This week, Jake goes out with chef, host, and Yardy World founder DeVonn Francis. The two discuss overspending on nights out, bi-curious bars, and how joy can act as a form of protest. Tune in for more.
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Jake Cornell: I was so excited to talk to you for a number of reasons. Okay, I’m tangled. One, I was reading your Interview Mag piece and I was so impressed. Because of your career and resume, I assumed you’re a little bit older than you are and I was very impressed that we are the same age.
DeVonn Francis: Oh, my God.
J: I was like, “Damn, he’s doing it.”
D: I’m doing, in true Jamaican fashion, the most.
J: You would consider that to be a Jamaican quality?
D: A hundred percent. It’s like multiple families. Keep your families and multiple jobs is usually what it gives.
J: So how much has your Jamaican background influenced — this feels like a stupid question cause I feel like it’s obvious — your path in the food and wine industry, in the restaurant industry in how you’ve kind of tried to curate and design the experiences and the restaurants and the places you work in and create?
D: How much of Jamaican history or my heritage influences it?
D: I would say all of it, really. And I feel like it’s a constant journey of finding more ways to include that history and that heritage. One thing that we always say at Yardy World is “history is precedent.” Just because there’s precedent doesn’t mean that it has to be. It’s not the Bible. And so, it’s not just following the history, it’s also being kind of like, well what does Jamaicaness mean to me? Or what does being a part of the Caribbean diaspora mean to me? When it comes to the things that inspired me originally, though? I would say my parents, they both immigrated to New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And so, one of the first jobs my dad had — I think he was maybe 13 — was playing basement parties of the brownstones that his dad bought. And so all these old Jamaican men who were doing their thing would just go down to the basement, like drink a Red Stripe and play dominoes. And he was in charge of DJing.
J: Was this in Bed Stuy?
D: This was in Flatbush. And then my mom, when they started dating, because labor is love in Jamaica. So if you’re not doing something for the grandparents then you’re the worst kid. And so my mom was, I think, working the door. She was a door girl. And there’s a crazy history and precedent of parties and events throughout my whole entire life. Christenings, birthdays, pool parties, slip and slides, block parties, all the things.
J: And was this in Virginia?
D: This is all in New York. So basically I was born in Virginia and what would happen is we would load up the car and be like, “Okay, we’re going to New York.” And I’d always be like, “Oh, hell no. I cannot believe we’re going again.” Cause first of all, I was the youngest of two so I’d always have to sit in between. I was sandwiched in between them that seven-hour car ride and just listening to whatever my dad would want us to listen to. There was no Britney for me. There was no Destiny’s Child, which is what I really wanted to listen to.
J: So it was physically and culturally oppressive to you.
D: It was oppressive, it really was. And so when I was able to do my own thing, I was just blasting all the music I wanted to listen to. But in hindsight, I really needed that as a foundation to start my business.
J: So it sounds like there was an intense focus on house parties and large group gatherings. Were restaurants and spaces like that also part of your upbringing or did that kind of come later?
D: So it came probably, I want to say, maybe around middle school. My dad was, prior to starting his own restaurant, in the Navy. And originally, actually, he didn’t even know he wanted a restaurant. I think the story goes, I could be wrong, but he was thinking about taking out a lease on a strip club and my mom was like, “Do you want to end this right now? What’s going on?” And he was like, “Okay.”
J: “Do you think I’m stupid?”
D: Exactly. Exactly. And he landed on this. It was a mom-and-pop kind of vibe.
J: Strip club.
D: Mom and pop strip club.
J: I actually, actually would love, would love.
D: That would be kind of iconic. Honestly, now I think it would’ve been a better business model than what they did. Which was like they had a counter service place and it grew. My dad, who also wasn’t even a chef, he was kind of like, “I really have a passion for food. I really love growing up with my aunties.” Because in Jamaica, and lots of immigrant cultures, you have your aunties and your grandparents are the ones who take care of you while your parents establish a place for you wherever you’re going. And so he didn’t even really grow up with his mom and dad. It was his grandma who influenced his palate and his idea of Jamaican cuisine. And so he was taking all those ideas and was like, oh, these things mean so much to me about warmth and hospitality. And also he was DJing from New York until we moved to Virginia and he was like, “How do I turn this into a business?” A restaurant seemed to make the most sense, even though he did not know how to cook.
J: I think the best DJs come at it from that mindset as well, though, of hospitality. You’re setting the tone, you’re taking care of the crowd.
J: I think that it is in a weird way, tied into being a chef, running a restaurant, being a manager or whatever it is. It feels like an extension in a weird way.
J: So, restaurants came into your life by way of your parents having one? That makes sense.
D: And also I feel like it was also not a long conversation. I feel like my dad, I remember one day he came home with all these drawings of what the name and the logo would be. And first of all, the shadiest, most homophobic — Dad I hope you’re listening — thing that he did was he left my… So the restaurant’s name was Modine’s, which is a combination of my brother and my sister’s name. And I was like, “What happened there? Are you missing something? Surely this is a misprint.” And he was like, “No, just because I had the idea when they were born you weren’t quite around yet.”
J: Shut up.
D: And I was like, “This is homophobia at its worst.”
J: That is so unacceptable. Were you a terror for it?
