Refreshing Rose Bar
When Ian Schrager sold the Gramercy Park Hotel to Aby Rosen last December, the future of the popular Rose Bar lounge was buzzed about. Soon Damion Luaiye was appointed Creative Director of the Manhattan hotel and, subsequently, Rose Bar — the place he helped open in 2006. Manning the door since the beginning, Luaiye has spent countless hours in the 1,700-square-foot ultra lounge, so when the time came for a facelift for the venue — to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars — he was ready to impart his take on the room. Luaiye shares his creative vision for the venue as it heads into its fifth year of operations.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): What’s been going on with Rose Bar for the last few months?
Damion Luaiye: Rose Bar is getting refreshed. There was a disconnect between the four businesses under the Gramercy Park Hotel [Rose Bar, the Terrace bar, Mailanio Restaurant and the hotel itself]. It was very typical confrontation between lifestyle and business: heads-in-beds vs. the bar. The creative side was in full bloom here at Rose Bar for a very long time. And then Rose Bar became the bar that ate the hotel.
NCC: What do you mean by that?
Luaiye: When I was at the door, I had multiple people come up to me and said, ‘I’m from Europe. I came here to see the Statute of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Rose Bar. You’ve got to let me in.’ There’s something incredible about that.
NCC: Did you let them in?
NCC: Your title is Creative Director. What are some of your creative directives?
Luaiye: Rose Bar’s success is about moving away from what we were. The design-driven nature of this room and the hotel — something Ian Schrager and Julian Schnabel instilled when they launched it — it’s still breathtaking. Design-wise, Rose Bar is still very much a triumph. You’re not going to come in, gut the place and start over. And yet it needed something. So we picked a handful of very particular design ideas and focused on them.
NCC: Such as?
Luaiye: We flanked this room with curtains. You used to be able to look around the room from anywhere and see candlelit faces; the room was meant for seeing and to be seen. But we wanted to make it a little more intimate. The idea of the curtains is they force the person to negotiate the room a little bit more and make it less of a singular experience. There are now distinct sections.
NCC: Any areas in particular that reap the benefits from the curtains?
Luaiye: Right when you walk in the door on the left. For the longest time, that was an array of bad tables and double chairs and it was a really bad section of the room. But it was the first thing you see when entering. Not only was it not pretty, but no one wanted to sit there. For this room to work, the critical mass to make this room is about 50 to 60 people. Anything less than that and it was like a drain. People would just roll in and roll out. So we put banquettes in there, transforming that corner of the room and closing the drain. We now have nights where 20 people are here dancing until 4 o’clock in that section. It’s been a remarkable transition.
NCC: Protecting people in your room has always been a big thing, be it a celebrity, whale of a client or regular person, right? We very rarely hear about the big names that are here.
Luaiye: Yes, but I’ve got to say that’s over with now — though not on our end; we never have and never will expose our guests. My point is only that while it will never come from us, camera phones and social media are making it harder and harder for people to maintain anonymity.
NCC: You have a strict no-camera-flash policy here.
Luaiye: Absolutely. That’s really less about celebrities and more about being obnoxious. One of the firmest metrics for the crowd is the more flashes going off, the worse the crowd is. That’s not clear to a lot of people.
NCC: True. Although being a hotel lounge, you’re inherently going to get spill-over business from the hotel guests — people who are touristy and want to take pictures and haven’t seen a room like this before. How do you balance out the out-of-towners that come in vs. the regular denizens you want to here?
Luaiye: We’re open to the public until 10 p.m., and then we close down and switch over to guest-list only. So they do have a chance to check it out before we get cranking. You do never want to have where the entire room is comprised of one group. The actual underpinnings of any solid nightlife establishment are diversity. We don’t want the crowd to be so homogeneous that it’s boring.
NCC: How are you marketing the new Rose Bar?
Luaiye: Mostly with word of mouth. We want it to develop organically. When I took the job, I made a conscious choice not to reach out to anyone because I didn’t have anything new to offer. I told Aby I can call everyone I know and get them to come once. But they’re not going to come back just because I’m here. It’s got to be something about the room that draws them back. I feel like we have that now.
NCC: How are the numbers?
Luaiye: We’re up 30% over last year, same month. In all honesty, one of the big parts of the growth was brining in our new general manager Sebastien Lefavre [who previously was the general manager at GoldBar]. When I sat down with him for the first time, I thought he was so solid. He’s allowing me to step back and focus on what I need to. I’m looking forward to giving him more responsibility.
NCC: Lastly, you ran a fantastically tight door here. How hard is the door now?
Luaiye: Not as tight as it’s going to be in a few weeks during Fashion Week.