Travis Bass Explains the Vision Behind Madame Wong’s
When the New York Times blew up Madame Wong’s, exposing it to hordes of weekend warriors, many snarky naysayers proclaimed that the end was inevitable. The already overwhelmed door model Vance Brooking, who faced the daunting task of trying to get so many round pegs into the square hole of the Chinese restaurant Jobee, was suddenly looking forward to an invasion. But cooler heads prevailed, and instead of cramming them in, the Wong crew tightened it up. The result has been stupendous with breathing, chatting, and socializing room galore.
Once only a pop-up, it is now a must visit. I caught up with Travis Bass one of the players at Madame Wong’s.
How was the Madame Wong’s concept conceived? Madame Wong’s was an idea that I came up with while in Berlin.I was going to these really underground clubs in Kreuzberg and realized that just like ‘80s NYC, these clubs were cool and underground because they were built with art and ideas rather than driven by money. They were built by the artists for the artists. I decided to find a space in NYC that was run down and/or losing money. Then with creativity and a limit of $6,000 I would turn it into a non-pretentious place for the downtown art /design scene to get together, hang out and have fun. I didn’t want to look for a permanent space as the cost of opening it and the wait alone really puts a financial stress on you. This stress causes you to think only about how you are going to get that money back and takes away the fun. This stress Berlin and old NYC didn’t have. I realized that this is what is missing –when money is the only objective and people feel like a dollar rather than a guest.
How did you make this concept come to life? When I got back to NYC I reached out to Simonez Wolf as he was the only person I knew would understand what I wanted to create and would be the only person capable of making it happen. We had both already done some cool parties over the past year at the Bowery Hotel, Pravda and White Slab and have a very similar group of friends and taste. He is very well versed in the arts and has an incredible knowledge of nightlife. He is also the #1 person in the downtown scene. All the cool people follow him.
How did you find the space for Madame Wong’s? The first challenge obviously was finding the perfect location and space and that is where our third partner Max Koshkerman comes in. Max had been trying desperately to put a deal together for a space on 3 Howard Street called Jobee. The deal had way too many roadblocks and was left for dead. Simonez told me about the space and we realized that it was perfect for the Berlin / ‘80s NYC concept. It was on a quintessential old school NYC block that had never been gentrified, rats and all. At this point we all got together and came up with a plan to get the space.
How did you convince the owners to let this happen? Max had built up this incredible relationship with the owners of Jobee. Without this we would have never been able to sell them on our idea. The best part is that after a while they really got excited about our concept even though I’m sure they didn’t understand all of it, they really trusted us and wanted to give us a chance to show them how great it could be. None of us knew how long it would last or how big it could get, the whole process has been very organic.
How did you turn Jobee Restaurant into Madame Wong’s? Simonez, Max, and I knew that we would have to do the majority of the install work ourselves in order to give it the look and feel the way we wanted.Thinking of this not so much as a traditional interior design job but as a temporary installation that is ever changing and knowing that we didn’t want everything to be fake and perfect but to be flawed and rough. It took us six days total from beginning the construction till our first party, The ‘S Magazine’ party. We opened despite being 80 percent done and over the first month of being open we kept improving the space and changing things around. Till this day we are always changing the space. This flexibility is what makes the space fun, most spaces nowadays take themselves too seriously. Who is attending your parties? We pride ourselves on having a very diverse mix of people at Madame Wong’s. We believe that the best parties are the ones where there are no majorities. As far as celebrities: From Jessica Simpson, to Terence Koh and everyone in between.
How do you get them there? We treat our door at Madame Wong’s like the door to our own houses. The majority of the guests that come to Wong’s are friends of ours. We invite them personally, not through mass texts or emails or Facebook. We make an invite to Madame Wong’s mean something. We also get a lot of help bringing fresh faces in to Wong’s from our doorman Vance Brooking, Henry Stimler who is our VIP host/Partner plus our resident DJs May Kwok, Japanster and Zara Zachrisson.
How did you get into nightlife? Back in the ‘90s in Los Angeles I used to throw underground parties. Much like Madame Wong’s they were my answer to feeling bored with nightlife at the time. After a few years of creating these thematic events I went full-time into design and event production as well as interior design. I moved from LA to NYC in 1998 to do design for The limelight and Tunnel nightclubs for club king Peter Gatien. My job was to always keep the spaces fresh, with new art installations and designs. I ended up designing Circa, Peter’s 50,000 square foot mega club in Toronto,
What does the future have in store for Travis Bass? I’m spending the majority of my time right now launching Track Marketing Group, a company that I am partner in and creative director of and I continue to do Private events and interior design under Travis Bass. The great thing about Madame Wong’s is that it ties itself to all my endeavors and actually has been a great business card. I have a place to entertain my friends and clients and I have been able to meet so many new amazing people. I’m also working on what’s next when Madame Wong’s is over. I feel that this is just the beginning as far as a new way, or should I say old way, to look at nightlife.
Image courtesy of Urban Daddy