D: No. I was so sweet about it. I was like, “Okay cool.” Cause he always promised me, he’s like, “The next restaurant it’ll be called DeVonn’s Place.” And I was like, “That’s a terrible name. But I love you still.”
J: Did you always know that you wanted to then go into this industry because your family was in it?
D: I actually didn’t. Growing up I always wanted to go to art school and I was always in art programs. Drawing, painting all the things. And not until I moved to New York to go to college and I started working in New York fine dining, did I think of food as a visual experience that was akin to going into an institution, seeing an installation or whatever. And that was sort of the aha moment that I had when it came to thinking about how my creative practice could involve food.
J: Were you working in fine dining concurrently with being in college?
D: Yeah. So basically when I moved to New York my parents were like, “Okay, we don’t have money for you so you’re going to have to figure out how to survive.” And I was living with my grandparents at the first place I lived in Flatbush. That didn’t work out because the curfew was 6 p.m. and then I was like…
J: You still have classes to go to?
D: Exactly. I was like, but I was like, they would lock the door and be like, “Hello, It’s D. Let me in.” And then I just started working. My first restaurant was actually a Mario Batali restaurant, which was in the West Village or something like that. And I was like a coat check boy. And then I found my way to several other restaurants from there, just from knowing by proxy people. My friend needs help at this restaurant. And then I moved over.
J: Were you always front of house?
D: I was always, yeah, exactly. I tried to do, I staged at Estela when I was in college and I was like, “This is f*cking hard and y’all are insane.”
J: And that’s a crazy place to have been your first spot.
D: But I learned so much, I learned so much from being there. I met so many crazy celebrities. They would come in and I’d be like, “Who are you?” “DeVonn, you need to pour the water you need. You can’t just stare at them, you need to actually serve them.” And I just couldn’t wrap my 19-year-old brain around how.
J: I was the same when I started working in fancy restaurants in New York, I was the same. I couldn’t handle the celebrities. I was like, I don’t know what you want me to do with that but I can’t go talk to Kathy Bates.
D: Oh, absolutely.
J: I can’t go talk to Kathy Bates right now.
D: With a straight professional face.
J: It was really wild to go from such a small town, cause I’m from Vermont, so it was really small, to go that and then be in New York and be like, “Oh this sh*t just happens here.” It was really wild.
D: Exactly. But I feel like that was the most formative moment where I was like, “Oh sh*t, I could also do my own thing.” And that was very much the blueprint for thinking about how it could be this creative venture, too, that I could also make money off of.
J: Knowing that there’s an art school component to it makes a lot of sense because I was like, when I’ve looked at Yardy World and I’ve looked at your socials and stuff, I’m like, “This is so unique,” the way you approach it. It’s not like it doesn’t because there’s pop-ups all over and I don’t know, there’s something about it where I was like, this doesn’t feel, I don’t know how to word this without sounding anti-pop-up because I’m not anti-pop-up.
D: But there’s some.
J: Okay wait, can you talk on that?
D: We don’t make money off of it. Restaurants themselves are not sustainable models unless you have the volume, which is why people start restaurant groups. And then pop-ups are just, you know, you don’t really make a return. Maybe it’s a great marketing thing, which I think is true. And anyone who’s asked me to do a pop-up in the past year, I’m so sorry, I totally will still do the pop-up. I’m just letting you know it’s not a money venture. Do you know what I mean?
J: No, and it’s one of those things where it’s like the more we do them and the more we institutionalize them as a thing that’s done, the more we set this precedent that to get in you have to do these things that you don’t make money on. Do you know what I mean?
D: No, exactly.
J: And that’s f*cked.
D: And you know why that is even worse for someone from my background and my interest is that there’s already a negative connotation around what we would call ethnic food. And so what I want to compete with a top-tier, fine- dining restaurant or whatever, or kind of advocate for the ingredients and the sourcing and the ways that I want to, it’s confusing because it’s like, “Well it’s a pop-up and it’s food and I could have ordered caviar, so why would I pay a fair wage to the people that are working.” Yeah.
J: It’s funny that hasn’t come up on the podcast yet, but I do think it’s so true. So the first restaurant I worked at when I moved to New York was Italian and their whole thing was that it was fine dining, it was expensive, it was boujee, celebrities. And their whole thing was they really prided themselves on that. Their menu focused on the Roman peasant food from the Roman Empire and this is what the poor people ate. And it’s amazing because they had to do the most with the least. And it’s like, but the pastas are still $30 and I was thinking you could only do this with Italian food because if you tried to do this with Jamaican food, if you tried to do this with these foods that are considered to be kind of cheaper options but then elevated them to a fine-dining experience, people would be like, “I could just get the cheap version.” You’d only do this with Italian food or maybe Greek food. I feel like because of racism probably mostly is why.
D: Absolutely. One of the -isms always
J: Or multiple -isms at the same time. But I think it’s, I’m tired of expensive Italian. I went to Anton’s last night, so I’m fully a hypocrite, but I just think it’s kind of crazy that we’re, it’s interesting to me that a restaurant like Anton’s, that was great, but it’s what? The 257,000th fancy Italian restaurant that can still be successful? But for a restaurant that’s doing a different cuisine, I feel like it is harder, especially to that tier that you’re talking about.
