Four years ago, the name Moomba epitomized fin-de-siècle New York nightlife. It
was the place where the celebrity of that moment, Leonardo DiCaprio, often celebrated his post- Titanic fame in the ridiculously exclusive third-floor V.I.P. room;
the place that a steady stream of gossip-column items depicted as almost too
hip and happening to be true.
But none of those past glories were reflected in the terse
recorded announcement that played for
anyone who dialed the nightclub-restaurant’s phone number on April 22. Moomba
had abruptly and unceremoniously closed its doors. “If you have reservations
for a future date, we apologize for any inconvenience,” a man’s voice said on
the machine before the line went dead. That same day, an item in the New York Post ‘s Page Six column offered
little additional explanation, except to note that Moomba’s front man, Jeff
Gossett, had moved to Los Angeles to open up a branch in West Hollywood.
Mr. Gossett’s sudden decision surprised and angered more
than just the former hot spot’s New York regulars and its employees (who, a
source close to the situation said, were informed of the closing on April 20
and given no severance pay). A number of investors in the nightclub, which was
located on Seventh Avenue South between Charles and West 10th streets, told The
Transom that Mr. Gossett never notified them he was shuttering the place.
One of those investors, 27-year-old Chris Barish, the son of
movie producer (and Moomba investor) Keith Barish and an owner of the midtown
lounge Light, told The Transom: “I was very surprised, as an initial investor
in Moomba, to read about the closing on Page Six. It’s unusual not to tell your
investors that you’re closing, but I’m sure Jeff has his reasons.”
Mr. Gossett did not return phone calls, but Moomba’s
publicist, Lizzie Grubman, said Mr. Gossett “sent” a letter to each of his
investors on April 20, announcing that the club would be closed the following
At least one investor found this statement infuriating. “How
the hell would we get it by Saturday?” demanded the investor. “That’s
In addition to the Barishes, Moomba’s financiers, who each
put up between $25,000 and $100,000, include director Oliver Stone, art dealer
Larry Gagosian and actor Laurence Fishburne. Mr. Stone’s assistant said that
the director didn’t find out about the closing of Moomba New York until The
Transom called him on April 23 seeking comment. Ironically, Mr. Stone, along
with Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Hurley, attended the celebrity-studded opening of
the L.A. branch of Moomba on April 1. (A spokesman for Mr. Fishburne said the
actor was on location and could not be reached for comment.)
Meanwhile, Chris Barish said that his father and Mr.
Gagosian were unaware of Moomba’s closing when they dined together at Mr.
Gagosian’s East Hampton estate on April 21. (A source close to Mr. Gagosian
said his investment of between $25,000 and $50,000 was, essentially,
One investor, who spoke
on the condition of anonymity, said that he was more upset about being left in
the dark on the club’s closing than about the fate of his investment.
“Moomba was making no money,” said the investor. “It grossed
about $5 million in the first year, and out of that [netted] only $400,000.” As
for Mr. Gossett’s rash decision to shut the club without consulting any of his
investors, the investor said: “At best, he’s stupid; at worst, he’s a thief.” (Ms.
Grubman said she could not reach Mr. Gossett for comment on this article.)
Mr. Gossett, 31, is no stranger to controversy. In 1996, he
was sued by his former partners in Spy Bar for allegedly violating his contract
as a promoter, part owner and host at the now-defunct Soho nightclub. The suit
was settled out of court six months later.
On the last night of Moomba New York’s existence, Mr.
Gossett was hanging at the new $3 million Moomba in L.A., partying with Rod
Stewart and members of the band Sugar Ray. But one investor who ran into him
there said Mr. Gossett didn’t say a word about the fate of the East Coast
venue. “I was surprised to hear about the closing, because I ran into Jeff
Gossett in Moomba L.A. this weekend and he didn’t mention anything about it,”
said the investor, Gerrity Lansing, 28,
managing partner of the stock trading firm Madison Trading. “He acted
totally normal. He said ‘Hi, nice to see you.’”
