Uncle Steve to Father Steve: Club Dads Over the Years
I spent yesterday in Queens with my family celebrating Father’s Day. It was real nice, underscoring what is important in this world, at least for me. Dad is my reality star, having fought in World War 2 and survived a Great Depression that makes our own woes seem trivial, and raising us kids with his old school and honest values. Mom and him have been together for over 60 years. When I got back to Manhattan, it was off to Goldbar to say goodbye to Natalie Glanzman, who has been my assistant for a bit. There was a birthday party for a friend as well, and everyone was to wear lingerie or bed clothes. Seemed like a good idea on paper, but looked quite odd in reality. Goldbar honcho Jon Lennon told me that he always considered me one of his club fathers, me and Mark Baker both. We’re his co-dads. I got a lot of that yesterday on Facebook, and in texts from people who see me in this light. Uncle Steve might graduate to Father Steve if I stick around long enough. After 2 marriages and no kids, I just assumed I had been shooting blanks.
Survival in club-land isn’t all that easy, and it’s arguable that I didn’t actually survive my club career as I was put out to pasture by the powers that be a bit earlier than I wanted. Still, I had a good run and am proud of much of what I have done. So many of our city’s owner/operators worked with me over the years. I hope I was a positive influence. It is nice to have bright, successful people give me props. I, myself, have many fathers besides dad to thank.
My first club father was Rudolf. Under him I learned the value of “fabulous” at Danceteria, and later, the Palladium. His partner at Danceteria, John Argento, taught me to temper the “fabulous” with a common sense, bottom line focus. I learned from them that almost anyone can actually make money in this business—just look around at the fools doing it today. Also, almost anyone can make the place fun, exciting and well, fabulous—but to do both, to make it fabulous and make money, is an art. I approached all my club endeavors with this attitude. Rudolf is in Brazil having opened over 75 joints, and John has a place in New Jersey making money, selling booze.
The greatest club dad I ever had was Steve Rubell. I was the director of the Palladium under Steve and Ian Schrager. Steve’s Rolodex of bold face names was unparalleled. He new everyone. He was always the brightest, most charismatic guy in the room. He taught me how to spend money to make money. He taught me the importance of detail. He personally hired every single employee. They represent you and your brand. I could write for hours about what I learned form Steve and Ian. Steve passed years ago and Ian has a hotel empire.
Maurice Brahms and his partner Angelo were pure grit. They taught me to watch every dollar, and the importance of people you can trust. Maurice had Infinity, the Underground, Redzone, and eventually the Palace de Beaute. He is largely forgotten, even though his joints were often the best in town. He rarely stepped on my toes. He wanted to know why, but let me and mine run it, recognizing that is what we were good at. He was the most honest man I ever met in the world of clubs, and I learned that honesty with staff and in business has rewards far beyond the bottom line. He works with a national health club chain and we remain friends
Peter Gatien built an empire with Michael Alig, myself, and a cast of characters that books and movies rarely describe correctly. At our peak we had Palladium, Tunnel, Limelight, and USA—four clubs that should figure in everyone’s top twenty. Unfortunately, Peter was the greediest of them all. His drive took him to the top of the heap, but his need to have it all left him empty. I learned how to delegate and the importance of the door under Peter. He valued sound, lights and a great DJ in coordination with the social/promoter scene I had mastered. He made me better at my job. Peter is living in Canada. An exile, not on main street, with his club Circa taken from him. I hear he is not well, and I wish him happiness and peace of mind.
Frank Roccio, Arthur Weinstein, and Peter Frank were also some of my dads. The World on East 2nd street was one of the top 5 joints there ever was. I was its director. Frank Roccio pushed me out front, where I dealt with guns, creeps, wannabe’s and real be’s. It was violence waiting to happen, and deals were made with the devil just to open the doors. Frank helped me grow my balls. There was no backing down for me, I stood up and fought the good fight and learned from him that the street is where it all comes from. The music, the fashion, and the ideas all come from the gutter. Arthur took nothing for himself that he wasn’t going to give back to the crowd immediately. He taught me about the lights, and the importance of the show. He was always comfortable with the little people and made the rich, talented, and powerful prove themselves everyday. Phrases like “What have you done lately?” or “So what?” dressed blustering swells and pseudo celebs down. Peter Frank was aware he was swimming with sharks, but managed to keep the unmanageable afloat. In the end, intellect will get you through when experience and balls aren’t enough. His thought process, honed at Harvard, defined my future. Arthur passed and everyone assumes Frank has as well. Peter’s fate is almost as bad. He’s a lawyer in upstate New York.
There were many others that I worked with who taught me so much. Barry Gutin and Larry Cohen in Philly, Suzanne Bartsch, Steven Greenberg, and many more showed me better ways to operate. But these were my club dads. They taught me more than I taught them, and I am always thankful. I had a good run in clubs. I saw a list the other day of the top 10 joints of all time, and I ran 5 of them. It’s nice now, looking back and being called Uncle Steve and such, and the Fathers Day greetings were cute. Any success I may have had was owed to the people I’ve learned from, because of the opportunities I had working for so many brilliant men. Isaac Newton said about the physicists who preceded him: “If I have seen further than other men, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”