THAT MIDAS TOUCH
A Conversation with JONNY LENNON
A Nitecap with Brian Newman
I met Mr. Lennon on a Sunday night at Gold Bar a few years ago. Jonny had booked us to rock that night at midnight in his golden-skulled, neo-classic dripping, A-listed, smoky, gilded, champagne-lover’s paradise. When I walked in the room for sound check, my buddy T.J. Rosenthal (Bowery Riots) introduced me to Jonny; I knew that this was a place that I could call home. Not only was the room amazing, Jonny was a consummate gentleman. We played to a tightly-packed room filled with models, Lower East Siders, rich kids and some other scumbags we probably both had invited. (Oh yeah, and it was Mos Def and Erykah Badu’s birthday as well). As the gorgeous cocktail girls gracefully took orders and the diligent boys from Bangladesh moved stealthily through the dancing crowd with ice and bottles of Moet, I knew that this party was pure gold.
After we got done melting skulls and drinking our faces off in the corner banquet, Jonny and I got a chance to hang in the office above the bar. As we watched the cameras at the front door and enjoyed the taste of a freshly-wrapped Philly and a few beers, I listened to Jonny on the radio dictate, with supreme efficiency, to the doorman what goes, who’s who and what blondes are to make the cut through the huge oak doors that are so heavily guarded.
We recently caught up at his own personal firehouse for some Q and A about rock and roll, nightlife, style and what’s next for this talented New Yorker.
Brian Newman: We’ve been hitting the same barber shop for a while now. How’s it feel to look so gangster all the time?
Jonny Lennon: Damn it feels great to be a gangster. Ha! I love Chris the barber. He keeps my hair looking very slick. Not as slick as yours though. You are the king of slick.
BN: Hahah! Well thanks for that Mr. Lennon. You got that swagger in your eye too. What’s your favorite thing hanging in your closet?
JL: My obvious choice would have to be my leather jacket. It’s been to hell and back with me. I hate the summer because I can’t wear my leather.
BN: Agreed. I love t-shirt and leather weather. You got your first leather growing up in Queens, New York. Must have been dope coming to the city as a kid. What kind of trouble were you getting into in high school?
JL: Oh man, what kind of trouble was I not getting into. The late 80s in Queens for some reason was car robbing season. I was often fighting like crazy and cutting school. I used to love to joyride stolen cars and cut school to practice DJing and music. I also spent a lot of time sneaking to Manhattan just to see what was going on in the clubs, stores, and on the streets.
BN: That’s that old school vibe, baby. It comes out in the way you throw a party. The crowd, and especially the music, is so eclectic. What do you like to see and hear when you’re walking through your room?
JL: I like to see diversity. I hate clicky bars and clubs where everyone is dressed the same and listening to the same music. All hipsters, all hood, all anything is bullshit to me. I like to hear all genre’s of music and create an environment where everyone is comfortable and getting along. I’ve been influenced by so many different people, styles, and music that I can’t imagine limiting my bar, band, or music to one genre.
BN: Gold Bar is one of my favorite spots. Your nightly influence creates and builds the party perfectly. Beautiful room, great chicks and killin’ music. What goes through your mind when promoting a night?
JL: Again, it would have to be the mix of people in the room paired with the right music and, of course, some spenders to pay for all the Gold Bar gold.
BN: What are some of the things you like to see going on in the club?
JL: I like to see dancing, talking, kissing, drinking, and people meeting new people and getting along.
BN: Are you working on any new spots?
JL: I am working on a new spot. I still can’t speak of the details, but soon.
BN: Mums the word. It’s always great rollin’ up to Gold Bar and seeing you hangin’ behind the gold rope. I know you have not been working the door as much because you’ve been busy with your fingers in a hundred other pies. What drives your lifestyle?
JL: What drives my lifestyle is my peace of mind. I believe when I have peace of mind then I have success. I love living in the moment and enjoying the right now. I need stability to do that so I work hard and play hard. I’m a music lover. I love traveling, learning, partying, and relaxing.
BN: I hear you own 4am. It seems like a natural progression as you always run with a great crew of DJs. The original Sunday Funday DJs Sinatra and Jesse Marco have been regulars in the Gold Bar stable for years now. I’ve even laid some horns down on some of Jesse’s tracks, thanks to your introduction. Could you talk about your involvement with 4am?
JL: I am one of four owners of 4am. It is Jus Ske, Jesse Marco, Adam Alpert, and myself. It is one of my proudest ventures and I have amazing partners. We represent 15 of New York City’s best DJs and book another 15 that we have not signed yet from all over the country. We all found ourselves aiding in the creation of DJs’ careers and booking many dates so we decided to become partners and go hard on a management company. In the first year of business we have had huge success. We have become a staple in the international music, party, and event business.
