Social Promotion

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

"I love the locals, the industry people. I hate the fuckin' people who are rich and obnoxious. That doesn't work on me," avers Levine.

Sometimes ego clashes and money disagreements lead to the trio's parting ways with a club, as they did with Nikki Beach in January. They used to promote a night at Pearl, a restaurant/lounge within the Nikki Beach complex, but moved it to Prive. Levine being Levine, he twisted the knife by producing e-vites that read "Upgrade your Saturday to Prive" and then hired a plane with a banner to fly loops from First Street to Fifteenth Street. "It's such a short distance, the plane was constantly buzzing [Nikki Beach]," he laughs. "It pissed them off. But, hey, we get along with those guys. It was just stupid shit. Everyone takes it too seriously." In fact, the team hosted another event at Nikki Beach during the Winter Music Conference this year, although they were hired by an outside vendor.

Empire Events has an office, a two-room affair on the second floor of a building overlooking Washington Avenue. The doorways are decorated with mezuzahs. There are a few computers and a handful of young girls doing data entry or making calls to people they want to show up for events. Checks come in and go out from here, as do a dozen or so flyer pushers who work the streets and the girls who walk around the clubs with clipboards, taking down the contact data of desirables. This will later be entered into the database that powers the whole enterprise. Text messages are composed and then blasted to thousands of people a week, along the lines of: "Hey, come hang out tonight."

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

For all of this, Empire gets a cut of a club's nightly revenues, a figure that varies from club to club and that sometimes takes the form of a percentage and sometimes takes the form of a consulting fee. In the case of a percentage, an Empire employee will check the sales periodically on the house computer system. It's mad money the clubs are pulling in during the height of season. A big place such as Mansion can do $60,000 to $75,000 on a weekend night, and sometimes as much as $100,000. "At Mansion [the strategy is] just bang 'em out," Levine says. "Call everyone and let the doorman sort 'em out."

Although the crowd is more exclusive at the Opium Garden/Prive complex, similar money is being made. For smaller venues, such as B.E.D. and the Forge, $20,000 to $30,000 in liquor sales a night is good. "Right now it's a walk in the park," Levine says. "Everyone in the industry gets a big head. But if you can make it through August, then you know what you're doing. In the summer, we weed out the clubs and negotiate better deals."

By no means is their vision limited to local club promotion. The partners are now throwing a regular Monday-night Secret Society party at Sushi Roku at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and are trying to work a deal for a club night in New York this summer. They've found that a lot of their contacts are active in the party circuit in several places.

Levine and Sasson are especially interested in using their growing database of mass affluents to market other things, such as real estate. "We dabble with anything, trying to market it," Levine says. "I own a limo company that's doing really well. I started arranging limos for celebrities and then someone said, öHey, you ought to get money for that.' We have two cars, but we get twenty percent for referring jobs to other companies. We had nine jobs on the Beach last night alone. I also charter boats, planes, whatever for celebrities."

The Forge on 41st Street is ancient by Beach standards, comprising a dimly lit warren of rooms and featuring tons of stained glass, dark woods, and chandeliers and a fair number of slightly creepy older men on the make. In the Jimmy'z part of the complex, Empire Events brings in the hipper set.

Sasson laughs as he gives the rock-star tour of the Forge's inner workings to a bunch of paunchy, balding men in sport coats and no ties. These are the money guys behind a real-estate venture Empire Events will be promoting. Hot girls in cheerleader outfits and white vinyl go-go boots circulate through the dining rooms and the bar areas as the club slowly fills to capacity. SMK Cape Horn Development Group is selling office condos at an eleven-story tower off Lincoln Road and chose Empire Events to help host parties for prospective clients. Sam Konig, a principal, was impressed by the trio's marketing system and by a more ineffable social quality. "I just liked them," he says. "I felt comfortable with Perry."

Sasson's yellow ball cap, fitted backward, floats under the chandelier as he works the crowd. Occasionally he steps over chairs indifferently as he shakes the hands of the people whose names he never remembers. "The average question is: öDo you have drink tickets?'" he says. He's like a hamster, continuously circling through the crowd, eyes always scanning. Way more high-fives are thrown than necessary, backs patted. "Not many people can do what I do," he says. "I have to play the glue. I don't know where Justin is right now. He says, 'Oh, I go to school,' but that's bullshit. I was up as early, for prayer."

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