How to Get Past the Velvet Rope Every Time

A Q&A with Gerard McNamee, the Nightlife Mayor NYC deserves

January 18, 2018 9:00 am

We live in the city that never sleeps.

So it’s only fitting that the forthcoming appointee for NYC’s first ever Senior Director of Nightlife should be someone who hasn’t slept in the last, oh, 10 years.

Our money’s on Webster Hall director of operations and Bronx-native Gerard McNamee.

He’s throwin’ his hat in the ring, but you’ll never see him wear one at the dinner table.

We caught up with the gent to talk all things etiquette from 10 PM-4 AM, from getting past the velvet rope to creating new jobs to breathing life back into a decaying late-night scene.

InsideHook: What have you been up to since Webster Hall shuttered?
Gerard McNamee: I’ve been takin’ it easy and doing some traveling. But my main focus since August has been campaigning for this Nightlife Mayor for NYC. Not that it’s been a full-time job, but it’s been a full-time job. I equate it to an election without an election day. You don’t know when to stop campaigning, so I haven’t.

IH: Do you have pins and can I have one?
GM: I do need pins!

IH: What is a Nightlife Mayor exactly?
GM: I think that the office of nightlife should be — well, it’s going to be political, inherently — but I also think that the office of nightlife should be permitted to be a little colorful. But I don’t know what the Mayor expects, exactly. It’s balancing on this edge that I’ve been trying to navigate. Because it’s the first time this office will exist. I don’t know if the city themselves know how it’s going to go.

IH: What do we need this position for?
GM: We really need jobs. That’s what we need. We can talk about fun, influence and noise complaints and litter and operators doing what they’re supposed to in terms of safety, but the bottom line is we need to create jobs.

IH: How do you create jobs?
GM: I think that can be done by expanding the industry. And I think you can agree right now that the nightlife is a small demographic during a small amount of time. It’s 20- to 40-year-olds from 10 PM to 2 AM… kind of. That’s the meat of it. I think there’s a lot before 10 PM and a lot after 2 AM that could happen that’s not happening.

IH: How does your experience at Webster Hall factor into that?
GM: One of the things that I loved about my job at Webster Hall is that I was able to give people jobs. And I was able to give people jobs that might not get jobs elsewhere. I was able to hire creatives, artists, students and parents that needed to supplement their income.

IH: So how do you “hit the campaign trail” for something like this?
GM: Without prior experience in a political office, it has been interesting, challenging and frustrating. I’m not a political insider, so I’ve been doing it all myself. But any job — Webster Hall or otherwise — there are politics involved. So I believe I’m primed for the job. But more or less, what I’ve been doing is campaigning via Facebook. A few days ago I put my resume on Facebook — the resume that I turned in to the mayor — so that I was transparent about what the city was seeing and my qualifications.

IH: Where does the appointment stand as of now?
GM: The appointment could come any day now. I’m checking every day. Let’s see now [checks email] … Nothing.

IH: It would be really great for my story if you got the appointment right now.
GM: Ha! It’s a waiting game. How hard do I go? Who’s listening? Am I putting too much pressure on them? But I want to show that I’m proactive. If I get the job, I’m a doer. I’m not the typical employee, but I will represent nightlife. The Mayor’s office said they were basing the position on the nightlife Mayors from London, Amsterdam and Paris, so when I heard about the position, the first thing I did was get on a plane to meet with those people.

IH: Beyond jobs, what is the second-tier goal?
GM: To be a mitigator, a diplomat and an ambassador. I would deal with three sets of stakeholders. The first are owners, the second are communities — the people who live near these venues. Hotels, for instance, have roof bars. People hate those. You’ve been living somewhere for 20 years and this big hotel comes in and has a roof bar. Now they have to deal with noise and people. People are buzzed and smoking outside. And they’re not considering that people are sleeping above. And, of course, when you have intoxicated people outside, you have people who fight and dance and urinate and things that they shouldn’t be doing at ungodly times of the day. But that’s part of it.

And then you have FDNY, NYPD, Department of Health and Department of Building. And they need to make money. And how do they make money? Some by fining the owners and operators.

Sometimes they do these things called march operations. And some feel they target certain businesses. And when they march on you as an owner or operator, the FDNY and the NYPD, Buildings, Health Department and State Liquor Authority all send representatives into your building at once. Usually when you’re busy on a Friday night. And they turn the lights on and go, “Alright people, is everything clean? Is everything safe? Do you have all the permits on the wall?” So the Director of Nightlife would just help everyone get along more efficiently, more effectively.

IH: I’m in the “New York isn’t what it used to be” camp. What are you going to do about that?
GM: The artists are looking for affordable art spaces and living spaces. Small business owners are struggling. It’s prohibitively expensive to own in the city. So, now we want to talk about commercial rents. It’s not going to be a job for somebody thin-skinned. This person is going to get the sh*t kicked out of ‘em from all sides. But the job posting that the city listed has literally been my job for the past 10 years. I did 15,000 people a week. I dispensed alcohol to 15,000 people a week. You know what comes with that? It’s sheer madness. Try mediating that. So, if I can take the liquor out, well, being a mediator is going to be a breeze.

IH: Give me five points of club etiquette.
GM: One, I think people dress very casually these days when they go out and that bothers me. The last time I was at the theater I was very disappointed. And at mass. The altar boy had sneakers on. Sneakers?! I couldn’t have worn sneakers to church, let alone on the altar. I think people have lost a sense of style.

Two, I don’t like how aggressive young men have become. I threw many-a-man out of Webster for grabbing women. And the worst part is that they didn’t understand why they were being thrown out.

Three, take your hat off. Is it lack of education? People have just lost touch with manners. Perhaps it’s a societal and cultural effect of entitlement. But if I say, “Hey, he doesn’t care, so I don’t have to care,” where does that leave us? How far do we fall, you know?

Four, why are looking at the DJ? Now people look at DJs. You go to see Skrillex or Tiesto and it’s so strange to me that everyone is just staring at the DJ. How long can you watch them do the arms-up thing with their hands?

Five, know your limits. Right, I wish. But to the younger kids, when you come up to the bar, know what you want. If you’re two or three deep, know what you want and have your money ready. And two ingredient drinks, geeze. No, “We’ll take four mojitos and three dirty martinis.” Be realistic. Couple of vodka sodas, whiskey gingers maybe, and be on your way.

IH: Is it “Nightlife Mayor”? Is the Mayor willing to share his title?
GM: No, the title — which I love — is Senior Executive Director of Nightlife, which shortens to the DON. It’s too good. Next time we meet, hopefully you’ll be referring to me as DON Gerard.

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