Nightlife promoter, club owner, A.D.D. empire builder, beau to Carmen Kass
Richie Akiva likes to refer to himself as a “young hustler.” And like most young hustlers, he’s a man of extreme confidence, loud pronouncements and diminutive height. “I’m accomplishing every single dream that I have,” said the 5-foot-5 Mr. Akiva-”Little Richie” to his friends.
But unlike most hustlers, 27-year-old Mr. Akiva has transformed his cocksureness into a tangible asset in the form of Butter, the East Village restaurant and nightclub where the bleary-eyed club owner sat one recent morning, ensconced in an oversized banquette. Mr. Akiva and his partner, Scott Sartiano, raised $2.5 million from investors to turn the defunct Belgo restaurant on Lafayette Street into a destination for the city’s nightlifers. In the process, Mr. Akiva turned himself into a club promoter with portfolio.
Like his role model, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, whom he calls a “genius,” Mr. Akiva is making the leap from nightclub carny to pop-culture impresario by appealing to the desires and insecurities of New York’s elite. “There’s a parallel,” Mr. Akiva said, “but we’re building our empire much slower and on a smaller scale.”
To that end, another Butter is opening in Las Vegas next June, and Mr. Akiva is in negotiations to open a new bar in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, construction will begin in January on a new lounge bar called Par-K on Lafayette Street. Another East Village club is in the planning stages, with a retractable roof for smokers. Mr. Akiva is also launching a record label, the Commission, with his friend Steve Acevedo. “We’re more in tune with the streets than those record execs,” he said.
It’s a linear thinker’s worst nightmare, but Mr. Akiva pointed out that he has suffered from attention-deficit disorder since he was a kid.
The son of a wealthy clothing manufacturer, Mr. Akiva grew up in Tribeca and attended the Dwight school. He was barely out of his teens when he began promoting clubs and, as a result, seeing his name in boldface on Page Six next to “buddies” Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg and a slew of supermodels. That combination-hot stars and hot girls-gave him tremendous clout in the club world. “I’ve always known sons and daughters of rich and famous people,” said Mr. Akiva, who counts Raphael De Niro and Liv Tyler as childhood friends, and the 5-foot-11 Estonian model Carmen Kass as his girlfriend of five years.
His first big success was Monday nights at Lot 61, which began as a tribute to his friend, David Sorrenti-the photographer behind the “heroin chic” look, who died of an alleged heroin overdose-but soon turned into a lucrative business operation for Mr. Akiva and his crew. “We had every single celebrity there,” he said, “from Puffy to Jay, to Naomi Campbell, to Kate Moss. We were living like rock stars.
“I didn’t wanna be considered as just a promoter,” Mr. Akiva continued between sips of his extra-sweet Starbucks coffee at Butter. He wore his receding hair in a buzzcut. “I knew it was a stepping stone for bigger things.” Besides his stake in the Butter ventures, Mr. Akiva said he owns an apartment in Tribeca, a home in L.A., a brand-new Range Rover and a big Rolodex. “I know a lot of people with a lot of money in this city,” he said. “If I wanted to raise $50 million for a hotel, I could raise it tomorrow. Guaranteed.”
It’s the kind of talk that has earned Mr. Akiva plenty of enemies. One former associate depicted him as “full of shit,” another as a “starfucker.” But it’s also earned him respect. “To go out and raise that kind of money to open Butter in this climate, you’ve got to have balls of steel,” said Mark Baker, veteran promoter and co-director of Lotus, who has worked with Mr. Akiva. Referring to Little Richie’s critics, he added: “Don’t talk shit, my friends. Go open a nightclub of your own.”