ComplexCon returns to Long Beach Nov. 6 - 7 with hosts J. Balvin and Kristen Noel Crawley, performances by A$AP Rocky and Turnstile, and more shopping and drops.
Secure your spot while tickets last!
Exactly one week ago, a Drake and Chris Brown confrontation turned violent when the two artists' entourages started a bottle-throwing melee in NYC nightclub, W.i.P., in a feud that likely stemmed from both of their relationships with pop star Rihanna. As a result, the downtown Manhattan hot spot has been shut down and there is no firm date for a re-opening in sight.
We've written essays about it, looked back at other infamous love triangles in music history, and tweeted about it. A lot. For the latest chapter of this ongoing saga, we spoke with W.i.P. doorman and nightlife veteran, Ruben Rivera, who was there the night that it all went down.
There was obligatory conversation about the incident, but also, the overall state of nightlife in Manhattan, what attention from urban artists means to the scene, and what he would say to Drake and Chris Brown if either one of them ever came back to the club.
Interview by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)
Complex: It’s been a very crazy week in nightlife. I feel like you’re one of the most credible people to talk to and get to the bottom of it all.
Ruben Rivera:This is crazy, man. It’s unbelievable. Looking at it from an ownership standpoint, after having ownership at XIX for the whole year last year, it’s a shame. These people—bus boys, bathroom attendants—you have to understand, it’s their jobs. When you start to throw bottles and hurt people to have a good time, it’s just not the move. A lot of people suffer.
When you start to throw bottles and hurt people to have a good time, it’s just not the move. A lot of people suffer.
The implications are way more than, “Oh, that was a crazy night at W.i.P.” You’re dealing with people’s livelihoods.
Exactly, and safety. I feel sorry for Tony Parker because he was a guy who comes to parties. I don’t know him, but I did get his number. I’m not trying to be your friend. I’m just trying to keep it personal—who’s DJing, what’s going on here—you’ll get a text. He was in town and he ended up showing up. Man, for him to get glass in his eye, it’s a bad scene for me. I felt bad. It’s not cool at all. I left Juliet before it went downhill and all that stuff happened. I was living in California for the rest of my life and I still felt for those people in Juliet. I was like, “Man, that’s fucked up.” People go to parties to have a good time, to release their stress in New York City, and to experience New York if you have tourists. If you have violence, it’s terrible. I heard it was terrible. I wasn’t there when it happened between Chris Brown and Drake, but I’ve been in situations where the security can’t control it and you just gotta wait until they beat each other to death until the cops get there. That’s just how it is.
You weren’t working the door that night?
Yeah, I was working the door, but I leave at about 3:45 AM. It jumped off at about 4:05 AM.
How was W.i.P. that night?
It was amazing. It was crazy. Mary J. Blige was there. A lot of reality stars was there. Juelz Santana was there. Fabolous. It was a lot of good people there. I just wish… it probably would have been the best party in New York this year besides my birthday party.
That night, Wednesday, the hip-hop police were out. I was wondering why they were outside earlier. I talked to them. They were like, 'What’s going on here?' I was like, 'I don't know. It's not like the BET Awards are in town or whatever.'
You control the floor. How aware are you of what type of party you’re putting together? I’m sure there’s the, “All of these celebs are coming. It’s going to be a good time” aspect, but do you ever think, “Is shit going to get out of hand?” because of the reputation some of these dudes have?
I look at it differently because W.i.P. is kind of weird where any given night different people show up there. I guess it’s because of the art factor. That night, Wednesday, the hip-hop police were out. I was wondering why they were outside earlier. I talked to them. They were like, “What’s going on here?” I was like, “I don’t know. It’s not like the BET Awards are in town or whatever.” I don’t know why all these people are coming here tonight because there are a lot of celebrities that are confirming the last hour since we got there. All we knew that was happening was that Chris Brown was coming there. I got that e-mail. But all these other celebrities just started filing in that night and we weren’t prepared for that. We had no idea that was going to happen. On top filing in there, they all decided that they were going to spend a lot of money. So, of course that became attractive to management. You go to work at a place like Greenhouse or Juliet on a Sunday night party, you know what to expect. But at W.i.P., it’s very difficult. You don’t know what to expect night in and night out. Most of the time it’s really just downtown kids and midtown kids, mostly white, hanging out. But that night, I don’t know why all these black celebrities decided to come there that night.
