GOODNIGHT MR. LEWIS: Is Peter Gatien’s Limelight Lawsuit Really Valid?

It has been reported in reputable periodicals like the NY Post that the Dream Hotel in Hollywood will open a nightclub to be operated by those heavyweights from the Tao Group, Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss. These guys have opened some of the most successful spots on the planet; but the surprise was the decision to name the new club Limelight. According to reports Peter Gatien, the major domo behind the original Avenue of the Americas legend is shocked by this use of “his” trademark and he intends to sue. Although he doesn’t seem to have renewed that trademark in over a decade, the lawsuit says the name is his and he claims to be discussing a relaunch of his Limelight in NYC and other cities. There is more to this story than meets the eye; more than a clash of titans, it’s a clash of eras.

Sports fans do it all the time. They argue whether or not Muhammad Ali could whip Mike Tyson or Jordan versus Lebron or Koufax versus Kershaw. But comparisons really can’t be made as the times are different. The same applies for the wonderful world of nightclubs. When the Limelight NYC opened in November 1983 there was no bottle service, a great deal of the city was in disarray, the economy was shaky, the hotel industry was a fraction of what it is now, tourism as well. There were far less nightclubs and the science applied to modern clubs was prehistoric. Cocktail culture was of the Mad Men variety, and there were probably only a dozen recognizable vodkas.

In 1983 AIDS was just a distraction, not the epidemic that would change the way people club and date. People could smoke cigarettes with their drinks. There was no internet or cellphones, as clubs promoted with mailed or handed out fliers and phone calls. They didn’t need to compete with online dating sites. Regulation was soft depending on the relationships with the local cops and / or robbers. In this stone-age, Peter Gatien built an empire that dominated the city until 2001. Besides Limelight he operated Palladium, Tunnel and USA; on a good week as many as 40,000 patrons enjoyed Peter’s hospitality. It ended badly with court drama and fines and jail and even deportation. Peter is now allowed back, and he visits from time to time. There has been talk of resurrection.

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Image: Brooks Osman for Scotto.tv

While Peter the Great was running his empire, Noah and Jason worked as promoters, graduating to owning the small lounge Suite 16 where they made a mark. Then in 2003 they opened Marquee and a new empire was born. Full disclosure, I designed both the Limelight and Marquee with Colleen Weinstein’s help. I was a director of Peter’s clubs and went down with his ships. Noah and Jason worked for me at various clubs but have taken that experience to another level, and are now the biggest fish since Moby Dick; with all due respect, Peter Gatien’s dark empire is merely a sardine compared to what they have built.

That brings us back to the lawsuit. Why on earth would they bother with that name? Limelight to most is a club that is synonymous with drugs and arrests and murder and an era of lawlessness that has been banished to documentaries.  For what it’s worth there was a pre-Gatien, unrelated Limelight in the West Village; there was a Tunnel Bar in the East Village while Gatien’s monster club Tunnel ruled the West Side. Names are often recycled. Often logos and whether one place can be confused with the other plays a part in deciding right of use. The Hollywood spot, from what I have been told, has little similarity with the haunted church where the Limelight Mall now resides.

Peter Gatien was in his day the best there was; however, accusations of the books not being kept in order, of many people getting paid in cash, and many people not being paid at all resulted in bad memories for some and jail time for Mr. Gatien. Drugs were rampant, though a court ruled he wasn’t legally responsible for the mayhem that made Limelight the best club of its era. The State Liquor Authority and any local community board would most likely refuse Peter his second coming.

On October 4th, 2007 the then-exiled Peter Gatien opened up Circa, a multi-million dollar super club in Toronto. It was the hottest place in Canada. There was bottle service and big spenders and club kids and world class DJ’s. Pharrell, Gaga, Kanye, Rihanna all graced the stage. Peter seemed to have a hit. In February 2009, with familiar disputes over bookkeeping, high costs and lots of other bad tidings, Peter resigned. Mega lawsuits followed but were eventually dismissed.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald said “there are no second acts in American lives.” I guess Peter can be thankful he was born in Canada. And although I can’t see a return to his glory days in NYC, I can see him doing a spot in Mexico or some such place where a checkered past poses few problems.

This story will soon fade away, as an insider at the Tao Group tells me that they will not go forward with the use of the name. They say they own it but will not use it. My source says, “it isn’t worth it to have the new, beautiful space involved on any level with Peter’s name and this sort of publicity.” A source told me that Tao Group did intend to use the name Limelight in L.A., and the only reason they are not using it now is because of Gatien’s lawsuit.” The source also says that, “Tao group does not want to delay the opening of their new rooftop restaurant and pool, even though it is going to cost them money to redo whatever they have already done using the name Limelight. They intend to hold Gatien responsible for that because the name Limelight is being used all over the U.S.

Indeed, some poking around reveals the name Limelight being used in over a dozen places nationally and internationally, including a pretty big club in North Carolina, as well as Aspen, Denver, Portland and even Thailand.

 Images courtesy of Magnolia PIctures

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