D: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it’s, the more I work and the more I have to manage my own contracts and the more I also work for Bon Appétit and I feel like I learn a lot about even just the commercial media space of just how people, the politics around how people want to spend money and why. And it’s interesting because it does, if I’m being completely honest, make me less excited to labor over cooking, which makes me sad.
J: That is sad. What makes you less excited?
D: The amount of work and time I have to put into doing, let’s say an event, and the return off of that, is very different than having a two-day shoot for a branded ad or something like that. And so I think that what I’m trying to also teach myself is how to also leverage these experiences, interactions to advocate for the type of resourcing that I feel like immigrant communities or disenfranchised populations need. Because I think that there’s a gap in understanding between what we consider fine dining, and what we don’t. But the labor behind it is basically the same.
D: You know what I mean? So I don’t know. And I think also, you understand social media better than most people probably. You know what I mean? It’s kind of like, the metrics really do drive people to be like, “Hey, we want to work with you.” Know what I mean? And I’m not doing anything different than I was a few years ago. Just the visibility and the proxy to having an audience that I think makes it different. Which, I don’t know, it’s dark.
J: It’s dark because it does lose… I guess my equivalent of it as a comedian would be doing internet content versus doing a live show. I guess that would be the comparison between doing branded deals and doing a restaurant where it’s like, I know how Instagram and TikTok work and I could make a video. This sounds arrogant, but it’s true. I could make a video right now that I know would get a minimum 100,000 views. Would I think it’s funny and would I be proud of it? No. But I know what works. Once you have your own following, I know what the algorithm likes for me to do to show that following X, Y, Z. So then I can do that and hit all these benchmarks and then I’ll get a certain number of views and then if I do that for a few weeks, a brand will probably reach out and want to do a deal. And then I’ll do that. And I probably also oftentimes will have an idea that I’m like, “Oh, I’d be proud of this if this went out.” And then there’s six rounds of notes that come back and I end up posting this Frankensteined ad that I’m like, “God, I hope no one sees this,” but it pays my rent. Do you know what I mean?
D: Right, absolutely.
J: And it’s like there’s the difference between doing that and doing a live show where there are, á la a restaurant, intrinsic variables which are what make it exciting and make it fun and what make it fulfilling when it works. Because there is a magic to it, but at the same time I don’t have the capital to be doing that all the time. I wish I could live off of live shows and I hope to one day do that and maybe other kinds of work, but it’s even still, it is just weird. Social media is a weird demon to play with.
D: It’s weird.
J: It’s weird.
D: I mean it’s been weird. And I think also going back to your point, we don’t have to labor over this, but I think it really, to answer the question, my priorities have just shifted. Cause now I’m kind of like, okay, I need to hit a specific volume in order for me to go back and do the work that makes me feel like I can just be passionate about it and not butt hurt that I’m not making a ton of money off of it. Because ultimately I do want to cook for people and I do want to share those things. But the avenues change with the metrics obviously, right? And I think that I could sit around and be frustrated by it or I can just be like, “Okay, this is what I know I need to do. This is what I’m building and this is what I’m building towards.” And just let that be that.
J: And I really respect that because — I do think this has come up on the show before — but I think that there was, especially when eight years ago when I first moved to New York and was working in restaurants, I feel like there was sort of this celebration around the notion that you’re not in it for the money or that, and it was kind of taboo to acknowledge the money issues. It was just accepted that the back of house doesn’t get paid enough. It was just accepted that in a smaller restaurant the owners are losing money every single day. Those were all just accepted things. And it was sort of like if you acknowledge those publicly, then you’re not doing it for the love of the game and it’s just f*cked up because all it does is perpetuate the restaurant groups being the only people that can. And people already have insane amounts of capital to create restaurants. And I think it’s good that you’re saying, “I want to do this but, and I am passionate about it and I’m allowed to say that I also want to make money doing it.”
D: No, absolutely.
J: And that doesn’t negate my passion.
J: And I think that’s honestly a newer thing that is allowed to be said in this space, I feel.
D: And also because of the internet. Which I’m kind of like, “Oh, I guess it comes full circle in that way too.”
J: Because it is a full double-edged sword where there are great… I mean I wouldn’t be in this room talking, I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for the internet. But at the same time it can be hell.
D: Yeah, absolutely.
J: I don’t know this, how did the internet come up for you in terms of your career? Was it via getting onto Bon Appétit? When did the internet become a main focal point of what was happening?
D: Well, I think it was a mix of different things. I think that because I was working in restaurants and because those restaurants were being covered by popular media outlets, then I was able to have proximity or become friends with people who were working in those outlets. And so even before I was even thinking about Instagram or whatever as a thing, I had worked in the test kitchen at Bon Appétit, cause I had friends who were there and I just made it a point to talk to people. And I think that that’s also the thing about it. There’s so many people who are very talented but don’t have social skills. And I think that waiting tables-, but you know what I mean?
J: I’m a comedian. I know what you mean. Holy sh*t. I know what you mean.
D: And it’s kind of jarring.
J: It’s really jarring.
D: You have these people who have these big personas and whatever and you see them from a screen and then you get in person and it’s like, “Oh my God, what happened to you? Are you okay?”
