“I’ll roll up to Bungalow with like 12 of the hottest girls you’ve ever seen in your life, and it’s like boom! The velvet rope drops,” said Danny Estrada, a young celebutante known about town as the son of actor Erik Estrada. “The bouncer doesn’t even bat an eye.”
Speaking on the phone from his room at the Bryant Park Hotel, Mr. Estrada described himself as “very social” and “incredibly good looking,” a potent combination, carrying though it may certain hardships. “It’s hard not to become a socialite,” said Mr. Estrada, who toils as a city party promoter and, he said, a V.J. of Disney-sponsored live kids’ concerts.
As it happens, Mr. Estrada, 24, is not, at least in any biological sense, the offspring of Erik, 56, the actor best known for his role as Officer Francis Llewellyn (Ponch) Poncherello in the police drama ChiPs.
In fact, he doesn’t even seem to bear any particular affection for the esteemed telenovela idol. “Nobody even knows who the fuck Erik Estrada is,” said the young Mr. Estrada. “The old man is a fucking complete failure.”
This strange matter demands a bit of clarification, as it appears that young Mr. Estrada is the latest incarnation of the city’s rich tradition of social scavengers, each ready to exploit the names of the rich and famous to fulfill various and often paltry dreams.
Until recently, the aspiring “It” boy was cutting a smooth path toward the upper reaches of Manhattan’s junior class hierarchy. The Long Island native—who, by his own account, “looks exactly like” Erik Estrada—had made a name for himself as a club promoter. He regularly played host at nightclubs like Marquee, Butter, Suede and Gypsy Tea.
The snag in his celebrity pantyhose was revealed, however, when the New York Daily News was forced to publish a retraction to a syrupy gossip item which had ran June 19 under the headline “‘ChiPs’ Off the Old Block.” It featured Mr. Estrada ostensibly sharing a page from the family scrapbook.
“‘My earliest memory of my father, [‘CHiPs’ star] Erik Estrada,’” the original item read, “‘is being in the family car with him, stuck in endless L.A. highway traffic and then suddenly being escorted by two California Highway Patrolmen on motorcycles,’ recalls TV actor Danny Estrada …. ‘I asked Dad why the patrolmen were out in front, and he said he had been a patrolman once himself. For years, I thought Dad was a cop.’”
But in mid-July, Ben Widdicombe’s Gatecrasher column set the record straight:
“Aspiring actor Danny Estrada entertained this page with a story for Father’s Day about his dad, former ‘CHiPs’ star Erik Estrada. The only trouble is, the little louse is no relation, as I learned when Erik’s wife phoned, wondering who, exactly, this was. At least he didn’t try to sell us any land in Hot Springs Village, Ark.”
Among those bristling at the tabloid fiasco was Danny Estrada himself, who claims he never actually said he was the son of Erik Estrada. With a Catholic distinction between sins, he insists the only thing he’s guilty of is not going out of his way to properly educate people about his true bloodline.
“This is absurd,” he said. “Maybe I should just change my name to Danny Iglesias, give up acting and become a singer.” Yes, of course—the logical solution.
People simply assume, Mr. Estrada said, that he and Ponch are genetically simpatico because they have the same last name, are both of Hispanic descent and look alike. He said the item was a hatchet job by longtime gossip contributor Baird Jones.
Mr. Jones specializes in collecting quirky gossip items. He traffics in the dribs and drabs of information that, on slow news days, are shoveled into the city’s gossip columns. The columns credit him with the title of “Webster Hall curator.” Mr. Jones, in turn, gets a sweaty, if small, wad from the concert hall. It’s all very Sweet Smell of Success for the Shattered Glass generation.
But Mr. Jones, an 80’s waxwork who toiled as a doorman at Studio 54 before oozing into the gossip pond in which he has marinated ever since, said that he and Mr. Estrada had enjoyed a brief friendship. He has witnessed, he said, Mr. Estrada regale countless people—attractive women in particular—with dozens of anecdotes about his celebrity daddy.
“He seemed to know everything about [Erik Estrada],” said Mr. Jones, adding that the young Mr. Estrada was even fond of calling people “Chucky,” a nickname the imposter explained was a name his “dad” used to throw around on the set in his ChiPs days.
Indie filmmaker James Tully recalled meeting Mr. Estrada at a Howl festival benefit back on May 23 at Capitale.
“I told him I’d heard that he was related to Erik Estrada and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s my father,’” Mr. Tully recalled. But the conversation came to a grinding halt when Mr. Tully brought up how he thought it was “an interesting wrinkle in his father’s career” that Erik Estrada now stars in infomercials. “He just looked at me blankly and then sort of scampered off.”
