David Rabin Helps Turn SoHo Around With Hotel Lounge
Few people know and understand nightlife as well as David Rabin. From an auspicious start in the 1990s with supper club Rex to the infamous Lotus — which put New York City's Meatpacking District on the map — to his multiyear stint as the head of the New York Nightlife Association, Rabin’s influential touch on the nightclub scene extends far beyond what you’d initially imagine. Sitting across a table from him in Midtown Manhattan at The Lambs Club — of which he is a partner — for an hour-long chat is a treat, especially when he opens up about how he markets his latest nightlife offering, Jimmy, at The James hotel in SoHo.
Jimmy at The James hotel in SoHo, New York.
With a mention of his partners, Larry Poston and Johnny Swet, Rabin explains that the triumvirate found the picturesque rooftop space, which features a 360-degree view of Gotham, “a very cool little spot which stood on its own merits. We were thrilled to be able to utilize it to its fullest.”
As for the backstory behind the 140-person intimate space — which includes a pool area and deck beyond the lounge and bar — Rabin admits that the distinctive downtown vibe they were aiming for could only be achieved with a smidgen of exclusivity; the door would have to be a little more selective than usual.
“We didn’t want a rooftop space open to anyone, but it’s a tough call because you also don’t want to alienate the hotel guests,” Rabin shares. “We’re not quite taking it to the level of the Boom Boom Room [at the top of The Standard] with our policy, which closes at 9 p.m. and boots everyone out before reopening. But we are trying to tread that fine line between guest access and a great new bar in SoHo, which is hard to do as of late.”
(The neighborhood is having a hard time because SoHo isn’t dishing out a ton of liquor licenses, a policy that Rabin thinks started right around the time of Spy Bar in the 1990s.)
“So to have the space we do and a license was a layup of sorts,” Rabin smiles. “We’re just trying not to tick off the hotel or the neighborhood.”
Ask about that iconic hood’s return to the realm of nightlife, particularly as a result of an influx of hotels — Mondrian Soho (and Mister H), Trump Soho (and Kastel), Thompson (and A60), The Crosby (and a private event space) and The Dutch (a new restaurant) — and the response is swift.
“I’m a ‘rising tides lifts all boats’ kind of guy,” Rabin says. “I started an organization called the Meatpacking District Initiative in 2003. I didn’t want to rely on only the power of Lotus to draw people in; I wanted the whole neighborhood to be drawing. I thought we’d all do well. I feel the same way about SoHo. For a long time, people didn’t think about SoHo past 9 p.m. at night. But now they are again. I think it helps the whole area.”
And with the area on the rise, the focus of successfully launching a new nightlife proposition falls to the ability to properly curate a solid crowd of regulars. Rabin thinks that’s best done by tapping into the neighbors.
“I think some of the coolest people down there live nearby, and obviously many of them work in all the stores and restaurants around The James,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of grassroots outreach to them. Now that the outdoor portion with the pool and deck is ready, we’re doing two events at Jimmy. The first is for the staff working at all the higher-end stores in SoHo from 7 to 9 after their stores close. And the second is from 1 to 2 a.m. for all the restaurant people when they get off. We’ll kick off the season by welcoming them, and use their recommendations to get the word out.”
And Rabin’s tapping into crowds and markets that clubs have, until now, largely overlooked.
“Everyone — and I’m guilty of it as well — goes the route of the model agencies or designers when they launch,” Rabin admits. “Which is a great way to go, with great-looking people. But I’m looking for signature events to stamp a place. I don’t want to follow the norm anymore.”
So Rabin is going after the ballet.
“I think we’re going to team up with the American Ballet Theatre [ABT] to do a party to kick off the beginning of their season," he says. "I’m friendly with the girls at ABT and they’re beautiful and smart and super talented and they love Jimmy. They’re the perfect messengers I want out there spreading the word.”