Social Promotion

Empire Events parties attract the high rollers and boldface names who are the life force of clubland

How do celebrities get there? The boys claim it's just word of mouth about a good party that brings in athletes like Derek Jeter, Josh Beckett, and Eddie Jones; actors like Jamie Foxx and the Wayans brothers; pop stars like Fat Joe, Ja Rule, Timbaland, Gwen Stefani, Fred Durst, and Pitbull; and reality TV types like that guy from Joe Millionaire. "They have that whole athlete and urban celebrities thing on lock-down, and God bless them," says Jose "Jochy" Ortiz, who promotes events at the Pawn Shop Lounge. "They work very hard."

And you need some well-behaved paparazzi to assure everyone that they really did have fun. The unofficial mayor of that operation on the Beach is Seth Browarnik, a grinning toothpick of a photographer whose success is based on his ability to schmooze gracefully on every level. Some others who shoot in the clubs are less professional. Sasson, from his perch on a cop car, whips out his cell phone to chew out one such guy for the lousy photos he sent after a night of partying. "Tell him to lay off the coke when he's shooting," Levine advises.

There is constant chaos and negotiation and lying and bullshit in clubland. Levine, in particular, loves it. "Justin is the pit bull," explains Robbins. "He likes to negotiate. I'm the nice guy who throws parties, the creative guy. Perry does some of both." (Sasson describes their respective roles as "bad guy," "bitch-work guy," and "glue guy." Levine says he's the "on-top-of-everybody asshole guy." "I don't know -- what does Michael do?" he chuckles. "Creative, left-brain stuff, I guess. Perry's the behind-the-scenes guy.")

Jonathan Postal
Business in the front, party in the back: Justin Levine, Perry Sasson, 
and Michael Robbins handle the financial affairs and celebrity coddling 
that come with high-end nightclub promoting
Jonathan Postal
Business in the front, party in the back: Justin Levine, Perry Sasson, and Michael Robbins handle the financial affairs and celebrity coddling that come with high-end nightclub promoting

Sasson comes from an observant family, but he rebelled against that until recently. "When I was a kid, my goal was to do this," he says, gesturing at the party scene around him. "Well, my goal happened by the time I'm twenty -- and I'm not happy. I woke up ten months ago and I'm thinking to myself: What's my purpose? I'm not learning anything.

"I was so far into the scene," he continues. "There were things I told myself I'm never going to do. I did them and worse. I went to visit my family in Israel and I'm ashamed to touch my father's hand with the level of impurity I have on me. So I went on a search. I felt sick. I spent ten, twenty thousand on doctors. Finally one told me: öYou need mental help.'" Sasson decided he needed spiritual help more. He decided to consult with rabbis and took up a course of study, prayer, and clean living.

"Perry seems to be happier now," Robbins says. "The religion settled him. He used to bounce all over the place. He'd do five things at once and maybe get three done."

Sasson's partners are supportive, more or less. The religion thing is mighty inconvenient in the club business, such as when Sasson won't work any Friday nights. But if he wavers, Levine is going to be first in line to kick his ass. "With everything he does, we'll go along with it until he fucks up and has that one drink or works a Friday or kisses a girl," Levine warns. "Then it's over, as far as I'm concerned. He knows that."

Sasson is giving it a shot. "I have daily conversations with God. This industry doesn't take what I do well. I don't give a shit."

Industry regulars dominate the party scene, and because of this, one type of negotiation is selling the real estate within a given club. "Everybody always wants the same table," Sasson says. "It's always the little white kids that are all, öYo, my nigga, I spend four G's a week in here.'" In the VIP sections, people like to claim their usual spots, much as children do in school cafeterias. "B.E.D. is segregated by Aventura, Gables, the SoBe crowd, and people nobody knows," Levine says. "People will say, öHey, don't seat me in the Gables!' The athletes like to be on the left side near the DJ. The model kids are always center so people see them. Celebrities usually like the first four beds on the right."

The market shifts throughout the night. Early on, a small group can hold down a table with just a bottle or two, but as the crowd grows, it takes more money to stay in place. But the equation is not just how much you spend on a given night. Factored in are details such as spending over the long term, how often you come, how nice you are, how good you look, and how well you fit with the crowd demographics. This is often where the arguments come in because the doorman, the promoters, the club manager, and the customers will not, as a rule, agree on the relative weight of all of these factors. "There's lots of screaming," Levine allows. Robbins adds, "It gets heated, but having a friendship helps. We got a majority-rule thing."

One example of the heat: Sasson asks a bouncer why Levine let a less-than-fabulous group of 40 people on a rented bus roll into the club. "They reserved four beds," the bouncer replies. "I don't care," Sasson complains, "they look like shit." Another example: A guy offers to buy eight bottles because Levine bitches him out for wearing an ugly shirt. "He doesn't walk out without paying $5000; it's your fault [otherwise]," Levine instructs a staffer.

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