That was the night Rick Ross had his listening session.
Right, Maybach was going on. Exactly. And they did their thing in Greenhouse. French Montana and all those guys were in Greenhouse. All the Maybach guys. There were a lot of different celebrities that came to W.i.P. Denzel Washington’s guy came to check the room out and they decided it was too loud for Denzel so they left. For some reason all the A-listers came to W.i.P. that night. We weren’t prepared for that.
What was it like? I’m sure by 5:00 a.m. your phone was blowing up. Or did you not hear anything until the next morning?
I was called immediately. They were like, “Yo, can you get back over here?” It was crazy. There were cops on the streets. People were bleeding and stuff. There was a lot of glass, man.
Being one of the insiders involved with that nightclub, what was it like in the aftermath? From a business standpoint, from a personal standpoint, how did you guys cope with it immediately after?
We just feel bad, bro. People feel bad. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a joke. People enjoyed going there. People are sad. We are sad. Of course, over the money factor—because we all lose money, between the owner, that it goes on his record. Barry, poor guy, it’s not even his fault. And it goes on him. That’s not fair either. People are not happy. People enjoyed going there. That was a staple of New York. Greenhouse and W.i.P. People go there every week.
The way people party in New York now, they go to three different clubs in one night. That’s how it is now. That was a staple. That was a place people ended up at, mostly at the end of the night, to hang out and listen to good music. I came in January and I brought a lot of good music there, a lot of good DJs. Sam French. Time Crunch has been there destroying the place. These people can get the room into a different aura where you can play old-school hip-hop. You can play house music. You can play disco. It’s a different feeling in there so people pop in all the time. Now it’s not available. People are pissed off and I feel bad. Now we have to go through a report and go through all this stuff with the police. Harassment. It’s not fair. No one intended that to happen except for the ones who made it happen. That’s only the case in these nightlife situations. People can say, “Oh, you did a party with those guys.” We didn’t do a party with those guys. All those guys showed up and we felt like, “Hey, these guys are celebrities. Let’s put them in the room.” They are A-List celebrities. Drake—nobody expected him to do something like that. I don’t know how good that is for his career or whatever. It probably won’t hurt him.
People can say, 'Oh, you did a party with those guys.' We didn’t do a party with those guys. All those guys showed up and we felt like, 'Hey, these guys are celebrities. Let’s put them in the room.”'They are A-List celebrities. Drake—nobody expected him to do something like that.
What’s happening with the police? They shut you guys down over the weekend. It’s reminding me of that Peter Gatien era. Do you feel like they’re making an example of you? I’ve heard that there aren’t any real violations.
The community has a lot to do with how the police react, and politics. It’s way above the clubs. I live in Manhattan. I live in a beautiful community that I love and I don’t want some crazy shit going on around me either. But I see how it could affect the community and therefore have the police take action in any way they can—which is any way they want to, basically.
Of course, it’s a loss to nightlife. They’re putting the smackdown on us now. Now it’s like, we can’t do anything wrong. We can’t do anything. We can’t even breathe wrong now. They are watching everything and they are walking in whenever they want and doing whatever they want. It’s part of the business at this point. Can you weather the storm and make it through it?
What’s the shutdown situation? Some people say you’ll be open soon. Some people say you’re closed for 235 days. What’s the real rap?
I have no idea what the judge is going to say. There are a lot of factors to this case. There’s a criminal case against Drake. There’s a lot of stuff going on with this case that I can’t really discuss. I don’t even know really. I just hope New York will give us a shot and understand it wasn’t our fault. It’s unfortunate.
Do you think Drake and Chris Brown should compensate you or that they should be banned from nightclubs in New York?
In general, I am a forgive and forget person. I don’t hold grudges. If you have a business and you’re making a living and a certain amount of revenue, it’s about the business aspect. Now that these people have done that, it’s a stain on their resume in nightlife. I’m not saying we don’t love those people. Of course. We play their music. We love them. At the same time, we don’t want to risk the business of it for that. How important is it to have that person in the room to risk your nightlife for 200 and some odd days? Is it worth it? No. The club will continue to move on without any celebrity in the club. I’ve done thousands of clubs that didn’t have one celebrity but every night it was on.