Mr. Lansing found out about the closing of the New York club
on Sunday night from a friend who was also an investor. “We were both in
complete shock,” Mr. Lansing said. “I didn’t expect this to happen. It was a
little embarrassing to hear it from someone else.”
Andy Russell, a 29-year-old venture capitalist, his older
brother, Chris, a restaurateur, and a group of fellow investors owned 65
percent of Moomba when it opened, but sold off most of their stake in December
1999. “All of our investors who got out with us made money,” Andy Russell said.
(According to Chris Russell, all of the investors who sold off their interests
in December 1999 made their original investments back plus 20 percent.)
As of April 23, however, Mr. Russell said he was still
waiting for a call from Mr. Gossett about the fate of his remaining 10 percent
stake in Moomba.
Despite his surprise at the way Mr. Gossett handled Moomba’s
demise, Chris Russell said: “I think people saw the writing on the wall.” A
year and a half ago, when the Russell brothers sold their stakes, “Moomba was
still the top of the mountain,” Chris Russell said. But despite vigorous
item-placing by Ms. Grubman’s firm, the buzz in town was that Moomba-which had
opened on Nov. 1, 1997-had begun its
In April 1998, the premiere of James Toback’s Two Girls and a Guy found Warren Beatty
sharing a booth with Mr. DiCaprio and Madonna, who was sporting a shiner
courtesy of, she said, her daughter Lourdes. But a month later, Mr. Gossett
raised some eyebrows when he sent out business cards that gave him the silly
title of “Moombassador” and a private number for reservations.
As for Mr. DiCaprio, a source close to the actor said he
hasn’t been in the place since he left for Rome in September to film Martin
Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York .
But, Chris Russell opined,
maybe too much attention was paid to celebrities. “There are only so
many superior A-list people in New York City,” he said. “You can’t run a
business catering to Leonardo and Madonna.”
While the rest of the week became increasingly hit or miss,
karaoke-themed Monday nights, which were hosted by D.J. Samantha Ronson,
remained the nightspot’s biggest draw, attracting such exhibitionists as
designer Shoshanna Lonstein; junior socialites Casey Johnson and the Hilton
sisters; models Frankie Rayder, James King, Carmen Kass and, occasionally,
Gisele Bundchen; hip-hopsters Sean Combs and Damon Dash; and others. But some
regulars said that even that night was starting to lose steam.
As of April 23, Ms. Ronson had yet to hear from Mr. Gossett,
even though she had D.J.’d, gratis, on April 21 for a celebrity-free crowd. Ms.
Johnson told The Transom that she arrived at 1 a.m. and left at 1:15.
“Jeff never mentioned
it,” Ms. Ronson said. She was clearly perturbed. “I don’t think anyone knew.
The people who were the most surprised were the busboys and the bartenders who
had 24 hours to find a new job.”
On the afternoon of April 21, Ms. Ronson had decided to move
her karaoke party to Suite 16, a new bar on 16th Street and Eighth Avenue. By
April 23, new invitations were being printed and an e-mail with the party’s new
location was being forwarded to Ms. Ronson’s regulars. She even imported the
waiters and Moomba’s karaoke machine. Mr. Gossett was not around to protest.
The Press Strike Out
With Billy Crystal
The Monday, April 23, screening of Billy Crystal’s HBO film,
61* , was not the warmest place to be
for members of the Fourth Estate. The movie, which chronicles the 1961 race
between Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s
single-season home-run record, is a scorching indictment of the press, blaming
sportswriters-or “bloodsuckers”-not only for manufacturing the competition and
creating a rift between teammates, but also for fan antipathy toward Maris,
Mantle’s slumps, health problems and personal weaknesses, and (we think) 1961′s
As the screening emptied out of Chelsea Cinemas, everyone
carrying a notepad or tape recorder looked a little chagrined. The graying Mr.
Crystal, flanked by his wife, Janice, and his daughter, Jenny, spoke brusquely
with reporters. A New York Post scribe
got the brunt of it: “Tell Phil Mushnick to cool it,” said the comedian,
referring to the Post columnist who,
in his April 20 column “Lights! Camera! Fiction?,” questioned the veracity of 61* ‘s narrative.
