Editor’s Note: It’s there. You might have experienced it or know someone who has. Racism rears its ugly head in the world of nightlife just like it does in most facets of life. It may (or may not) be subtler than it has been in the past but it’s there nonetheless. A sensitive topic such as this deserves more than 1,500 words, so ADANAI plans to delve deeply into it over the course of a series of articles. While each instance of racism is nuanced, there are a few major areas where racism pops up in the nightlife industry on a regular basis: 1) the door policy at nightclubs; 2) hiring policies for staff; 3) upward mobility in the workplace and; 4) music choices. Our introduction touched on each of these issues. This article on door policy is the next in our series on racism in nightlife.HHe started off as a Merrill Lynch broker’s assistant in New York City in the late ’80s. During his time there, Rob Build* learned what it felt like to receive the cold shoulder. “When the market crashed in ’87, I was cold calling. If you don’t want the product, no problem, I’m on to the next one. It’s about rejection,” Build says. That negation is something the bespectacled, slender businessman with a cinnamon complexion has dealt with on a consistent basis since his transition from banking to the nightlife industry. With nearly 30 years of experience at venues in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, L.A., Miami, San Francisco and Atlanta, the seasoned hospitality consultant has been exposed to it all.
“When I had my first run from ‘97 to ‘05, I was able to bring out your minority elite, but the club owners would not let me have certain venues like Spa and Life that I knew they would want to go to,” Build says. “I’d tell them straight up, ‘I already know what you want. Allow us to rock. Give us a trial basis.’” But they didn’t want to. “They thought we were gonna cause problems,” Build says. “Or that we were gonna bring a bunch of big, old nasty ugly people to their venue. That’s why bars have always flourished; because everybody has an ugly friend and those friends are the ones that spend the most money.”
“What was always great about old school New York City nightlife was that even though you had your cliques, they [management] would invite people in. ‘Come and join us,’ see what it’s like, and talk to people you want to meet. New York was always about the network. Even though it was a party, it was still a place where the owners could find the next talent or the next new idea,” Build says.
Elizabeth Sewell, special events manager for TEAM Enterprises representing Bacardi in Las Vegas says “Taking a client to a nightclub is the ultimate way to loosen their tie. Business deals are a lot easier to solidify with people you count as friends, and there’s no better way to lubricate a relationship or create ideas than with a bottle of vodka and an endless supply of beautiful people fawning over you.”
After all these years, Build believes the way nightclubs view black crowds hasn’t changed much—it all starts with an individual’s outer appearance. “It’s a mindset of how they’re dressed because door hosts don’t know you or know where you’re coming from. People wearing jeans hanging off their asses—that’s prison culture,” he says. And since the industry has turned into a “who you know” type of business, club owners just want to be surrounded by their friends. “It’s horrible. The owners and everybody are just hiring their friends and giving venue access to their core crew. It’s not about bringing more people in [for revenue and diversity purposes]. It’s very cliquish,” Build says.Nowadays, if you don’t fit into a certain mold, you’re just not welcomed. In Feb. 2010, a group of three African-American females who wanted to party at rooftop hotspot 230 Fifth were allegedly denied entry in addition to being called “classless black bitches” by a bouncer. “There’s cool people in each circle and you can learn something from each circle,” Build says. But if these venue owners continue to cater only to their inner circle, other groups will eventually want to go elsewhere – to places where they fit in and aren’t rejected.
“I tell everybody that we need to get our own [nightclub]. Every time I mentor young black folks out here, I tell them, ‘OK, you are frustrated, but you need to buy your own.’ It goes over their head totally. They’d rather be treated like crap,” Build says.
They’d rather subject themselves to environs that don’t play music from an array of different genres. “They [nightclubs] need to have a mixture. Right now, they are playing all of that progressive stuff and they’ve alienated everybody with just playing electronica,” he says. “I DJd for 20 years and I always had all folks wanting to party with me.”
Las Vegas’ very own DJ Hollywood agrees. “In my twenty-plus years of spinning in Las Vegas, I learned that if you are going to be profitable, the smartest way to go about it is versatility. I’ve been a part of all the top nightclubs in the world. I’ve never seen one top club that only programs one style of music. If you are looking to be profitable and strong, you have to have versatility,” Hollywood says.
The powerhouse clubs will continue to bring in droves of people, but rejecting certain groups could potentially put a dent in the pockets of smaller venues. “There was a time when venues brought in $20k a week and now they are probably lucky if they make $5k to $10k a week. There are only a couple of spots doing really well right now,” Build says.
ADANAI published a nightclub revenue dissection story in March. Among the highest grossing nightclubs in America, New York City’s LAVO Nightclub ranks #7 and brings in anywhere between $25 to $35 million per year and the New York outpost of Pacha generates $15 to $25 million annually. While these are impressive figures, NYC nightclubs don’t generate nearly as much cash as their Las Vegas brethren. Vegas hotspots such as Marquee Nightclub dominate the list with figures upwards of $90 million.
People are going to pay to get into the hottest places or into venues that are doing creative things. In Sin City, the recently opened LIGHT Nightclub inside Mandalay Bay features acrobatic acts from Cirque du Soleil artists in addition to top-notch DJs such as Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia’s Sebastian Ingrosso.
“You have a lot of people out there trying to copy the same thing. But partygoers are always looking for something exciting—not the same old, same old. I’m constantly reminding folks that you have to break the rules. That’s what made the biggest people successful,” he says. They broke the rules and welcomed the masses. “That’s why I love the industry so much. That’s why I’m still here. It drives me crazy just to have a wack New York nightlife. We have to be No. 1.”
[*] The name in this story has been changed to protect the individual who is still in the nightlife industry and wants to share his experience while remaining anonymous for the following reason: “One word; haters. It would give them more reason to keep trying to suppress me in this business,” Build says.