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.
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
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?