A Nightclub Queen Gets Ready to Sell Her Chilly Hotspot

On Friday, Dec. 1, Bungalow 8 proprietor Amy Sacco arrived at a dinner party celebrating the new film The Good German with her friend Sean Penn. Once there—the fête was held at the Plaza Athénée—Ms. Sacco met up with some other familiar faces: George Clooney, Sam Rockwell, Sam and Eva Mendes. So far, nothing out of the ordinary in the life of the towering glamazon of Manhattan nightlife.

After dinner, Ms. Sacco accompanied some of her celebu-friends to a nightclub. The group, which included the Mendeses and Mr. Rockwell, were transported to the door not of Ms. Sacco’s Bungalow, but instead the annoyingly über-exclusive Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Whaa?

“Amy wants to sell Bungalow,” said a clubland insider that night at the Rose Bar.

There was a time, not long ago, when Ms. Sacco’s Bungalow would have been the obvious, if not the only, choice for such a party. Even Kate Moss showed up not long after—Rose Bar was also the after-destination for those who had attended a charity event hosted by the model and former scandal-on-thin-legs.

But those days are over. “Everybody wants to get off 27th Street, because celebrities won’t go there,” said the source.

Reached for comment on Dec. 4, Ms. Sacco amplified the chitchat. “I’m gonna do whatever I feel is necessary for myself,” said the nightlife empress, when asked if she was contemplating selling Bungalow. “But I’m not going to stay if I can’t get my customers to walk down the block.”

Earlier this summer, shortly after the abduction and murder of Jennifer Moore, 18—Moore had last been served at the 27th Street club Guest House—the city began treating the clubbers’ paradise between 10th and 11th avenues as a war zone. A barricade now blocks cars from entering from either avenue Thursday through Saturday. A number of cops, including several on horseback, patrol up and down the single block during high clubbing hours. They even have their own NYPD station-house trailer parked on 10th Avenue.

“It’s become really oppressive,” said Ms. Sacco. “People don’t want to walk outside and have klieg lights shining in your face and cops herding you like cattle.”

“It looks like downtown Beirut,” said David Rabin, the owner of Lotus and the president of the New York Night Life Association. “You think someone coming in from France or London or Vegas or wherever is going to get off a plane and come to 27th Street and see that as fun?”

And it appears the message has been clear to other club owners on the block. Home, Guest House, Spirit and Pink Elephant also call 27th Street home.

“Two other owners on that block have approached me wanting to sell in the last couple months,” said Alex Picken, the city’s biggest nightclub broker. Mr. Picken was involved in the sale of one of Ms. Sacco’s other hangouts, Lot 61. “It’s like a Mardi Gras over there, and a lot of the high-end patrons—some of whom are models and actors and whoever—they’re leaving the clubs at 3 a.m., and they’re getting harassed on the streets by the other people as well as by the cops. And they’re deciding to take their business elsewhere.”

Mr. Rabin and Ms. Sacco see the police presence in the area as a shortsighted overreaction to a problem that, in the words of Mr. Rabin, “never existed.”

“It was one tragedy,” said Ms. Sacco, who hastened to add that Ms. Moore was abducted near an unlit NYPD tow pound on 38th Street, far away from her precious Bungalow.

Nevertheless, when the NYPD took aim at her territory, Ms. Sacco went into battle mode too. She canceled all her summer holidays to stay with her staff and help them get through the difficult time. She’s been rallying her “amazingly loyal clientele, who have been so supportive.” (They are loyal—Leo DiCaprio had a party there on Saturday.) She’s been to countless community meetings, “which start at 8 a.m.,” she said, with horror. At this point, though, she seems pretty near ready to throw in the proverbial towel.

“I’m this close,” she said. “I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to work for no money, and I don’t need to work in a place that doesn’t want me to work. I’m not going to start charging at the door.”

“Bungalow is very symbolic of New York—here is a lone female entrepreneur who basically launched a block and has brought in so much business,” said Mr. Rabin. “To then penalize that business because no thought was given to how to police that region before is a terrible statement.”

Ms. Sacco said the city is to blame for the overcrowding as well. “The community boards issued too many licenses,” she said. “They oversold, and now they’re coming down on us for it being overcrowded.”

