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Portfolio.com | November 17, 2007

World According to Ian Schrager

By Lloyd Grove

No second acts in America? The hotel maverick has had more than his share.

Photograph by: Joshua Lutz/Redux

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Few people have equaled Ian Schrager's impact on American commercial design and popular culture. But what a long, strange trip it has been for the 61-year-old hotelier.

Thirty years ago, with his best friend and fellow Brooklynite Steve Rubell, Schrager launched Studio 54. The legendary disco was for a brief, shining moment the epicenter of celebrity, hedonism, and status anxiety that epitomized what Tom Wolfe famously branded "The Me Decade." After a small detour—13 months in prison for tax evasion—Schrager and Rubell rose from the ashes to start another famed nightclub, Palladium, before finding their true calling, the hospitality business. In the early 1980s, they renovated a down-at-the-heels hotel on Madison Avenue according to their quirkily chic design sensibility and dubbed it Morgans. Thus was born the Morgans Hotel Group, which still claims such Schrageresque landmarks—noted for their theatrically stylized lobbies, dimly lit corridors, elegantly compact rooms, and aggressively cool staff—as the Royalton in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, and the Delano in Miami. Schrager still keenly feels the absence of his closest friend and confidante, Rubell, who died of AIDS in 1989.

Since Schrager left Morgans two years ago—out of unhappiness and exhaustion—he has been busier than ever, overseeing a critically acclaimed renovation of the Gramercy Park Hotel, building such spectacular apartments as 40 Bond in the Noho neighborhood of Manhattan and planning even bigger projects with his business partner, real estate baron Aby Rosen. More recently, the ultra-hip Schrager joined forces this summer with the straight-laced Bill Marriott, the hospitality king, to build more than 100 chic hotels around the world. Never mind that Marriott is a teetotaling Mormon for whom Studio 54 would have been hell on earth.

"Is Bill Marriott any different than I am? Than Steve Rubell was? I mean, we're complementary, our DNA is alike," Schrager told Portfolio.com this week in an exclusive interview. "We're both competitive and in pursuit of excellence."

Lloyd Grove: Today in the New York Post, there was an article about Harvey Weinstein getting into a brawl at the Gramercy Park Hotel—some kind of slap-down with the D.J. in the Rose Bar while movie stars looked on in shock.

Ian Schrager: Not really. We're getting a little color on this.

L.G.: Is that good for the Gramercy Park Hotel?

I.S.: No, it's not good, it's not bad. I don't know what the people, when they read Page Six, what they get out of it. I suppose reading about how popular the bar is and who was there is good. The kind of brouhaha that happened—which is really much ado about nothing—I don't think it hurts. You know, I think it might help. Would I rather that it didn't appear? Yes, I would rather it didn't appear.

L.G.: Is that not the image that you want to project for that property?

I.S.: Yes.

L.G.: No fistfights in the bar.

I.S.: No, it has nothing to do with fistfighting. Maybe if I were younger, maybe 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, maybe I would've been okay with it. But at this point in my life, that kind of thing, I think, is a little bit beneath my dignity, and the dignity of the hotel.

L.G.: You're getting more into dignity now as time passes?

I.S.: [Laughs] I was always into dignity. I just never talked about it!

L.G.: You've had an amazing run. You've lived at least three lifetimes, haven't you?

I.S.: Maybe more.

L.G.: Maybe more than that. Just because there's a bit of confusion in my mind about your projects versus Morgans [the hotel group Schrager left in 2005], and they're often conflated in recent press accounts, can you just take me through them? I mean, obviously, 40 Bond Street, One Madison-

I.S.: No, we sold One Madison about a year ago. And we recently sold out at 50 Gramercy Park North, which is a residential project adjacent to the hotel. And we have two units left at 40 Bond. I think we set a record price per square foot at both projects.

L.G.: What were those?

I.S.: Close to $3,000 a foot. I think in the Gramercy Park area, before we got there, prices were probably $1,200 to $1,400 a foot, and I think in the 40 Bond area the highest price was $800 to $900 a foot—so we're quite pleased with the results of those projects.

