Nur Khan’s New Don Hill’s
Published August 5, 2010
THE DEAD WEATHER AT DON HILL’S; PHOTO BY DAVID PRUTTING/PATRICK McMULLAN
In case you were wondering: despite all the bad omens, rock ‘n’ roll is anything but dead. The glamour-soaked, Lucite-ensconced nightclub? That’s another story entirely. Just ask Nur Khan. As a rebuke to the “models and bottles” ethos that regrettably pervades so much of New York nightlife, the Rose Bar helmsman is hoping to strike a distinctively nostalgic chord with his latest venture: a recently reenergized Don Hill’s. To be fair, there were some models–and bottles–and most of the usual suspects (Mick Rock, Vincent Gallo, Terry Richardson) at last night’s pre-renovation teaser, but when Jack White’s new band, The Dead Weather took the deftly lit stage, most of the room was teleported to the pre-Twitter era of the old school, booze-and-blues-fueled rock spectacle. And for anyone still clinging to their digitally anesthetized modernity–it seems safe to assume that the invite-only in crowd won’t be a staple of the joint.
According to Khan, the Don Hill’s door policy will be, “young and fun. It’s not super exclusive with celebrities only. It’s old school and lots of energy.” Last night, White was on hand to enforce the latter half of that policy, berating the “hipsters” from behind his drum kit when “only 10 percent” of the crowd clapped for a song. And, when he noticed a couple of supposed newspaper reporters snapping pictures of his sweat-drenched lead singer, Alison Mosshart, from the center-stage pit, he kicked them out of the area. His show ended with an epic, 13-minute jam, which was seemingly aimed at getting off the entire crowd’s blues organ, followed directly by the DJ playing “Goodnight, Irene.”
In many ways, the vibe is a return to Khan’s roots. “I opened a rock ‘n’ roll club in Connecticut in 1990. I renovated one of those old balcony-type movie theaters. It held like 1500 people, and it was prime time because back then it was Nirvana’s first record, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and I could get them for like $1000,” he explained. “It was pretty crazy and I was working on Wall Street at the same time. I was a trader and I moved to New York and said, ‘I don’t want to wake up when I’m 60 and feel like I’ve missed the boat.’ So I built Wax in the mid-’90s, left my job on Wall Street. Then I built Sway, built Hiro and Rose Bar and Kenmare and now this.” If this is any indication of what’s in store for the new Don Hill’s, which is slated to re-open during Fashion Week, it’ll be another coup for Khan, who joked (we think) that he was on the verge of a panic attack before the show.
MICHAEL SLENSKE: You look so nervous.
NUR KHAN: It’s a lot of production and, more importantly, these are super-important relationships to me, and I’m so neurotic I want everything to be perfect for Jack and Alison. I consider them doing me a favor playing a room like this, and I get really anxious. We haven’t renovated the place yet; it’s just a sneak peak. This [pointing to the entryway booth] is all going to be new bathrooms over here. We’re going to keep the essence of the room, but it’s going to be very girl-friendly going forward, all new booths and bathrooms.
KHAN: Yeah, it was never really a girl-friendly room before. I’m not going to change the walls. I just put that painting up over there today [points to mural-sized Harif Guzman canvas covering the wall by the DJ booth]. I get stressed.
SLENSKE: How do you want this to evolve from the other stuff you’ve done?
KHAN: I’m kind of tapping a couple different demographics, you know. It’s like Rose Bar is my very high-end demographic; Kenmare is a nice restaurant, different element; downstairs at Kenmare is a younger crowd, cheaper drinks, and now this is my passion. I’ve been doing these Rose Bar Sessions and it’s very difficult to get musicians to play a room like that. It takes a lot of coercing and now I have all this at my disposal full time. If I’ve got a band that’s in the room, it’s a flick of the switch, it’s a piece of cake to do a gig and it makes everyone’s life easier. If a friend is in town doing a gig, I can be like, “Hey, pop over here and do a gig tonight, I’ve got everything set up.”
SLENSKE: So it’s kind of a dream come true for you.
KHAN: Yeah. You know New York is so stale in the past 10 years in my mind and there’s a younger generation that have done these slick clubs and they all look like they’re designed the same – bottles and models and promoters. And they’ve never had a chance to experience old school New York like Mudd Club and Max’s Kansas City. That was before my time even, but I want to bring that back. You know, recessionary times people want to get back to the basics, I think, and there couldn’t be a more opportune time to do a project like this.
SLENSKE: So is the glamour New York over in a way?
KHAN: I don’t think it’s over, but this is missing.
SLENSKE: So what’s the new look going to be?
KHAN: It’s going to be similar, it’s going to stay raw, I’m going to light it a little better. It’ll have very nice bathrooms because it needs to be girl-friendly and comfortable booths and tables. It’ll be kind of a hybrid dive bar-rock-dance club bar.
SLENSKE: What other acts are you looking to get in here?
KHAN: I’m going to get all of them. I mean at Rose Bar I’ve done Guns ‘n’ Roses, I’ve done The Black Keys, Jane’s Addiction, The Kooks. That’s in a living room without a stage. Imagine what I can do here where all this stuff is in place. The curtain closes, the drums are always in place and people know that when they’re in town it’ll be a cool place to come jam.
SLENSKE: Sounds great. Just don’t have a panic attack.
KHAN: I’m getting over it. I took enough Xanax to tranquilize a black rhino.