Another Limelight Incarnation Opens Tonight

Club Kid Cards: Gregory Homs
Photography: Michael Fazakerley

A high-end Chinese boite, Jue Lan Club (pronounced “You Lan”), will open tonight in the back of the old Limelight space. I will attend even though that famous author Thomas Wolfe (and both my ex-wives) said “you can’t go home again.” I was the director of the infamous spot when it was a big bad disco owned by club mogul Peter Gatien.  Although it was the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion from 1844 until the 1970’s, when it was deconsecrated and transformed into a drug rehab facility called Odyssey House, it’s the Gatien years from 1983 to the early 2000’s that will forever define the space.

Subsequent nightclubs Estate and Avalon have been largely forgotten and rightfully so (sorry I brought them up). Since 2007, it’s been divvied up into the Limelight Market Place, a David Barton Gym and a Grimaldi’s Italian Restaurant. The 20th Street side, known as Shampoo during the Disco daze, was a failed restaurant for a minute and is now officially Jue Lan Club—the brainchild of restaurateur and managing partner Stratis Morfogen. Marketing guru Richie Romero and Robert Collins round out the team, while Chef Oscar Toro of Buddakan fame will keep the foodies happy.

I have mixed feelings about the place. I’ve been hired to do the landscaping of the 75 seat courtyard, which was a labor of love. I actually fell in love there when I met my second wife where I more recently planted Ilex and Wisteria. As I have walked through the Dutch East Interiors-designed space, the sounds of hammers and screw guns could barely drown out the echoes of parties past. The new paint does little to wipe away my memories.  I always peek into where my old office was and reminisce quietly about the ghosts of distant club nights. The workers must think I’m nuts standing there smiling or close to tears. Andy Warhol did the opening and years later club kids scampered away their youth here. Everyone knows the stories. It was front page news and subsequently the fodder of a half dozen flicks. It was the good, the bad and the beautiful; for me and so many others, it ended badly. Now I plant roses and my small efforts and the efforts of hundreds more will provide a new incarnation and clever fortune cookies.

I asked Morfogen how he came to the space and if he felt it came with any baggage: “After my exit at Philippe, I hooked up with Richie and Robert and sold landlord Ben Ashkenazy with our Chinese concept, [saying] it would be a huge hit in this iconic space,” he said. “I can’t find a negative. The space needed a deep reincarnation with food and service first, then alcohol. Once the concept and menus were created, we embraced the art history of the Limelight by incorporating Keith Haring, Andy Warhol-themed dining rooms with, of course, great playlists from the great ’70s Rock & Roll to contemporary tracks. The architecture with over 100 feet of Manhattan frontage and a stunning garden with 75 seats designed by [you]—I really can’t come up with a negative.”

He also shed light on the branding: “For the past 10 years, one of the most respected hoteliers in the hospitality business named Sant Chatwall, Chairman of Dream Hotel Group, has always been someone I really wanted to work with,” he said. “Once the concept was christened by the New York Times as the first Chinese restaurant to serve a selection of ‘Chinese Raw’ with the team we assembled, he was thrilled to give us the incredible opportunity in putting Jue Lan Club in the next 10-plus Dream hotels in the USA and around the world. This is a dream come true with a dream partner.”

Romero, charged with bringing the right people in and overall branding, echoed Morfogen’s sentiments:  “Limelight is iconic,” he said. “It will always be referred to as ‘Limelight.’ Some people question if it’s cursed or not, but people are excited for it.”

Collins said that Limelight itself is such a magical and special location, which is why the nightclub was such a success. “I always believe in keeping a piece of the past as I look forward to the future,” he said. “We have one of our private rooms that has club kids wallpaper, gorgeous black-and-white [photos] of the club’s VIP and special lighting that is a tribute to [past] locations. We will feature incredible art as the Limelight did. I feel the new tone, inviting design and warm service will bring a new feel to the place, while also keeping a little tribute to the past.”

Emarald Gruin, co-founder of the L.E.S. Rox Gallery, will be the in-house art curator to provide rotating and permanent exhibitions. The Jue Lan team is fully committed to bringing new life to what once was the liveliest of places.

I asked Michael Alig, the king of the club kids and bad egg, who brought the whole shebang to an end what he thought about the club kid card wallpaper and Jue Lan: “The club kid wallpaper is great, he said. “The cards were beautifully designed and I’ve always considered them works of art. The idea of a Chinese restaurant in a church isn’t any crazier than a gym full of Botox-crazed muscle queens. I think that whatever business does open there, the building’s notorious past is going to provide a certain dichotomy. The business will get a lot of attention because it’s in the space that housed one of the most decadent and debauched nightclubs in the history of New York; for that same reason, it’s going to carry a lot of baggage. Confucius says, ‘When man dines on Chinese-fusion in a converted church-cum-discotheque, there is definitely Sum Ting Wong.’”

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