Rabin v. Rodriguez

A war of words has erupted between two prominent nightclub owners over the city’s smoking ban. “He’s the biggest non-politician hypocrite in New York,” Lotus co-owner David Rabin said of Jimmy Rodriguez, the owner of Jimmy’s Uptown and Jimmy’s Downtown. After an article appeared in the Daily News on Sunday exposing Mr. Rodriguez’s Jimmy’s Downtown as one of the 16 New York bars that were flouting Mayor Bloomberg’s smoking ban, Mr. Rabin told The Transom that he and other anti-ban bar and club owners “want” Mr. Rodriguez “to pay for this.”

Much of the anger stems from Mr. Rodriguez’s public stance in favor of Mr. Bloomberg’s controversial decree. On Sept. 25, Mr. Rodriguez held a “smoke-out” at Jimmy’s Downtown, and he has also recorded public-service announcements supporting the ban, saying that he was concerned for the health of his staff and unconcerned with the ban’s effect on his business.

“Maybe he thinks that because he’s got so many political friends, he doesn’t have to follow [the ban],” Mr. Rabin said. “I don’t get to walk with the Mayor at the Puerto Rican parade.”

Contacted by The Transom, Mr. Rodriguez said that patrons were smoking in the back room of Jimmy’s Downtown because the “grace period” was still in effect. Although most establishments are already enforcing the ban, they won’t be fined until May 1 if patrons are caught lighting up. “It was still during the warning period,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We were not going to get into an argument or a fight, especially if this one bouncer got killed.”

As of Monday, April 28, Mr. Rodriguez said he had started to enforce the law and stood behind his pro-ban stance. “I think it’s great because you work in a smoke-free environment. Now that people are forced to smoke outside, they end up conversing with people they’ve never met and meet new people. The smoking ban is also good for health reasons.”

Mr. Rodriguez took a similar position on New York 1 when he debated Mr. Rabin on Inside City Hall . But Mr. Rabin said that when he pressed the club owner off-camera, asking him, “Are you kidding me?”, Mr. Rodriguez replied: “Yeah, I know-it’s going to be a nightmare. It was going to pass anyway, though, and I want to be on the right side of the law.” Mr. Rodriguez admitted he “did say it’s bad for business.” “I did say it’s going to pass anyway, but I also said that we have to look out for our staff which is the most important thing at the end of the day,” he added.

The following day, Mr. Rodriguez was called by chairwoman Christine Quinn to represent the pro-ban side at a City Council hearing. Mr. Rodriguez never testified, and Mr. Rabin said he thought it was “because he lost the debate on New York 1.” Though Mr. Rabin said he didn’t get to see himself on television, he noted: “Everyone called me and said, ‘God, you crushed the guy! He was like a dream spokesperson for us.'”

Mr. Rodriguez, though, said the debate had nothing to do with it. “I did appear, but I was supposed to speak between the hours of 1 and 2. But I was still waiting and, at 2:30, I had an interview with WBLS, so I couldn’t make it back.”

While many bar owners, such as Ciaran Staunton, owner of O’Neil’s in midtown, said their revenue has dropped as much as 40 percent since the ban-“It’s devastating, this whole thing,” Mr. Staunton said-Mr. Rabin said he’s also noticed a change in people’s moods when they’re asked to go outside and smoke a cigarette. “They’re hesitant to go out now, and not having any fun. Half their table’s out in the street,” in jeans, suits or halter tops. “They all feel the flavor of their evening has been impacted.” Mr. Rodriguez said he didn’t believe the numbers. “They didn’t lose 40 percent due to smoking. It can’t even be proven. Can’t we all say that we’re down 20 to 30 percent because of the economy, or terrorism?”

Meanwhile, Mr. Rodriguez contended that club operators like Mr. Rabin wouldn’t suffer a downturn in revenues if they weren’t so damn exclusive at the door. Indeed, he charged that nightclubs like Lotus flouted a different law. “When you have a liquor license, you can’t choose who comes inside,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “The law says if you have a liquor license, you can’t discriminate. Is a person who wears a suit different than someone who wears a pair of jeans? In a day and age when some businesses are down 40 percent, we have some who are practicing this discrimination.”

