NYNA’s New Kid on the Block
The New York Nightlife Association (NYNA) is often the only thing that stands between a vibrant night scene and the powers that would turn the Big Apple into a bedroom community. Paul Seres is the newly elected President of the association. I feel Paul will bring the energy and guts needed to take this thing to another level. I love David Rabin and commend him on a job well done.
Congratulations on being elected the new NYNA president. Give me a state of the club scene. I think right now we are at a very critical point. Owners and operators are dealing with more issues now than ever before, and all this through a recession that has everyone wondering what is waiting for them around the corner. Our industry has always been heavily regulated, but now it seems we get less help where we need it and are left to deal with increased violations that lead to heavier fines. I’ll give you an example: Public Assembly permits and inspections. Very often, FDNY and DOB who are both involved in the process, can’t seem to get on the same page. Venues inspected by FDNY write violations stating one thing, and DOB expects something completely different. Venue operators are stuck in the middle between two city agencies who could care less what the other is claiming and the venue operator is left to figure it out on their own. If the city wants to close a business down, it can have representatives from NYPD, DOB, FDNY, ECB, and DOH all show up at the same time at the same place. To get the same agencies to inspect a premise in order to get them open or to fix issues such as Public Assembly permits, it’s like herding cats. Logic would state that jobs are at stake; people’s livelihoods and taxes are all there for the offering once that business gets open, so let’s get them open, but here we are. I will say this: We now have better relationships with some city and state agencies than we’ve had in the past. But getting them to communicate to one another for anything other than closing a business is something completely different. David Rabin left some big shoes to fill. I’m not sure David’s shoes will ever be filled. The amount of work and time he has contributed to the industry as a whole is monumental. Even though he has stepped down in an active role in the Association, he is still a member of our board and now holds the title President Emeritus. I think the industry is incredibly lucky to have had David be our president and I know we as an industry would not be where we are today if not for his efforts and those of Rob Bookman, who is still our counsel. Batman and Robin or Robin and Batman, take your pick, but Gotham is more fun because of them both. What steps are you taking to make things better? We are being very proactive as an association in areas that affect not only the venues, but will have a positive impact on our patrons and our communities. We are working with some elected officials to get new legislation introduced for enhanced security training for licensed establishments. Presently, the training that is required by the state for security guards that work at a department store is the same for a license security guard at a bar, lounge or a nightclub. There is a disconnect, since the issues that come up in a nightclub are vastly different than those that may arise at a Macy’s. California and cities like Providence, have already passed this type of legislation. This is a win win win for all parties involved. We are also working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Task Force on Sexual Assault to come up with additional training so our employees know what to look for before sexual assaults may occur. Now that NYNA is under the New York State Restaurant Association, we have been working with them on issues that affect both sides of the industry such as letter grading and immigration reform. Is working with the community boards going to get any easier ? I think for some it already has but not because the community board members are making it any easier. After Denis Rosen took over the State Liquor Authority he made it very clear that he would follow the ABC code to a “T”. One of his primary objectives was to get rid of the backlog of applications by October of 2010 and he is well on his way. He also made it clear that unless an applicant agreed to earlier closing times, the SLA would not deny an application simply because the community board did not want that applicant to close at 4 AM but demanded they close earlier. I’m most curious to see what happens with the Mayor’s Charter review. That will be the most telling tale of the community board process and how it relates to our industry. As a board member of Community Board 4 (Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen), the charter reform seems to be the big x factor that no one really knows which way it will go. We are getting more owner operators of nightlife venues on community boards to help create a balance between small businesses and the NIMBY’s that want to turn New York City into a bedroom community. Do you feel that many of the fines and summonses operators receive is simply because a lack of knowledge on the ins and outs of city policy, negligence? I love this town but sometime it can be a real son of a bitch when it comes to how it treats businesses that offer jobs and pay enormous amounts of taxes every year. You think with a billionaire mayor who has been a successful businessman, things would be different. NYNA has been involved with a