Zeno Charity: Catching Up With Past ‘Lifer’ Employee Robert Escalera

Sometimes people say nice things about my clubbing career, citing successful clubs as proof of an outstanding legacy. Some might say I started this or that, or was the first here or there. The legacy that I am most proud of is the success of those who worked with me, and a group of co-workers that became lifelong friends that I refer to as my family. Most of these folks met and lived at my joint Life, and are indeed brothers and sisters to this day. Sadly, most live out in Venice, California, rearing gorgeous babies, hiking, and cooking meals for each other. It’s only a matter of time until I, too, bask by the Pacific. This week members of my clan, Robert Escalera and Patty Doria, return to the East for a soiree to benefit Zeno Mountain Farm.

I caught up with Robert and asked him about the Zeno Mountain Farm benefit, which he’s helping to put together. The film, shot at “Actor’s Camp,” will be shown on Saturday, June 11th at 8pm at the Tribeca Film Centre at 57 Varick St. There will partying after, and I have promised to actually get plastered—something I only do 2 or 3 times a year (whenever I have sex).

What are you up to these days? I am the food and beverage manager for the Poolside Restaurant at The Standard Hollywood and I love it. I have always had a great deal of respect for the Andre Balazs brand and how it maintains its cultural integrity. Having never worked at a hotel before, I was intimidated by being responsible for food and beverage for a property that has room service for 139 rooms, a 24-hour coffee shop, and the poolside restaurant. My fears dissipated rapidly though. The bulk of our business is repeat and we pride ourselves on having guests consider us their second home. I also really love and respect the people I work with which, as you know, makes the world of difference. I know it sounds cheesy but I really love my job and I love how supportive they are to the arts. I’m getting a little long in the tooth and it’s good to work for a company that I believe in, where I can have upward mobility as opposed to just working for money.

I know you’ve been around forever but how did you get started in nightlife? I was in Miami working as a model when I met Chris Paciello at a club he owned called Micky’s with Mickey Rourke. He offered to pay me a couple hundred bucks to bring my friends and said we would all get in for free and get free drinks. I was very confused, and was convinced there must besome ulterior motive. Now in hindsight it made perfect sense. I was always the ringleader and the go-to guy whenever people wanted to go out. I was at castings for work with pretty people all day, so who better to spread the word about your venue?

I remember DJing your Halloween event with BlackBook at The Standard, Hollywood that also benefited Zeno Mountain Farm, how did you get involved and what exactly do you guys do? I’ve always felt hugely blessed and with that gratitude had a sense of responsibility. I remember when I worked at Life I would volunteer at God’s Love We Deliver every Wednesday, and you would ask me why I felt the need. I guess I need to compensate for the superficiality of my life with something that is inherently gratifying, and mine. The story of how I got involved is also a serendipitous one. I was staying with your ex Kelly in Venice and one of my close friends I grew up with was coming to LA to do camp. It turns out camp was literally not even a block from her house. The second I visited I was hooked. It really is the most magical place— full of pure, unadulterated fun. I had just committed to doing two weeks, and immediately got a call from The Standard that I was hired. It was a scary decision to tell the job I had sought that I had a prior engagement for two weeks and would not be able to start until after. I went to camp thinking I would help people but what I never expected was to be the one being helped.

Zeno Mountain Farm is a true grass-roots non-profit camps that supports fun and friendships between people with and without disabilities. Our campers range in age (from 19 to 68 years-old). There are different camps throughout the country, with different focuses, to allow everyone within our unique community the ability to take part in either a creative, or athletic coalition. For the Music camp everyone takes part in writing, producing, and performing a song which we then record in a music studio and make into a music video. For our current camp, Actors Camp in Venice, we write, produce and film a movie in which everyone at camp is a star. At Ski Camp and Summer Camp in Vermont there are a various sporting events where every team has the chance to win the illustrious “Cheshire Cup” and a great deal of bragging rights. A lot of our campers would never have the opportunity to do the the things or activities we take for granted. In many cases Zeno Mountain is the only time where the campers are not among a family member or caretaker who is getting paid to be with them. At the end of the day, I finally found my true passion. In order to fund camp we have a variety of benefits throughout the year such as the upcoming premiere of the movie we filmed at last year’s Actor’s Camp, with the after party immediately following so bring your dancing shoes.

How can we help? Raise awareness! Adults with disabilities have a much smaller support group as parents die and siblings get their own families. Even those with support rarely have the chance to just have fun. Like us on facebook and come to one of our premieres. Go to our website and donate to zenomountainfarm.org. Get involved!

What was it like working for me in NYC back in the day? What’s that quote? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”? I honestly owe you a huge debt—most everything I know, and my closest friends are because of you. The magic of Steve Lewis is that he is always one step ahead of the game. I remember working at Life and thinking that you had put together such motley crew of people that made no sense. Those people have become my family. I lost my father when I was six years old, and frankly you are the closest thing I’ve ever had. That being said, how many times did I quit or was fired? I think the only reason you trusted me so much was because your dog “Arturo” loved me. For the record, I’m still one of the few people he hasn’t bit. I think that says something about my character. Who can forget the nonsense you put me through? Remember when at Life we were having a huge Tibetan fundraiser hosted by Richard Gere? I’m walking his publicist around the club and green room and going through his rider and you storm in with a look on your face and begin to tell that joke…

We can’t tell that story here but I promise to tell it to people who ask me in person! Or the time you decided to take me to Miami for my birthday. First of all you were loving the fact that everyone thought you were my sugar daddy because we were literally running around with inches of hundred dollar bills and sending the bottles of Veuve Cliqout that club owners were sending us as a courtesy to the random table next to us, and ordering bottle after bottle of Cristal. Then you decided it would be a brilliant idea to take me to Club Madonna (a strip club) on my actual birthday, and give a bunch of strippers a ton of money to forcibly carry me on stage and proceed to take off my clothes and stand there bare…

OK again—what happens with Steve Lewis stays with Steve Lewis.How are you liking Los Angeles, and why did you move? With the economy doing so poorly it became a full time job just to get paid from the clubs, and my tribe and I were collectively over it. Despite your story that Charo is my mom and I’m a trust funder, I still had to work. I started doing a bunch of consulting jobs for restaurants and nightclubs all over the country. I did a job outside of Chicago for six months then was in Miami for another job for a couple months. I was at the penthouse of the Viceroy in Miami by the pool on a gorgeous night as winter was beginning to descend on New York and decided that was how I wanted to live. It was the first time in my adult life that I didn’t have responsibilities forcing back to the city. I told the friends I was with that I wasn’t going back to New York. They got excited thinking I was staying there. There bubble was burst when I told them I was moving to Los Angeles. I love it out here, and I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Don’t get me wrong—I love New York, but I kind of feel like it’s for the young or the wealthy. I had the time of my life in the city, but now life is just nice. Instead of being out until all hours of the night, we barbecue or go hiking. Besides, most of our family is out here. You keep threatening to come out, is that ever going to happen?

What is your craziest club memory? My God, where do I start? Hosting a pajama birthday party at Life for Rue Mclanahan and having her carried out in lingerie on a sleigh buy scantily clad go-go boys. Or when Jocelyne Wildenstein won her settlement and I decided we should have a party for her celebrating her divorce. I was photographed walking her in and down the stairs. The next day I get a call from my mom asking if I was dating her because it was all over the press that i was her new beau. Life was by far the best club I’ve ever been to not to mention worked at. I consider it the Studio 54 of my generation, but the shenanigans that went on there were the stuff of legends, and I would be disrespecting the trust put on us as club operators if I betrayed that.

Cant wait to see you guys!

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