BN: You have a vast knowledge of music and 4am represents some of the best DJs in the world. Throwing parties and booking DJs seem to go hand-in-hand. How are you balancing the hustle working at Gold Bar and 4am?
JL: Well, to start I have a great staff and great partners. The Gold Bar and 4am employees are unbelievable. I have learned over the years to delegate my work to responsible people and my companies are set up with the best in the business. My partner Adam Alpert at 4am is a machine. It’s an easy balance for me. I enjoy what I do. I work from home, coffee shops, the pool, etc. I can’t complain.
BN: You are a man of many hats. Over the years you’ve been ripping guitar, promoting parties, opening clubs, and laying down the laws of New York City nightlife. How has your impeccable work ethic lead you to do so many great things?
JL: My work ethic comes from my blue-collar grandparents and parents. My dad was a fireman and my grandfathers were butchers and plumbers. These men worked tirelessly and constantly. It wasn’t til later in life that I realized the relevance of that hard work, but when I did it changed my life. I look at my business like a plumber. If you don’t do the job right you will have a leak. I apply this to the guitar, DJs, and Gold Bar. It was hard to wear many hats because I wasn’t able to brand one thing, but over time it fell into place. I play shows, record music, book DJs, run a bar, produce events, etc. It was a longer road than wearing one hat, but it worked out in my favor. Now I get to be and do all the things I ever loved.
BN: Always keeping busy. The only way to do it. With 168 hours in a week. What do you do to relax when you have 24 off?
JL: I sit in my backyard. I have a dope ass firehouse with ivy everywhere and an outdoor soaking tub. A spliff and some bath salts always helps. Throw a bird in the mix and you’re having a good day. I also love to run. I run daily.
BN: I love listening to you shred guitar and I heard you’ve been playing with Joan Jett. That’s some serious rock and roll right there, brother. What’s it like playing with a musician that you grew up digging on?
JL: Joan has been an incredible influence, mentor, and has provided me with so many opportunities. I had the pleasure of recording and touring with Joan back in the day. I also worked with her in many other capacities over the years and consider her family. Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna started my career in music alongside music agent Johnny Podell. I was lucky enough to have met these mentors and beautiful people. I worked every job in the biz for them from musician to road manager, from agent to driver. I learned the long, hard way the ins-and-outs of this music/nightlife business.
BN: Last time I saw you play was with your hard rocking 3 piece, Lufthansa Heist. Have you cats been jamming still? Any other musical endeavors you’re working on?
JL: The Lufthansa Heist is a dope band. I recorded that last album with so many talented people. I have been so busy that I have not been performing as much, but that is all about to change. I am rounding up musicians now because I still have a lot of offers for shows. I will keep you updated. I’m working on a new experimental analog record–it will incorporate every style of music and I am collaborating with many great musicians, DJs, and producers.
BN: Other projects?
JL: I work on several touring parties. I do a party called FUNDAY that is internationally recognized and booked globally. Me, Jesse Marco, and DJ Sinatra travel to party cities and festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Miami, Boston, Hamptons, etc. and basically just throw an ill party. We usually travel with a mob of people from NYC and LA while Kirill documents the trip. We co-brand with movies, event companies, liquor companies, and clubs, and help them throw the best party and get maximum exposure for the event.
I also do a monthly party with DJ Cassidy and Questlove of The Roots. We created a monthly for the music lover. Just a big dance party. We are now planning Rock/Freak in San Fran, Miami, Las Vegas and The Hamptons. It has been a tremendous honor and experience working with Quest and Cassidy. Cassidy has been one of my best friends for the last 15 years.
BN: Thanks for talking with me, Jonny. You are one of my favorite cats and I’m so glad to hear about this good stuff you’re into these days. What’s Jonny Lennon doing in 5 years besides running nightlife around the world?
JL: Retiring. Farming my own land, recording studio in my house, catching my own fish, living in the woods, staying healthy, raising animals, saving dogs, going back to school, traveling, and dropping off the face of the planet.
Jonny Lennon is a native New Yorker from Queens. He is a managing partner at Gold Bar and an owner 4AM. Mr. Lennon is a very talented musician and a leader of the New York nightlife scene.
Jonny Lennon interviewed by Brian Newman
Written by Brian Newman
Photography by Coco Alexander
Design by Marie Havens
Jonny Lennon, NYC, August 2011, Photography by Coco Alexander