Where's the Party



Crobar co-owner Ken Smith wants to know New York

By Kerri Mason

Crobar needs no introduction – it’s an American nightlife institution, with a location in Chicago (which celebrated its tenth anniversary on December 4), Miami, and by the late spring, New York. With all the wild speculation surrounding the Manhattan project, you’d think that Ken Smith and his partner Cal Fortis were keeping the tale of its plan and progress under close guard, but not so. In the following, the keen, direct Smith discusses the legacy of Studio 54, Miami’s continued success, what he thinks is wrong with New York, and how he’s going to fix it.

How do you maintain what you’ve created in Miami? We follow what we did previously in Chicago. Clubs cycle; you have to constantly change them. Keeping up is everything; freshness is everything. People get bored after they’ve been to the club twice. How many movies do you see twice? If you expect people to come back year after year after year, you have to really put it out there and keep it fresh.
We base everything on knowing people and friendliness, which sounds like a load of crap, but we do it better than anyone, particularly in the Miami market. When we came here, the difference between a bad club and a good club at that time was as easy as letting someone in the ropes and saying hello. Seriously. We told people that was our concept – it really isn’t all of the concept – and they’d look at us like we were from Mars. But we were from the Midwest, and we knew how to not just throw a party, but take care of people and remember your last and first name. And that’s critical – it’s critical to our concept. That’s what makes our concept. We have probably the best staff I’ve ever hired here in Miami – 110 people who all believe that same thing, and want to meet you genuinely. Some of them unfortunately want to take you home, which is against the rules.

Is it? It ruins customers, unfortunately.

What are the elements of a party? Of course a party has to have great music, a great promotion. No one’s reinvented this wheel since Studio 54, let’s face it. It’s variations on that theme. It’s promotions, it’s this, it’s that, but nothing no one has never done before. So I think in this market, especially in a value-oriented society, which it is after 9/11, it’s critical – critical – that you feel like you’re in my house, and your house. I don’t care what place it is, or how exciting, or what DJ. Hey, after I’ve heard Danny Tenaglia three times, I’ve heard Danny Tenaglia three times.

Since Studio 54, maybe the thing that really has changed is this cult of the DJ. I think it has gone so far in the other direction that that is what has opened up the New York market. The last two big openings there, which should have been great places, were open solely on the backs of so-called big DJs, and I think those clubs are missing the point of club life. Limelight and Powder are both closed: Limelight’s only open on Sunday for boy’s night now. And they both should have been successful clubs. There’s no reason they weren’t: They were both rehab-ed, with great sound systems. So what’s the problem? What’s missing? The party. Everybody forgot about the party.

In New York no less; isn’t that a tragedy? It blows my mind. It’s like, everybody’s going, “It’s about the DJ, it’s about the DJ,” but guess what? It’s not about the DJ. It’s about the party, and part of the party is the DJ. You should expect great music at the party, right? Or you’re leaving. But the last time I went to somebody’s house party it wasn’t because of their DJ. It was because it was somebody’s birthday, or somebody’s great barbecue, or somebody’s boat party. I didn’t go, “Who’s the DJ, or I’m not coming.” It’s ludicrous.

Do you think the rest of the Beach sees that? It seems to have more of a party atmosphere than New York to begin with. Some of the Beach, in small spots, does. Who does it best? I’d say Nikki Beach. Nikki Beach throws a helluva party, and I’m jealous half the time. Of course I don’t have an outdoors, so what can I do? They don’t worry about the DJ, but there’s always good music there. And you know what, they do great music once in awhile, as a special thing, but it’s not their mainstay. When you think of Nikki Beach, you think of party in the sun.
Anybody can tell you what a good party consists of. If you threw a party for your best friend tomorrow, you’d get the balloons, you’d get all the cool stuff. And you probably wouldn’t call Danny Tenaglia.

But it is possible to merge a big DJ with the party. Of course it is. It should be part of the party, and it should be part of the party automatically. You should always get great music. We started talking about all this probably a year ago when the DJs started being 15 grand…

And started to suck. Yeah, they all started being too into their own little deals. I started getting away from booking people who I didn’t think were what I considered a crobar-type DJ. If I had to mention one big name I think is a crobar DJ, it would be Timo Maas. I don’t care what room that guy plays in the world, he comes in the party, looks at the crowd – Pete Tong does the same thing – and jerks a record out of his bag that makes you just stop dancing and look at him and go, “What are you on?” Then you know you’ve started a party, because he threw you a curve or did something crazy, and he did it on purpose.

So clubland’s problem is the lack of “the party.” It’s so obvious. I’ve got all these supposedly great promoters in New York, Miami, wherever, it’s like, alright, this flyer got me here, but where’s the party? I don’t get it. Sometimes it’s enough to just have the right crowd, but that right crowd lasts for three weeks and then the A-crowd disappears, whatever you call them, the cool 600. And hey, where’s the party after that? If it’s not the balloons, the DJ, and shit falling out of the ceiling, and you trying to get me to take my clothes off, what is it?

But I really really really know deep down that that is what New York needs. Somebody’s gotta go back and get Bianca Jagger on a horse. What’s wrong with that?

So is this why you decided to do New York now?

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications