France is cool -- and red hot -- when it comes to nightclubs these days and the keenly anticipated arrival of the Le Baron club in New York has sent temperatures soaring on the party scene.
"It's something hotter, more sexual. There's an atmosphere, a certain freedom," said impresario Andre Saraiva, whose Le Baron clubs in Paris, Tokyo and London have already reset coolness standards around the world.
For New York, Saraiva, 40, and his business partner Lionel Bensemoun chose Manhattan's atmospheric Chinatown neighborhood, "one of the only neighborhoods that's still dirty and noisy, but is real New York," he told AFP in a rare interview.
Every evening, a small crowd descends on the former karaoke bar, reincarnated as a nightlife fantasy with three floors done in the style of a 1930s Shanghai brothel.
Getting through the door is beyond hard. Le Baron is one of "the most exclusive nightlife spots in the known universe, the likes of which you will never see the inside of," the New York Observer states.
But although the spot is close to Wall Street, the magic formula for passing the doormen and making it onto that dance floor lies more in the clubber's look than wallet: Urban chic, not Master of the Universe.
"We like people who have something to say. We're far from the stereotype of bottles and models," Saraiva said, referring to the common formula for packing clubs with beautiful spenders. "Most clubs around the world make deals with modeling agencies," he said. "We'll never do that."
Inside, artists and hipsters and the odd celebrity dance and kiss, looking for a chance to light up in contravention of New York's strict anti-smoking law, and listening to the electro pop brought by invited Parisian DJs.
"There's no point waiting. You won't get in," said Julio, a bouncer outside, dispatching a group of insufficiently cool clubbers.
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