Surf’s Still Up for Jamie Mulholland

Back on the boat, Mr. Mulholland insisted all his guests go before him. “Mate, are you sure you’ve never done this before?” he asked me, as the boat circled back to get me after another awesome wipeout. “Brew, you’re a natural.” 

It was his business partner Mr. Heidinger’s first time braving the wakeboard as well. “You almost had it, brew,” Mr. Mulholland cheered. And then once his mate had had enough frustration for the day: “Those bindings are too small for you, brew.”

Mr. Heidinger met Mr. Mulholland in the early 2000s, when the latter was bartending at Lotus, a club in the meatpacking district. Two major developments had happened in Mr. Mulholland’s life in the interim between French Roast and Lotus. First and foremost, a Ford model named JoJo Loe sidled up to the bar.

“It was instant. We have spent every day together since then,” he said. They are now married, with a 2-year-old son named Ocean. “This woman grounded me and she gave me faith to follow what I wanted to do, as women do. It’s tough when you don’t have love in your life and you’re busting your ass; it’s a horrible place to be. She gave me support, a belief in my abilities.”

 

HE HAD LEFT French Roast and had started a catering company when childhood friend Brandon Kerzner, son of billionaire gambling tycoon Saul Kerzner, came to Manhattan. Brandon had a piece of Lotus and asked Jamie if he’d like a job as a bartender.

A couple years later, his skills with the movers and shakers caught the attention of the folks at PM Lounge, who hired him to manage the bar and their VIP list.

“I was sort of cultivating my client base and looking at spaces at the same time,” Mr. Mulholland said. “I just said to myself, ‘How much more experience do you need?’

In the mornings, he’d work on his business plan; each afternoon he’d carve out half an hour to go look at another space. He found a space on 27th Street. The only other thing on the entire block was Bungalow 8. “It was just perfect. I walked outside and I remember thinking, ‘Jesus, that’s a lot of money. Sixteen thousand a month.”

He had no credit history. But his old pal Kenny Goldie, a VIP from the old days with a very rich father, and Mr. Kerzner were in. Mr. Mulholland hired Jayma Cardoso, a voluptuous and business-savvy Brazilian cocktail waitress at Lotus, as operations manager.

Cain opened in October 2004, and the bottles haven’t stopped popping. “Less than a week after we opened, Mariah Carey had her Halloween party there,” Mr. Mulholland said. “And Puff Daddy rolled up in his Rolls and he stood on the roof in his Roman Emperor’s outfit, screaming at the crowd outside and came in with his entourage. Jayma and I were looking at each other, going, ‘Wow.’”

He said he is working on three more venues, two of which will be in New York and are expected to open by fall of next year. The third is in Dubai and will be a similar setup to Cain at the Cove, which is owned by Papa Kerzner and operated by Mr. Mulholland’s team. GoldBar, which opened on Broome Street in 2007, is an unmitigated success. Lenny Kravitz wrote a song about it on his new album. Surf Lodge’s business is up 15 percent since last year, Mr. Mulholland said, and has earned criticism for ruining quiet Montauk. But he said it’s a mellow scene.

“I remember looking outside, and at one table there was Steven Spielberg and [Jerry] Seinfeld. The table next to them was a local fisherman with his wife. It’s that diversity that makes Surf Lodge so special. It’s not about putting on these bullshit airs. It’s real, man. It’s just got this incredibly friendly and relaxed vibe to it. If anything, I think it embraces what Montauk is about.”

Recently, the baskets that dangle over Surf Lodge’s patio blew off in the wind. As soon as Mr. Mulholland put foot to ladder, the cops were there. A neighbor had called then to report signs of new construction.

“At that moment,” he said, “I thought that no matter what we do, there’s always going to be that one person who wants to bitch and complain. Maybe they’re not happy with their own life or whatever it is.”

Surf Lodge usually closes after Labor Day, but Mr. Mulholland is keeping it open until the end of the month to accommodate a couple of weddings and a Victoria’s Secret shoot. Which means another couple of sessions with Sammy the wakeboard hombre.

When it finally came time for the host to strap in, he zipped along admirably, did a few rail slides on the lip of the wake-way, then attempted a flip in midair and landed on his head. It was an epic wipeout. Ten minutes after that, he tried the same crazy idea. It worked.

“I’m still learning,” Mr. Mulholland said. “Every day.”