PAPER magazine for best nightlife blog. However, having already been honored as best nightlife blog by the Village Voice for 2008, I think it’s best that I withdraw and throw my support to another candidate. I have noticed the other bloggers nominated are campaigning, and feel I must spend my own energies campaigning for Barack Obama. I think the problems facing America far outweigh our little scene. I urge all my loyal readers to vote for Barack for President and Rachelle of Guest of a Guest for best blog. I would also like to nominate Brittany Mendenhall of for Vice-Blogger. Thank you, and enjoy Part 2 of the conversation between myself, my editor Fernando Gil, and the Southside boys Anthony Martignetti and James Willis. (See Part 1 here.)

I’m very much enthralled by the design for Southside; I went downstairs, and we talked about how you wanted to make it fun and airy; not so dark. Anthony Martignetti: There’s a huge resurgence in the past five years in New York of speakeasy looks, where everything is hidden and quiet and dark, and a lot of them go down very well. A lot of them had done less well over the years, when a lot of people have started ripping off a lot of the small speakeasies. But then there’s the big New York City nightclub, and I just don’t think there’s anything in between, that I’ve seen.

There’s nothing in between the size of Marquee or a Milk and Honey or Beatrice Inn; something very small, dimly lit, and not a lot of money put into it. I didn’t have $5 million to build a building and do massive staircases.

You’ve done very well; you’ve played games with wallpaper. AM: Yeah, and these are all cheap things.

Yeah, smoke and mirrors, but the art of it is taking a warehouse or a former stable or some sort of factory and making it the hottest place around. And right now … AM: Yeah, this basement was a cold storage.

Amazing. Well, right now this is one of the hottest places around. AM: [Laughing] Wait, wait, “one of”?

How about the name Southside? To me it sounds like Chicago. “Southside” to me is Al Capone from the Southside — where does the name Southside come from? You’re certainly not on the Southside, you’re on the Westside. AM: It’s technically a drink, but it didn’t really come from that. James Willis: We just liked Southside, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s like, “Come to the Southside.” AM: We didn’t want to have a name where you said it and it meant something. We didn’t want to have a name that had a connotation of fancy or hidden. We just wanted the name to just …

I like the fact that you removed the booths from the Southside of the place and it was a cleansing. I like to think of it that way. AM: We definitely had a bit of a cleansing down there. JW: How we did the rooms downstairs — the last time, the booths were in the back, so if you bought a bottle you couldn’t see anyone, and they weren’t a part of the dance floor. How all the banquets are now, they’re all facing each other, so the DJ booth is there and everyone surrounds it, so everyone can see each other.

I think finding the center of a room in design is one of the most important things. JW: It’s nice and light, we’ve got the two disco balls, great sound system, the parties we’ve had have been hands in the air. Fernando Gil: Do a lot of people still think Southside is kind of like the old place that was here, Bella’s? AM: A lot of people still say they’re showing up to Bella’s, or they’re looking for Bar Martignetti.

Is it hard to get rid of that boarding school connotation? AM: We’ve been turning down a lot of our regulars who actually spend a lot of money here, for the common benefit of the space. We want to let some of them in, because they add to the group, but we can’t have 30 guys who live on the Upper East Side in their parent’s places still. FG: So it’s not the Gossip Girl crowd? JW: Yeah, but the kids who worked here previously … we know who the cooler ones are, the crew who would necessarily spend money but … AM: Nick Cohen DJs Thursday and Saturday.

You made this transition from Ruby’s, which is this really boutique little hole-in-the-wall Aussie place on Mulberry Street. And you’ve been talking about this for a long time: You wanna do a club, you wanna do a club. How does it feel now? Is it a dream or is it a nightmare? JW: I feel awesome. I love ringing Anthony in the morning and going, “What’s our plan for the day?” or “We’ve got this party tonight,” or “We’re getting interviewed.” I love doing events, I love throwing parties, I love hosting. I didn’t come to New York wanting to own a nightclub, I was still going to do fashion, but after I left Ruby’s we went to Kingswood … and it just didn’t work out with what I wanted … and me getting older. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t enjoying the restaurant business anymore. And fortunately I came to the Martignetti brothers to ask them to teach me the whole business side to running a nightclub. And I went downstairs, it was like boot camp. I didn’t like the crowd, but his brother showed me how a lot of stuff, how to run the business, how to run a nightclub.

Well, you have qualities that can’t be taught. I’ve been in the business for well, too long, and basically your charisma, your honesty, and your ability to make people feel like they know you are things that many people don’t bring to the table. There’s nothing aloof about you, James, or you, Anthony. I met you guys, and you made me feel like you wanted to be my friend, and that’s something that can’t be taught. A lot of this business in the last ten years has been hijacked by suits with no personalities who really shouldn’t be in the business, and I think the recession is going to bring a natural correction. AM: Nightlife needs to be corrected; promoters have gone way overboard.

You said the “P” word again. FG: What spots do you like and what spots don’t you like downtown? AM: Right now, I go to mostly restaurants. I could live at Indochine.

Anything else you guys want to put in? AM: No hip hop, no promoters.

Promoters is a very weird term now because promoters can be like James said, that he became a promoter by default. You got hijacked. You were bringing your friends in, and you didn’t even know you were a promoter — but you were. As for hip hop, the lines of music are getting blurred. I’m DJing on Sunday nights, and somebody said to me, “You put on a hip hop record,” and I didn’t even know it’s hip hop. So are you sure — none? AM: We’ll sneak it in once in a while. JW: Yeah, we’ll sneak some old school hip hop, we just don’t want like the “Gold Digger” kind of rap music — that same shit we hear at 1Oak and Marquee. I hear the same set every single night. AM: We want to surprise people. We’re small enough that we can do that. JW: Saturday night, downstairs, everyone had their hands in the air. I haven’t been to a club in New York where everyone … AM: We had that much dancing! JW: Everyone was just yelling, screaming, whistling — they loved it. It was amazing. Everyone had a smile on their faces and was just dancing their asses off.

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