We play their music. We love them. At the same time, we don’t want to risk the business of it for that. How important is it to have that person in the room to risk your nightlife for 200 and some odd days? Is it worth it? No. The club will continue to move on without any celebrity in the club.
Do you think these types of incidents are a result of having an urban crowd?
I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from the streets of New York. From the worse neighborhood. I am a Latino person. We want that shit. We all want the business. We all want the celebrities. That also makes the club. We want them to have a good time. We want the celebrity to go back to L.A. or to wherever they go and tell people, “Yo, that’s the place to go in New York.” We all want that. What we don’t want is violence and stoppage of revenue. No one wants that.
If you guys were to review bottle service guidelines, what does that even mean? Realistically, I’m sure it’s been talked about to some degree. People joke about plastic cups, but is that where it's going?
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the clubs down South. I’ve been to clubs all over the United States. Every time I go to a city I go, “Let me check out the nightlife here.” Sometimes it’s relaxed. Sometimes it’s really good. Sometimes it’s pretty women. I look at the places down South and they got plastic. They don’t have bottles because they have a history of wild stuff going on there.
It depends on the history of your venue. If you have that all the time… If you have people who shot somebody in your venue, you have a metal detector outside. How many clubs in New York have that? It’s the nature of the business you’re doing. I don’t see Avenue needing a metal detector or searching people ever because they have people come in there and they are not looking for violence and they are pretty much committed to being good citizens.
You understand what’s going in the place. This is not a place of violence. This is not Central Booking. This is coming here and having a good time. I would never think that W.i.P. would need plastic cups or plastic anything, to this day. I’ve been there since January. It’s been beautiful people. We never had one problem. I think we had one shoving match in February. But it’s been amazing. People come there and they love the art and have a good time. No one does anything wrong and we were fine and this happens.
Tenjune. They revoked their invitation for Drake to host a party.
After our incident or before our incident?
After. On Saturday.
Yeah, of course they did. They would need to do something like that for themselves.
Then Meek Mill had a party at District 36 the same night and cops shut down the whole block.
Yeah. Well, I mean, if New York City says turn yourself in, we want to talk to you, and you say, “I’m not turning myself in. I didn’t do nothing.” They are going to do that just to make you feel uncomfortable in New York City. That’s just what it is. The same way Joe Francis got arrested in Louisiana or Florida or wherever he was when he knocked on the mayor on the radio. That’s just politics. You don’t do that. You are not going to live and eat here if you are not cooperating with the proper authorities. That’s just a city thing.
You just told me that you’re from the hood...
I was born in Cumberland Hospital. I was raised in Fort Greene projects in the late ‘70s. I grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in New York City. One of the worst.
So, do incidents like this happen because of Black people and urban events?
I can’t say that. I hang out with Jessy Terrero. I hang out with Ulysses Terrero. I hang out with Frank Reyes. Those are my brothers. Those are all Latin brothers. And they would never, never put other people in danger. Those are good-hearted people. I hang out with Kenny Smith and those guys. These are good people. And you’re going to see that. It’s just certain individuals, that’s why it’s hard to say race. It’s so hard to say that.
Even beyond race, you know how they view urban parties out here. You see hip-hop police out at every concert or at clubs when it’s a night that rappers are going to be there. Is there some stigma that urban events bring to nightlife? When a club starts becoming too accessible and too bridge and tunnel and maybe the crowd has gotten too urban, the next thing you know, it’s over. What does that type of crowd bring to an atmosphere?
Clubs goes in the stages of one, two, three. You start off hot. Everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s going there. All the celebrities, all the hot people, young people. Then you go to stage two and you got everybody familiar in there and you are still trying to hang on and you’re there if you’re lucky. Last stage you start to bring promoters and start to bring shit from New Jersey and Long Island to make your ass buck before your toes are placed. That’s just become the norm of this business ever since all these clubs opened.
As far as urban parties, I can’t. I come from a long line of partying in New York and I used to go to Jusske’s party back in the days. I used to go so many places that were industry and urban and the whole place was black, with rappers, and it hardly ever jumped off. Yes, there were always occasions when things jumped off. But then again, there are occasions when things jumped off with white people. I was there in DoubleSeven. The rich guy hit the other guy with a bottle. The prince, you know. It happens more in urban parties I guess because those people are not cultured party people. They don’t know how to party in Manhattan.
