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The Short, Drunken Life of Club Row

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Illustration by L-Dopa  

If the undesirables had a king, it would have to be Jon B, the owner of Home and Guest House. He is slumped in the front seat of a black GMC Yukon, his five-foot-seven-inch frame barely visible behind tinted windows and a black goatee. He is freshly shaved, with a few red nicks to prove it, and clothed in a black suit, a black tie emblazoned with a red D&G logo, and square-toed shoes, one of which presses heavily on the accelerator. I first met Jon B three months ago, and today’s excursion happened before the death of Orlando Valle at B.E.D. We are headed east on the L.I.E. to observe Shabbat at the home of his aunt and uncle, Orthodox Jews in Roslyn. It would be best to arrive before sundown.

Jon B appears a bit miffed. He has just learned that Amy Sacco, the queen bee of New York nightlife, blames him for the downfall of the block she pioneered. I’ve told him about having had tea at the Royalton with Sacco, who had glided in wearing rabbit-lined Tracey Ross mukluks, her face cloaked by a vintage fedora, and proceeded to hint and flirt but never quite state that she might sell her club. When I brought up Jon B, her scratchy voice hardened and rose a note. “I refuse any comments about that person,” she said, leaning into my digital recorder. “He brought it to a grinding halt, as far as I’m concerned. That’s all I’m going to say. He ruined the block.”

It’s a disheartening thing for Jon B to hear, especially since he worked for Sacco for several years—promoting her profitable Friday party at Lot 61. Friday night was Sacco’s bread and butter, generating three times the revenue of her glamorous Monday nights, when the young promoter Richie Akiva presided over New York’s toughest door. Akiva was the one who enforced the rules of the game, generating the buzz that helped Sacco establish her crowd and her reputation. But it was Jon B who paid the bills. Asked what happened between them, Sacco had texted back the ultimate put-down: “Um, I don’t remember?”

Jon B hoped to attract “The B-plus people.” He was the king of the undesirables.

The comment wriggles about Jon B’s mind, elevating in importance until it rises to the status of a symbol for all that is wrong with the business, in his mind anyway: the inability of club owners to realize their common interests and stand together. “Why would she say that?” he says. “Why would she say that? Does she really not remember? Some people care about the truth and some people—whatever.” He is one of the most successful men in the industry, yet he has not won acceptance from the clique of twenty or so people who rule nightlife in New York.

We arrive at a small house on Lord’s Lane in Roslyn, where I quickly receive a yarmulke emblazoned with the name of a boy bar mitzvahed long ago and a warm greeting from Jon’s hefty aunt Aviva. The mother of eight children, Aviva joined Jon’s family—the B is for Bakhshi; they are from Iran—by marrying his uncle Farzad, a gynecologist who goes about every motion, even slicing a jelly doughnut, with an air of total commitment. Jon’s family arrives: his short, curly-haired father, Glen; his mother, blonde Juliet; and his uncle Jeffrey, a fair-skinned district attorney from Oyster Bay, who confesses to a hearty appetite for cupcakes. There is a table, draped in two layers of protective plastic, groaning with food. The candles glisten.

Dinner, a four-hour affair, begins with Fresca and sparkling pink wine and chickpea balls—the Iranian answer to matzo—and continues through several Torah readings and lessons and an ardent speech by Jon’s cousin Daniel. Finally, Jon’s aunt Jacqueline scrapes the chicken bones off the plates and the conversation meanders toward Jon’s area of business.

Here, in this circle of devout souls, the irony is not lost upon the group that their son has become wealthy by entering an irreligious profession. Glen and Juliet say they’ve visited their son’s clubs only once, parking on the street just outside. Upon leaving, the couple discovered their car had been towed to the pound at 38th Street. Juliet, laughing, recounts the story without mentioning the obvious fact that the same thing had happened to Jennifer Moore, the 18-year-old New Jersey high-school graduate who was murdered after partying at Guest House. Later, we discuss Tara Conner, Miss USA, who spent some late nights at Home before Donald Trump packed her off to drug rehab. “What were you doing, Jon? That’s your club!” Jeffrey laughs. “She wasn’t even 21!”

By the summer of 2005, New York nightlife had exploded into a $10 billion industry. The cascade effect continued to flow but in an unanticipated new direction. Celebrities were bringing models, models were bringing “bottles,” and the physical bottles, the ones containing alcohol, were attracting a new and even larger crowd from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Long Island, and New Jersey. Though unable to befriend Was, Marquee’s dapper, suited doorman, they were eager to drop $400 for that ultimate display of public status: a liter of Grey Goose. Greeting them at the door was Jon B.


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