Lucky Cheng’s Owner Hayne Suthon Passes

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1988 New York Magazine photo from Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York

Hayne Suthon passed yesterday. There is no easy way to say it. There isn’t anyway for me to understand it. She was part of my life for 30 years. I knew the news was coming, as we had become very close in the last year or so. Hayne, of course was the owner, operator of Lucky Cheng’s, a bawdy, bachelorette fest that had its day a few thousand nights ago. It’s still there up in Times Square where it never should have gone. There are still tables of enthusiastic friends sending off their bestie to marital bliss, oblivious to what once was and now will never be.

It started a long time ago, and probably before that, when an impish, troublemaking, wondrous gal from Louisiana and her family took the old Club Baths at 24 First Avenue and made it a Roman restaurant. Not Marcello Mastroianni, Roman or even Audrey Hepburn, Roman, we’re talking Julius Caesar, Roman. Cave Canem, Latin for Beware the Dog had the cognizant wary of what was on the menu. It was strange eating meats with fish sauce and pheasants stuffed with mushrooms, but Hayne was devilish enough, wild enough to pull it off. It was strange fare served with her brilliant flare . It was almost an orgy and there was plenty of that if you knew who to know.

That was 1986 and the East Village was a place where dreams were made. Clubs like The World and Save the Robots and Choice had everyone and anyone transforming the East Village into the music and style center of NYC. Trendy boutiques and cafe’s made St Marks Place the center of it all.

By 1993 Hayne flipped Cave Canem into Lucky Cheng’s named after a busboy turned partner. It was transgender performance art at your table and it became the rage. When in 1994 Prince Albert of Monaco popped in the schtick went global. It had a great run but a few years ago Hayne realized the great majority of her business was bachelorette parties, and such that the new glitsy Times Square was a better fit. Ru Paul and so many others had taken transgender entertainment and culture to mainstream America. Hayne felt a supper club in Times Square would certainly attract a tourist crowd and combined with her base business she would strike gold. She opened at 240 West 24th and it achieved moderate success. Weekends were  jammed, but weekdays were iffy and as time went on her health started to play a part.

She tried to sell the 24 First Avenue location. She got a taker. It was to be a BBQ place. Then they switched gears. The last I heard it was going to be a Latin restaurant/club. She was having trouble with her tenant and it wore on her. Meanwhile, she tried quietly to sell Lucky Cheng’s.  I was helping her find a suitor. In every deal she insisted that Lucky Cheng’s and her staff would remain in one form or another. Her sense of loyalty to her people was admirable and sometimes a deal breaker.

Hayne could be described as a wild woman. Those who knew her loved her indiscretions. She wanted to have fun and she did. You can’t define her simply. An old friend told me yesterday that “she lived life” and that is true. It must be remembered that she was a trusted friend. When my shit hit the fans, she offered sound advice and intelligent comfort. She was as sharp as they come. Her legal background was always made available to those around her who were less savvy. Despite being racked with cancer, she wanted to make sure that the recently released Michael Alig had every opportunity to right himself. She was fun. She had a twinkle in her that wouldn’t go away no matter how serious things got.

In the last few months she wasn’t able to walk much, she was in pain and afraid of falling and hurting herself. We would talk on the phone almost daily and sometimes when she was having a good day we would meet at the sports bar on her corner. She was still optimistic. She was going to resurrect Lucky Cheng’s with a little infusion of money. She was going to beat the cancer. Then it got bad and she just wanted to go to someplace warm and get away from all the headaches of the business.

I heard about it yesterday afternoon through a third party that I normally would never rely on. But they say even broken clocks are right twice a day and I knew in my gut it was true. I called Lucky Cheng’s to confirm and it was like pulling teeth, but finally they said she was gone. I don’t know what happens now to Lucky Cheng’s.  The vultures will see an opportunity to buy low and so it just may go. They’ll pick at the bones of her dreams. It’s hard to imagine it without Hayne, without that twinkle in her eye. I loved her and I can’t believe she is gone. I can’t accept the loss, can’t get through this day. I can only wait for the infinite night to relieve me.


Hayne, by Biljana Ustic