L.G.: It looks like Ricky Martin [who paid a reported $6.3 million for a three-bedroom at 40 Bond] got a pretty good deal on his apartment.

I.S.: Well, not really. I think it wound up at $2,700 or $2,800 a foot. And so, to me, when you have the business model that we have—with 28 units—we really can't give anyone any kind of accommodation. They sort of pay whatever the ask price is.

L.G.: So there's two left. If readers want to check it out and buy one, what are they? Describe the units.

I.S.: It's a one bedroom and a three bedroom. The one bedroom is, I think, $3.5 million. And the three bedroom is maybe $8 million or $9 million. . . . [In terms of other projects], we're working on a hotel in Miami Beach right now, which would be a cheap chic version of what we've done down there before. Because, I think, while everyone is banging their heads against high rates down there at Miami Beach, we've sort of forgotten the market that it got started with, and we want to go back in there and do that. We're renovating an existing hotel, the Riande on 21st Street [in South Beach]. And we're going to come up with a new brand and for a less expensive hotel. That'll probably be the first one that we'll be using the new name on.

L.G.: And this is separate from your deal with Marriott?

I.S.: Yes, it's the private-label company [Ian Schrager Co.] And not for public consumption yet, but we're very close to doing a deal for multiple hotels on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. And we're in discussion on closing a multiple-hotel deal in Las Vegas. And we're looking at other properties in Florida. Our strategy is to do eight or nine hotels in the private-label company. It'll be the combination of high-end hotels and less expensive hotels but—distinct from what I did before—instead of building these hotels to run them, I'm building them to sell them. I'll go public with them, sort of have the exit in mind, and maybe a six- or seven-year plan. The expensive hotel will be called The Schrager, and the less expensive hotel—we 're still considering what to call it.

L.G.: You've been in the hotel business quite a long time, but more recently you've gotten into residential building.

I.S.: It's an easy business.

L.G.: That's an easy business?

I.S.: Yeah, compared to hotels. When I build the residential project, when I'm finished building, I'm done. Yes, I have to market it, but it's not nearly as intensive as running a hotel. When I finish building a hotel, with the same effort—by the way, even more so—when the construction's complete, that's when the work starts. It's just more labor-intensive, more difficult, more moving parts. It's an operating business rather than a development effort.

L.G.: Right. And for the residential projects you're building for a very high-end market obviously.

I.S.: It's a particular kind of business model. We broke a lot of rules there. We built a 90,000-square-foot building for 40 Bond, and people would say you can't build a building that small, because things like that really don't pay. You know, you have to have a couple of hundred units. But to my way of thinking, having a couple hundred units, you're really vulnerable to the swings in the marketplace, and you make a couple hundred dollars a foot. I'd rather have 28 units, be a little bit insulated from where the economy goes—I'm very pro-distinct product-and make a couple thousand dollars a foot. And wind up making more than the bigger projects that require more financing and more capital to get done! So I like that business model. Similar to what happened to the hotel business. "Don't build a hotel that has less than 250 rooms." Where is that written? You know, it just depends upon the cash flow you can generate.

L.G.: Right. Are you in your penthouse [at 40 Bond] yet?

I.S.: I really didn't have any time to devote to it. I'm working on it now. It will be another year and a half. I'm making an effort that I've never made before where I've lived, you know. But I'm making that effort now to do something very special.

L.G.: Really, you haven't made that effort before? That's surprising.

I.S.: Well, you see, with a lot of architects and interior designers—not that I am one—the effort goes into the projects, not their homes. They don't have any time for their own individual thing. Some of them use it as work—to see what works and doesn't work—but I didn't. Everything I have—every bit of energy, every bit of passion—went into the projects. None of that ever went into my own private residence.

L.G.: What do you want to do with it? I saw you quoted somewhere saying it's the largest one bedroom in New York. It's 8,500 square feet plus 4,000 square feet of terrace space.