J: I always say that there’s two kinds of performers, and I think this is true of comedians, I think this is probably true of food personalities. There are the people who are generally affable people in their life and are almost naturally performative in the way they kind of host and emote and communicate. And then they just have to figure out how to do that on stage authentically or do that in front of the camera authentically. And then there are these people who are awkward and weird and don’t have social interactions or don’t have the best social skills, but they’re hyper analytical. And so then they have figured out, “I can figure out how to do X, Y, and Z in front of the camera.” And because on stage or in front of a camera is a hyper-controlled environment where there aren’t as many variables and they’re like, “I can perform normal human affability and likability in this context very well.” And they do. And then they come off stage and you’re like, “What are you?”
D: No, absolutely.
J: And it’s just crazy to see. And the higher up you go, the more I think intense it is you see because people, especially those analytical types, they do f*cking well because from the jump, none of it is unplanned or undesigned because it was so curated from the jump.
D: A hundred percent, a hundred percent.
J: Think they scare me, I’m going to be honest.
D: I’m scared, but I’m also kind of envious.
J: I’m envious. I mean I’m envious. I think they scare me because I’m envious.
D: I feel like I also grew up in an environment where I feel like I was never… Mmm, let me not say that. I wasn’t necessarily always encouraged to take the center stage. And so working for a place like Bon Appétit or just even the Instagram or social media in general is, it’s kind of a learning curve for me because I am firmly between, I guess we both are firmly between, the generations of when people picked up the phone and had conversations and people who send messages all the time. And so I feel like I’m always undulating between both things. And also, before I even started working for Bon App, I was mostly behind the scenes because I was producing, I was making events happen and I was cooking and writing schedules and receiving orders and deliveries. And until someone was like, “You’re kind of cute, why weren’t you in front of the camera?” And I was like, “Okay, let me try it out if you think I’m cute.” And so I’ve had to really learn in I think a lot of ways how to dial up the persona or be emotive in ways that don’t actually come very easily to me all the time, I should say.
J: That sounds nice because that sounds like maybe that also is maybe working backwards to help you emote in your own life.
D: Kind of, yeah.
J: Which is lovely. So outside of moving away from the work side of going out and the work side of restaurants, how do you like to go out? How do you like to play?
D: Oh, my God, I go out a lot.
D: I go out to all of the things. I’m really blessed and grateful to have so many friends who work in nightlife. If Papi Juice wasn’t a thing, I probably wouldn’t have survived New York as long as I have, to have a space where queer Black and Brown people can just throw their asses in a circle and stay out until the sun comes up.
J: I was going to, when was the last Papi Juice two weeks ago? The Pride Papi Juice.
D: The Pride Papi Juice. Yeah.
J: I went to, I think it’s called Honey’s, the cocktail bar. That was behind where Papi Juice was. And so I walked by the Papi Juice line and I was like, the Papi Juice line looks more fun than other parties I’ve been to. Also, it was the biggest line ever. It was six-people wide and all the way down and around a block. I was like, “What’s inside? How many people are inside?” I couldn’t believe how big the line was, but I was like, that looks like a sick party.
D: Ziwe played that night too. Speaking of comedians.
D: That party is so formative to me.
J: I’ve heard it’s just the f*cking best.
D: It’s the best. I mean they have such a good curatorial eye and ear. And just going back to this idea of shaping space with sounds, I feel like it’s interesting too because I feel like I not only do I go out in New York, I feel like I have now started to travel and go out and I was at a rave in the woods.
J: We love.
D: And someone from, I think they were from Chicago, came up to me and my friend because we were talking so much sh*t on the party because we were like, “We’re from New York. What is going on? Where are all the things? Where are my things?” And he was like, “Y’all need to cool it. You don’t understand people from all over the nation are coming to this space who don’t get to be gay and open and loud and queer, express themselves in so many different ways. You’re being elitist.” And I was like, “We are being elitist, this is the truth.” And I sank inside myself. But it’s true.
J: We take a lot for granted.
D: So much for granted. And I think that, and obviously New York is not the perfect space.
D: At all. There’s so much work to do. But I feel like I’ve learned so much from just those interactions because that is for so many in ways the only opportunity that some people are going to get to be themselves or to meet people that are also queer. And I do often forget that being in New York.
J: Yeah, it is crazy to think back when I lived in Burlington, which is where I was before New York. We had one gay night at a place that was not in walking distance from downtown. You had to take cars there once a month. That was it. And then there were bars that were, I would say bi-curious and that was it. That was it. So it’s crazy, I feel similarly, I take for granted how much — and that’s not even factoring in the whole something like Papi Juice that is not just about queerness but is also about people of color. That’s a whole ‘nother level of people who don’t get that in and outside of what New York, Chicago, L.A.
J: San Francisco. Maybe. I feel like it’s, especially as whatever’s happening is happening, we need to vitriolically defend those spaces and those parties and stuff.
D: Absolutely. And only, I think it’s, I mean correct me if I’m wrong, but up until recently, I guess cabaret laws or whatever under who? Bloomberg?
J: Giuliani? That feels like a Giuliani thing.
D: Let’s just say it is. Because he’s not around right now. Right?
J: I know, right?
