The First Annual A-List: Nightlife’s Biggest Players by the Numbers

by Alan Philips
02.04.2010

        

“I'm talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars, Buddy. A player. Or nothing.” -Gordon Gekko

Most of the people on this list, including the writer, started out in High School, bringing friends out to teen parties, college parties, prom parties, or working as bar backs, waiters and bartenders. The difference between this list and most of the other “rich” lists is that, for the most part, the men and women found below are self-made.

The way it starts out is simple: get as many friends as you can to say they’re on your list and then get $5 per head as the promoter, sometimes getting a few drink tickets or a table.

My friends and I, a group of classy gentlemen, would sometimes leave the club with new coats to supplement our income. There was one time when I accidentally left with a ladies’ leather jacket. The accident was not that I took someone else’s coat, but that it belonged to a woman. In the end, it all worked out; I gave it to my mother for her birthday. 

Fast forward a couple years and (as I stated in Tuesday's column) suddenly this has become a monstrous business, a multi-billion dollar industry. This is the USA and when $35 bottles are being sold for $350, and casinos are spending $100 million on nightclubs, we want to get in on it. We want to know who’s stacking the chips and exactly how many. As the Forbes List is to Capitalism, the A-List will be to nightlife. So, let’s bypass the tables and head directly to the count room.

These numbers are purely speculative, based upon expert opinions, research through my network and general public knowledge/numbers available for these organizations. Some of them are purely nightclub operators, and others are mixed with a strong footprint in the cocktail business.

China Grill Management
Estimated Gross Revenue: $200 million

Not a pure nightlife play but with enough of a foot in the nightlife and vibe dining game to be included on this list, Jeffrey Chodorow’s company was a pioneer in making deals with hotel companies such as Morgans and Mandalay (Pre-MGM) through the success of their original China Grill & Asia De Cuba brands. This year they have embraced nightlife further through work with Tony Theodore, resulting in great success with The Gansevoort Roofdeck pool parties and The Empire Hotel Rooftop. I also hear they have a very sweet rent deal on the Provacatuer space, which formerly housed Ono. It’s these types of deals that have made Mr. Chodorow a very rich man.

Light Group
Estimated Gross Revenue: $125 million

Andrew Sasson started in New York and Miami with his “Jet clubs” – Groovejet, Jet East, Jet 19 and Jet Lounge. Foresight and opportunity led him to Las Vegas to launch “Light” at the Bellagio with Steve Wynn and Chris Barish. Andrew’s ferocity and attention to detail are legendary in the business, and he expects as much from his staff as he gives. Someone once told me a story about Andrew telling his waitresses to slide their hands under all of the tables and banquettes to check for gum. With the help of MGM, partner Andy Masi, and an incredible staff including Liam Dwyer, Andrew has created an empire. He may not have the top-grossing club in the country, but he has a new hotel, The Harmon, coming to City Center, a $70 million beach club opening at Aria, and recently sold 50% of his business to Zabeel Investments based in Dubai. I am also told that Andrew made out pretty well during the heyday of Vegas real estate by selling condos. He didn’t just live the American dream; this Brit ripped it right out of Uncle Sam’s hands.

Victor Drai and Company
Estimated Gross Revenue: $109 million

Quietly staying above the fray, we can’t forget about Drai. Victor Drai created and owned the after-hours scene in Las Vegas with his original restaurant and club, Drai’s. Eventually, through the nightlife missteps of casino mogul Steve Wynn, Drai was brought in to redesign and launch the club at the original Wynn, which we all know as Tryst. Next came XS, which is a juggernaut of a nightclub, drawing record numbers of people and generating some serious revenue. Drai works with managing partners (and twin brothers) Cy and Jesse Waits, who together with Steve Wynn supposedly spent $95 million on the construction of XS. Rumor has it they will not be getting the operating contract for Encore’s $100 million beach club, but they have recently launched Drai’s Hollywood at the W Hotel to make up for it. Drai’s restaurant, Botero, in the Encore has four original works by Botero – two paintings and two sculptures. I wonder which is worth more, the art or the company?