I.S.: You know, just a one-off custom-made kind of home with a new palette, kind of finish it in details and jettisoning the traditional notions of living—living room, parlors, things like that—and just doing something the way I currently live.

L.G.: And would you expect to stay there for a good long time?

I.S.: Hopefully.

L.G.: So tell me—we have the oil prices going sky high, we have a credit crunch, trouble on Wall Street—how is all that affecting your business?

I.S.: We have very a distinct product, which is an edge, but as long as the dollar stays where it is, people in Europe are buying at a 30 and 40 percent discount. So the market has continued to be strong in the high end. If the market—if the value of the dollar—really changed, I don't know. It may be keeping the country afloat, by the way, but I'm not an economist. What is troubling to me is, I'm starting to see ominous signs in the media, you know—the Federal Reserve thing, the economy's going to get worse, retail sales not good, the banks, the Blackstone Group thing [the private equity firm's disappointing third quarter earnings report]. It said in the papers that the mess from the subprime market is even worse and it's real tough out there with capitalizing and financing new deals. So I'm just instinctively, not analytically, but instinctively, feeling that we're heading into a correction.

L.G.: Do you think that if today you went through the crucible you went through in 2003 [when Schrager, then running the Morgans Hotel Group, the company he founded, was grappling with a mountain of debt for various highly leveraged, underperforming hotel properties and he was forced to seek bankruptcy protection for the Clift Hotel in San Francisco], you would have gotten through it?

I.S.: Yes. I always think I would get through it.

L.G.: But it would've been tougher, right? Because credit is less available now.

I.S.: In 2003, I wasn't in control of my own destiny. I am now, and you can always sit and make a reasonable deal. I've been in the business since 1982. I was in the business when interest rates were 21 percent. There's always a way of maneuvering and dealing with things. I think what happens sometimes is, people get locked into certain situations, and maybe acrimony sometimes creeps into certain kinds of relationships, you can go against people's interest, things happen, it takes on a life of its own. I would avoid that kind of situation.

L.G.: You left Morgans in 2005, right? So how do you feel about that now, two years out?

I.S.: Great decision. I really left because I was unhappy, and I really walked away from whatever economic benefits I might have otherwise. It was really the kind of decision that you sort of read about in the books, you know-somebody getting unhappy, and saying "I've had enough." I wasn't doing what I enjoyed doing. I wanted to do something else, I wanted to move on, I wanted to do something else. And I walked away thinking that I might not see any economic benefits. I did, but I was at risk of not, and it was a great decision because I'm doing what I love to do and I'm happy now.

L.G. Are you completely out of that company now? You had a stake for a while and you sold that back to them?

I.S.: Yep, I sold out when my six months' restriction expired.

L.G.: Recently they ripped out and replaced the Philippe Starck lobby at the Royalton. Have you been by to look at their handiwork?

I.S.: Yes.

L.G.: What do you think?

I.S.: Uh, you know, I think it's nice. Um, I can't second-guess what those guys had in mind. I had no emotional attachment to it, quite frankly. But I think from a business point of view, I would've done something different. But I don't know what criteria they were using and why they did it. And I think it was a very risky move. They were vulnerable to being criticized. But I can't second-guess them. I didn't have all the facts at hand that they may have had. There may even be some emotional issues involved, maybe making a complete break with me, I'm not really sure. I know we were planning on doing a renovation when I was still there, but we were going to put more of the emphasis in the rooms and sort of polish up and refine the lobby. But basically we liked to think that what we did was classic and timeless and would stay, even though it was incredibly provocative. I mean, I've never changed any of my other lobbies. The Morgans lobby is still the same lobby as it was in 1984.

L.G.: You and I have never talked before, so help me out here. When you say something looks "nice," is that a compliment?

I.S.: Uh, yes. I mean, what am I supposed to say? I'm not sure what they're doing now. I rely on product distinction, and I see the industry as falling into the same trap it did before I got started. Even though the design may be heightened, the places are beginning to look monotonously similar to each other. I don't think the public is going to get a benefit off of that.

