NYC’s New GLBT Complex is a ‘One-Stop Shop’March 29, 2012 By: Steve Lewis
Most cities have gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) neighborhoods; all cities have GLBT bars and clubs. Nightclub operator and promoter John Blair and his team feel the time is right to open a hotel that will include a club and amenities geared to the GLBT community. Promising to be “straight-friendly,” The Out NYC complex is a one-stop GLBT shop located at 510 W. 42nd St. in New York City. (Personally, I love the fact that Thursdays at the hotel’s 14,000-square-foot XL Nightclub are called "Straight Nights.")
The club world is becoming more and more specialized. Music is very crowd-specific; decor and dress geared to one mindset now more than ever. The days of mixed clientele in mega-clubs are relegated to documentaries rather than realities. A hotel/nightclub/spa center complex catering to GLBT tourists in New York City is an idea that has arrived and will thrive. How long before Las Vegas and other tourist-based cities cash in on this market by catering specifically to the GLBT community? I asked Blair, The Out NYC’s operating partner, to tell us all about it:
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): Out NYC and XL is an ambitious project built to service an increasingly enfranchised GLBT community. Tell me about the place, the timing and what it says overall about being gay in the 2010s.
John Blair (JB): As you are aware, during the last 10 years the City of New York has been systematically closing down nightclubs — straight and gay. There was a whole generation of 20-somethings that really never experienced a real nightclub. So as far as timing, we are about five years late. The question was never a need, it was, “Where do you put 1000+ people in New York City and still have a quality of life for the residents?” That was and is the real problem. We looked at places like The Maritime Hotel in Chelsea. A hotel, restaurant and club in one building is very successful — one-stop shopping. We thought, “We can do that, too.” So we did.
NCC: Tell me about the progression from club promoter/gym owner to magnate. How did you start, how did you here and where might this go?
JB: I have been in the "gay" service business my whole life. The same people that go to gyms go to clubs and travel to hotels. Same list, same frame of mind. So it is not a stretch to get involved in these types of businesses.
NCC: On that note, is there a need for this type of complex in other cities?
JB: Absolutely, there is a market for this in other cities. We really need to get this one going before we tackle other cities. I would say not for the next two to three years will we even really start thinking and looking for places to bring this concept to. One thing I think is very important is to bring in people who live in those cities and know that market. We have all seen successful people come to New York from other cities and flop. Why? Because they thought they could rubber-stamp the same attitude, and it never works. So where we go next has more to do with who we find to partner with.
NCC: Explain the relationship between XL Nightclub, the hotel and the Revive spa.
JB: All three businesses are owned by most of the same people, so there is continuity in the way they are ran. We have 12 hotel rooms that get any sound at all (from XL Nightclub). These rooms are sold as "Play and Stay" rooms. If you are mainly coming for the club, we book these rooms for you. Each business has to accommodate the needs of the other businesses. Each really feeds off the others.
NCC: Did you have to take a sort of crash course to learn some aspects of this business? What didn't you know, and do you have a handle on it now? What surprised you most?
JB: The hotel business is new to us. We brought in very seasoned restaurant and hotel people. We are still learning that part of the business, and we are learning how to integrate the three. We are still in "school."
NCC: Nightlife in New York has progressed and diversified, but there are few places that mix the GLBT crowds and the straight crowds anymore. Surely, it was more mixed on the weekend nights back in the day than it is now. Is it the GLBT crowd that is leaving the straight clubs or are the straight clubs offering the GLBT community less?
JB: The "enlightened" crowd you speak of includes very liberal, younger New York night people — straight and gay. I have never seen a long-term profitable night that is mixed. People’s nature — no matter what they say — is to be around "like-minded” people. It is just human nature. Be it racial, sexual or whatever people really want to feel comfortable and, frankly, we have not evolved as far as we would sometimes like to think.
NCC: Who are some of the players involved with the space?
JB: The club is operated by Beto Sutter, Brandon Voss and myself. Beto has been my business and life partner for the last 22 years. Beto helped design the club, especially the lights. He is responsible for the cabaret installation and is in charge of all of the cabaret shows. Brandon is a MBA ex-banker. Very smart and did an amazing success in his first two ventures, Rocket and Club 57. Brought the pop side to the club. He is the first person I have seen who could sustain an audience for a Friday dance party and actually make money. He handles most of the private events.
NCC: How are the club nights programmed?
JB: Fridays feature pop music, Saturdays have heavy house, Sundays feature a classic tea early in the evening with Latin music starting at 11 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays highlight cabaret, while Thursdays are Straight Nights.