"I'm already known all over the world," boasts Thierry Klemeniuk in his thick French accent. "I'm ready for whatever New York might bring." Klemeniuk is a restaurateur in the Eric Goode (the Park) and Keith McNally (Pastis) mode: He opens eateries for people who don't really eat, and he's famous in that secret-reservation-line way. Next month, he's opening Man Ray, a restaurant in a converted firehouse on West 15th Street that promises to serve up a whole line of premieres and boldface-name sightings.
He's not shy about whom he expects to be there: "It feels like the beginning of Studio 54," he says. "It's not closed to everybody, but what makes a restaurant is the variety of the people."
In order to attract a certain variety of diners, it helps to have investors like Johnny Depp and Sean Penn. ("They changed my life.") Klemeniuk also has lineage going for him: Man Ray is a clone of his Parisian place of the same name, where the barracuda seviche with Chinese caviar is $25 and Madonna once took a tumble so nasty she plowed over Donatella Versace and Puffy.
Sitting in a booth at Lotus -- which, like Bash in Miami, he co-owns -- the 42-year-old keeps an eye on his three-band cell phone, orders a Patrón and tonic ("a good cocktail for someone who drinks every day"), lights up a Marlboro red, and begins dissing his chichi competition. "It's a joke," he proclaims. "Everyone wants to be Philippe Starck. Man Ray will be different."
How, exactly? It'll be "a place where we feel at home and comfortable and eat well and see friends." He promises "a big oak bar, lights that look Arabic, then some things which are shiny."
Which may not exactly sound like a nightlife revolution. And he's not making his competition quake behind its velvet ropes. "I've seen people come from overseas and open in New York," says Goode. "Some are successful, like Nell Campbell. Some are hideous, like Peter Stringfellow. I've had celebrities invest in places, but I don't think that helps much." (The bar the Falls fell fast despite Matt Dillon's backing.)
At Lotus, Klemeniuk rolls up the sleeves of his milky Cerruti shirt, begins sipping a fresh drink, and seems perfectly confident that he's going to have another success. It's almost as if he's thinking, probably in French, If I build it, the fabulous will come. He learned the cult of stylish, quick-burn celebrity as Bananarama's manager in the eighties, and as an assistant for photographer Patrick Demarchelier. And the celebs seem to be pulling for him. "We had our party for Summer of Sam at the Man Ray in Paris," says director Spike Lee. "The food is great, he's a great guy, and now I can have my next opening in New York."