L.G.: Of course that company has had more than a spot of bother lately. [In September, Morgans' chief executive, W. Edward Scheetz, a 42-year-old father of two who had been Schrager's biggest investor, was forced to resign "to address personal issues" after he found his 23-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Lynn Hatchel, lying dead in his Las Vegas apartment, apparently having overdosed on cocaine and oxycodone.]

I.S.: It's sad. It's a sad thing.

L.G.: I don't know if you're still friendly.

I.S.: Yes, I am.

L.G.: As someone who's been through crucibles of your own, have you reached out to him?

I.S.: Yes, I have. You never wish anybody to get hurt and take a fall. Even an enemy. It's bad karma. Having been through my own kind of sadness, I know that if you play it right, people forget and you can go on. If you do it the way O.J. did it, you won't be able to go on, people won't forget. Maybe if O.J. would have laid low for a year or so, he would've been in a different situation than he's in now. But it is a very sad thing. To me it's a pity actually. I think it could've happened to anybody, to tell you the truth.

L.G.: By the way, I don't think people have forgotten what you've been through, but I think it kind of adds something to, if you will, the myth of Ian Schrager and the fact that there are indeed second acts in American lives.

I.S.: More than second acts. But people do forget to the extent that the stain comes out and the stigma goes away. Maybe it does add cachet, but I, for one, don't find any of that appeal in what happened to me. It could've destroyed me, so I really want to forget about it.

L.G.: But in my reading I found something that's interesting: The prosecutor came by the Palladium [the nightclub Schrager and Rubell opened in the early 1980s after getting out of prison] and said "Alright guys, just don't fuck this up." So it was almost like his endorsement, like he was rooting for you.

I.S.: Well, we think we were good guys who got intoxicated and lost our way, did something stupid. You know, we were guys from Brooklyn, didn't have any money, we kept our values intact, and we remained friends with the same people. We loved our parents and family. But we just got intoxicated with the whole thing and did stupid things. I think we're proof that the system works.

L.G.: By the way, if you go on the Morgans Hotel website, it's all about you and Steve—I mean all the articles are highlighted. And, as a recent New York Times piece pointed out, when they're quoting a Vanity Fair rave about the Royalton lobby, it was about the old lobby, not their lobby.

I.S.: They shouldn't have done that. They just opened themselves up to criticism. It probably was an oversight . . . You know, there are projects that have had illustrious pasts, and they became a burden and they no longer have the relevance they once had. A classic example, I think, is the Algonquin, where something was good yesterday and for some reason it doesn't maintain pure today and the new owners and developer are sort of between a rock and a hard place. What do you do? We've had two places like that-the Gramercy Park Hotel and the Clift. We kept the DNA of the Clift in San Francisco and the Gramercy Park here, but we made them better, we updated them. But reasonable people differ on approaches.

L.G.: Why did you have the insight to recruit Julian Schnabel, a painter and a filmmaker, into the Gramercy Park Hotel project as a designer?

I.S.: He's a Renaissance man, I think. To me, the fact that he does things outside painting is a virtue. He gets criticized for it, but that's what Michelangelo and the Renaissance people did—they did everything: uniforms, objects, interiors, lamps, sculpture, painting, everything. But for some reason, in this era of specialization, he gets criticized for it. I think there's going to be a backlash against design, because there's a lot of one-upmanship, really no ethos, and I think the public is tiring of it. We just find something good and we just overdo it and all of a sudden there's a backlash.