D: I feel like that’s also just a space where, thinking about my own events or thinking about how I think about hospitality, it’s like the radicality, if I can say that. And that’s an actual word to look it up after.
J: If not we make it a word.
D: Exactly. With queerness is always inventing new ways of being.
J: Also the idea that a word with meaning isn’t a proper word, is elitist in general. Period.
D: Thank you. But basically knowing that joy and celebrating is just as important as protesting on the streets. And I think that means a lot to me to see those things enacted and embodied in people around me.
J: And seeing them. Because that was like, I don’t know. And it’s like when one is happening, the other is happening. You can feel, you know what I mean? Parties feel different when there’s protests going on. 100 percent. Wait, remind me. I remember reading about cabaret laws because someone was explaining why dancing is better in Chicago than New York was specifically because of cabaret laws. What are they?
D: I have no idea.
J: Okay, great.
D: I couldn’t tell you right now.
J: It had to do, I think it had to do with… It doesn’t matter. It was a reason why dance parties sucked and they recently lifted them.
D: Well I think there’s, I mean, I could be wrong. I have lots of great friends who have studied and protested against this and tried to change the legality of it. Something about you can’t be on a table dancing past this time and it can’t be this loud and you can’t have this type of sound equipment in this space.
J: You can’t have fun basically is what it was.
D: And you know what is also interesting to think about the kind of tenor of New York in 2019 versus now. New York is such a real estate-minded space. And this goes back to this idea of restaurant culture too, right? It’s like there’s a specific amount of capital that you need to be able to be, “I own this space, I can do X, Y, and Z things with this space.” And I think that it’s awful because there’s like this family-ization of New York when queer dynamics don’t necessarily always align with having the money to have a really fab apartment and also have a nuclear family that makes six figures and all these things. And so the landscape, when rent goes up, really does shift and change. And it means that the parties change too. It means that the cover charge you have to pay in order for those spaces to make money changes too.
J: It is the balance of creating parties and nightlife spaces and honestly restaurants that are accepting but lucrative, it feels almost impossible at times. I do think that’s something to really be pushed and strive for. I think it takes a different perception of how restaurants work, but also I think it’s larger societal issues that then have to be fixed to make those things more equitable. And you’re going out more nightlife-focused than going out to a restaurant or a bar?
D: The bank account is hurting.
J: I mean same, babe.
D: The bank account is just. I’m like, “Ooh, it’s research.” And my bookkeeper’s like, “You tried it.” They’re like, “Dover Street Market is research?” I’m like, “Yeah?”
J: Let’s not talk about write-offs because the IRS does not need to know my name. I don’t want that. Let’s just not talk about that right now.
D: It’s funny too because my mom is always, she’s my mom, she knows her child so much. Like she’s like, “Are you saving money?” I’m like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Okay, well what did you do this week?” And I’m like, “Well, there was Lodi, there was EMP, two parties last night. Ubers. Oh, God, the Ubers back and forth because you know I’m not going to walk there.”
J: No? Well I’m pro walking, but I get it.
D: Well, where I go, you’re not going to walk.
J: Sure. Where do you go? A warehouse party moment.
J: Okay. Respect.
D: You know what I mean?
J: Yeah. I get what you’re saying. I love a long walk. I’m weird.
D: Really? That’s not weird.
J: The other night, I live in Bed-Stuy, the other night I got off the F at Jay, it was kind of late and I was like, “I’m just going to walk that.” It was like the A was 10 minutes and I was like, “I’d rather walk 50 minutes than wait 10.” And I don’t know why that is. And that’s not that far of a walk, but it’s a walk.
D: Does it do something for your brain? Do you feel like you get into the zone more when you walk?
J: Especially if I’ve been out and I’ve had a few drinks and it’s like the night’s over and I’m feeling a little amped because I was out. Let me buy a big bottle of water and walk and by the time I get home I’ll just probably need to pee. Because I drink a giant Essentia and then go to bed. It’s a little bit more of a dismount for me than being on the train doing that.
D: Like a come down.
J: It’s a little bit of a come down from the energy of going out, being out with a bunch of people.
D: Usually I’m wearing the shoe that I should not be wearing and I’m dancing on my feet the whole time.
J: There’s a medical impairment.
D: Exactly. Exactly. I actually can’t do it
J: I respect that? Let’s talk about restaurants and bars. Where are your spots that you like?
D: Where have I been eating recently? Let’s see. The Nine’s. There’s a place next to my apartment.
J: Wait, sorry. The episode we recorded yesterday, our guest was talking about how growing up his favorite restaurant was The 99 and they called it “The Nine’s.” And so I’m like, “Wait, what’s the Nine’s?”
D: The Nine’s is okay. Speaking of going out. Well this is not the same.
J: No, I know. Okay.
D: I’m like, that is not where I go. Acme. Acme, the restaurant, the basement. That was also a party when I was in college. There’s a restaurant right above it. So the same people who do Le Dive.
D: Which is next to Cervos.
J: Yes, yes, yes.
D: Do The Nine’s. And obviously Cervos. Definitely. Always. Anything like Harts, Cervos, The Fly, all my f*cking vices.
J: I was at Harts three nights ago. It was so good.
D: I f*cking love Harts.
J: I f*cking love Harts.
