Manhattan’s clubland is migrating to an unexpected zip code.
In February, Jamie Mulholland, Jayma Cardoso, David Tetens and Robert McKinley, the group that brought the Safari-themed club Cain to 27th Street, opened the lavishly decorated Gold Bar at 389 Broome Street.
A few months later, former model Emma Cleary purchased the space currently occupied by the lounge Double Happiness at 173 Mott Street. She has plans to re-open the former John Gotti hangout in a hip speakeasy format by Thanksgiving.
And, Danny A, one of the most successful club promoters in the city, according to a source, recently opened Upstairs, an uber-exclusive V.I.P.-only establishment that sits unassumingly on the second floor of a café on Spring Street and Broadway. “Believe it or not, places are moving down toward the Nolita/Chinatown area,” nightlife broker Alex Picken recently told The Observer.
Mr. Picken says that he is now regularly sending his employees down to canvass the blending neighborhoods for prime real estate.
So, why the move to where one is more likely to happen upon a discounted pork dumpling rather than a $500 bottle of Grey Goose?
“We really wanted to create a destination,” Mr. McKinley explained when asked about Gold Bar. “We liked the location because it is sort of at the crossroads between the Lower East Side, Chinatown and the Bowery.”
Mr. McKinley was drawn to the location because it was in a “real neighborhood.”
“I was recently talking with one of our door people about the different set of characters that come in during the night,” he said. “It’s not the normal cast that you find at 27th Street. The other night, there were a bunch of finance guys on one side of the bar and a pro skater who was in town from Jackson Hole on the other.”
With a motley clientele and a distinctive approach, Mr. McKinley believes that he and his partners have set the tone for the area.
“I think if anyone else wants to go there, they are going to have to do something similar to what we did,” he said.
However, Ms. Cleary is adamant that she is not following in anyone’s footsteps.
“I have lived in this neighborhood for 10 years and I felt that anything new in the meatpacking district or Chelsea was going to be a waste of time,” she told The Observer. “People want a change of scenery.”
The 28-year-old Ms. Cleary has been promoting clubs in the city for most of her adult life. In fact, she cut her teeth at Veruka, a now-defunct SoHo lounge that was one of the original downtown destinations that catered to the upper echelon of night clubbers.
“Veruka was one of the places that I went to 10 years ago on Broome Street, and I feel like it is time to bring that back.”
It should be noted that Ms. Cleary and Mr. McKinley are not heading down a completely unbeaten path. In 2002, maligned club king David Marvisi opened Capitale, a 40,000-square-foot club and restaurant at 130 Bowery in the old Bowery Savings Bank building. While the place had an energetic beginning, hosting parties for the likes of Heidi Klum and Jay-Z, the hype faded quickly, and now the space only hosts private events. Capitale remains the first and only nightlife venue of its size to open in the area.
ALTHOUGH THERE ARE PLENTY OF reasons for moving a scene from one neighborhood to another, the current club haven of West Chelsea has fallen victim to a flurry of crime and bad publicity over the past year, enough to give any club owner reservations about staying.
“I find that a lot of people are fed up with the oppressive police presence,” club owner David Sarner said. “And out of frustration they are looking to move downtown.”
The man largely credited with inventing the bottle service format also listed closed streets and a lack of late-night cabs as reasons for the transition, but he noted that escalating rents are also pushing people out.
“You used to be able to pick up space at $20 or $30 a foot,” he said. “Now you see places going for two and three times that.”
Alex Picken echoed these thoughts.
“On 27th Street, you’re looking at more like $60 a square foot these days,” he said. “Not only are people getting a deal downtown, but they are finding that the community boards are not as tough yet as they are in Chelsea.”
James Famularo, a broker who has represented a number of nightlife spots over the years, says that while the move is happening, he believes it is limited to those that can make a hefty profit off a small group.
“There are two types of operators,” Mr. Famularo said. “You have the guys that operate by the thousands and then you have Amy Sacco, Jamie Mulholland and Danny A, who have a total gross of 200 people and they are fine with that because the folks will spend thousands. These are the people who want to move downtown.”
However, the uber-exclusive admittance policy for which many Chelsea clubs have become famous may not fly with the downtown set. Will gaining entrance at these new establishments be any easier than at their uptown siblings?
“Our door policy is tough, but we are working every week at developing a better demeanor,” Mr. McKinley said. “You may not always get in, but at least we are not terrible jerks at the door.”