By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, Marquee nightclub looked mostly ready to celebrate its seventh birthday. With guests set to arrive at the New York City nightlife mecca in less than 30 minutes, final tweaks were made to the Las Vegas themed décor in the room, a nod to the impending opening of Marquee Vegas this New Year’s Eve. Even with that mammoth venue's opening pending, the masterminds behind the Marquee brand made sure to throw an all-out bash for the original location's seventh anniversary and mark a milestone few clubs ever see.
Inside the room, huge gold and red streamers hung from the ceilings, above of stacks of comically large poker chips, piled chest high, which were being pushed into place. Across from the stacks, two huge dice stood, seemingly ready to roll out onto the dance floor. Across the way, two monstrous playing cards – totaling 21 – peered down at the room.
The waitresses – most clad as Vegas showgirls – were in the midst of a final makeup check before heading into the back room, Room 3, for a quick meeting with manager Rich Flemming, who’s been at Marquee since the beginning.
He started as a busboy and worked his way up to his current post. “Remember, tonight is the seven-year anniversary,” Flemming told the staff. “It’s a great chance to show old clientele what we still have to offer.”
The group breaks and trickles back into the main room, getting ready for the expected onslaught. It’s weird to see a place like Marquee fully lit, with no sound booming from the speakers. The wear and tear the room has sustained over the better part of a decade is instantly visible; some of the table cushions don’t match in color, the tables surfaces are chipped and some have just been painted over so many times that they’re a little bumpy, and the number of stiletto holes in the weathered banquette cushions is quite high. But in 20 minutes, when the lights dim and the sound kicks in, no one will mind, or even notice for that matter.
While the staff went through the last steps before opening the doors, they paused to think about their greatest nights within the storied West Chelsea venue, each swapping their own tale. “Remember when Fergie sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to [co-owner] Jason Strauss?” publicist Sam Ong says. “My favorite was when Stevie Wonder sang from the DJ booth for his daughter’s birthday and tore down the house,” smiles Andrew Goldberg, former Marquee manager, back behind the podium helping VIP guests this evening. “Our entire service literally stopped for 15 minutes. The only sound in the room was Stevie’s voice.”
And the memories continued from there: DJ AM constantly manning the turntables; Jamie Foxx performing; Justin Timberlake getting quite cozy in a corner bench with Cameron Diaz during an Eyes Wide Shut-themed masquerade-bash; and even the time Diddy called co-owner Noah Tepperberg to ask if a then completely unknown girl named Stefani Germanotta could perform. “When Diddy calls, you kinda just have to do it,” one staffer within ear shot quips. So they let this girl sing from the stairway leading to the mezzanine. Less than two years later, she’d ditch her given name and adopt the moniker Lady Gaga.
Doorman Wass Stevens says, “I spent the last seven years of my life here, four nights a week. And I don’t have many celebrity performance stories because most of the time I was outside, dealing with the crowd.” But ask the notorious velvet rope sentry what was his favorite memory and he’s quick to respond: “Seeing mounted NYPD riding 15 horses deep to clear the crowd in front because the line to get in was 25 people deep and about 100 yards wide." Stevens notes this actually happened several times in the club's third and fourth years. "It's an impressive and intimidating sight."
As is Marquee’s general success. The club's longevity is the culmination of careful design and attention to detail in everything from the layout of the tables to the benches purposefully doubling as bag and coat storage thanks to hidden compartments. The prowess stemmed from knowing where to seat the image tables, stacked with so many leggy models they spilled over into the big clients tables. The experience is heightened with the emphasis placed on service, from Goldberg’s warm handshake at the podium to the waitresses who’d deftly pour your drink in mere seconds after hearing your order (It typically took longer to free an arm from the jam-packed frenzy to grab it when she was done).
Marquee boastfully laid an unyielding claim to the corner post of Club Row, as West 27th Street came to be known. Around Tepperberg and partner Jason Strauss’ brainchild, competing venues sprang up, and quietly died off. But the line at Marquee’s door never diminished. Neither did the cash flow. The club reported a sizeable increase in profits during years three and four, a point at which most other nightlife venues were reaching the end of their lifecycle. Marquee had flipped its marketing mindset, targeting a new crowd, a different set of tastemakers from worlds of sports marketing, the urban crowd and the electronica set. And history repeated itself with packed parties, new boldfaced names and new bottle service clients. It may not be the sizzling hot new moniker that it once was, but it remains a staple for a substantial number of nightlife denizens.
As the clock nears midnight on Tuesday, the room is once again packed, familiar faces clapping each other on the back, reminiscing about their best nights. It quickly becomes obvious one of the most overlooked reasons for Marquee’s longevity is, ironically, the duration itself. Seven years means repeated trips there for most patrons, meaning plenty of memories tied to prior experiences. Stepping through the door triggers a rush of nostalgia and reminds you why you used to frequent the club in the first place. And for one man, the best is still yet to come. “My favorite memory,” Tepperberg chuckles, “ is going to be tonight. Because we’ve still got so much left to do with this place. Just you wait and see.”