marquee nyc: still hip after seven years
Keeping a New York City nightclub thriving and profitable after seven years of operation is no easy feat. In a climate where the average venue lifespan is a mere 18 months and fickle guests are always looking for the next hotspot, staying relevant in year seven is significantly harder than in year three. Yet it’s precisely what Strategic Group’s Marquee has done. In fact, the West Chelsea club has managed to rake in higher profits in recent years, with impressive gross numbers as high as $7 million.
While the club is not longer the go-to place it was when Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss first opened in 2004, “when the room is at its max, it goes toe to toe with any new place in New York,” says Jonathan Schwartz, director of hospitality and marketing for Marquee. After making his bones as a promoter for Tepperberg, Schwartz was tapped to run the venue and plays a major part in reinvigorating the brand.
“To keep Marquee fresh, we started introducing new nights,” Schwartz explains. “Last February we started a program called Our House Thursday. We needed something new to keep people coming when it’s cold, it’s post fashion week and everyone’s going into hibernation mode.” Looking at Pacha’s success with using internationally renowned DJs like David Guetta, Schwartz started bringing in bigger-named house and electronica DJs for the weekly bash. “We also teamed up with Puma, who’d seen Adidas go after the hip-hop crowd in a similar manner. They wanted to test the waters out with the house crowd and Marquee. And it worked quite well.” Marquee’s door flow went from 300 people a week to 1,100 as a result of the initiative.
This is a key to an older club’s success. As Marquee matures and evolves, it’s no longer an all-night destination, but that’s OK with management. “We get a lot of stop-bys and shorter hangouts. Our capacity is 600, but we can do up to 1,400 guests in a single night with people streaming in and out,” Schwartz says, noting that spends are still on par with where they were three or four years ago. “There are so many new places to go, people feel like they’re missing something if they don’t seek out new places. But when everyone’s texting each other ‘Where are you?’ and the response is Marquee, they’ll swing through, hang for a bit and get a bottle before moving on.”
Not surprisingly, it’s the coveted and trusted recommendation of friends, often via digital and social communication, that Schwartz loves. “My roommate’s in finance and his office had CNBC on, and they have a Twitter feed live on the screen. One of the tweets scrolling across said, ‘100% chance I’ll be enjoying a robust Martini at Marquee tonight.’ It was random; we had nothing to do with it. But three people in my roommate’s office asked if he knew anyone at Marquee,” Schwartz laughs. “The numbers that night were up two or three grand more than normal. So just keeping the brand out there and keeping the name strong is important. But it has to be organic, and it has to be as a result of a solid experience within our place.”
Ask Schwartz if he considers Marquee a second-tier venue in relation to the rest of Strategic Group’s New York City portfolio — which includes Tao, Avenue and the soon-to-open Lavo — and his response is that it fills a niche role: “We have something for everyone at Strategic. Each venue taps a different market. I had a promoter call me who specializes in bridge and tunnel crowd and he said, ‘Let me come in and work, and I’ll bring your numbers up 30 percent.’ But we passed because we’re nowhere near that level of clientele, even after seven years. I joke that I know every promoter from ‘A’ to ‘R,’ but we’re not at ‘Z’ yet.”
To fill the room, Schwartz relies on promoters to bring a significant portion of the crowd for programmed nights, such as Open House Thursdays, but word of mouth still fuels the weekend crowd, “though we do have tables upstairs with 40 or 50 models on a Saturday night,” he says. “But we’ve built a name, a brand and a reputation. We get a fair amount of tourists who’ve heard about us over the years, and we do welcome that. It’s the best of both worlds.”
As with any nightlife business, maintenance is key. “Every Tuesday, we have a managers’ meeting and talk about weaknesses and any problems,” Schwartz says. “If a night is suffering, then we talk about it until we’re blue in the face, and we formulate a plan to fix it.” Because of the constant care and attention, Schwartz has figured out the key components to any aging venue’s success: “Be innovative, be original, embrace the DJ as a crucial piece, and – as one promoter once said – remember that perception is reality, which is cheesy but true. If you see a packed place, everyone assumes it’s cranking still. Though in our case, it’s actually true.”