Mr. Rabin found Mr. Rodriguez’s accusation “totally off-subject and irrelevant-it’s him throwing a straw. Meanwhile, he’s a Lotus customer, so he’s a hypocrite again. If he thinks Lotus is too discriminatory, then maybe he shouldn’t come.”

-Alexandra Wolfe

Humpty Dumplings

On the evening of Sunday, April 27, those who weren’t home lint-brushing their gowns for the following night’s Costume Institute Gala at the Met were at the Four Seasons for the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research’s annual benefit dinner.

In the anteroom, two long placards showed photos from past years’ parties. “That wall over there is the wall of exes. It’s scary,” said a rather solemn Cece Cord, the rail-thin blonde socialite- cum -dog-clothing-fashion-designer, referring to the fact that many of the couples in the pictures-leveraged-buyout mogul Henry Kravis and fashion designer Carolyne Roehm, as well as Ms. Cord and her designing ex-husband, Barry Kieselstein-Cord-are now kaput.

In the Pool Room, peppy newscaster Perri Peltz Ruttenberg discussed the rationale behind the décor. “The theme this year is ’18th Birthday Party,’ because this is the 18th year that we’ve had this event!” Ms. Ruttenberg, daughter of party chairwoman Lauren Veronis, told The Transom.

But someone seemed to have confused the interests of 18-year-olds with those of 18-month-olds.

Ms. Ruttenberg, for instance, was seated next to former Daily News columnist Michael Gross at the “Clown” table, which boasted red foam clown noses for each guest. No one seemed to be wearing them. The “Mickey Mouse” table was set with Mouseketeer ears. Peggy Siegal, in a radiant, sequined short dress, sat with Deborah Norville at the “Ballerina” table. They were dwarfed by a massive cloud of the restaurant’s famous pink cotton candy that resembled the pink tuille fringe of a dancer’s tutu. Writer Lally Weymouth sat at the pink “Poodle” table; socialite Nan Kempner was at the “Barbie” table. At the “Trains” table, all the guests wore blue engineer caps-but, thankfully, no one was yelling “Whoo-whoo!” The pool was filled with water toys.

After taking this all in, The Transom asked Ms. Ruttenberg what kind of 18-year-old she’d had in mind for this party. “O.K., well, we’re stretching it a little,” she said.

Also included in the evening’s $1,000 price tag was similarly themed food-lots of it. The guests all donned aprons, then traipsed through the kitchen and loaded their plates with Willy Wonka Wok, Nursery Noodles, Pork Piñata, Humpty Dumplings.

“I have to lose 20 pounds if I want to fit into my dress tomorrow night,” said Allure editor Linda Wells, eyeing the dessert table. Finally, someone was talking like an 18-year-old.

But then the restaurant’s co–general manager, Alex von Bidder, reminded The Transom that most of the crowd represented the demographic that has made Viagra a hot drug. “Oysters have been really popular tonight. All the men want them,” he told The Transom. “It only takes one to work!” He wouldn’t, however, reveal who the slurpers had been.

“The oysters were great!” offered up Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, seated at the “Magic” table. Mr. Zuckerman held up his magic wand. “Hey, maybe I should tell the Mayor to wave this wand and it will balance the budget,” he said. “Or maybe I should apply that idea to my own budget problems.”

Two tables away, Mayor Michael Bloomberg-in a metallic burgundy tie-was making a neat pile of peanuts he’d shelled at the “Baseball” table. No oyster shells were in sight, but his lady friend Diana Taylor was beaming. “The food here is spectacular!” Mr. Bloomberg told The Transom. “But I don’t want to talk about the food …. I want to talk about the city.” He then gave a long-winded explanation about how, in three years, the number of lives saved by the smoking ban would equal the number of lives lost on 9/11.

The Mayor seemed a bit tense. He probably just needed a smoke.