The same thing's happening against brands, I think. Kids in Japan don't want to buy brands anymore. They want their own thing, vintage clothing, and they don't want to look like everybody else. It's been going on for a while. I think you could look at it in this country as well—take the Zara business model. You know, Gap is having issues not because of their C.E.O. but because their business model may be dated. We don't want to look like everybody else—which is to say, everybody in khakis. I don't think people want that. Then Zara comes along, changes its merchandise every two weeks, and you have an opportunity to go and not look like everybody. That's a business model. So [with the Gramercy Park Hotel] I wanted to go and by definition have the opportunity to do something really special. And in order to do that, I had to go outside the field. Secondly, the loft-which is an urban choice of living for all of us-is an artists' invention. We just thought that the way artists' studios are and the way their homes are, they're so unique and quirky in a way-ordinary things and unordinary things—they're so individualized, so original, and we wanted to do the hotel like that.

L.G.: Tell me, what's the status of your Marriott deal?

I.S.: We're working on a number of projects; we'll probably be announcing several projects at the end of January, and the name of that. And it's really working great. It's really been very joyful for me.

L.G.: Is the name now set?

I.S.: Almost set.

L.G.: What does it rhyme with?

I.S.: Can't say.

L.G.: How about The Romney?

I.S.: No, when you pick a name for Marriott it has to be airtight trademark-wise, so that has delayed things somewhat.

L.G.: In other words, there are all kinds of trademark lawyers going through all of that. Early in your career, you became a lawyer. Why?

I.S.: Well, first of all, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I figured I'd go to law school. I didn't really have something I wanted to do, and I think most young people don't, and so you just have to get out there and respond to opportunities, and I thought having a law degree and learning how to think analytically about things might give me a leg up—and it did. So I used what I learned there [at St. John's] in business, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. How could you? I had no idea I was going into the nightclub business. I was just responding to opportunities. That's the nature of business, I suppose.

L.G.: Did you always have an eye for architecture and buildings?

I.S.: I didn't realize until I was in the nightclub business that I did. Because Steve and I had different areas of influence. But none was mutually exclusive—there was tremendous overlap. I'll never forget the first time we opened up a nightclub in Queens. We both walked in there and Steve went to the bar to hang out with kids from Queens, and I went to the D.J. booth to play with the lights. That set the tone, and that's sort of the way it went from there.

L.G.: How would you describe your aesthetic sensibility?

I.S.: Uh, edgy, you know, provocative, innovative. I'm always looking to do new things. Not necessarily modernist or minimalist. I think the language that we use at the Gramercy is traditional, but the way you sort of put it together comes out in an edgy kind of way. I like to do things that people haven't seen before, I like to break new ground. That's what excites me and hopefully defies categorization—you know, very stylish and tasteful, and hopefully other people will think that as well.

L.G.: Good thing Bill Marriott toured the Gramercy Park and not one of your "edgier," less traditional hotels.

I.S.: Well, I was trying to do this kind of deal for a few years. I wanted to do a deal that had big scale, because it's something that I never did before. You know, to do these wonderful hotels, these custom-made hotels that I do, it's very exhilarating, but I've been doing it for 25 years. And I still enjoy it, obviously. I still love it, but it can't be as exhilarating as it once was. And also, I came to see my ideas just adopted by everyone and then even revisionist theories that maybe they weren't even my ideas in the first place. It's frustrating for me—and so I thought the greatest way to respond to that would be to come up with a new kind of thing and then get it out there so fast and permeate the market and preempt the copiers. I mean, people say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I don't see it like that, you know? I'm competitive and my ideas are like my children. And they're my ideas! You can't take my ideas! So that was real to me. I don't want this to sound silly because I am a businessman, but I didn't do it to make money. I did it to do a good product; that was the object, and the money is a natural consequence of that. So I wanted to do a deal that had big scale, and be a new challenge, so I was talking to a lot of big hotel companies. And when the opportunity came with Marriott-which I consider the best and the brightest, because they're not finance guys or marketing guys, they're operators—you get excited about it.

L.G: How is that collaboration going? I hear that, from time to time, you've had differences in approach.

I.S.: You know what? The media always looks for some kind of, like, issues.

L.G.: Ian, no!

