Nightlife guru gives New York the French kiss
France is cool -- and red hot -- when it comes to nightclubs these days and the keenly anticipated arrival of the Le Baron club in New York has sent temperatures soaring on the party scene.
"It's something hotter, more sexual. There's an atmosphere, a certain freedom," said impresario Andre Saraiva, whose Le Baron clubs in Paris, Tokyo and London have already reset coolness standards around the world.
For New York, Saraiva, 40, and his business partner Lionel Bensemoun chose Manhattan's atmospheric Chinatown neighborhood, "one of the only neighborhoods that's still dirty and noisy, but is real New York," he told AFP in a rare interview.
Every evening, a small crowd descends on the former karaoke bar, reincarnated as a nightlife fantasy with three floors done in the style of a 1930s Shanghai brothel.
Getting through the door is beyond hard. Le Baron is one of "the most exclusive nightlife spots in the known universe, the likes of which you will never see the inside of," the New York Observer states.
But although the spot is close to Wall Street, the magic formula for passing the doormen and making it onto that dance floor lies more in the clubber's look than wallet: Urban chic, not Master of the Universe.
"We like people who have something to say. We're far from the stereotype of bottles and models," Saraiva said, referring to the common formula for packing clubs with beautiful spenders. "Most clubs around the world make deals with modeling agencies," he said. "We'll never do that."
Inside, artists and hipsters and the odd celebrity dance and kiss, looking for a chance to light up in contravention of New York's strict anti-smoking law, and listening to the electro pop brought by invited Parisian DJs.
"There's no point waiting. You won't get in," said Julio, a bouncer outside, dispatching a group of insufficiently cool clubbers.
At the same moment, three women who were the mirror image of actresses on the "Charlie's Angels" series emerged from the small red door, looking excited.
"A lot of clubs of New York are transferring from the New York style clubs into the more European clubs, and this is the first place that is actually European," one of the trio, Nicole Brittany, 20, said.
The French touch is widely seen as bringing a certain sensuality to the nightlife scene.
Club veteran and Saraiva colleague Simonez Wolf said even back in the 1970s New Yorkers were "blown away by the Parisian decadence" and were inspired to start the legendarily wild disco era club Studio 54.
In 2007, it was Wolf who was recruited by Saraiva to help control the door at the Beatrice Inn, a precursor to the Le Baron phenomenon in Manhattan's West Village. It closed in 2009, a victim of its own success -- and complaints from neighbors.
But what was meant to be a brief stint turned into a new vocation for Wolf, 34, who says French clubbing is about "romanticism, it's sexy, it's cigarettes and decadence."
Under his guidance, the Beatrice Inn became a must-go place for stars and creative types. "Kanye West, Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, Penelope Cruz, Oliver Martinez, Vincent Cassel, they all came at least once," he said.
In with those superstars came young upstarts, like the Manhattan graffiti artist Dash Snow, who later died of a drug overdose.
Wolf went on to create ephemeral pop-up parties like the Madame Wong nights, which began after midnight in a Taiwanese restaurant, or the Nouveau York and Mercury Nights at the top of the trendy Standard hotel.
He's even been invited by Yale University to take part in a seminar on New York nightlife.
"I couldn't think of anyone better than Simonez, because he's been so central in New York nightlife in terms of getting the buzz around his pop-up parties and then creating a brand around those," Madison Moore, a doctoral candidate in American Studies, said.
Now the French wave has its new headquarters in Le Baron.
"In fact, this finally IS that Beatrice Inn so many have been hoping to arrive in the currently rather blase nightlife environment," the Room 100 blog pronounced.