Like you said, in DoubleSeven you have a prince and socialites doing the same thing that happened in W.i.P. and they don’t get shut down for a day.
It wasn’t a famous black rapper—one. So of course, nobody cares. And two, that one was glamorous. There were models involved. There was all this crap. But in its essence, it’s the same bullshit.
I’ve been to so many parties where someone is grilling me or they got an issue or we’re about to get busy in there. And of course at some point somebody says, 'Yo, chill. There are too many people in here.' What happened to that? Chill. We go outside or we meet him outside down the block or we wait for it. You just don’t put all these people in danger. That’s the bottom line.
How does it feel to be part of an organization that gets punished? There are certain circumstances attached to glamour, but it’s the same thing, and they don’t get any consequences from it.
Yeah, man. It’s not fair. Everybody proceeds on except us. And our main focus was to show people a good time at W.i.P. That’s all we do. It was just not fair that we had to stop what we were doing for New York City and for the visitors of New York City for some foolishness. And especially for some people in the industry who get paid off their fans. And have their careers fueled by people. Why would you go anywhere and try to hurt these people? It makes no sense. I’m from New York and I’ve been to so many parties where someone is grilling me or they got an issue or we’re about to get busy in there. And of course at some point somebody says, “Yo, chill. There are too many people in here.” What happened to that? Chill. We go outside or we meet him outside down the block or we wait for it. You just don’t put all these people in danger. That’s the bottom line.
Is it especially irksome when you feel like the dudes responsible aren’t about that life? Knowing that you probably seen some real gangsters handle their shit before, does it bother you to see these privileged, celeb types acting up?
It’s amazing. I send messages back and forth from two of the biggest Mafia families in New York City. Like straight out of the movie. These guys are in suits, slicked hair back, serious giant fat guys that fit the mold. Straight-up Mafia and those guys know how to control themselves. You know, there’s a way of doing everything. In New York City, if you have a problem with somebody, there’s a way of handling it. The whole point is innocent people should not be put in danger. That’s my main concern. That’s the thing that’s killing me about this whole situation.
[Tony Parker] came back and said, 'Yo, Ruben, Mary J. Blige is here.' I said, 'Yo, I already know.' It was crazy. Everybody was just having a great time that night. It was unfortunate to end like that at 4 in the morning. It was not fair.
The Australian girl got hurt. That other model girl got hurt and just got stitches. People got hurt. It’s just terrible. I’m never going to get Tony to ever come to one of my parties ever again. This reflects on me now. It’s just how it is. He was absolutely amazed when he saw Mary J. Blige. He went crazy. He came back and said, “Yo, Ruben, Mary J. Blige is here.” I said, “Yo, I already know.” It was crazy. Everybody was just having a great time that night. It was unfortunate to end like that at 4 in the morning. It was not fair.
Even Sinatra was on the microphone. I never saw him do that. It was a good time. People were enjoying themselves. Maino was there. Maino’s crazy. He’s been in jail or whatever. Maino’s a real dude from Brooklyn. I don’t like to use the phrase “about that life.” I’m about 40 years old, man. I seen dudes who aren’t about that life do some crazy shit. I know he wasn’t about that life, but he went in that day. He wasn’t playing that day, he had enough. Anybody from the New York City areas can be about that life. That’s how we was raised around the block. There was nothing sweet going on my block. My whole family is in jail. I don’t consider myself about that life, but don’t push me. You feel me? I gotta do what I gotta do. It’s just New York City urban survival shit. But these guys—fighting over girls and Rihanna—it’s just stupid man. It doesn’t make no sense to put people in danger over that. It’s stupid.
How long have you been in this business? Where have you been? What have you done? Obviously, there’s stuff out there on the Internet, but I prefer hear it from you.
I started going to nightclubs in Manhattan in high school because we had the best basketball team in the nation that year. We were treated like kings in New York City back in those days. We were let into the clubs at 15, 16, even 14. Some clubs in the Bronx I went to. I was always employed by nightlife. When I was finished doing what I was doing, playing basketball or doing what I was doing during my 20s, I eventually gravitated towards being in nightlife. Jonny, he was already a promoter when he was 17 so he put me on and I promoted with him for years. I found my way at the door through Stereo and Mark Baker and Steve Lewis gave me opportunities to do doors in clubs. More recently it would be places like Rivington and Juliet. I even did the door at Webster Hall just for the experience.