D: I love Harts. And then, where else am I going? I’ve been trying to scope out more hotel restaurants because I feel like there’s, no matter what time of day or what day of the week it is, you can always find a table at a hotel. I shouldn’t be telling my secret, but-
J: No. Yeah, it’s hotels. Let me just say this: Hotels are really useful in a lot of ways in New York City. Number 1, if you need a bathroom…
D: 100 percent.
J: Let me tell you right now, find the nicest hotel near you and just use their bathroom. The greatest thing. I keep on almost saying this is as a joke and it’s inappropriate. One of the greatest losses we’ve experienced recently personally for me is the Gramercy Park Hotel because of their bathrooms.
D: Oh, really?
J: I lived for their bathrooms, obsessed with the Gramercy Park.
D: I never knew, I’ve never been there.
J: I used to work near there. The bathrooms in the back of the lobby? First off, it was just, the whole room was filled with Le Labo. It was just gorgeous and sexy. There was a real wood fire going and then you just walked to the back and it was these giant bathrooms that were private rooms with a gold sink. And if you went at the right time, the toilet papers were stickered with the GPH sticker. And I was just like, “Let’s do this.” I’m taking calls, I’m in there.
D: You’re holding court in the bathroom.
J: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m taking meetings, I’m having calls. I’m in there for a minute. I loved the GPH bathroom. I miss it dearly. But hotel bars, similarly, a hotel bar or a hotel restaurant is a move.
D: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I feel like, because they always have a table open. So if I’m in a pinch, if I have a really fab person coming to town or if mom’s in town or whatever, I’m trying to entertain someone and I am last minute because I forgot to make the reservation that I actually wanted. The hotel restaurant is definitely the move.
J: There’s that new one on Dime Square that I’ve heard is beautiful.
D: Nine Orchard.
J: Nine Orchard, thank you. Have you been yet?
D: Also, Estella people.
J: Oh, fun.
D: I walked in and then I had to go because I forgot something at my house. So not an interesting story. If you want to know more about my nature, that’s basically what happened, but it’s beautiful.
J: I saw a picture of the Martini service and I was like, I do want that.
D: Exactly. But I also — do you know Bemelmans? Of course. Everyone’s like “Bemelmans!” I want to feel like that every time I go out to eat for some reason recently.
J: New York opulence?
D: New York opulence. And also I want to hear live music. I want to hear the piano person being whatever, playing Chopin.
J: It’s like you want to be in the rooms where it’s like it’s all happening in here. The music’s playing in here, the people are here, the server. Yeah, I get that.
D: Absolutely. Also, I love to see the — nevermind, I don’t know if I can say this on a podcast. But I feel like it’s great for people watching because the escorts come with the business guys and you’re just like, “What is going on?”
J: I mean the dynamics. So I bartended in a hotel for a little under a year and I took the job because I was needing to get out of the restaurant I was in, and I knew a guy who worked there and he was like, “They need a bartender, you should take it.” And I was like, “All right, I got to go.” And it never occurred to me, “Hey, what do you think it looks like if you bartend in a bar where everyone has a bed upstairs.”
J: Wedding rings coming off. I was seeing some sh*t. I was seeing staff of the hotel, higher-up corporate of the hotel, cheating on their wives and husbands in the hotel bar.
D: Just right in front of you.
J: Sitting at the bar in front of me. I was like, “This is not okay.” It was wild. People go off and it’s the people watching in any sort of hotel-adjacent bar/restaurant?
D: 100 percent.
J: It’s top-tier.
D: And growing up, “Pretty Woman” was one of my favorite movies, so I always was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll have my moment.” And then I got there and I was like, “Oh, this is not, that’s what I…”
J: It’s not Richard Gere. Not Richard Gere.
D: Decidedly Richard Gere. And so then the fantasy was crushed, but I still like to go because the Martini service is fab.
J: The Martini service. I do love. I’m in a similar place right now, and similarly the bank account’s hurting. I want fancy. I want fancy.
D: And I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s from wanting to get dressed up and feel like you’re in a fantasy and be distracted from all the other bullsh*t that’s happening in the world? And it’s funny because I feel like when I was in college, I was so vehemently against that being like, “We shouldn’t be distracted. We should be in it and on the streets and doing the things,” and on my activist sh*t. Which I still am, but it’s just the priorities have changed where I’m just, you know what, actually people should be able to be decadent and treat themselves.
J: You can be active without murdering yourself for it.
J: I think also part of it for me in terms of the shift, because I used to be like, let’s go to a dive bar. I don’t give a sh*t. Let’s go to a dive bar, let’s go to a cheap restaurant. And I’m still down for that. But I think now that I don’t work in a fancy restaurant and I’m not experiencing that? Cause I was working in fancy restaurant, so I was seeing the fancy sh*t and in the fancy sh*t and seeing the behind the scenes of the fancy sh*t all the time. Now it’s been long enough that I’m like, I want the fancy sh*t.
J: And I hate that about myself, that I’m fully letting myself fall for the fantasy now. Do you know what I mean?
D: Absolutely. I’ve also been revisiting Oscar Wilde’s writing and just his ability to be descriptive is so iconic. And I feel like I always forget that queerness is decadence is being radical and is that being political too.
J: That is beautiful.