I.S.: I've been asked, "What happens when Bill Marriott wants to put a Bible in the room?" That's fine with me! I mean, please, the only reason I didn't have a Bible in the room was because everyone else had it. So is Bill Marriott any different than I am? Than Steve Rubell was? I mean, we're complementary, our DNA is alike, we're both competitive and in pursuit of excellence. On the surface, we're maybe different, but I think inside maybe we're not so different. There was a commonality of a purpose and it's been going great because I think they realized they can't do what I do, and I certainly can't do what they do, but together we can do something neither one of us could do alone. It really is the makings of a perfect partnership, you know? And I work with those guys now a lot. I just got back from a trip with them to Chicago and L.A. last night. You know, I find those guys smart, and they're treating me very nicely, and the phones are ringing off the wall to do these hotels. When we announced it, we thought we'd announce five hotels by the end of the year. But there's going to be a substantial increase over that.

L.G.: What's the nature of the deal? Give me numbers if you want.

I.S.: No, really, we split fees, and at the end of a certain period of time, Marriott will buy me out—at their election or my election.

L.G.: And it's a hundred hotels around the world?

I.S.: I think it could be more. I don't do it by focus groups, I just know. Why should it be smaller than Apple's market? Or Nike's market, or Gap's or Zara's or H&M's market or Ikea's market? Why should we be smaller than that, as long as we keep the same level of sophistication?

L.G.: All the hotels will be different from one another, though.

I.S.: That's not as much of an effort as everybody thinks. I mean, the hotels are in different cities, the physical plants are different, the designers will be different, they will be different by definition. So that's not such a difficult thing. Just by changing the elements that go into an individual project, including the market, will make the projects differ. I'm not going to sit down and rack my brain to come up with some new idea, no, but they will be different.

L.G.: I'm just curious, who do you admire?

I.S.: In the hotel business? Certainly Bill Marriott, Steve Wynn, Sol Kerzner, Izzy Sharp—all those guys I admire. They've all made contributions and they're all great and they're all offering something else. Everybody else is derivative about what they're doing. Everybody. And then outside that are those people that sort of try to bridge the gap between art and commerce—David Geffen, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Steve Jobs—those guys that are able to keep one foot in art and one foot in commerce, and make a really good business out of it.

L.G.: What do you think of Donald Trump?

I.S.: You know, I have a lot of respect for Donald. I know him as an individual. He's a really hard-working guy; he's really smart, a serious builder. Not the kind of thing I do, obviously, but I have tremendous respect.

L.G.: How about Andre Balazs?

I.S.: Good. He does a good job, a credible job. I think for the people out there that are doing these kinds of hotels, these genre hotels, he probably does the best job. There are others that are good as well. I think there's a group out in California called Kor that does a good job. I think Jason Pomeranc does a credible job. Take two people in my business that I admire the most of anyone in the world, Keith McNally in New York and Jean Louis Costes in Paris.

L.G.: And how is your partnership working with Aby Rosen? You've known him for 20 years, but been in business with him only recently.

I.S.: I always have a partner. Most business guys like to finance, like to chase, like the transaction, like to deal. To me, it's a necessary evil to get the deal done. I want to work on a project, and Aby doesn't only do that. But we were friends first. He went through a divorce, I went through a divorce, the way he handled it, he's a doting father and I am as well. We became friendly, and after we became friendly, then we started doing things together and it's very rewarding. He's involved in the Gramercy Park Hotel, 50 Gramercy Park, 40 Bond, and all the deals that happened after I left Morgans Hotel Group. I really wanted to get started fast. And there are other people out there who left that company and didn't get started so fast, by the way. So I wanted to get out there really fast, working on three projects—two residential projects, I'd never done that before, and a hotel project that I wanted to rethink and reinvent at every step along the way. So it was quite difficult.

L.G.: I've noticed, just sitting in the lobby, that people in your office walk very fast.

I.S.: Everything is fast around here. But it's fun. Everybody who works here knows that they're involved with something special. I mean, you're not going to get a gold watch after 20 years, but it's something different, it's more of a way of life.