Mr. Estrada’s manager, Steven Style, vouched that his client is not a con artist. “This is not a DuPont twins situation,” he said, referring to Robert and Richard DuPont, who in the 70’s and 80’s had New York high society convinced they were related to the stinkingly well-heeled DuPont family. “To the people Danny hangs around and the social circles he’s in, the name Erik Estrada doesn’t mean anything. If anything, it would be bad thing to be related to such a no-name actor,” said Mr. Style.
Whether feelings are mutual or not, Mr. Estrada, who says he graduated from New York University in May of 2004 with a degree in physical education, does count a good number of celebrities among his circle of friends.
“Wilmer [Valderrama], Danny Masterson, Marc Anthony—those are my fuckin’ boys,” Mr. Estrada said.
Despite that low-wattage social-circle star power, it does seems that some of Danny’s activities—riding on a prominent float in this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, playing in a softball game for “Spanish Celebrities” in Bridgehampton earlier this summer—imply, if they are true, more star status than he has achieved under his own steam.
And while Mr. Estrada does, he says, earn a living through his promoting endeavors, his aspirations lie above and beyond.
“I have fucking great talent,” he said. “I’ll do read-throughs with other actors, and I’ll make them feel my lines and then I’ll feel theirs. I know how to do my thing. The old man”—Erik Estrada—“didn’t have that. He’s a big joke.”
Still, Mr. Estrada isn’t even an imposter on the scale of David Hampton, the criminal who pretended to be Sydney Poitier’s son, and who inspired John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation. Rather, in an age when the definition of celebrity has become so very blurry, Mr. Estrada clearly studied up and simply paid the cheapest price possible for entry to the club.
And why not? Isn’t it a victimless crime? “Whether it’s true or false, I want everybody to just leave me the fuck alone,” said Mr. Estrada.
But Erik Estrada, a family man, proud father of three—and none of those three youngsters have reached nightclubbing age, it should be noted—didn’t think it was terribly funny.
“Clearly he’s breaking the law, and it’s unfortunate,” said the Real Estrada. “All I can say is, if that kid ever sees any motor cops coming his way, he better look out.”
Soho House, Union Shop
Alert the secretariat; unfurl the flag! Good news for those despondent over the state of labor in this M.B.A.-led nation: the workers of Soho House are rising up.
Labor Day weekend came gently to the club. On the roof deck on Friday evening, the breeze was warm and the crowd chatted happily in their cushioned deck chairs, the mood punctuated only by the pleasant vibrating of BlackBerries.
Downstairs in the screening room, cocktails in hand, a dozen members slid into leather club chairs for a screening of Transporter 2. Imagine a balding British Jean-Claude Van Damme as a highly competent and weapon-friendly chauffeur in a feature-length Audi commercial. It’s the sort of testosterone-rich fare that appeals to a tired alpha male after a long and hurricane-addled week—a cinematic ode to good help, really, to kick off the workers’ weekend.
But what of the actual help, the men and women huddled just down the hall in a cramped housekeeping office lined with cheap, broken vacuums, or the $8-an-hour dishwashers in the kitchen, or even the bartenders and waiters in their Ted Baker cottons, toiling under the impatient eyes of an excessively hip management cadre? Could that be a hum of “Solidarity Forever” overheard as they swabbed down the toilets in Gwen Stefani’s room and mixed $14 margaritas for private bankers?
Yes. There’s a classic New York City labor scrap brewing at the not-quite-three-year-old private club. It’s a potentially awkward state of affairs for founder Nick Jones, the Brit impresario with a talent for calculated poshness. But when news of the unseemly troubles leaked, Mr. Jones’ team spun gamely. “The owners have no problem with this—they’re not running away from it,” said spokesman Matthew Hiltzik by cell phone from somewhere in Yellowstone National Park. In fact, continued Mr. Hiltzik, such is management’s good will that they have even sent “tea and biscuits” to the union organizers lingering outside their door.
The union reps turned down the grub, however, expecting sarcasm. It was an interpretation that seemed more in line with the prevailing employee take on management’s attitude.
“He don’t want to hear nothing about unions,” said one on the housekeeping staff. “Nick Jones, he don’t care jack. He will fire your ass, and he will pay the consequences.” Said another housekeeper, when asked how management had reacted to the prospect of unionization: “Just the same as every other management since the beginning of time.”
But why the revolt, and why now? According to more than one worker, Mr. Jones’ sin may have been that of arrogance, or at least a rookie N.Y.C. hotelier’s disdain for local convention—a steady demand for employee flexibility and obedience without sufficient corresponding compensation, psychic or otherwise. The workers were fed up.