I do my thing a little different from all these doormen that come from Europe and they have to be prestigious. They have to work with the most prestigious people in the world. Noah Tepperberg is my man. I love Tepperberg. I haven’t worked for Tepperberg yet. The timing isn’t right. I feel like this job is amazing and interesting and why not spread it out and see all different types of parties and cultures? That’s how I feel about it. I can handle any party. That’s what makes a real doorman. I look at it differently. Of course, I’ve just been around nightlife all my life and there were years when I’d go out every single night and party. That’s just New York culture growing up. That’s how I know Ruddy for 15 years. Ruddy was doing it too. That was just the place to be. New York is a little crazy now. Maybe I feel a bit older. I don’t feel as hyped as I was before about it, but the energy is still out there in New York. Nightlife. It’s still good.
These guys—fighting over girls and Rihanna—it’s just stupid man. It doesn’t make no sense to put people in danger over that. It’s stupid.
What do you think about the energy now? Of course, there are some positive things going on here. You’ve been a part of one for the past six months. But there’s also the “bottle service killed New York” argument. How do you feel about the way the scene has transitioned?
I’m mad that there’s a lot more places to go than there used to be. That’s the difference. People spread themselves out a little more. Back in the day, you would go to Bungalow, you would go to Marquee. Then you would go to Bungalow and Marquee. And then Kane opened and Guest House. Guest Room. Whatever. I don’t even know their names. People started to spread out and that’s just how it went. It’s not even like a person who couldn’t get into Bungalow 8 and then went to Death House. No. They are in a group of five. Somebody in that group of five knows a guy at Death House and somebody knows a guy at Bungalow.
Now it’s like, “Then we go to Bungalow and then we go Death House and then W.i.P.” I’m just using the names of those clubs to use as a reference. People have a lot of places to go and a lot of support. It’s about support. People come and see me and they show up for a couple of hours and support me. They show up over there for a couple of hours. That’s just the way it’s becoming at this point. Loyalty to the venue is really low.
It seems like people used be eager to become regulars at a spot and now it’s more about “Yo, I can hit all these different places.” Not, “I’m the dude at this one place.”
Yeah, there are stages to the night. Let’s say we go to the hottest spot in New York. We get in there at around 12:30, 1. There are stages. The first stage is sober. Everybody is pretty much sober. The second stage is everybody is drunk as fuck. The third stage is you’re trying to get laid. You miss those stages in the venue because you’re doing stage one and then you are doing stage two at another venue. And now you’re drunk in the street. That creates danger. Then you’re at another venue. It’s just crazy. It’s really chaotic now. Then you end up in the last venue when you do stage three and it’s pretty much wild because you’ve been all over the place and you don’t know what’s going on in there. It’s just crazy.
Would you argue that there’s a certain appeal to this new style of clubbing?
Let me tell you something. Let me tell you one thing before I forget. You can quote me on this, definitely. When we went into Life nightclub in New York City, it was a commitment for the night. We went through stages the whole night. We went in there when Larry Johnson hit the three pointer for the Knicks and he was in there doing the L and everybody was doing the L. Hov was in there. Nas was in there. It was crazy. That was a commitment. Grandmaster Flash was on the wheels. Ron Artest was in college. I remember it vividly. That’s a commitment. Steve Lewis is at the door. That’s big time shit. Mark Baker works there. Everybody works there. It was crazy. That’s a commitment. Those things don’t happen anymore.
What moves are you about to make in the aftermath of all this?
I would love to get my own venue again like I did at XIX. I think I walked a really fine line at XIX. The same fine line like Jonny walks at Goldbar where he does those people and he doesn’t do a lot of those people. He mixes the room. Ten percent of everything in there and it feels like New York City. That’s it, man. That’s what New York is about. Ten percent of everything. Every type of person. Of course, more percentage of women, but of course, all types. That’s what makes New York beautiful. People party together. Fashion people. Art people. Music people. Sports people. Celebrities. That’s an eclectic group. Ne-Yo would be on one side of the room. RZA would be on the other side of the room. Jusske’s DJ-ing. Those days when it was good. The models. Kate Moss and those girls would come in without being told to come. They just came because it was the place to be.