L.G.: I've seen you quoted as saying that your biggest accomplishments are your daughters.

I.S.: Yeah. There's Sophia, 13, and Ava, 10.

L.G.: Do they seem to like this business?

I.S.: I don't know. My ex-wife [Rita], whom I'm very friendly with, went to some sort of fortune-teller who said my younger daughter might want to come into the business. I come from a middle-class family in Brooklyn and my parents wanted the proverbial doctor and lawyer. My brother's a doctor. And I have a completely opposite ambition for my girls. They have to do something; I want them to be happy; I want them to have to contribute back something obviously... My ambition is for them to be happy. It's not that same sort of middle-class syndrome that I came from. The idea is to be happy in life. There is no destination. It is just a trip, and enjoy yourself along the way. I don't mean in a hedonistic kind of way.

L.G.: Speaking of which, here we are, 30 years out from the founding of Studio 54. Are you surprised that it has such an enduring power as a certain myth in American culture?

I.S.: Yes, I am. It is a myth. I think people remember things better than the real thing.

L.G.: It only lasted, what, 20 months?

I.S.: Well, it opened in '77. It probably lasted until the middle of '80, and then we sold it and it went on for another four or five years, and then there was a theater, Studio 54.

L.G.: But by that time you guys were out of it. It was just, like, who cares?

I.S.: It was a different thing. With us, it was the right thing at the right time-lightning striking. We were a couple of kids holding onto a lightning bolt. And what we always did-there were lots of things that were going on—we put them all together, took them up a notch, executed a little bit better, and that's what happened then. The gay population was setting the tone. New York was in bad economic shape, so the country seemed to be tipping over and rolling in here from all across the country. You were obliged to come to New York to make art at that time, you are no longer, but you were then. It was just like the way it was in Rome in the '50s and London in the '60s, I suppose. It was just New York's time then and we had—it was a new idea. It needed more glamour and more design.

L.G.: What was the new idea? The velvet rope? Which you and Steve are credited with inventing. I hate that.

I.S.: Me too. The new idea was to do a nightclub that we really based upon diversity, not uniformity. And to have rich people and poor people and black people and white people and old people and young people sort of being there together, and that diversity created a combustibility. And it was the first time that the clubs were really not painted black, everything was dark, there was a theatrical approach, the lighting and special effects were really quite sophisticated. The scene changed quite often, and there was more of a design orientation. You know, it's a little bit of this and a little bit of that and it all comes up and takes you to a sort of new place. It doesn't have to be a completely novel and new thing. It just has to be different enough.

L.G.: There was also the mythic hedonism, the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and all these famous faces congealed together in one boiling pot.

I.S.: Yeah, it was different times. The pill had come out, and there was nothing you could do that night that you couldn't get up from the next morning. The gay population was emerging and setting the cultural tone. Before that it was blacks, and now it's again the blacks. It was just a different time and all these sort of forces sort of come together and create an opportunity, and we happened to be responsive to it. It probably won't repeat itself

L.G.: One of the more interesting characters who was in your life was Roy Cohn [the notorious red-baiting lawyer and New York powerbroker who died of AIDS in the early 1980s. He represented Schrager and Rubell in their tax evasion case.] You miss him at all?

I.S.: Well there's nobody like Roy Cohn. There was no free lunch with Roy.

L.G.: Except his. Roy never paid for a meal, did he?

I.S.: I don't think so. But, you know, I do miss him. And there's nobody since then that I've seen that is as capable to accomplish what he was able to accomplish. But that seems so far in the past.

L.G.: I know you've been quoted as saying that you really, really miss Steve.

I.S.: I never had a friend like that. You know, Aby and Michael Fuchs [Rosen's partner in their real estate development company, RFR Holding] have that kind of thing now. They really love each other and doing it together and they don't even have to communicate, they know from, like, a body rhythm. I had that with Steve, and it was really great; it was really fulfilling. It's like now I'm sort of alone and isolated and by myself. I don't have that kind of partner to bounce off. I'll never have that again.