Tomorrow, from 6pm to 9pm, Guastavino’s (409 East 59th Street) – that incredibly vaulted restaurant directly under the 59th Street Bridge – will host "Open Arms," a fundraiser presented by Team Ronald to benefit Ronald McDonald House New York. My pal London Rosiere alerted me to this gala. I met London while she was visiting New York many years ago. A storm, perfect in its ability to destroy lives, homes, and careers delayed her travel back home to New Orleans. Katrina destroyed a great deal of her city and most of the material things in her life, leaving her to make a go of it here, alone. She never let us see her sweat. Her million-dollar smile, her inner and outer beauty and determination to do her best helped her through the crisis as she built a new life for herself. She never forgot what it meant to need. Her heart of gold has her helping others and giving back to those who need it. I caught up with London and asked her all about it.
Tell me about Open Arms, the fundraiser to benefit Ronald McDonald House New York. Tell my readers what they can expect to find at this event, and of course, at the Ronald McDonald House.
Open Arms is our biggest volunteer-organized fundraising event of the year. This spectacular evening is filled with great music, food, open bar, prizes, and dancing. There will be a live auction featuring exciting prizes including travel packages, theater tickets, jewelry, sports tickets, paraphernalia, and much, much more to raise money for the cause.
The Ronald McDonald House provides a home-away-from-home for children undergoing cancer treatment and their families. The House is a supportive and caring environment which encourages and nurtures the development of child-to-child and parent-to-parent support systems.
I met you at one of my clubs back in the day… you were a refugee… a transplant from Katrina. Tell me about your before, the hurricane’s trail of destruction, and your post-huricane life and career.
Born and raised in New Orleans, I came to NYC for a two-day trip to film a commercial. On the day I was scheduled to leave and return home, there was an emergency evacuation in New Orleans and I couldn’t fly in because there was a serious hurricane threat. Being spontaneous and adventurous, I decided I’d just stay in the city for an extra day or so and return home once the storm passed and everyone had calmed down. Thirty-six hours later, there was nothing to return to. I lost my home and everything I owned.
My family was in Texas, urging me to come meet them – but I said I couldn’t. There was a strange magnetic attraction pulling me to the city and I just went with it. I wanted the challenge. So I was young and alone in arguably the most expensive city in the world. I had no friends or belongings; just a positive spirit and a bright smile. I remember deciding not to think about what happened or allow myself to get sad; there was no time for that. So I got a job and immediately went to work. You’ve done some club/hospitality work as nightlife continues to support ambitious and talented people on their way to achieving their goals. Tell me about that what your goals are while you’re here?
NYC’s nightlife actually played a major role in me getting on my feet here in the city. I remember eating alone at Butter the night after the storm. I befriended the manager and he loved my wild story. I will never forget him saying "Well, if you don’t mind going out alone, I can call and get you into some pretty cool places…" One phone call to Matt Oliver and that was it! I was a fearless and outgoing young Southern girl having fun meeting fabulous new people in this fabulous new city. I liked being different and thinking differently. Through the years I have met so many amazing and inspirational people from many walks of life from being out in nightlife.
One of my biggest inspirations, a man named Mike Saes. I met him about six years ago at Club 205 on the LES. We started talking about running. I never had run before… and just last month I completed my 11th full marathon. If I hadn’t gone out that night, I wouldn’t have met him, and I wouldn’t have any medals hanging on my wall to remind me of my strength. I always think back and wonder where I would be if I hadn’t gone out… especially to Butter that night.
What is it about you that has you giving back …helping others?
I’ve always been into philanthropy work and giving back because I know what it’s like to need help. It’s my compassion for the less fortunate that drives me. When I lived in Africa at the Watoto Wa Baraka Orphanage, I realized there are so many more ways to give back besides making donations. There is so much poverty in the world, more than money can fix. There are sick, scared, and lonely children that just want to feel like someone cares about them. Working with The Ronald McDonald House has given me the same "big sis" feeling I had at the orphanage. Listening, laughing, playing, and being a positive friend and role model is what I love doing. It makes me happy knowing I’m doing my part: inspiring and giving hope.
Word comes that about another incredibly vaulted space. The 1920 Bunker Club – that joint that lives under the 9th Avenue cobblestones directly below 14th Street – no longer lives. I asked a rep "why"? and "what it will now be?" and was told "wasn’t profitable any longer. No plans just yet." The Stephen Hanson-B.R. Guest property closes on the heels of another closing of one of their joints: Kibo, off Park Avenue south. Kibo was in the process of adding a nightlife component when it abruptly shuttered. B.R. Guest is one of the best restaurant groups around. They operate Fiamma, Primehouse, Blue Water Grill, Strip House, Atlantic Grill, Bill’s Bar & Burger, Blue Fin, Dos Caminos, Isabella’s, etc., etc. That’s here in New York, Vegas, Atlantic City etc., etc. They got their act together with the food but I have never understood their approach to nightlife. To fail at the 1920 Bunker Club, with hordes of spending patrons all around them, is unbelievable.
Failure in the Meatpacking does occur but it should have done better. I rarely visited Bunker as it had little appeal. I remember seeing it for the first time long before it came to be. It was a big hole under the street with the underside of manhole covers clearly visible and leaking water and the smell of old. I was part of a design team but never did get involved. I didn’t like the design. It made little sense to me as a nightclub. Nightclub operators have trouble transitioning to restaurants and few do well. Restaurateurs look at them and inherently understand the problem. Nightlife operators clearly see the weakness of restaurateurs trying to sell bottles. They are two different games with different rules and, well, now 1920 Bunker is closed. Stephen Hanson, who I respect and adore and am so often awed by, needs to pair with someone new if he wants to go late… and great.
A special birthday shout out to Butter Group (1 OAK NYC, 1 OAK Las Vegas, The Darby, Darby Downstairs, Butter, Butter Charlotte) honcho Michael Goldberg. He is celebrating at 1 OAK tonight with music by Sam French, Daniel Chetrit, E Rock, Jus Ske & Sal Morale, and a "surprise performance. I’ll be there. Happy birthday Michael!
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Tags: B.R. Guest, closing, Good Night Mr. Lewis, Gustavino's, Hurricane Katrina, Interview, Kibo, London Rosiere, Michael Goldberg, Mike Saes, New York, Nightlife, Open Arms fundraiser, Ronald McDonald House New York, Stephen Hanson, Steve Lewis, Team Ronald, The 1920 Bunker Club, Watoto Wa Baraka Orphanage