Right now, No. 8 is the most exclusive club in New York, unless you count the Zodiac, which consists of 12 male blue-blood WASPs, one of whom has to die before a new member can join. While more diverse and democratic, No. 8 does have a strict door policy. To get in, it helps if you’re famous, or know owner Bobby Rossi of LDV Hospitality or “brand partner” Amy Sacco, or preferably all three.
In his New York Times profile of Ms. Sacco (“The Empress Is In”), writer Bob Morris captured the scene at No. 8 on opening night last May, noting that patrons in the upstairs “rec room” were selecting old records and handing them to “a bearded deejay.”
I knew that had to be DJ Uncle Mike, who stopped shaving in 1990 and used to spin at Bungalow 8 and said things like “psyched,” “groovy,” “cool,” “groovy cool,” “joyous,” “happy,” “beautiful,” “lovely,” “blessed,” “lucky,” “good time,” “all good” and “life’s good.”
When Bungalow closed in 2009, along with Siberia and the Beatrice Inn, nightlife began to suck for me, especially after I found myself being picked up by two bouncers at Kenmare and bounced headfirst onto the sidewalk. Shamed, I fled to Park Slope. Soon, I felt so estranged from humanity I could only connect with my geriatric cat. Why don’t we all join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and return the Earth to the critters? I thought.
I considered seeking help, but could no longer afford a shrink or life coach. Fortunately Uncle Mike agreed to meet with me early one early evening in August. It was weird seeing a fellow creature of the night at that hour. He looked the same, like a cross between Rick Rubin, Billy Gibbons, Rob Zombie, Santa Claus and The Dude, and he exuded a familiar vibe.
“Dude, I just always feel like I’m really lucky,” he said from behind the wheel of a rusty, ratty, dented, funky old car. “I love music, and I actually get to go to places and play music. I love happy people, and if I’m lucky, I can make people happy. It’s great.”
He was on his way to No. 8, where, as house deejay, he spins five nights a week upstairs. It was he who selected every one of the 8,010 records that line the shelves of the rec room. His other regular gig is at Brooklyn Bowl every Saturday afternoon. He has also done private parties for Elton John, Bono, Sienna Miller, Lenny Kravitz and Saturday Night Live; spun with Lindsay Lohan; opened for Toots and the Maytals; and performed solo in Montauk, Miami, Las Vegas, Brazil, Ireland, London, New Jersey and Vietnam.
He’s been underpaid, overpaid and paid right on the nose, but never paid as much as Skrillex, not the top end. When people ask him to deejay, he makes sure they know what they’re getting. Because if all they’re going to ask for is Rihanna—and that’s okay, that’s a whole vibe—that’s not what he plays, that’s not what he’s about.
According to his website, “DJ Uncle Mike plays an eclectic mix of ‘Vintage Music,’ including Rock & Roll, New Wave, Motown, Classic Rock, Punk, Funk, Surf, Disco, Reggae, Metal, Bubblegum, Ska, Soul, Rat Pack and more …”
EXTRA: Click here for a Spotify playlist from DJ Uncle Mike.
“Music is magic and musicians are magicians,” he said cruising west on 14th Street. “There’s nothing like the face of somebody who hears a song and just gets turned on and lights up, and whether they get up into their crazy dancing, or maybe standing at the bar and paying their bill, tapping their credit card to the beat.”
He joked that his car radio only plays music from 1967. Actually it’s broken.
“Sometimes it’s nice to have no music,” he confessed before turning on Eighth Avenue. “And just have … thoughts. Thoughts are nice. At some point, music is great and it’s great to have it around all the time—I want music now, bam! I have Spotify, I have everything, bam! When I was younger, it wasn’t like that. You’d go buy records, tapes, you had your music and you had your gaps. But we live in New York, so we have to pay attention to what’s going on, and if I’m blasting music all the time, I’m not going to pay attention to, like, not running this guy over.”
Uncle Mike parked down the block from No. 8. He didn’t have to start spinning for a few hours. I asked him about the current state of nightlife.
“Things in New York change,” he said. “People get resentful, saying it’s not what used to be. It’s never gonna to be what it used to be. It is what it is right now! And I think we should just be making the best of out of what is right now. Some nights you deejay, and as soon as the club opens, people go, ‘There’s no one here!’ Yes, you’re the first one in. What did you expect, like the club to have a thousand people there dancing? I gotta tell you, if you are the first person there, you are privileged to start. The. Party.
“Party-starters are definitely appreciated,” Uncle Mike continued. “They come in, they don’t care who’s in the room, whether the room is full or empty, what the status of the room is. I think more and more, people just think you walk into a place and the party is already there. You’ve got to make it, you’ve got to put some effort into it, you’ve got to bring that positive energy of, ‘Yeahhh, let’s make this happen! I’m psyched! I’m psyched to go out tonight! I’m psyched to go out and see my friends! I’m psyched to meet new people! I’m just psyched!’”
I asked permission to call him Mike. He didn’t say yes or no.
“It’s all good, my friend,” he said, exiting his vehicle.
Outside No. 8 stood Disco, the legendary 6-foot-7, 290-pound doorman. Inside, Mike chatted with the manager Lily Cho, another Bung alum. The bartender (artist Ryan Metke) looked familiar too. Upstairs in the rec room, Mike ordered two tuna tartares, two grilled cheeses, two beet salads and one scotch. He told me that in 2008, he went out 125 nights in a row, and in 2009, his big toe started hurting. What the fuck is that? he thought.
“You got the gout!” a doctor told him. Mike had heard of this “disease of kings.” It happened when you lived well. The doc said he could either change his diet or take pills.
He quit booze no problem, but it was tough giving up things he loves—red meat, pizza, pastrami, chopped liver—and switching to chicken, fish, fruits and veggies. “It’s a sign,” he said of his condition. “Your body’s telling you, ‘Yo, change your shit up, and by the way, if you think that pain’s bad, boy I got some pain for you if you don’t fucking change.’ Listen to your body.”
When I returned from the men’s room, Mike shared his prevailing memory of me from Bungalow: “You walked up to me and, out of nowhere, said, ‘Metamucil, it’s really good for you!’ And I thought, ‘This is a nice guy.’”
So did he …?
“No. I haven’t needed it, but the point is you were kind enough to impart me with some wisdom. So for that I gotta say thank you, brother.”
Besides us, the place was empty. Then Russell Simmons and a lady appeared, and someone cranked up the music. Mike and I moved to a private back room, a k a “the broom closet.” The view of the rec room through the one-way mirror made me think of 007’s bachelor pad or Otter’s place in Animal House if he had a million extra bucks. “If you’re not here, then you’re never going to know what it’s like,” Mike said. “But if you’re here, you’re never gonna forget it.”
He wouldn’t talk about the celebrities who have been to No. 8, among them Bono, Daniel Craig, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, Clive Owen, Waris Ahluwalia, Peter Beard, Jim Carrey and Ed Westwick. “I know nothing, nothing!” he said. “I show up and I deejay. People I work with are very nice to me. Give me wonderful food to eat. Let me play music to make people feel happy.”