Round Up the Usual Suspects

Striding about his nearly completed $2 million West Village café-lounge, boldly called Socialista, former Bungalow 8 doorman Armin Amiri’s giddy body language rivaled that of the sandblaster being wielded by a nearby worker.

“The design is all me,” said Mr. Amiri, gesturing first to the molding that lined the ceiling, then to the stained glass adorning the arched tops of bay windows looking over the Hudson River.

It was the afternoon of April 29, and Mr. Amiri was giving The Observer an exclusive first look at the upscale saloon he plans to open in mid-May. The Cuban-themed bar—it will eventually also serve food—sits on the second floor of an old building that abuts the Riverview Hotel on West Street, between Horatio and Jane. Dust covered the lounge’s black-and-white marble tile floor—another Amiri styling—but as the setting sun poured through the glass, he was able glimpse the future.

“There’s going to be a chandelier here, and two fans,” he said, gesturing toward the 30-foot-high ceiling. “This is gonna be the shutters here” (pointing to a stack of old-style wooden shutters). “And do you see that light?” (addressing the sun through a pair of tortoise-shell vintage Persols). “It’s gonna hit the shutters and hit the fans, and it’s gonna create that Casablanca effect all the time.”

Of all the gin joints, Mr. Amiri is betting that a stylish downtown crowd—and, he hopes, a few Ingrid Bergman look-alikes—will walk through his door. And with a group of investors led by none other than restaurateur Giuseppe Cipriani and Trudie Styler—wife of Sting—at his back, and five years as Amy Sacco’s main doorman under his belt, it’s no stretch to say that Mr. Amiri has a fighting chance at becoming the Persian Rick Blaine of the far West Village.

Though both the Waverly and Beatrice Inns—two of the city’s most exclusive nighttime destinations—lurk only blocks inland, Mr. Amiri is confident that there’s room enough for what are essentially two new separate venues under one roof.

The ground floor of Socialista will be what Mr. Amiri calls a “peasant-style” café, featuring simple Cuban cuisine “infused with an Argentine influence.” Among other things, there will be steaks and Cuban sandwiches, rice and beans, and corn on the cob. Mr. Cipriani—the 41-year-old scion of his family’s eponymous restaurant empire—is taking care of the food. The bottom floor will be open to the public, abiding a “first come, first served” policy—no reservations.

Above this equal-opportunity café—which, to its credit, will offer 85 outdoor seats—rests the lounge portion of Socialista, replete with Mr. Amiri’s hand-picked chandelier and stained glass. And his hand-picked clientele: The lounge will not be open to the public.

“The upstairs will be absolutely crowd-controlled, don’t get me wrong,” said Mr. Amiri.

“Basically, it’s going to be a Soho House, but more comfortable, with more of a neighborhood vibe,” he added, referring to the Brit-tainted, über-exclusive—albeit a bit naff—club in the meatpacking district.

Still, Mr. Amiri insists, there is a “socialist” aspect to how he will work the door at Socialista.

“What I’d like to be done is a socialism as far as the door,” said Mr. Amiri, who grew up in Persia and later Vienna, and speaks with a slight accent. “What socialism really means is, I give you this and you give me that. And as the door goes, I’m gonna bring you into this nice atmosphere; hopefully, you’re going to bring your great energy in here. And that’s it—that’s the only even exchange I want with people.”

If you wish to sit down at a table, however, there is the matter of the $600 minimum tab that you and your tablemates will be required to rack up—the kind of socialism most likely not envisioned by Charles Fourier and his cronies in the 19th century. But—and here’s where Mr. Amiri’s modern twist on socialism comes in—money alone won’t buy his love.

“Back in the old days—you know, the 1940’s—when you went out, it was all about respect,” said Mr. Amiri, who is 35. “You respected the establishment; it was very chill. And when a single man went out, if he wanted to pick up on a woman, it was very classily done. These days, unfortunately, there’s not much, you know, class left. No one really makes an effort to dress up, or makes an effort to be different, to go out—they just basically feel that if you’ve got a Black AmEx, you’re just basically the shit. And I feel that we need, as a society, to bring back that culture, to go back to when it was tasteful.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because for the past 20 years, every nightclub proprietor who’s opened his or her own New York night spot has bemoaned the tawdry state of nightlife and called for a return to taste and class. Still, one might be able to go out on a limb and posit that the current New York club scene is indeed notable for its giddy embrace of a grotesquely capitalist ethos.

It’s no secret that it’s mostly young, pink-cheeked bankers who are willing to spend thousands of dollars on bottle service at Marquee, where the music is so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. And while Bungalow 8 tries to maintain some modicum of “crowd control,” only the hardiest celebrities are up to braving the klieg lights, police horses and crowds on 27th Street.

“I do think that there is some weariness of running the gauntlet on 27th Street,” said David Rabin, who owns the clubs Lotus and the Double Seven and is president of the New York Nightlife Association. “I wish the NYPD would come to some middle ground, because it’s just out of control. I think it’s unfair.”

Round Up the Usual Suspects