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April 24 2014

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Welcome To New York Gritty

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Hey! Fashion week! You ready to rock? If Nur Khan and Paul Sevigny have their way, this will be remembered as the season of reverb and the sticky floor, as the duo reopen legendary nightspot Don Hill’s with a roster of parties-cum-concerts that will have fashion weekers moshing in their kitten heels until the wee hours. Tonight, a certain ripped-ab rock god plays the Pop party, and certain other heroes of the New York City art rock scene are set to blow the doors off the Another Man do next week. Khan’s ambition is no less than to bring the gritty back to the New York party scene. If anyone’s up to the task, he and Sevigny are. Here, Khan (left) sounds off on the noise, the new, and (no joke!) the ladies’ room.


So, first off: Why Don Hill’s?
There are a bunch of reasons, actually. First of all, it’s kind of the last old-school rock ‘n’ roll place left in New York, now that CBGB’s is closed. I remember Don Hill’s in its heyday, and it was brilliant. I used to own Sway, across the street, and there was always a back-and-forth; I guess I’ve been friends with Don for about 20 years now. So it felt natural. And beyond that, I’m such a music fanatic—I’ve been doing shows at Rose Bar for a while now, intimate performances by everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Guns N’ Roses, and I wanted a venue where I could do those kinds of spontaneous gigs, but bigger, with a full setup. This place is fully loaded from a production standpoint.

But this isn’t a concert venue—this is a nightclub, correct?
Correct. I think of it as a rock ‘n’ roll dance club—I’ve got the opportunity to host gigs when I want to, but that’s not the whole point. The point is really to bring back that New York I miss, back when uptown was uptown and downtown was downtown, and there were places like Don’s, and CB’s, and Max’s Kansas City, that were cool and creative and down and dirty. There was no formula to it, just musicians and artists hanging out. I feel like New York needs that now; it’s been about lookalike bottle service places for too long. Paul and I figured it was time to bring back cheap beer.

The last place you guys opened was Kenmare. Do you see Don Hill’s as a complement or a contrast?
I think they relate to each other in lots of ways. The idea with Kenmare was to create a place like Indochine used to be—and still is, to a degree—and like the old Odeon and Mr. Chow’s. I know I keep saying this, but people really need to understand, it was fucking cool that there were these downtown places where cool people could go and hang out, and not feel like they were in some kind of contrived club. Iggy and Bowie would run into each other at Max’s, Jean-Michel and Andy would be at Indochine, and it was chill. I think when you create an environment like that, where interesting people can hang out together, cool shit happens. People collaborate; they start bringing new ideas to the table. I’ve been looking around New York City for a while now and wondering, what happened?

You and Paul have something of a Midas touch when it comes to New York nightlife. Is it as simple as asking yourself where you’d want to hang out?
Well, I do think we’re both people who ask ourselves, what’s missing? We’re not herd-mentality people—everyone else goes right and we go left. But it’s, like, you’ve got to tap into the sensibility that’s floating around at a particular moment. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to open another bottle service place now, in this economy. That’s not the mood. It’s almost, like, offensive. I feel like what people are looking for is a place that’s unpretentious, where you can let loose. I want Don’s to be that place.

You’ve been renovating. What should people expect?
We’ve preserved the essence of the place—it’s still gritty Don Hill’s. But female-friendly. New booths and bathrooms. I’m not kidding, the ladies’ room was a major focus for us. I mean, you probably know this better than I do, but if you were a woman hanging out at Don Hill’s, it was hard.

I can indeed attest to that. What else are you bringing to the space that’s new?
Well, Paul and I are both artist-conscious people; we’ve got a bunch of friends who are coming in and doing work for us. Like, Sante D’Orazio has his own little area he’s curating—we’re calling that “Sante’s Inferno”—and Harif Guzman is doing the walls in the main room.

How did you and Paul meet?
Man, I’ve known Paul since…since I owned a music venue in Connecticut. It was this little rock place I opened back in 1990, and I was booking bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, before they were huge. Paul is from Connecticut, too, and at some point he came in and worked on an event, and we’ve been in touch ever since. He used to deejay at Sway. We’ve got a similar style, a similar point-of-view, so it made sense for us to go into business together.

What’s next?
We’re still figuring that out. We’ve got a restaurant, now we’ve got our rock club, so the next thing, I don’t know, maybe we do both, at our own hotel. All the big nightlife players these days are the guys with the cool hotels. We’ve brought some people onto the team with that expertise. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, you’ve partnered with MAC + Milk this season. What’s that all about?
It’s a collaboration among friends. We’re doing Kenmare dinners up in the penthouse and bringing some of the bigger things over here, to Don’s. I’ve known [Mazdack] Rossi and Jenne [Lombardo] for a while—they’re both rockers at heart—and I wanted to support what they’ve got going on over there. It’s good karma, helping young designers. And the karma comes back to you—I mean, we’ve got some amazing people playing at Don Hill’s this week, and these aren’t paying gigs, you know? It’s just, bands miss being able to play a room like Don’s; they miss that energy, too. We’re all feeling that same thing: The moment’s changing, it’s time for something else.

Photo: Albert Michael / Startraks Photo

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