“Look at these two fingers,” André Saraiva tells me over squid, foie gras, and a bottle of Volnay at the Standard Grill. His right index finger is swollen “from thousand upon thousand of hours of spray-painting.” Like the rest of Saraiva, the graffiti writer turned bar owner, his hands are small and delicate. But his grip on nightlife—in Paris and now, he hopes, in New York—is sure. In 2004, he opened the club Le Baron in a former Paris brothel. Staffed by artist types, it became the destination for the avant-fabulous (Dash Snow, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs, Ryan McGinley) who shuttle among the art and fashion worlds of New York, Paris, and Tokyo—where he opened the second Le Baron, in 2006. His third will open this fall in Chinatown.
“We really made it to bring a community of people together,” says Saraiva, who is 39. “Creativity needs places to have fun or to get metaphysical … where you can be free.” Designer Olympia Le-Tan, who dated Saraiva, says, “It felt like a house party because all the people who worked there were friends. Sofia Coppola was shooting Marie Antoinette in Paris, and I remember Kirsten Dunst and Io Bottoms doing cartwheels on the dance floor. When MGMT did a show in Paris, they came to the Baron after and improvised another show with instruments we had there.” The door policy was strict.
Saraiva was born in Sweden to Portuguese parents who then moved to Paris. “I was an outsider,” he says. “I had to fight my way.” He immersed himself in the graffiti scene (he was, he says, beaten by four gendarmes for tagging a train at 13) and became known for his top-hatted, grinning stick-figure tag, Mr. A. He sold his art pieces by the meter and took commissions to spray-paint walls with the names of lovers. He also started hosting shows and events with Lionel Bensemoun, the son of a casino owner, with whom he started Le Baron. He branched out from there: parties at the Basel and Frieze art fairs; a partnership in Paris’s Hotel Amour and a restaurant, La Fidélité; collaborations with brands like Belvedere and Louis Vuitton. Now he “curates” Le Bain at André Balazs’s Standard Hotel (Balazs is also a backer of the new Le Baron). He met Paul Sevigny, the D.J. who ran the now-shut Beatrice Inn, through Amy Sacco. He and Sevigny share a birthday, and they’re friends and now (sort of) competitors: Sevigny is a partner in Kenmare and the reopening Don Hill’s.
Olivier Zahm, editor of Purple Fashion, joins us at the Standard for dinner, followed by D.J. Rachel Chandler, Daphne Guinness, and Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Saraiva’s current “love story.” (According to Zahm, Saraiva’s tastes run to “pretty, sweet, well educated, and delicious.”) Saraiva also has a daughter with the musician Uffie. I ask him if he thinks Le Baron can last in the accelerated half-life of New York. “Maybe it won’t,” he says. “Maybe it will be a small, intense period. Like graffiti. It doesn’t stay. I love that about it. I love to let it go.”