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Earlier this week I spoke with David Rabin, a man whose resume proves he has staying power in nightlife and moreover, hospitality. After opening Rex at 28-years-old, Mr. Rabin went on to create some notable joints like Lotus, Double Seven and more recently, The Lamb’s Club, Jimmy and Bar Naná. I asked David about his legal background, his employees, and even got an old nightlife story from Russia (with love) out of him.

Your lounge Bar Naná caters to a more mature audience in terms of mindset, not age. What approach do you take to appeal to that crowd?
It’s a work in progress. Our goal is to come to be considered a “living room” for people who find themselves in our part of town. Maybe they’ve had dinner nearby, or been to Soho House, and are looking for a change of scenery. We try not to blast music to a level at which you can’t converse. The lay-out of the room is meant to foster socializing, as people can kind of see the whole room and can either stay ensconced in their booth or pop over to say quick hi to a friend they may spot. We’re now doing these amazing cabaret nights on Mondays with really talented people from Broadway, so, that skews a little more “mature;” as does Beverly Bond spinning great stuff on Thursdays – fun, but, not EDM.

Before you opened your first club Rex in 1990, you were an attorney. Has your legal background come to your aid during your years in hospitality?
It has at times. I’m certainly able to read a contract or a lease. But the truth is that this many years away from practicing, I don’t really trust myself to do our own agreements and certainly not our SLA work as that is a very unique area. When we do have issues, it does make it a bit easier for me to speak to our lawyer, whereas some of our other partners aren’t always as comfortable doing so.
What makes for a good operator? What makes for a lousy one?
I’d say those qualities are similar in many businesses. I think a good operator is honest, hardworking, listens to both guests and their own staff, takes in as much information as they can, delegates and empowers their team when they can, does what they know best, and relies on qualified partners or managers to handle what they themselves may not do well. And that’s just a start. A bad operator would be the opposite of all that–self-involved, uncaring re the concerns of their team or client base, unaware of the need to be concerned re their community/neighbors, and the list goes on.
What qualities do you look for in a person before hiring them to work at one of your restaurants or lounges?
There are so many factors, depending on what the position is…but for me, among the first concerns is: do I trust this person’s judgement? Their social skills? if I’m away or not at that venue, and I get a text from a friend, do I feel perfectly at ease answering “so sorry I’m not there–but I’ve alerted ______to look out for you”.  At this point, as I run around between spots and obviously can’t be at all of them in one night, I’m looking for people about whom I have a sense of calm–that I know they are looking at the venue and our guests through “owner’s eyes” and not just going through the motions.
Who are the unsung heroes in nightlife?
Anyone who interacts with guests–and that really means everyone in the venue. It’s great if your host or GM has a big personality, but if you have a doorguy who can’t smile when he says “good night” or a busser who knocks into people or is rude to guests, whatever good stuff has happened that night can easily be ruined. So whereas a lot of attention might go to a well-known partner or manager, it’s the busboy who hurries after someone who has dropped their scarf or left their phone behind that makes guests feel like a place has it together from top-to-bottom.Will Double Seven ever make a comeback?
Good question. We don’t know. It was so unique in 2005 – really the first time (I think) that someone took top-notch mixology, cutting edge design, and brought that all together in a cozy, comfortable, sexy space with a fashion/media-centric crowd. It was a great little moment in time, ended all too soon by the sale of that building during the boom in the area. Some hotel groups have asked us about it, but they seem to want one to be “alive” in NY in order to replicate it.  We’ll see. It was a special place – very reflective of a personal point in my own life and what I thought nightlife “needed” at that time.

Give us an old nightlife story that has gone untold (publicly) until now.
Haha….so many stories…and too many of the people in the NY scene remain unchanged, so I’ll stick with Russia. The story’s been told, but when we consulted on the first Western-style nighclub in post-Soviet Moscow, Manhattan Express, in the early 90s, we brought over 30 Americans for opening weekend–including Andre Balazs, Patrick McMullan, Fern Mallis, George Wayne, Richard Johnson and a bunch of other super-fun people. One of our friends brought over 3 models from his agency, all of whom were beautiful and nice, but one wasn’t exactly up to speed on Russian history. On a tour bus we arranged to show them the sights of Moscow, as they passed a tomb and the guide announced “over there in Red Square, you can see Lenin’s Tomb,” she exclaimed (much to Patrick McMullan’s delight to this day) “hey, why is John Lennon buried in Moscow?”


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