The beat-the-press mood carried into the after-party at the
26th Street Armory. When none other than Yogi Berra pointed out a minor
inaccuracy in the film, Mr. Crystal half-joked, “If the press asks you about
it, just say you remember it the way it was in the movie.”
Later that night, Jenny Crystal Foley, who played Roger
Maris’ wife Pat in the film, tapped the real Mrs. Maris on the shoulder while
she was talking to a reporter. The record-holder’s widow turned to embrace her
on-screen alter ego and loudly whispered into Ms. Foley’s ear: “Thank you. I
didn’t know what to say to this guy anyway. He’s asking me all these
Even press-savvy second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, tagged by
an HBO interview squad, seemed relieved when he was allowed to go back to
shooting the breeze with fellow Yankees like Clay Bellinger. “What was that, 60 Minutes ?” asked one of his
companions. “Fuckin’ A! They said it would only take 30 seconds!” Mr. Knoblauch
Mr. Knoblauch’s presence
helped make the fête a veritable fantasy baseball camp. Along with colleagues
Derek Jeter, Luis Sojo, Mr. Bellinger and manager Joe Torre, the place was
packed with veteran bombers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bob Cerv and Joe
Pepitone-who, with his shaded glasses, could have been mistaken for a member of
that other tight-knit group, the Sopranos cast. That band of perpetually
partying TV minstrels was also on hand, looking, as always, as if they have
more fun than anyone else in New York.
And then there were the
fans, like Mayor Giuliani. The Transom pointed to the pitching speedometer and
computerized batting cage at the front of the banquet hall and asked if he
would try out his fast ball. “I’m a catcher, not a pitcher,” the Mayor
replied. So he would swing the bat? “Yeah, I could probably do that,” he said
diffidently. “I once hit a pitch that went 91 miles an hour.”
Mr. Giuliani and his companion, Judith Nathan, had missed
the 61* screening, and the two seemed
a little awkward talking to Mr. Crystal until the conversation turned to the
game itself. “I really wanted to see the film,” Mr. Giuliani said, leaning in
conspiratorially and putting a hand on Mr. Crystal’s shoulder. “You wanna know
why?” Here he began to whisper: “Because I was rooting for Maris.” Mr.
Crystal’s eyes opened wide. “Really?” he asked. “Really,” said the Mayor. “And
you wanna know why…?”
The Mayor launched into a
story that began in 1957. Recalling his boyhood feelings about his sports
heroes, Mr. Giuliani mimed players, slipped into an announcer’s voice and
clapped in memory of his enthusiasm. Just as he got to the story’s climax,
which would shed light upon his unusual devotion to the underdog Maris, Ms.
Nathan leaned in and asked Mr. Crystal, “So, are you a lifelong Yankees fan?”
– Ian Blecher and
Mizrahi’s New Love
Among the dog nuts making the scene at the Great American
Mutt Show at Pier 92 on April 21 was Isaac Mizrahi, the 39-year-old former
designer, who had just finished judging “Best Lapdog Over 50 Pounds.” At his
Converse high-topped feet was a sleepy little mutt.
“I met Harry and I just believed that I needed him in my life, right? Because he was a
tiny bit aloof-like, he played me really, really well,” Mr. Mizrahi said of the
collie mix that he adopted last November, the direct result of an existential
crisis brought on by the end of his one-man show, Les MIZrahi . “I think men are most attractive who remain aloof to
me. So from there, it was just this complete love thing. Everything else
doesn’t matter. If he misbehaves, I think it’s hysterically funny.”
Is there a lesson to be learned from mutts?
“You know the whole lesson about you can’t control [things]?
It’s like, if your number’s up, your number’s up. That’s why I got Harry,
because I thought, ‘Well, what if I’m like the worst dog owner in the world?
It’s better than being killed!’”
Later, as Mr. Mizrahi and Harry tried to get in the back of
a cab, the driver, unaware, lurched away. There were shrieks. Though very
nearly squashed, Harry’s number was still not up.
– George Gurley
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