Michael Satsky and Barry Mullineaux, the young, handsomely hip proprietors of Stereo nightclub on West 29th Street, have long relied on celebrity sightings to keep their trendy 5,000-square-foot dance club in the headlines.
Every time the tabloids spot beauty queen Tara Conner illicitly smoking cigarettes in the V.I.P. section, or spy pretty-boy singer John Mayer practicing his pickup lines on comely clubgoers, the publicity only piques the not-yet-two-year-old venue’s enduring prominence.
Lately, though, the buzz has transcended the gossip pages and headed into crime-blotter territory.
On Sept. 6, police shuttered the hugely hyped West Chelsea hangout for the second time in a month—the latest salvo in a long-standing legal spat between the city and the club’s owners over an array of issues.
Just four days earlier, cops also responded to a reported burglary at the notorious nightspot. Sneaky thieves had reportedly drilled a hole in the roof of the single-story building one Sunday night, broke into a safe, and made off with more than $29,000 in cash.
And, just a week prior to that incident, officers were called to the hot spot yet again after a reported Sunday night stabbing, allegedly involving former Queens playground standout Rafer Alston, now of the N.B.A.’s Houston Rockets, who was later arrested and charged with assault. (Not one to let a little alleged slashing potentially spoil the celebrity-friendly vibe, Stereo management has publicly backed the 6-foot-2 professional hoopster’s professed innocence.)
That’s an awful lot of ink in just a short amount of time—even for a place recently hailed by Paper magazine as Manhattan’s “Best Club.”
Naturally, Stereo’s in-house spin doctors have worked hard to twist each newsy tidbit in their favor, casting the club as an honest, hardworking business brutally victimized by overzealous regulation.
In a rather one-sided Aug. 18 broadside in the New York Post, Stereo lawyer Bruce Bronster lashed out at authorities for what he described as an unfair earlier raid over a mere “garden variety of infractions,” specifically citing “a noise complaint, a fight, a fruit fly.”
He conveniently neglected to mention the garden variety of drug charges. (The city’s formal court complaint, which further details multiple assaults, repeated citations for indoor tobacco use and other regulatory blunders, doesn’t even mention the purported “fruit fly.” A mere metaphor, Mr. Bronster later clarified.)
A court-ordered independent monitor of the premises, however, has blamed much of the club’s legal woes on something else entirely—specifically, a certain segment of Stereo’s regular clientele.
And it’s not so much the Conners or the Mayers of the world.
According to a written report by Manhattan-based security consultants Meyerson Associates Inc., whom club management hired as part of a settlement agreement to stay in business, Stereo’s weekly “hip-hop / rapper” events on Sunday and Monday nights are perhaps the biggest source of trouble for the embattled venue.
“The other nights are upscale 20’s – 30’s aged patrons who are quite orderly and sit for bottle service,” according to the Aug. 2 report, which is included in court records.
The stark difference in crowd behavior is so, um, black and white as to warrant entirely different security procedures.
“Weapon scanning (inadequate) is only occurring on Sunday and Monday nights (hip hop/ rap),” the report states. “Stereo strongly believes that their patrons from Tuesday through Saturday are generally not into fighting or carrying weapons. It’s a very upscale white collar and professional crowd. This is in fact what we have observed. We are still recommending that weapons searches are not necessary on Wednesday to Saturday providing the crowd remains the same. We would not object to a selective weapons search on these days rather than all patrons.”
To hear police tell it, the venue with the boom-box motif, which Mr. Satsky originally conceived in 2005 as “like Yankee Stadium for D.J.’s,” has operated more like an overpriced Philly Blunt factory, with patrons, entertainers and occasionally even club employees openly smoking marijuana inside the premises on a regular basis.
Undercover cops, who, according to court records, were routinely passed blunts themselves, have made at least 10 drug-related arrests at the club since August 2006, confiscating pot and other drugs, including cocaine and Xanax. If you believe the consultant, the pot use, in particular, is strongly connected to the hip-hop crowd.
“The nights where marijuana smell is detected is on the hip hop/rap nights,” according to the report, which describes the dank herbal odor in the club on these specific evenings as “constant.”
On one particular Monday night this past July, one of the consultant’s covert operatives counted as many as 20 patrons openly smoking weed inside the club.
On an Sunday evening, one of the club’s own security managers was spotted playing puff-puff-pass with hip-hop recording artist Cassidy, an incident that ultimately resulted in the employee’s firing, according to the report. “We do not have this issue on the other monitoring days,” the consultant states.
Recent police reports, also included in court records, dispute that assertion, however. The Police Department’s own undercover operatives observed pot-puffing patrons on a recent Saturday night in August and also arrested a weed dealer inside the club on a following Thursday.
“We really haven’t done an empirical analysis as to when these incidents occur—we’re very cautious every night,” Mr. Bronster, Stereo’s lawyer, told The Observer. “Hip-hop night may be a misnomer. We play hip hop and a great assortment of music every night.”
What’s different about the Sunday-Monday crowd? “Can’t answer that question,” he said. “We bring out a great crowd every single night.”