Update: Mr. Tepperberg responds below.
When describing Marquee, the recently reopened upper-Chelsea nightclub, you might find yourself falling back on that Talking Heads song “Heaven.” You know, the bar where nothing, nothing ever happens? When a nightclub reopens exactly one decade after its first inauguration, in the exact same spot, with the exact same owners and the exact same name, it’s hard not to drift back to the verse: “When this party is over, it will start again; it won’t be any different, it’ll be exactly the same.”
Marquee, located in the dead zone of 27th Street and 10th Avenue, might not be exactly the same as it ever was, but it’s close. It’s also not heaven—and neither is it Heaven, the gay club on Sixth Avenue. Instead, it is a beacon of not-quite-old-enough-to-be-nostalgic New York, which had its heyday in the early to mid-2000s. Founded in 2003 by the then-newly minted Strategic Group, launched by party promoters Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg, Marquee took the space of a former taxi warehouse at a time when Chelsea was the place to be, and not yet the place to avoid at all costs. (Today, it should be said, the reasons for avoiding Chelsea at night are quite different from those in the pre-Marquee era: it’s no longer dangerous, but simply full of misguided gents who still think bottle service is a fine way to impress women.) Stars and scenesters mingled at Marquee, forging a tentative detente with the gossip columnists who lurked in the shadows, avoiding the pulsating lights and straining to hear anything at all above the din of a deejay with oversized electronics.
But by 2008, the scene at Marquee grew stale, and even its owners got bored, preoccupied with their new Marquee outposts in Las Vegas and Australia. (Not to mention LAVO, AVENUE, TAO and the Venetian.) Six years in the running, four years dormant, and now: rebirth. And it won’t be any different, it will be exactly the same. More or less.
As Mr. Tepperberg wrote in an email to The Observer via email:
A lot of people, not just in New York, had a real fondness for Marquee – it was a special place to so many of us and we wanted to preserve that. At the same time, we knew we needed to update it and make it a place that spoke to today’s nightlife culture, which is why we completely redid the entire space… At the opening, we were astounded by the feedback we got from everyone. People just went crazy. We knew there was a nostalgia there associated with the old Marquee, which is why we had the doormen greet everyone with “Welcome Back to Marquee,” but what really blew us away was how much people loved the new concept. You could tell that people have been missing that in New York, which is why I think the response was so overwhelming.
Outside the new/old Marquee on opening night, guests were greeted by a collection of golf carts topped by with luminescent toadstool roofs like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Whether these decorative flourishes were also functional was a topic of conversation among those waiting in line. We never found out.
Tall, muscular drag queens—a once-prevalent local bird sighted less and less frequently over the past several years, since high-profile Chelsea clubs like Marquee were shuttered or forgotten—were peacocking at the entrance. The imposing bouncers seemed to know each of these ladies personally, and opened the black velvet rope (so much more chic than its red counterpart) to let them pass.
But there was also an element of new: the door “list” was no longer a physical entity, but a “constantly updated spreadsheet,” according to the slim-lipped man at the door. “If anyone ‘just put you on’ on their list, I would know,” he replied curtly to the people ahead of us, who were apparently trying to talk their way into the opening-night festivities. His eyes never left his iPad mini, which was so small we wondered how he could read any names off it at all. “Now, when you’re not on the list, there’s no excuses. If you call someone who can add you on the list, I’ll see it updated in 10 seconds.” The group stood to one side, dejected.
It had just turned 10, the official start time of the party, but already an assortment of hipsters, aging club kids, Jersey boys, models and celebrities was arriving. Legendary nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan was snapping the beautiful people, who that evening included Tyson Beckford, Timbaland, Nicky Hilton, Brandon Davis, Eve, Swizz Beatz, Akon, Busta Rhymes and Patricia Field. If Messrs. Tepperberg and Strauss couldn’t exactly rewind the clock, they could certainly make their guest list (for one night at least), look like it had back in 2003.
Inside, we ran into Mr. Tepperberg at coat check. We asked what he most hoped to see in the crowd that evening.
“A lot of old friends,” said the Strategic Group co-founder, who really looked as if he had just walked off the set of The Shield, or possibly The Sopranos. It was an odd choice of words, since Marquee seemed packed with young faces: models danced on the catwalks crisscrossing the vast two-story structure, while pulsing lights and a giant—God, is that? Yes it is!—disco ball in the middle of the room kept us pleasantly disoriented. One young-looking man named Jensen was particularly eager to walk us through the difference between old nightlife and new nightlife, as he was developing a “social networking service for models and events.” (Woof, there’s something that we don’t miss.) “What people are looking for in models has changed, although it’s kind of the same,” he said. “They’re always looking for tall women who you know, stand out. But today you also want to see a girl with good skin.” Skin? Really? Pushing aside images of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, we convinced ourselves this new focus on the epidermis was due to upgrades in lighting over the past decade.
“Also, people didn’t use to be on their cellphones this much,” he complained, pulling out his cellphone and to dash off a text. “People used to actually talk to each other.”
At least we think that’s what he said. The music was so loud we couldn’t be sure.
After admiring the view from the second story—where hundreds of books were stacked along the wall next to the black couches, a nice, classy touch—we scooted downstairs, where we ran into man-about-town Justin Rocket Silverman.
“This place looks exactly the same,” he said.
Downstairs, we ran into Du Jour’s Jason Binn, who told us, “This place looks completely different.”
“I guess there might have been a different staircase over there,” Mr. Silverman conceded.
Unlike the relaunch of, say, the Beatrice Inn, there was no judgment passed over the changes or lack thereof at Marquee that night. Everyone just went with it: a party was happening, and everyone was there.
And, as we found out during the stampede toward the coat check, Marquee had another thing in common with the bar in “Heaven”: Everyone will leave at exactly the same time.