Noah Tepperberg & Jason Strauss
Estimated Gross Revenue: $100 million
What can be said of these guys? They came, they saw, they conquered. Not trying to kiss ass, but they started my career and clearly took the game to another level as the modern day “Rubell and Schrager.” They may not be the highest-grossing company on the list, but they do have the highest-grossing venue. Now, these guys don’t get all the money because of their partnership with Marc Packer, but the $100 million doesn’t even include their flourishing marketing business, Strategic Group. What’s next for these guys? From what I hear, there will be a Lavo Beach Club at the Palazzo and Lavo Midtown in the former Au Bar. I also wouldn’t be surprised if a hotel was in their future, but I would expect at least a 25% increase in revenues in 2010.

N9NE Group
Estimated Gross Revenue: $80 million

The N9NE Group operates restaurants and nightclubs in Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas. The majority of their revenue comes from partnerships with the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, including the Playboy Club and N9NE Steakhouse. Founded by Michael Morton and Scott Degraff, the name N9NE comes from the age when they met and became friends. The group remains successful in Las Vegas, but has had some issues in Dallas, which caused their steakhouse and Italian restaurant at the American Airlines Arena to close.

One Group
Estimated Gross Revenue: $80 million

Founded by Jonathan Segal and operated by Celeste Fierro, the One Group has built a tremendous business at a breakneck pace. Realizing they were in the right place at the right time, Jonathan’s aggressive deal-making and eye for talent has spawned a hospitality empire that spans the country. Jonathan and his investors are not afraid to do a wide variety of deals, including a freestanding STK Midtown, a hotel deal at the Gansevoort Park, and partnered deals at Tenjune and Bagatelle. They are also one of the few groups that have fully embraced “vibe dining,” always including DJs in the dining room and over-the-top interiors designed by partner Lionel Ohayon. It will be very interesting to see how their business develops in phase two, as the brand begins to mature.

SBE Entertainment
Estimated Gross Revenue: $70 million (Excluding Sam Nazarian’s hotel projects)

Sam Nazarian went after the L.A. hospitality and nightlife market like Tony Montana went after the drug business; he didn’t want a piece, he wanted the whole market and he wanted it yesterday. With the funds, and the balls, he got what he wanted. That ferocity led him on a buying spree that included an exclusive deal with mega-designer Phillipe Starck, a partnership with super promoter, Brent Bolthouse, a new hotel brand and guest spots on Entourage. Now, SBE is in a unique place. Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal have alluded to some financial issues with the SLS Hotels and the Sahara Hotel project planned for Las Vegas. Additionally, from what I am told, his partnership with Brent Bolthouse has been dissolved. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, but you cannot knock what Nazarian has created, especially since his restaurant, Bazaar, is considered by many critics to be the best new restaurant in America.

Gerber Group
Estimated Gross Revenue $64 million

The original gangster of multi-unit operators in the nightlife business, Rande Gerber and his brother, Scott, are still chugging along. They have the only true “chain” of upscale bars and lounges with their Whiskey and Stone Rose brands. From a financial perpective, Scott is the smartest and most efficient nightlife operator. The Gerber brothers still have the inside track on most W Hotel properties and partnerships with some of the biggest names in the game including Related, Delta, Sofitel and Sol Melia (and having Cindy Crawford, George Clooney and Brad Pitt on speed dial doesn’t hurt either). They ran into some problems in Vegas and San Diego, but if they can find their way back into Vegas and continue to maintain slow and steady growth, their gross and net incomes should grow sustainably for years to come.

Opium Group
Estimated Gross Revenue: $50 million

Opium is a partnership between Roman Jones and the brothers Eric & Francis Milon. They are the premiere operators in Miami, dominating the Miami market by monopolizing promoters, creating incredible spaces and not hesitating to spend or partner when it counts. Roman is one of the most unique visionaries in the business, with incredible interiors, great talent relationships (he is a Ronson family member) and equal parts businessman and showman. His partner and marketing director, Justin Levine, is a consummate gentleman and will continue to be a force for the next generation of the group.  Opium has had some issues moving into other markets, namely Las Vegas and New York. With that said, I hear they’re planning to come back to New York with a small space in Soho.

