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The Short, Drunken Life of Club Row


Jon B, the owner of Home and Guest House.  

If Marquee had monetized exclusivity by widening its parameters, Jon B sought to expand that business model even further. If Marquee looked beyond “Amy’s friends” to the A-list, Jon B hoped to attract—as he puts it today—“the B-plus people.” If Tepperberg and Strauss had shrunk down their dance floor in favor of more tables, at Jon B’s clubs there would be no dance floor—it was all tables. Jon B had a paradox planned: the most massive “exclusive” party of all time.

Home debuted in July, Guest House in August—both on the second floor of the Twilo building, which housed Spirit on the ground floor. The same summer, B.E.D., which had opened in January on the sixth floor, debuted its rooftop lounge. “That’s when all the bridge-and-tunnel guys came in,” a 27th Street veteran recalls. “These are the guys who brought the Jersey girls and the short shorts. They mobbed the whole street. And then, when you walked to Bungalow, you saw seven trashy blonde chicks standing outside begging to be let in, and guess what? It takes away from the atmosphere.”

Jon B liked his crowd, reasoning “they have money, and they want to have a good time.” It is said that he made $2 million last year by packing his clubs with the help of mass-market promoters, who typically take a cut of bar and table revenues. The owners of the events company Impulse would bring a hundred of their friends from Long Island on any given night. David Jaffee, an investment banker, would send out e-mail blasts beginning, “Greetings from my cubicle on Wall Street” to 75,000 people whom he encouraged to attend parties where he rarely deigned to appear.

Suddenly, the clubs filled with girls who did not look their age. Eager to provide eye candy for the men who bought the bottles, promoters hustled the girls inside the clubs in groups of ten or a dozen that the doormen never carded. All of the clubs had underage girls; some promoters specialized in bringing them. “You were able to bring certain girls no matter what age they were,” recalls a promoter who chaperoned some as young as 14. “If they’re a model, you bend the rules a little. But you have to make sure that she’s not going to be a staggering lush at the end of the night. These people are not the ones you’re going to find in a Dumpster the next day. They don’t take candy from strangers.”

Jon B’s clubs stay open more nights a week than the others—Guest House five, Home six—and therefore he had the most seats to fill. The word on the street was that Guest House was marketed to younger clubgoers and they brought along their underage friends. Jon B freely admits that he largely relied on promoters. “Think about it,” he says. “If you’re open six nights in one place and five nights in another place, you gotta fill it somehow.”

Jon B didn’t see underage girls, and he didn’t wish to see them. He didn’t smell marijuana fumes either. According to his own account, he didn’t visit his clubs more than a few times a week. Rival club owners up and down the block thought he could have maintained a better relationship with the police and spent more on security. “I was in there one night, and somebody started hassling me,” recalls David Sarner. “They were hitting on my wife and my friend’s girlfriend, and I asked the guy to move away from the table and it got very ugly. And I’m looking around to find a security guy to remove the guy because I didn’t want to get into a fistfight—and I’ll never go back again. They’re very understaffed there.” (Sarner would eventually move his meatpacking-district club, Pink Elephant, to 28th Street—and then tunnel under Crobar to get a door to the crowds on 27th.)

By the summer of 2006, the street crawled with people—forcing the police to barricade both ends. Masses of visored men in bright T-shirts stumbled through, smoking joints, carrying plastic cups, urinating on the walls. Thin girls toddled out in spike heels. It was a boozy Cancún North. People threw up in front of buildings and on their clothes; turned away at the door, they spat at the doormen. “We’d find people passed out in the bathroom,” recalls a former employee of B.E.D. “You would think it was a dead body. Passed out, like scary passed out, like smack them, pick them up, they’re like Jell-O, like someone took their spine out. And on the street. You would literally see people face down in the gutter.”

Inside the clubs, people started doing “bottle shots”—drinking straight from the bottle without using any kind of glass or mixer. Clubs quietly hired EMTs—which cost thousands of dollars each night—and the ambulance companies did a steady business. Men would find women passing out on the street, lift them onto their shoulders, and carry them off to a taxi. On Saturday nights, when Spirit hosted its hip-hop party, there were fights, frequent arrests, and men making suggestive comments to the women leaving Bungalow 8. Prostitutes and drug dealers walked down the street, freely propositioning anyone they met. “It started to feel self-destructive,” says one clubber, “a Disneyland for drunks.”


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