Centro-Fly basement was the place to be for years. We would all be in there. Ice-T and Coco on one side. We gotta bring it back to that. You can’t just do a whole room with Jewish kids. You can’t do a whole room with just hip-hop kids. It has to go back into a melting pot because that’s what New York City is.
Centro-Fly basement was the place to be for years. We would all be in there. Ice-T and Coco on one side. We gotta bring it back to that. You can’t just do a whole room with Jewish kids. You can’t do a whole room with just hip-hop kids. It has to go back into a melting pot because that’s what New York City is period. If I have my opportunity to get my own place again, that’s what it would be. That’s what I try to do at my doors and that helped the club W.i.P. turn into a melting pot since I got there. I took a piece of everybody and put them in the room and they were happy with the music. They were happy with the energy and the ambiance and that’s what it’s about. We have to stop standing in the corner at a party, staring at each other. It’s not cool anymore. We are just trying to have a good time again. Celebrate life.
I’ve been in W.i.P. many nights and I felt like it was that type of feeling in this room. I would love that some Meek Mill shit would come on and then some techno shit next and you can see all types in the crowd reacting.
You don’t care. When you’re in W.i.P. and the music is changing to techno and you’re talking to a fine girl, the music becomes secondary at that time. People just want to have a good time.
People don’t give urban groups enough credit. Obviously, we know white kids love hip-hop, but dudes feel like because someone likes rap or is Black that they can’t appreciate a night where Avicii drops.
Yeah, exactly. These young kids love everything. I had them all. I had them at XIX. I cater to everything. They love everything. They love Cam’ron and they love Deadmau5. Skrillex. When I was young, I used to like Kiss and I liked Sugarhill Gang. You are a certain type of person. I guess that’s why I live downtown now. Some people stay pigeon-holed in their own shit.
I watched The Radiant Child, that Basquiat movie and you had Debbie Harry in there with the Zulu Nation. That’s the best type of party to me.
Fab Five Freddy came from the Bronx and bridged that shit and motherfuckers loved the shit. He liked The Clash. That was the shit he was doing in the Bronx. I remember growing up in the Bronx at the time and that shit was cool. The dude played The Clash that was some funny shit, but it was cool. That was alright. I fuck with them British dudes. And they fucked with us. The first time Furious Five came on stage was with the rock band. They booed them. Strummer came on stage and was like, “Chill, don’t boo these people. This is the next generation of music. Listen to this shit.” And they dropped their joint and the people went crazy. It was the support and the open-mindedness.
What’s the deal with XIX and Kenmare closing down? What are the insider circumstances? I’m sure money is involved, but I’m sure it’s deeper than that too.
When I got to XIX, they had nothing going on. They had a venue that I loved that I felt like I could do something with it. But they had nothing going on. They weren’t from New York. They were from Australia. They tried to work with people that were really finicky people and don’t work with any people. Of course they entertained them, but it didn’t work out. They just didn’t understand the intricacies of New York City nightlife. So I came in and I started to do the party. I was fresh off a year in L.A. auditioning and shopping my script, so I haven’t been in New York for a while. I guess my mystery was high so people followed me and came when I let people know I was there. I kind of—marketing-wise—I set myself beautifully.
You should have seen the three tourists, when they came. You should have seen when they run back upstairs and say, 'Oh my God. Drake is there. I see Chris Brown.'I can’t believe it. I’m sitting there and Juelz is over there and standing on the table. I can’t believe it.' These people—you can make their life with that night.
I never had a social network. Facebook. Twitter. None of that in my whole life. So what I did towards the end of my last stay in L.A., I opened up a Twitter account and then I started getting followers for what I was doing in L.A. Then I drove back from L.A. to New York to start XIX. So people started following in the car from state to state to New York to XIX and that started the party. It was crazy. And then followers went crazy on Twitter. And I learned how to use Twitter. Now I got 7,000 followers or whatever. All those little marketing schemes helped. I took that little intricate, intimate room and put the best DJ in there. You can’t name one DJ that didn’t DJ there including Skrillex and Jesse Marco. I started with Sinatra.
