Monday, January 21, 2013

A Survival Guide for a Manhattan Mega-Club by The Wall Street Journal

Hannah Bronfman and Daisy Johnson

"On Wednesday, a refurbished Marquee celebrated its 10th anniversary at its location on 10th Avenue in West Chelsea. It's unusual for a nightclub to last that long in this peripatetic city, not to mention to retain its patina of glamour and celebrity. In an extended phone conversation, Marquee's co-founder Noah Tepperberg spoke about keeping the place fresh and exciting.

Ziggy Berlin
On opening Marquee
"By 2002, my partner Jason Strauss and I had already been promoters for years. We were half in the marketing business and half in the club business. We started in high school. We had owned Conscience Point in the Hamptons. We had a restaurant called Luahn. And in 2001, we opened Suite 16. It was a cool, small place in a renovated bar with only three years on the lease. We had the right people around us. Samantha Ronson organized karaoke there, for instance. We were young; all the other club owners—people who owned Lotus and Lot 61—were five or 10 years older than we were. But Suite 16 turned into this hot place, one that competed every night for the best people in town. And we thought: We should do a real big club, something of our own.

"We found this space in an abandoned part of Chelsea. Because of that, it wasn't hard to get approval. The space was a garage where they would repair garbage trucks. We had been doing events at Tao in Midtown for Mark Packer, and he became one of our first investors. We raised $2 million. And Marquee really flourished. For a good five years it was the only place. Scott Sartiano, Richie Akiva and Paul Sevigny—they all ended up opening their own places, but they became our promoters. And we ended up teaching ourselves." 

A performer dressed as Maleficent at the reopening of Marquee
On the name "Marquee"
"We picked that name eight days away from opening. We just could not find a name. Everything was taken or there was a place in Paris or London or L.A. I was doing lists every day. We were going to call it 10th Avenue Club or Two Rooms. But there's a marquee on the building, and we were putting lighting on it, and one day we just said, 'Let's call it Marquee.'" 

On renovating Marquee NYC
"When Marquee was 7 years old, we ended up opening Marquee Las Vegas, where we already had been successful with Tao. There's no official study, but Marquee just exploded there. It's the most successful clubs in the world. We were going to sell the place in New York, but the brand was back on top. I got an extension on the lease around the time we opened Marquee in Sydney and decided to go forward. But I needed to bring Marquee New York up-to-date. There wasn't even Facebook FB -1.59% nine years ago.

Club owners Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss
"So I decided: Don't just change the wallpaper. I ripped everything out. I literally cut the roof off. I raised the ceiling by 15 feet so it's triple high and feels like a three-story building. We added a lighting feature and a 20-foot LED wall with a dedicated video jockey. This kind of technology doesn't exist in New York. I have so many toys in the club. I'll have 12 costumed performers a night. We have a trapeze rig so someone can fly over in the air from one side of the room to the other. We have a stage, we have our own dressing room and a full makeup area. Some nights we'll have DJs, some nights we'll have bigger acts. Marquee was our first big hit, and we wanted to take our baby and bring it back to life. Things definitely slowed down at the end of 2008, but even when it slowed down, it was busy. We're very hands-on. We don't rest on our laurels."

On Marquee's longevity
"We always thought three to five years would be the run. That's good for clubs. Once we hit the three-year mark, we said maybe seven. But it's always been a favorite club for people. So many clubs in New York are small and cramped, but this is a 50-foot wide space with no columns and high ceilings. It has really good circulation. You can park across the street, you can always get a cab outside. Inside, it's not hard to get a drink or get around. It has the right bones. People love the space. There was never a VIP room. The VIPs mixed with the non-VIPS."

Tyson Beckford
On the scene 10 years ago
"Then, all people had was newspapers and TV. The weeklies were starting. People would go to the airport and they'd read that Vanessa Minnillo and Nick Lachey were at Marquee and they'd say, 'Let's go.' Now it's all about social media. People want to go to a club that they've seen people tweeting about, that they read about on the blogs. You open the doors and it's online. Last year, during 'Linsanity,' Jeremy Lin showed up at our club Avenue. There were 30 people in the club. Someone sent out a tweet. Within a half-hour, Avenue was packed.

"As for prices, a decade ago, bottles of vodka were about $375. They're $475 now. Cristal was $800 when we opened and $1,000 now. It used to be $11 for a vodka tonic. Now it's $13." 

On getting in
"It's knowing the right people, be willing to dress up, be willing to spend money and round up a cool crew. That doesn't change when the demand is there." 

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