At the end of dinner, Ms. Ruttenberg spent less than a minute lecturing about the Irvington Institute-which funds research into such diseases as lupus, AIDS and diabetes-and then left the guests to play with their Mickey Mouse ears and Raggedy Ann dolls.

Although perhaps no wiser about developments in immunological research, everyone seemed to take something from the event.

One man took the Mickey Mouse phone centerpiece. Ms. Norville snagged some ballerina slippers for her daughter, and novelist Rona Jaffe loaded her apron with miniature teacups from the “Tea Party” table. The only thing that remained were the railroad tracks at the “Trains” table. Ms. Ruttenberg warned everyone to steer clear of those. They belonged to her son.

-Anna Jane Grossman


On April 11, the National Labor Relations Board charged the Museum of Modern Art with discrimination in the dismissal of three longtime employees, Mary Corliss, Terry Geeskin and Michael Cinquina, who worked in the museum’s famed Film Stills Archive. Now, union sources assert there is more evidence that museum officials weren’t completely truthful about MoMA’s reasons for putting the archive in cold storage in Pennsylvania, rather than relocating it to the museum’s temporary facility in Queens.

The NLRB statement accused MoMA of firing the three employees because of their involvement in the five-and-a-half-month 2000 staff and administrative strike against the museum.

Before the strike, MoMA had planned to move the archive to Queens while its Manhattan site underwent extensive renovations, and Ms. Corliss claimed to have been shown plans for the space that had been set aside for the photographic collection. Governor George Pataki even cited the “renowned film stills collection” in his $5 million state gift to MoMA for aid in its relocation.

But in January 2002, the museum abruptly announced that the collection would instead be put into cold storage in Hamilin, Penn., where it would no longer be available to the public. The museum claimed at the time that there was no longer space in the Queens facility for the stills collection. Ms. Corliss, the archive’s assistant curator, who had worked at MoMA for 34 years, was laid off soon after.

But according to Andrea Ascah-Robinson, staff organizer for Local 2110, there was room for the Film Stills Archive up to and after MoMA’s spring 2002 move to the outer boroughs. Ms. Ascah-Robinson said that she’d been told by members of her union that the space Ms. Corliss had been promised had remained unused until August 2002-seven months after Ms. Corliss and her assistant, Ms. Geeskin, were fired.

“What I was told was that the archive’s space was available until August in Queens,” she told The Transom. Since then, she said, the space “has been used intermittently” by “different departments.”

Daniel Fermon, who currently works in MoMA’s library in Queens, told The Transom that “it’s common knowledge” among museum staff that the space MoMA intended to use for the stills collection has been only intermittently occupied.

Mr. Fermon said that the space in question was on the mezzanine level of the old Swingline Staple factory building in Long Island City, which has housed the bulk of MoMA’s collection since spring 2002.

“It was a room that was big enough to house all or most of the archives,” said Mr. Fermon. Since August, he said, the drawings and prints departments have shared the space, along with part of the paper-conservation department. Mr. Fermon is a member of the program committee and has just accepted a nomination to be unit chair of the Professional and Administrative Staff Association, a part of Local 2110.

When the museum announced that the stills archive would be closed to the public, the New York Film Critics Circle, Columbia and New York universities’ cinema-studies departments and director Martin Scorsese all decried the decision.

In response to the NLRB, MoMA issued a statement claiming that the current building project in midtown “required a temporary contraction of services and staff museum-wide. Two individuals named in the complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board were laid off as a result of the Building Project, and the third due to the implementation of new technology initiatives. None of the individuals was laid off as a result of their union activities.”

As for the accusation that the archive space was unused until August, the MoMA issued the following statement: “The decision was made in 2000 to expand the function of the Queens building to include space for temporary exhibitions, in addition to that for study and storage. As the plans evolved over time, the Museum prioritized its needs and determined that additional space at MoMA QNS was necessary to house support services for the parts of the collection and for visitors in the building. These departments, whose function requires access to the galleries, moved into the building beginning in spring 2002 and concluding in August 2002.”