D: And I feel like I don’t give myself that ability often enough to be like “I’m going to get dressed up and just be gay. Just as gay as possible.”
J: Yes. See, this is dangerous for me because if you tell me that drinking a Martini at a fancy restaurant is a radical act, it’s not going to be good for me.
D: Or would it be great for everyone?
J: No, it’ll be great. You’re right. I mean it is true though. It is that thing of, especially right now when things feel so hard, I’m like, “I’ll do the things I need to do and then I want to do the things I want to do.” Hard.
D: Absolutely. Absolutely.
J: Yeah. So you’ve been here since college?
D: Yeah. 2011.
J: So what was it when you first got here with nightlife?
D: Well, it was giving “I had my brother’s fake ID” first and foremost. And actually, I met someone on an app when I was in college. That kind of…
J: Christian mingle?
D: Exactly. A really devout Protestant girl coming to New York, eyes wide open. And I met someone who basically showed me around nightlife. And actually, what happened first is I met so many door people that it didn’t even matter if I did or did not have my ID. Anyways, we won’t get into it, please don’t shut down any clubs because of this podcast.
J: There’s got to be a statute of limitation on it, I think we’re good.
D: But, this goes back to this idea of conversation. Because I always prioritize asking people how they are doing, how they’re feeling, and that sort of hospitable, generousness, I just feel like I can befriend anyone. And I feel like sometimes now, because I have all these friends who are like, “You’re on the list. You’re on the list.” You don’t stop talking to the door person. In fact, you better be best f*cking friends with the door person because they will-
J: Why would you not, though, is the thing?
D: Because people feel entitled. I think this is the opposite of that decadent Martini. It’s like when you feel like everything is centered around you, you forget to think about other people’s experiences. And it’s funny because, not to get dark, but we might have to for two seconds.
J: That’s fine.
D: During the night of Pride, there was a shooting in Norway, Denmark? At a gay club or gay bar.
J: Yes. I think it was in Norway.
D: I think it was Norway, too.
J: Okay. Katie, can you look it up?
D: But anyway, the point being is when I go out I’m of two minds, I’m there to, there for myself to have a great time. But I’m also always constantly watching my friends.
D: Oslo, which is in?
D: Norway. Okay, great. I was like, So is that still Norway?
J: Okay, wait, but back.
D: Okay, sorry, sorry, sorry. Okay. When I go out, I’m of two minds. I am there to have fun and to celebrate myself and to, as I said before, throw my ass in a circle. But I’m also there to check in with my friends and to see how they’re doing. Because there is literally a mental health crisis going on. Constantly, all the time in the streets of New York out here, health care is f*cked. Any rights around bodies right now are f*cked. And you never know what head space other people are going into when you step into a space like that. So for me, I can drink and do all the things and still feel great after the day. But some people don’t have that same sort of countenance. They don’t have the same, the knowledge of themselves to be like, “Am I going to be okay,” or what my limit is?
J: Yeah, 100 percent. It’s funny that you say that because I think, I was talking to one of my gay friends recently and he was just like, “I’m so annoyed at how popular drugs are getting, I feel everyone’s doing drugs.” And it’s like “They’re doing drugs for a reason.”
D: 100 percent.
J: No, that’s the thing. So to give you context, I was not involved in nightlife at all because I was working so much in restaurants. I was just constantly working until 1. And I wish I was the girl who could have been like, “All right, and now I go.”
D: And now I do both.
J: But that’s not my spirit or my soul. When I stopped doing restaurants last year, I started doing the night figuring, being able to finally decide what I want to experience, especially nightlife spaces and kind of learning the ropes and figuring out where the places are. And I think what you just said articulated something I’ve been trying to articulate and figure out and delineate, which is these spaces that feel communal, where it is people coming to check in. People are talking to the person at the door, people are going inside and seeing the people they know, and the places that feel just an extension of what’s happening right now on the sidewalk on 5th Avenue of just a bunch of people running around trying to get to the next spot and see what’s going on. And there’s been like — I don’t want to name any parties cause I don’t want to disparage anything — but there’s been parties I’ve been to and I’m like, “Is anyone having fun here? Or is it just like we’re here?” Do you know what I mean? And then there’s the places where I’ve walked in and they have, and I feel like that’s how Papi Juice gets described a lot to me, this very communal aspect to it. And there are other parties I’ve been to where it really feels that way. There’s this party I’ve been really loving called Hot For You that’s happening at Parkside Lounge on Sundays, like a disco party in the back room of Parkside Lounge. It’s small, it’s cute as hell. I love it. But it’s like when you go, the hosts come up and they’re like, “Hey, you’re here again. Welcome.” And I see the same people and we say hi. And I feel like I’m getting to know them each more every time. That’s the kind of party I want to go to. I don’t want to go to the faceless ones, it’s just not my scene. But I think what you’re talking about is that communal check in. You’re getting something out. That’s the value of it.
D: And my favorite part is at the end of the night, depending on the party then the night, they always go on the mic and they’re always like “Make sure that if you’re traveling alone, you ask a friend, if you need to ride home, or if you need us to call you an Uber, we can make sure that you have some sort of accountability outside of just yourself.” Because think about the come down from a space like that to be like, “Oh, I’m going back to my reality.”
J: No, that’s intense.