Through all my connections in nightlife, I was taking care of these kids for years. I know Cassidy since he was a kid through Jon Lennon since he was 14. All these guys came to the rescue and when people heard that, it was so different. It was a basement bar that had the best DJs going in there. People wanted to know why. Why was Sinatra DJ-ing at this little bar? It was packed. And when it got packed, I started to sell tables at a decent price. I never ripped people off. I never was comfortable with that and I always thought that minimums were bad and bar tabs were bad. I didn’t do bar tabs and I didn’t do minimums and people saw it and they were like, “What is my minimum?” “No minimum brother. Enjoy the table.” And people started to get comfortable and they started to spend $800 and $1,500. I had clients doing $2,500. $3,000. $4,000. And this is how it works. I did it my way. The way it should be done. People open clubs and stuff, flooding with all these promoters, every single promoter in New York started raising the minimum to four grand. That shit scares us quick. I let the thing progress through the music and through the energy. That’s what’s it’s about.
What are these intricacies that you speak of? I know you talk about working a room and making sure the music and the party is right each night, but from a business standpoint, and maybe stepping back from the actual party, what does it take to be successful in the business?
You know why Noah Tepperberg is so successful? Because he respects his employees. I learned that a long time ago and that was one of my main things. I got the employees to respect me and I respected them. I didn’t treat them like shit. You got to put your ego away and speak to the people properly. Once you get the backing of your employees, they trust you, and they’ll go to war for you, you can’t lose at that point because everybody is putting their hand in any way they can. Even if it’s a bus boy who cleans extra to just make sure the place looks clean because he’s happy and he wants the people to be happy. That’s what matters. A lot of people treat their staff like crap. A lot of guys have egos. A lot of guys are in the business and insensitive towards women and that shit never works. It’s just a minor intricacy, besides using the relationships with your client, to have in your place, that’s so important. The bathroom lady is like my best friend. That bathroom lady is never doing anything wrong. She’ll always tell me if there’s something wrong. I made her my best friend. Love and energy. If you have that shit in the room, you can’t beat it. Yeah, you can work the room, but that’s elementary stuff. Say hello to everybody. Make yourself look like a big shot. You run the place. Wow big deal. The bathroom guy respects you and he’s not back there hating you? [Laughs.] You know what I mean? The bartender slipping a couple more 50s because he hates your guts because you talk to him like shit every day? There’s so many things going on.
Are you as mad at Drake and Chris Brown as your tweets make it seem?
I’m not really hating on Drake or Chris Brown. Yes, I am upset with those dudes. I work with them and they’re in my place. I welcomed them in my living room.
On Twitter, I saw someone say, “This shit happens when you suck out of town dick.” What is that even supposed to mean? How do you feel when you hear someone says something like that?
Yo, here’s a perfect example. You should have seen the girl, the tourist, the three tourists, when they came. You should have seen when they run back upstairs and say, “Oh my God. Drake is there. I see Chris Brown. I can’t believe it. I’m sitting there and Juelz is over there and standing on the table. I can’t believe it." These people—you can make their life with that night. Not everyone is like me and you where you’ve been to the hottest shit and you’re sitting next to Angelina Jolie. Not everybody is used to that shit. You can make their whole life. They can go home after that club and you made their life right there. They kissed Chris Brown on the cheek and said hello to him. It was crazy.
Sammy Adams. I don’t know if you know him but he’s one of my best friends now. Three years in. He supported me from the beginning at XIX and everything. That’s my man. I’m the type of dude, once you fuck up, I don’t fuck with you anymore. You’re dead to me. I don’t fuck with you. Especially if we became friends. When I say I don’t fuck with you, I say I don’t eat with you no more. I know you when you come to the club. I’m not gonna dead you and take it personal. But I don’t eat with you no more. But the kid is mad consistent. The girls be kissing him. I seen the tweets. “Yo, my life is set. I met Sammy.” You gotta understand that they are touching people. You gotta understand, if a girl met Drake, “Oh my God.” You gotta understand that’s a gift you are giving people. It’s not violent. I’m not with any of the dudes in the room because I get happy when other people are happy. I laugh when girls run upstairs, “Oh my God.” It’s funny. It’s cool. And they blowed that shit.
Realistically, do you think that incident is going to have an effect on bottle service?