“People often think of unions in terms of wage issues,” says Mary Pike, the lead on the Soho House case for the New York Hotel Trades Council, the umbrella union which represents nine locals and 27,000 workers in the city. “But I can tell you that what I’ve heard repeatedly are expressions from workers about lack of respect, about just not being treated as if they are people.”
Call it perhaps Brit insensitivity, then, but one shouldn’t underestimate employees’ compounding outrage at the sight of patrons tossing off drinks that each cost as much as one or two hours’ work at non-union wages. As a benchmark, consider that Soho House housekeepers make 43 percent less than their union counterparts, go without 401(k)’s and are given to mocking the company-sponsored health-care plan.
“I’d be better off to fall down dead in the street. Who can afford it?” said one worker. “I’m covered by my wife’s policy—she’s in Local 6.” And then there were the little annoyances: the crappy vacuums, the awkwardly unisex staff locker room, the uniforms that employees are responsible for laundering, and claims that shift supervisors were disorganized.
Apparently, though, the prospect of rigid job classifications and a rising payroll expense has focused the collective mind of the Soho House executives, and softened their dispositions.
“Before, they didn’t even know your name,” said one employee. “Now everyone is saying hello, trying to be nice. It’s a bit of a change.” And one that’s certainly understandable. Unionization would be a costly blow, particularly given that Mr. Jones’ master plan is rumored to include Soho Houses in Miami, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
Let it be said that not every staffer is up for the fight. It’s one thing to be a subsistence level kitchen worker, but quite another to be a bartender who might bring in $1,000 on a good night in high season, or an aspiring actress charged with greeting Harvey Weinstein in the reception area. The status quo suits some just fine. And even workers critical of management give the bosses credit on some fronts. They note with approval, for example, the brass’s willingness to boot members unable to contain their enthusiasm for female staffers.
So according to the time-honored, National Labor Relations Board–regulated tradition, the question will be put to a vote.
But this is where things take an unexpected turn.
By their own account, the Hotel Trades Council of New York claims to represent 85 to 90 percent of hotel jobs in New York City. When the Harvard Club decided to show their workers who was boss in 1994, it was the council and heavyweight Local No. 6 that ran the picket lines for six months before the Ivy Leaguers cracked. These are clearly the varsity hotel-labor guys in the city—but, improbably, the council isn’t the union that led the charge at Soho House.
Credit for that goes to three-year-old Local 971, the only local, as it happens, of the International Shield of Labor Alliances, which was founded by one Frankie Roman. Mr. Roman, a quixotic Brooklynite who emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1948, claims to represent all of “500 to 600” members spanning a range of industries.
“We represent anything that’s attached to the ground and needs a union,” he explained. It seems a Soho House employee, disillusioned with Local No. 6, was sent to Mr. Roman by a pal tired of hearing him complain about work on their daily commute. It was Mr. Roman who pushed the worker to collect signatures and who then filed a petition with an NLRB.
Naturally, this act set off alarm bells at Hotel Trades Council headquarters, which was then forced into the unaccustomed role of “intervener,” electively elbowing their way onto the NRLB ballot. So, as Labor Day dawned, Soho House was in play, with the Hotel Trades Council on one side, hapless Nick Jones in the middle, and a defiant Frankie Roman on the other.
“I’ll take members away from any union,” said Mr. Roman last Friday. The man seems at least as fired up to fight the Local No. 6–Hotel Trades Council combine as he is Soho House management. “They think they own the whole industry. I don’t believe in dictatorship.” Not that he isn’t clear on his approach to the Brits: “I take my shoes off, and I nail them to the ground. Then I put them back on again. And I won’t move. People who know me know that’s my slogan.”
John Turchiano, the spokesman for the Trades Council, doesn’t appear overly threatened. “I’m here 20 years, we only lost one election,” he said. He described Mr. Roman’s Local 971 as a “mysterious phantom union” with “very little paper history.”
Whatever the union, the odds of Mr. Jones’ team managing to keep the unions out the front door along with all the other riff raff aren’t good, and already their tone is conciliatory, if seemingly stolen from Scott McClellan’s playbook: “Soho House has enjoyed and continues to enjoy a positive relationship with its employees. Management respects the process and looks forward to a conclusion that is most favorable to the people.”
We won’t have to wait long for the end game. Though yet to be scheduled, all parties expect a vote soon, possibly within the month.
Not that any of this behind-the-scenes activity disturbed the ambiance on the roof deck. And what if Mr. Jones hikes the annual $1,100 dues to lower any potential new costs associated with a unionized shop? Even a 10 percent rate hike amounts to little more than a round of drinks.
“I think they should unionize,” said one diner late Friday night, though she admitted she was just a guest.