D: Some people can deal with it, but some people can’t. So I really do, as you’re saying, appreciate spaces that do take the time to point those things out.
J: Also, I feel like another thing that what you’re kind of talking on is celebrating the sacredness of partying and maybe getting a little f*cked up, or maybe going in on it, and not towing around that part of it. Being like, “We are acknowledging that you’re getting up and God bless it and we’re going to make sure you’re safe.”
J: And I think that’s really special. Because I feel like there’s so much, especially, I don’t know, I’m from New England so there’s a lot of Catholic shame around getting f*cked up. You know what I mean? So it’s, they just don’t talk about it, but then it’s like that’s what leads to doing it. So it’s like, “No, we’re going to do it. We’re going to go, but you’re going to keep you safe.” I think it is really special.
D: For sure. And I think that also, not to be all new agey about it, but I do feel, you are unlocking parts of yourself that otherwise throughout your normal daily reality that maybe you don’t have access to. I have several friends who are doing ketamine therapy right now, and I’m like, “That’s, that’s f*cking cool.”
J: I actually have some friends who do it. I actually know someone who’s been doing it for a few years and it really, really helps them. Severely helps them. I talked to this guy once who was running a study, they were using mushrooms to treat depression in terminal cancer patients. And I think I ruined his night. Cause I was like, “No, we are going to talk for three hours. I find this fascinating.” He was like, “I came out to not talk about work.” And I was like, “No, I need to keep talking.” I just found it so interesting. I think that you’re right. It’s like they do, especially if we’re trying to reach new levels of community and connection and release. They help.
D: Absolutely. Absolutely. Have you seen that documentary “Fantastic Fungi?”
J: I think I saw a clip from it. The one about ‘shrooms. Yes.
D: Tell me.
J: No, I think honestly it’s just, I don’t need to get sold anymore. I’m like, I’m good. I love them. I’m not afraid.
D: But it’s just the way they talk about… I mean mushrooms are, is it the, what’s the word?
J: Psilocybin? What is it called? Did I say that right? Psilocybin.
D: But what is it?
J: Psilocybin, hallucinogens.
D: Did we talk about the network of mushrooms that live underground that basically help plants to communicate with each other is insane.
J: No, the more I read about mushrooms, I’m like, we live on the planet from “Avatar.” This is “Avatar.”
D: 100 percent. And we’re all the thing about it too, which pisses me off. I’m just like, we’re going to lose “Avatar” now because we all wanted to, I don’t know. There was another priority that I wasn’t included on.
J: Did you know that one spore of mushroom can grow 1 million pounds of mushrooms?
J: That’s f*cked up in a good way.
D: No, for sure. And if you think about it, even from a hunger standpoint. Do you know what I mean? There are so many opportunities. Also, if I can shout out, have you read “Braiding Sweetgrass?” I feel like this is…
D: Robin Wall Kimmerer. An incredible book. Just talking about mushrooms, but also gifting economies and just how we do life as people and how we think about all this indigenous knowledge that we’re like, “Oh, that’s not real.” But now science is proving, quote unquote, “Proving to be true.” And it’s just like, it’s crazy to me. Cause I’m just like, everything we need is right here with us. And yet we always, it’s giving capitalism. We always want more.
J: It’s so bad.
D: So I don’t know what my point was of that, but.
J: No, I mean, I think with a lot of these conversations, it comes back to capitalism and then the conversation just quickly withers and dies cause we can’t do anything.
D: A moment of silence for the last brain cells that just dissipated because we said the word capitalism.
J: And we’re like, “Oh, goddamn it.”
J: It was so nice. It was so nice two years ago where you could blame things on capitalism and it was like, “No.” And now we’re like, “Shut the f*ck up. We know.” I’m like, “Don’t.”
J: Oh, sorry babe. Okay, we’ve come to the end. This went by in two seconds.
D: Oh, my God.
J: I like to end by planning a night out together. If you will have a night out.
D: Let’s do that.
J: Let’s do it. Okay. What are we thinking?
D: Should we go to the Parkside Lounge? Well, what kind of going out do you want to do? Is my question because we can go on an adventure.
J: Oh, well I love an adventure. What’s an adventure? I feel like you, having been doing real nightlife for 10 years in New York, I feel like I want to follow your path.
D: Let’s go to something that feels like a really decadent restaurant and then let’s go to something that’s like a late- night thing.
J: Okay, perfect. Where…
D: Clear your calendar for two days.
D: You’re going to need to.
J: Okay, perfect. We’ll clear our calendar. Let’s do decadent. Maybe. I haven’t tried Cafe Spaghetti, yet. I’ve heard it’s good. I like something in Brooklyn.
D: I haven’t heard of that.
J: It’s like a new place, I think in Carroll Gardens that people are loving.
D: Let’s go.
J: Okay, great. And then we’ll do something in Brooklyn. Okay, perfect.
D: It might be like… It might be Ridgewood.
J: Wait, then can we try, I haven’t been to Rolos yet and everyone says that’s really good.
D: Really, It’s delicious.
J: Wait, so can we do Rolos and then something in Ridgewood?
D: 100 percent actually, that’s great.
J: Okay. Perfect. Plan made. This is so fun. Thank you so much for doing the show.
D: Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.