“It’s like, why bother?” she said. “I’ve tried to follow all of the rules. But then they just change the rules. I’m not a mind reader.”

Lee Compton, chair of Community Board 4, is sympathetic to the plight of 27th Street’s nightlife folk. In the late 90’s, club owners were “encouraged to go into manufacturing zones,” he said on Dec. 5. Around 2002, he said, his board started to see an “influx in applications.” Those applications were largely approved. Between 2002 and 2004, the licensed capacity for clubgoers in that area rose from 1,000 to 8,000, he said, which is largely responsible for what Ms. Sacco referred to as the “clusterfuck” that is 27th Street now.

In his defense, Mr. Compton made the point that the community board “doesn’t approve applications. The S.L.A.”—the State Liquor Authority—“does. We can recommend approval or not recommend approval. Up until recently, the State Liquor Authority was predisposed to grant licenses no matter what.”

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Ms. Sacco said. “The city fails to acknowledge nightlife as an important business. It’s a $9 billion industry for this city. It creates tons of jobs. But more than that, it’s a big part of what makes New York special. It’s like, where else can you wear glitter and hot pants?”

In April, Ms. Sacco will open a new Bungalow 8, at Saint Martins Lane Hotel in London. She expects to open “several” new ventures in Las Vegas by the end of 2007. She said she is not currently looking to expand her empire in New York.

“It’s like the city that never sleeps has turned into the city that obviously took a lot of Lunesta,” she said.

The Jewish Oscars

“It’s like the Jewish Oscars,” said a publicist for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Young Leadership gala Saturday night.

For the event, which did not feature awards, the Metropolitan Pavilion was converted into a ginormous buffet-casino. It featured performances by hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari and the Israeli rapper Subliminal. So really, it was more like a really sweet after-party for the Jewish Oscars.

The Transom began to realize just how awesome this fund-raiser was while using the men’s room.

“Rachel!” exclaimed the shrill voice in the neighboring stall. “You gotta get down here, right now. Seriously, your mom will pay you to come just to tell her about everyone who’s here.”

“It’s a great place for young Jewish guys and girls to meet and mingle for a good cause,” said Carolyn, 21, of Long Island. “I was like, ‘Mom, give me your credit card.’ There’s really nothing that compares to it.”

Kyle Koppel, 22, of Manhattan, understood a greater importance to the event. “I did the Nov. 6 boot camp in the”—well, it sounded sorta like Challah—“brigade in Israel.” Among other things, the FIDF sends young Americans on pilgrimages to hang out and show their support for Israeli soldiers. “It was unbelievable—it’s pretty much a college campus,” she said. “But instead of learning about science and mathematics, they’re learning how to kill people.”

Ms. Koppel was enjoying the party—but her palate for Jewish love in the city had been tainted by her time abroad. “Everyday I would talk to my dad and go, ‘Why don’t Jewish boys in New York look like this?’ He said it was the machismo factor.”

Regardless of what was motivating the wallets of the young Hebrew masses, Joshua Dardashtian, who sits on the executive board of the FIDF, is concerned about where that money is going.

“We improve the lives of Israeli soldiers,” said Mr. Dardashtian, a real-estate developer. “We ask the commanders what they want, they ask their soldiers, and we buy those things for them. We give mobile gyms, we give scholarships, we take care of their children and send them to summer camp, we build on-site synagogues, we provide rest-and-recreation weekends. Really things to better their lives. War is hard.” Especially endless war!

He said there was cause for the Young Leadership to celebrate. “Up until 2005, we raised a total of a $1 million. This year, we raised a million dollars.”

The rapper Subliminal had taken the stage. He wore a shirt emblazoned with an American flag, a Star of David imposed on it. There was a funky beat. Many kipas were bobbing in the crowd. “One for the money,” he began, “two for the show.” Then it was all Hebrew to us.


Going Downtown

“This is for people who sort of get it,” said André Balazs, of the “out-of -control” branding that had gone into the party for William Beaver House, his new residential building on the corner of William and Beaver streets.

“It’s all tongue-in-cheek,” he said. Mr. Balazs wore a three-quarter-length black blazer, white shirt, black tie and some height-enhancing black boots. “The whole thing is a send-up—I mean, none of this is serious.”