I don’t think so, man. There’s too much money being made through bottle service. What could they really do? How are you gonna control that? What are you gonna tell them? Nobody gonna tell you can’t put those rich guys with bottles. No way. That shit ain’t happening. You can’t just do bottle restriction on one club; it gotta be all the clubs. The entity is too strong at this point. Bottle service… I still can’t believe to this day when guys pay 5K. It’s not realistic to me financially and people are like, “Wow. That’s amazing.” If the clubs are getting that, then that’s not gonna stop. I doubt that stops at all.
With all that money being made, do you feel like bottle service killed New York?
What kills New York is people who don’t know how to do parties the way I just told you. I just gave you the secret of the party. Ruddy will tell you straight up. I did Ruddy’s birthday party. I had a surprise for him on every table in there. It was a mad house. That what’s it about.
You know what Jon Lennon does over there? Every time it’s his birthday, they smashed a cake in your face. That’s what it’s about. We love you. We smash a cake in your face. It’s not intimate anymore. People aren’t walking in clubs and giving 100 pounds. People walk in and they don’t know nobody. It’s wack. The intimacy factor is gone. When people start doing that again, you can do bottle service, you can do everything. Because you know why? The dude is so happy. When I was at XIX, that motherfucker would be happy to spend money. You know why? When he looked around, it was a small room. Vin Diesel was in there. Gerard Butler. Scarlett Johansson and a whole bunch of regular kids. And guess what? They were dancing and the music was popping. People loved it. People start realizing that the mechanical aspect of it-- Kind of break a little couple rules, make people happy. As far as you can go without hurting yourself. People want to be happy. When I want to walk into the club, I want to be happy.
What do you feel like the outcome for W.i.P. is going to be? Will people want to come back or are going to start looking for other options?
I think we are so strong. I think the team over there is so strong that if we opened up tonight it would be packed. That’s a definite. Once we are allowed to be open again, how far will the police allow us to have a good time? That’s the question. How long will they allow us to let people have a good time? Are they going to come in every night and check the room and clear the room and check everybody’s IDs every single night? Or are they going to stand outside, which is okay. We’ve done that for a while. They can stand outside, as long as they don’t come in. It depends on NYPD and the city of New York, how hard they go on us. They leave us alone. I guarantee we will be on and popping by the end of this week. Packed. Especially with all this happening, it’s crazy publicity. If it wasn’t Drake and Chris having a fight in there, nobody would give a shit. But it’s two A-List celebrities. Of course it makes it a lot more special than it would be if it was two regular guys.
Random detail: Do you have any idea what song was playing during the fight?
[Laughs.] Sinatra was playing. He was going in because they were so many artists there. He said Fabolous loved him. Sinatra was having such a good time until that happened. I felt bad for the dude. He’s one of New York’s hardest working DJs. The hottest behind the DJ booth.
They would have to come back at me respectfully and humbly and apologizing if we even think of letting them back in at all. It would have to be their whole energy. Seriously. That goes for Chris Brown, too. Any one of those guys.
[Ed. Note - Rivera texted later to confirm that DJ Khaled’s song with Chris Brown, “Take It To The Head,” was playing. Ironic.]
What would you do if either one of those guys came back?
I would definitely have a good long talk with them about a lot of stuff I just talked to you about. My feelings about it, before I let them in. If I decided to let them in. I would definitely have a long talk with them and the manager and whoever is with them. It would be a long talk like, “I can’t do it tonight.” They would have to come back at me respectfully and humbly and apologizing if we even think of letting them back in at all. It would have to be their whole energy. Seriously. That goes for Chris Brown, too. Any one of those guys. That goes for everybody from now on.
I love Maino, that’s my man. I was just in Miami with Maino. Me and Maino became friends over years of nightclubs. Maino has never given me a problem ever. But I would even have that talk with Maino now. Talib, that’s my man. If Talib comes up, I’ll be like, “Talib, check it. You already know what went down. I’m not going to have that shit here. I can’t have that no more. I can’t be doing any more rappers or whatever.” But eventually Talib will get in and come back with me like, “Yo, you know that ain’t my style.” Nine times outta ten, I gotta do the energy check. The character check for these people now. That’s what I do. I read your whole person before I let you in. If I’m not feeling it by the time we are finished talking, you are not coming in. I don’t care who you are.