Some of New York's Trendiest Clubs Pay To Get You To Party
By Benjamin Parsons
You stood half the night in the rain begging to be noticed, and felt fleeced by the double-digit cover charge when you finally did get in. But that's the price of clubbing with the red velvet rope crowd, right?
Wrong. Desperate to create an image of exclusivity, many urban clubs use the rope and the line as props for exuding trendiness. But behind the scenes, they are quietly paying for customers. The right customers, of course.
Wooing The A-Crowd
Top New York City clubs hire promotion companies to bring in the kind of crowds they want—and those club goers are often comped. The promotion companies in turn pay models, Wall Streeters and party-hungry college students to invite their lovely, rich, young buddies to join them. Cover, tables, and sometimes a few drinks are often on the house. The promoters do pretty well, too.
"I let people know that I get three bottles of Grey Goose [vodka] for free, and I can't drink them on my own, so anyone who wants to join me can just sign up for my list," said Dimitri Apostol, a college student who earns $150 a night, plus drinks and a table, to bring his friends and other guests to top-tier clubs.
Apostol, a New York University junior, works for the promotions company BlocGroup, which promotes for "uber-trendy venues like Marquee, AER, Libation and Gypsy Tea.
Apostol started by simply inviting everyone he knew to join him at a club. Now he maintains guest lists on his website. Pretty much anyone can sign up. Those who do, not only get into a club for free, but are invited to share his table and his liquor.
"Dimitri's job is to bring in the high-energy college crowd," said Mathew Isaacs, one of BlocGroup's founders. "He's one of our most popular NYU guys." Apostol is just one tool in BlocGroup's promotional arsenal. The firm also has promoters who work in the modeling industry, to help bring in attractive patrons, and some who work on Wall Street, to bring in the big spenders. Once these groups have been coming to a club long enough, the promoters can stand back and let word of mouth do the rest, Isaacs said.
"Eventually the party takes off in a way where you don't need promoters," he said. Clubs like the 11,000-square-foot AER are painstakingly designed to invoke a sense of ultra-modern cool. Pale lights shine through clear floors to illuminate low-slung couches, and sections are separated by bead curtains. If that's not hip enough for you, there's a private "VIP" lounge downstairs.
College student Tim Karu said the system of manufactured exclusivity was ironic.
"If more people knew that they could just sign up on the Internet and get in with no problem, or even for free, it would take some of the mystery out of [the clubs]," he said.
But Apostol argues that, without his help, many students would feel too intimidated to go to a club. Clubgoer Ana Posarac agreed that this can be a problem. "Usually such clubs require some sort of invitation or connection," she said. "So if you want to get in, you find a way to become a part of that crowd."
Apostol tries to be the connection. His website helps him bring 25 to 30 people in to a club per night. On a good night, his crowd can top 100.
"If I get 60 college students into a club in one night, some of them are going to spend money," he said.
Promoting is in high enough demand that entrepreneurs like Isaacs and his partner Jordan Harris have turned it into a career.
"I was promoting back in high school, even," Harris said. While studying at Cornell University, he would spend his summer home in New York, promoting clubs. Once he and Isaacs decided to go into the business full time, they were already fairly well established.
Since then business has boomed. BlocGroup promotes events for Budweiser, and even handles a few clients in France and South Africa. Harris said the pair now have the luxury of letting clubs bring offers to them.
"We already had all the contacts we needed in the industry, plus connections with all the cool, trendy kids in the city," Harris said. "We just had to put two and two together."