Ms. Corliss, reached by phone, said, “It would be criminal if the space existed and they shut us down … not only putting us out-of-state, but taking the grant money from the state so that the renowned film archives could be relocated, only to shut us down for retaliation for our strike activities.”

An official hearing is scheduled for June 10, 2003.

-Rebecca Traister

Summer FEVA

First there was the New York Film Festival. Then there was the Tribeca Film Festival, which overlapped with the Brooklyn International Film Festival, which was formerly the Williamsburg Film Festival.

Now, like aggressively horny rabbits, the city’s cinematic celebrations seem to have rubbed against each other until they succeeded in spawning yet another neighborhood film festival.

On Aug. 20, the week-long East Village Film Festival will debut as part of the larger HOWL! Festival of East Village Arts, which is the brainchild of the brand-new Federation of East Village Artists.

Not surprisingly, the festival’s founder, Two Boots Pioneer Theater co-owner Phil Hartman, contended that his creation bore no similarities to Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s two-year-old project in the triangle below Canal Street.

“Ours is not going to be something that descends on the neighborhood from outer space, like that other festival,” he noted. “It’s going to be very organic.”

In other words, don’t expect Mr. De Niro, Hugh Grant or Renée Zellweger to show up at Max Fish during the celebration. In their place will be their East Village counterparts: Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, Christine Vachon, Patti Smith and Julia Stiles.

The film festival will screen between 50 and 75 films at independent theaters in the neighborhood and feature opening-night, closing-night and mid-festival screenings at the multiplexes: the Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street, the Loews on Third Avenue and 11th Street, and the Village East on Second Avenue.

The festival will include new work, as well as retrospectives of several downtown filmmakers, including Robert Downey Sr., Andy Warhol acolyte Taylor Mead and Anthology Film Archives founder Jonas Mekas. Mr. Mekas screened his first film in September of 1953. “That was the day that the idea of an alternative screening venue was born,” Mr. Hartman said.

Though much of the schedule for the festival is still in flux, Mr. Hartman said. The legendary “dragstravaganza” Wigstock will take over a stage on Avenue A, while the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival will be held in Tompkins Square Park.

The first benefit for the festival will take place on Monday, May 5, at the Angel Orensanz Center on Norfolk Street. The chairs are Phillip Glass, Patti Smith and Mr. Mekas, and will feature Steve Buscemi, Reno, Mr. Glass and the one and only Mangina. Work donated by Matthew Barney, Fisherspooner, Keith Haring, William Wegman, Bob Dylan and David Byrne will be auctioned, along with a pair of fur shoes from Debbie Harry and a guitar signed by all of Sonic Youth.

According to FEVA’s mission statement, its goal is to insure that the legacies “of Emma Goldman, of the Fugs, of Allen Ginsberg, endure for generations to come.”


Ruth Draper Redux

On the evening of April 23 at the New-York Historical Society, a panel of three influential comedic actors came together to discuss the life and skill of a New York monologist and social maven, Ruth Draper. She’s dead, so it was O.K. to say nice things about her.

Draper, who lived on East 79th Street and was the granddaughter of the editor of the original New York Sun , would’ve turned 118 years old this year-yet thanks to impeccably preserved recordings and dedicated biographers, her legend lives on. Katharine Hepburn, Lily Tomlin, Molly Shannon and countless others all cite her as a muse.

“When I first started out as a solo performer, she was a great influence,” said panelist Charles Busch, charismatic theater jack-of-all-trades and writer of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife . “That was before I discovered the joys of transvestism.” An older man with a cane and a copy of The Onion smiled in the front row.

To Mr. Busch’s right was the tall, platinum-haired Marion Seldes. “It’s Seld-US, darling. Don’t say Seld-EES-it hurts my feelings,” Ms. Seldes told the panel moderator, writer Susan Mulcahy, before she recalled being a young woman and seeing Draper perform at a party. “It didn’t seem like acting. It seemed like life,” she said. “She made you feel as if you were present in a life.”