EMM Group
Estimated Gross Revenue: $27 million

So far this has been a big year for Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum and their new partner, real estate mogul, Michael Hirtenstein. The opening of Abe and Arthur's and SL has earned them huge success thus far.  They also brought in Jamie Foxx for the launch of Chandelier Room at the W Hotel in Hoboken, not an easy feat. This has gotten Remm and Birnbaum in with W Hotels/Starwood and shows them to be quality operators who can work within a corporate environment. From what I am told, they have also signed a deal for a club in Midtown with Highgate Hotels, re-imagining the Paramount Hotel’s 10,000 square-foot restaurant space, which was once perennial hotspot, Diamond Horseshoe. The above is not inclusive of EMM Group’s marketing revenues.

Scott Sartiano & Richie Akiva
Estimated Gross Revenue: $20 million
They may not be the richest on the list but they are probably the most authentic, as these guys (for better or worse) sometimes shun money for street cred and celebrity friends. Their club 1Oak has been top five in Manhattan for the past two or more years and Butter has been open for over five. They have three projects I hear of in the pipeline for 2010, a Butter Nightclub in North Carolina, a restaurant/club in the former Plumm/Nells space, and a bar below 1Oak (which could be purely speculative). That would spell exponential growth for their team, I just hope they are building the infrastructure to take their considerable talents to the next level.

Joey Morrissey
Estimated Gross Revenue: $20 million

Joey is an industry veteran and a prime example of this business’ transition from the backroom to the boardroom. He owned his first club at the age of 21, Morrissey's, and owned the bridge-and-tunnel market for the past 20 years. He craftily purchased Mansion and Pink Elephant out of bankruptcy and turned them into M2 and Pink. Now he is filling M2 with 2,000 people on Saturdays, grossing on average over $150k on Saturday nights. On New Year’s Eve the club stayed open for 24 hours and grossed $840,000. 

Miami Marketing Group/Dave Grutman
Estimated Gross Revenue: $19 million

Personally, I don’t really know much about Dave or MMG, but I do know that he has a stronghold on the Miami market right now. The Fountainbleu Hotels in Miami and Vegas may have been victims of overzealous boom-time development, but LIV is the number one nightclub in Miami and possibly the country right now. It manages to balance the energy of a big club with the feel of a small club and if you are going to Miami it is a must-see. LIV is the only club giving the Opium Group a run for its money and I am told Grutman is a harsh task master with his staff, demanding performance and getting it. LIV and the Fountainbleu had by far the highest grossing New Year’s Eve event in the country, estimated to bring in almost $2 million. MMG also operates a marketing company, and Blade, a sushi restaurant in the Fountainbleu.

Mike Sinensky & Sean Mcgarr
Estimated Gross Revenue: $18 million

Under the radar Mike and Sean have built an impressive business with Hudson Terrace and their Village Pourhouse brand.  With plans for at least four new Pourhouses throughout Manhattan, Hudson Terrace heading into its second summer and a new vodka brand, these guys show no signs of stopping their growth. Interestingly the majority of their holdings are more neighborhood spots which should allow them to avoid the business' trend cycles.

Cain Leisure
Estimated Gross Revenue: $16 million

Jamie Mulholland, Jayma Cardoso and the rest of Cain Leisure jumped out of the box a couple of years ago with the original Cain, creating an incredibly authentic and powerful nightclub experience. They followed it up with operations in the Hamptons, the Bahamas, and eventually Montauk. They have always held onto their niche within the New York market because of their unwavering dedication to a distinct vision and set of principals, which continues with Goldbar, a boutique club that has developed a strong following under the stewardship of John Lennon. Surf Lodge is the best thing to happen in the Hamptons since Sunset Beach and their partnership with Sol Kerzner at Atlantis should create strong revenues. We are still waiting on Cain’s long-time-coming restaurant twin, Abel. 

Jon Bakshi
Estimated Gross Revenue: $16 million
Jon currently operates Greenhouse and Juliet with a Greenhouse Miami/South Florida opening shortly. He closed Home and Guest House this year which would have greatly increased his gross revenues, but net profit is what really matters. Either way, Jon is a comer. Since a young age, he has always been one of the best at “making every project work” and making money. He has the infrastructure and drive to make deals quickly and fill multiple spaces. He may sometimes lack in attracting the A-list crowd, but all investors really want is money and Jon is a specialist at making it.

Let the debates begin.

See you next week at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.
-AP

 

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