group out of California called Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) who works with municipalities all over North America, helping them better manage their nighttime economy. They break the process down into three steps, plan, manage and police. In setting up special nightlife districts, if each city follows steps one and two, then step three is very seldom needed. New York it seems knows how to police but very rarely does the city plan or manage. Most of the city agencies we as an industry have to deal with are set up to be punitive. Look at the nuisance abatement law and how it is used. If the police are having issues with a venue, they don’t notify the management and tell them they have a problem. They get an order from a judge on a weekday, wait for Friday night, and then order the venue closed and vacated for the weekend. The venue must remain closed all weekend since there are no civil judges available until the following week. In addition to any fines or stipulations that have to be met before the venue is allowed to open, the venue also loses the weekend’s revenues to add insult to injury. If the police were willing to work with the venue, they could approach the venue prior to the weekend and explain the issues they have. I’m not saying this will work every time, there are bad operators who will continue to be bad operators. But if these issues arise with good operators, and they had no idea the police had these issues with them (most of the cases are brought about by undercover operations) I’m sure the operator will work with the police in order to stay open. What can you do about that? NYNA has a good working relationship with the NYPD but obviously nuisance abatement is where we don’t see eye to eye. We are in the process of working with them to release a second edition of the Best Practices Guidelines. I also think that more lines of communication with local police precincts, city agencies, and elected officials will help mitigate any of the issues that can arise. What is your background and why did you agree to take on this position? Let me answer the second part first. I agreed to take on this position because I was at a point in my career where I was taking sometime to think about which direction I wanted to go. I had just sold my interest in my nightclub Sol last year and decided I would use my free time to work with the Association and you Steve on things like helping get the Nightlife Preservation Community launched as well as work on other initiatives such as the Manhattan DA’s Task Force on Sexual Assault. It became a labor of love and I really like being a Nightlife Activist fighting for our industry and what makes this city great. I really enjoy being on the front lines of the battles that are shaping our industry. Now the first part, I’ve done just about every job in hospitality. I started out working in the industry when I was trying to get my commercial directing career off the ground back in the early 90’s. I owned my first place back in 94, a neighborhood bar and restaurant on the UES called Lefty Louie’s. Once I was able to sustain my living as a commercial director I left the industry but loved going out to all the amazing venues the city had. I started traveling all over the world for work and would visit as many nightlife venues as I could soaking it all in, seeing what other people did, looking at what worked and what didn’t. I guess I realized that at some point I would get back into it. In 2005 I decided to make the switch back and put together a team to buy Ruby Falls, which I turned into Sol. I joined the association in 2006 and have been there ever since. Besides this new gig what projects are you working on? I’ve got a few things in the works including a roof top restaurant lounge that will be something amazing when it’s done. I don’t want to go into too much detail now and spoil the surprise but the views will be quiet spectacular. I’m also working on another club, where I won’t disclose the location but will be downtown. What drives you? I am a creature of the night and there has always been something that NYC has offered that I can’t get enough of. I live in the Lower East Side and every time I walk out of my apartment I love that pulse the city has. I love the diversity this city has to offer but most importantly I love the potential our industry has to get back on top and reinvent itself. This industry produces some of the most unique people you will ever get to know, and I have been fortunate enough to work, on many different levels, with most of them, yourself included, and I just absolutely love that. In an ever-changing economy and business landscape how do operators keep their joints operating? I think good operators are going to have to dig deep and become more creative in how they approach their individual businesses. The bottle service trend made things very easy for a lot of operators and now that it is subsiding, more creative solutions will have to be found in order to survive. I’ve heard you say this all the time that the good operators will always figure out a way to stay in business and I couldn’t agree with you more. But being a good operator isn’t just about how you can get the crowd in and squeeze as much money as you can out of each customer. It will also entail working within the industry on issues that we have to fight every day. It will be working with area residents and other businesses as the defining lines of nightlife districts get blurred more and more each day.