It's been almost three years since Pink Elephant owners David Sarner and Robert Montwaid were forced out of the club's home on the former club row on W. 27th Street. The longtime nightlife operators also found themselves battling to maintain ownership of the club's trademark as they struggled to find a new location to reopen in New York, all while running outposts of the club in South America. Pink Elephant finally managed to find a location in the former Club Love space on W. 8th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village and has hosted a few preview nights before their big opening later this week. Eater spoke to owner David Sarner to discuss the journey to get to this date. Eater: Why did it take so long to re-open in New York?
David Sarner: New York is a difficult place to do business in. The rents are high and a lot of the available spaces we were looking at weren't great. We were looking for places with high ceilings and clear spans, but the places mostly had very short leases and high rents.
Eater: What was it like to fight for your own trademark name while not being open in New York?
DS: It was unpleasant to have to go to court and unfortunate to not be open in New York. Luckily we had other locations to keep the brand alive, but we need to be open in New York to make the rest work.
Eater: How did you decide to go forward in this space?
DS: It's different than the old space. We now have three rooms, including a mixology bar and then the cabaret lounge, that will allow it to be more multi-functional, host more events, and open earlier. It's also a lot smaller, with only a capacity of about 200 people, so we can be more selective in who comes inside.
Eater: The new location isn't exaclty known for nightlife.
DS: Right. We actually moved Pink Elephant from its first location to 27th Street so we could be closer to the other people like Cain, Marquee, and Bungalow 8. It was when some other people finally opened clubs there that ruined it. When they closed the street down, our customers didn't want to walk the half block from 10th Avenue. Now we are very happy to be away from everyone else.
Eater: Are you nervous being in such an entrenched residential community in the Village?
DS: W. 8th street is a big thoroughfare with a lot of traffic and the block is changing. The 8th Street Block Association is hoping to turn it into a new restaurant row and we are excited to be part of it. Pink Elephant also has an older crowd that we think is a more sophisticated, higher end clientele. We are in constant contact with the block association and don't expect issues.
Eater: Is it a challenge to maintain your customer base after so many years?DS: I am a born and bred New Yorker. All of my customers are my friends and they have been constantly asking when we are going to reopen. The new club only has 20 tables and we are going to play to our strengths. Also, our employees have been working in nightlife these last few years. For example, Jamie Hatchett is a new partner who has been at Lavo for the last few years.
Eater: Pink Elephant was one of the first big bottle service clubs to feature house music. Is it strange to see all of your competitors now hiring house DJs?
DS: I am surprised and happy how much it's in the scene. After opening Spy Bar in 1995, I opened Chaos in 1996 and decided to focus on a European clientele and have been doing house music ever since. I noticed that it makes customers happier, gets them spending more, and ordering more Champagne. It turned out to be a better business model than having hip hop DJs and brought in a better clientele.
It is funny to see the old hip hop club owners now trying to control the house scene. We're going to try and get new DJs that New Yorkers haven't heard of yet and not chase the bigger names.
Eater: Is there more expansion planned in the future?
DS: We will be opening in Dubai, Hong Kong and Rio in 2013 and 2014, and also an outpost in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.