The panel was put together by Ms. Mulcahy to complement the New-York Historical Society’s current exhibit, Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business , which runs until June 1 and honors women from Mary Katharine Goddard, printer of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence, to Meg Whitman, chief executive of eBay.

“I thought it was important to include Ruth Draper,” said Ms. Mulcahy, who before she produced several CD’s of Draper’s work was the enterprising editor of the New York Post ‘s Page Six column and a co-founder of the Mr. Showbiz Web site. “I’m always trying to figure out ways to draw attention to her. I first found out about her in the way most people have found about her through the last 20 years-someone gave me one of her recordings.”

Ms. Mulcahy told the audience that Draper-who died in 1956-performed monologues that featured as many as 37 characters and lasted as long as half an hour. “This means at any given moment, she had nine full-length plays in her head that she’d pick and choose from,” she said. They included characters that were young, old, foreign, poor and wealthy. Her only props were shawls and hats.

“And what fascinates me is that she never had a director!” said Ms. Seldes, with a sly grin.

Ms. Mulcahy played snippets from several recordings of Draper’s. In one monologue called “The Italian Lesson,” Draper plays a society woman who, among other things, berates a portrait artist about a picture he did of her daughter, then proclaims that she is, however, “crazy about the frame.”

“I like ‘crazy about the frame.’ That’s an all-purpose compliment,” Ms. Mulcahy said.

-Anna Jane Grossman

Norton in New York

As British talk-show sensation Graham Norton sashayed across the stage at last Thursday’s performance of his one-man show, Red-Handed , at the East 13th Street Theater, he proudly shared his latest accolade with the adoring crowd of British expatriates and retro gay men (circa 1985). “Ladies and gentleman,” the self-described “shiny Irish poof” announced, “I have just received [British] GQ ‘s Worst-Dressed Man of the Year Award.” Showing off his award-winning look -silver-encrusted, crotch-hugging matador pants and a silver cross embossed on his T-shirt-the 40-year-old Mr. Norton winked at the audience and added: “It’s Liberace meets the priesthood.”

The line is so Graham Norton, as even some Yank subscribers of Time Warner’s digital-cable service in Manhattan now know, having discovered the So Graham Norton show (11 p.m. weeknights on channel 106). For the past two years, the program has aired on BBC America, that digital-cable outpost of the olde countrie, and according to a spokesman for the channel, though the BBC doesn’t compile ratings for the show, viewer feedback has been robust. For Mr. Norton, who recently purchased a $3 million townhouse in Murray Hill, his show’s popularity in America has been a pleasant surprise. “In some ways, it’s a very British show. It’s a bit Carry On , laughing-behind-the-bike-shed stuff,” Mr. Norton told The Transom recently. (The reference, for those not familiar with Anglo slang, is to naughty goings-on in the schoolyard.) “We thought American audiences would be too sophisticated for it,” Mr. Norton added, maintaining a straight face.

The show-coupled with the theatrical run, which ends on May 10-has made Mr. Norton a swishier alternative to Ali G. here in Manhattan, and the former would love the latter’s American benefactor to notice. “It could work on HBO,” Mr. Norton said of his London-based program.

Mr. Norton said that his most gratifying moment in New York so far was when a member of the NYPD tapped him on the shoulder and told him he liked the show. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, a New York cop likes my show.” It’s a weird image: One of New York’s finest tuned in to the campiest show on television, which in recent episodes has featured actress Susan Sarandon chatting on a penis-shaped phone with an Englishman who is brought to the brink of ecstasy by her American accent, and Chris Rock playing a fainting Fay Wray as an Asian man named King Kong-Mr. Norton’s researcher found him in the phone book-climbs a cardboard Empire State Building. In an hour-long special, Mr. Norton also visited Dolly Parton at Dollywood and recorded “Islands in the Stream” with his idol.

“I’m very, very excited to meet famous people, but then I lose interest very, quickly,” Mr. Norton confided, adding that his all-time worst guest was Lindsay ( The Bionic Woman ) Wagner. “Not recommended,” he said.

-Shazia Ahmad Rabin v. Rodriguez