Except some of it was. Mr. Balazs foresees, or proclaims, a southward shift in the cultural center of Manhattan. Houston is the new 57th, Wall Street the new Soho, he said. (Then, uh, is Staten Island the new World Trade Center?)

“The cultural center has been downtown for a decade,” he said, “but downtown keeps moving down into new areas.”

Mr. Balazs had indeed been successful in attracting a large, happenin’ crowd to the Beaver Bar of the Beaver House. Guests were less receptive to the idea of moving to the financial district.

“Let the Euros have Wall Street, and we can take Soho back,” said jewelry designer/actor Waris Ahluwalia.

“If Houston Street is the new 57th Street, then that means that Beaver Street is somehow at least helping us to keep our fucking asses out of Brooklyn,” said New York Times kvetcher Bob Morris. “I think that if you’re really drunk, this neighborhood looks a little like London because it’s so old.”

“I prefer to live in the gilded suburbs of the Upper West Side,” said freelance gossip Lloyd Grove. “I did really like those girls with the hula hoops. I thought they were fabulous.”

Somehow, Mr. Balazs had worked some hula-hoop dancers into his “send-up” opening. He explained that he’d always had a “thing” for hula hoops.

The mock bathrooms on display featured enormous bathtubs. Did he have a “thing” for tubs, too?

“For me, the bathroom is one of the essential parts of a house, and the bathtub in particular,” he said. “We’re creatures who like water, you know”—wait for it—“and these tubs are big enough for one, two or three people, plus a beaver.”


Pillow Fight!

The inherent mysteries surrounding the crowning of Miss FHM 2006 perked The Transom’s interests: “64 beautiful women, 4 million votes, one lovely lady.”

Interest was further stimulated because the event was to be held at the city’s new official vortex of weirdness, the Hawaiian Tropic Zone in Times Square. That’s the groundbreaking new restaurant where pageant-veteran waitresses shed their sarongs and slap numbers on their haunches twice nightly for a real live pageant! What’s more, the girls—who are all Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest winners—live together in a pseudo dorm on the Upper East Side.

Spread those Vaseline smiles! On Wednesday night, lots of dudes in suits munched on hors d’oeuvres and ogled the bikini-clad hors d’oeuvre–dispensers.

“It’s so much fun,” said Jennifer Johnson, Miss Texas Hawaiian Tropic, of her new living situation. “We just have a great time together.”

Like what kind of stuff do you guys do together?

“We have slumber parties and popcorn parties. We all get along really well,” she said with cheer. Ms. Johnson wore a hot-pink bikini top and a tropical sarong and was holding a tray of skewers.

There are two girls to a room in the “dorm,” located in the frat-astic neighborhood of 86th and Lex. The girls reportedly pay no rent for the first six months, $200 for the seventh, $400 for the eighth and $600 for the remainder of the year.

Any pillow fights?

“No, there haven’t been any pillow fights,” giggled Ms. Johnson.

The Transom was just about to talk some shop with the evening’s hottie-of-honor, Miss FHM 2006 Diana Chiafair, when a beast-paw grabbed an arm.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” barked the Zone’s general manager, Anthony Rakis.

“What’s this I hear about you asking inappropriate questions about pillow fights?” he asked. There was an icy glare in his eye. He seemed to be imitating the posture of an angry silverback.

The Transom explained that some of the girls had discussed sleepovers in the dorms, and a pillow fight was the logical next ques—

“Whoa, whoa, what you mean, dorms? These are not dorms, they’re apartments. And there are no sleepovers allowed. Listen, we don’t want to have to pull all our ads in The Observer because you’re asking stupid questions.”

Things were getting a little too hot in the Zone.

Reached for further comment on Dec. 1, Mr. Rakis assumed a similar tone. “We run an adult, serious restaurant. We’re not running a little sorority.”

He went on to explain that there are also some hard-and-fast rules in the Hawaiian Tropic apartments: No boys after midnight. No smoking. No drugs. And their rooms must be spic-and-span at all times.

No pillow fights, either?

“We didn’t spend $11 million to have you write about pillow fights,” he said. Click.


A Nightclub Queen Gets Ready to Sell Her Chilly Hotspot