DiCaprio Hangout Moomba Closes and the Investors Are Furious

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

night.

At least one investor found this statement infuriating. “How

the hell would we get it by Saturday?” demanded the investor. “That’s

bullshit!”

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,

“popcorn.”)

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

descent.

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

Hurricane Esther.  

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

questions.”

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

moaned.

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

Rebecca Traister 

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