Nur Khan and Paul Sevigny
Don Hills is not a candyland, manufactured club with bottle service and 20 scantily clad bottle girls; it’s a rock and roll downtown venue that’s been home to artists and die-hard rock fans for almost twenty years. It’s where you imagine Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone going to hang out after they finished their last set and just want to have a Marb Red and a Jameson. During SS11 New York Fashion Week, it was also home to a party that made fashion people forget to pose and just have a really good time its first since reopening under two guys who have taken a personal interest in making sure New York nightlife remains awesome, Nur Khan and Paul Sevigny. I talked to the guys behind Rose Bar and Kenmare and most of the other places the cool kids hang out to get to know how they came to take over the spot where Taylor Momsen flashed her boobs at a recent event, and why New Yorkers and Givenchy are in the market for something a little grittier right about now.
Tell me about how you met and the beginning of your partnership.
Nur Khan: Paul and I actually met at one of the first night clubs I ever opened up in Connecticut. It was this big rock n roll venue, a decrepit old movie theater with a big balcony where we used to take these bands from Roseland and the Academy Theater. We had this big music scene going on Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins.
Anyway, Paul and I both grew up in Connecticut. Hes from Darien and someone put us together for an event at the club. Thats where we met the first time. And then years later, I moved to New York and I owned a bar called Sway on Spring and Greenwich Street, where Paul came in and did a DJ residency. Weve been friends ever since.
Why do you think your partnership works so well in creating venues people just really want to go to?
Nur Khan: Because I think we really dont care what anybody else is doing, what trend happens to be going on at what time. Were very particular about our music. Were not the type of guys who are going to play one hip-hop tune to please the hip-hop sect, and one rock tune to please the rock sect, electro-tunes back to back which basically makes you happy with one out of three songs that you hear in a place, you know? We create niche music venues youre never going to hear a bad song if youre our type of clientele in our rooms.
Paul Sevigny: Nur and I share the the same approach of what is best musically and aesthetically.
Why did you think Don Hill’s would be a a good project for you both?
PS: I played in a band, and played Don Hill’s many times and I’ve been friends with Don for years and two years ago he approached me about buying it and I knew I didn’t want to lose Don Hill’s to bottle service. It just seemed like the right fit. We thought we’d be stronger as a team, and approached it from there.
Awesome, so tell me about your thoughts on Don Hills before you took it over. What was the vibe of the place?
PS: Anybody in NYC and nightlife has had great times there, it’s one of the last NYC rock places. We lost CBGB and Continental, so it’s one of the last real underground spots left.
NK: Ive always loved Don Hills. I used to live there in the 90s and Dons been a friend of mine for 15 years. And I owned Sway, which was right across the street from it actually. Ive always loved gnarly, rock and roll, grungy places. I have no ego and no problem hanging out in a joint like that. Ive always wanted to get my hands on it but there have been certain lease stipulations where I couldnt, and things changed, and we jumped at the chance to take it.
Once you decided to take over Don Hill’s what was your approach?
NK: We wanted to freshen it up and keep the gnarly old New York vibe thats been missing from New York nightlife. Everything has been so sterile, and everyone kind of follows the same formula, and almost the same aesthetic in most of the clubs you go to, you know? And we just miss the old funky rock and roll, Kansas City, CBGBs, edgy vibe. We wanted to keep that vibe to the room, but make it a little more girl-friendly, nice new booths, you know, clean the bathrooms, but keep the essence of the room.
We brought a couple artist friends of ours in, Sante DOrazio curated one side of the room with his photography. And we got a cabaret license so you can just dance your ass off all night long and not give a shit about anything.
PS: We basically just put in new banquettes, we also put in art by street artist Harif Guzman, but the art will change. Slater Badley will be the next artist featured , he’s shown at the Whitney and the Guggenheim before – we want to change it up, keep it fresh.
There have been a lot of fashion shoots at Don Hill’s since you took it over, why do you think people are feeling that grittier vibe right now?
NK: Its interesting to see Givenchy, Louis Vuitton wanting to do their shoots in there. It’s everything else I keep saying: everything feels the same and everyones following the same formula and were the complete 180 degree direction in the other way. People love that cool downtown element thats why we did this. We miss that old downtown New York when it was the artists and musicians hanging out down here and the bankers were all uptown just real nitty gritty New York City.
PS: Maybe people just want that dark nightclub feel, that fresh young energy even the walls will be different again in a few months, it’s DIY I guess, that’s why it feels so 80s. It’s just about friends, not designers and contractors. It was decorated in a few weeks, it’s not super planned, it doesn’t feel brand new to me.
Who do you think are the kids that are going there? Who’s Don Hill’s clientele?
NK: Younger clientele for sure, people who want to dance, have a laugh, not feel cold, sitting in their chairs, like dont let your hair down and dont have fun. Rock and rollers, for sure. Artists, an assorted mix. It’s a lot of people who miss that whole generation and who have never been in that generation and never got a chance to see CBGBs or Maxs. People who were curious about what it was really like back in the day.
People obviously love what you guys do, what do you think makes a good bar/club?
PS: For the people who come it’s about them and not the room it’s a place to feel comfortable. A place like the Beatrice was like someone’s living room, it’s individual. Like Kenmare and Rose Bar are big, so it’s not about working within a model. A lot of people repeat things, we try for different and individual projects.
Do you have anything else coming up next that we should know about?
NK: Were working on a lot of things right now. Were working on a Brooklyn project, a place in Williamsburg that Im kind of excited about. A dance club. Im going to stop there, I cant go further until I get the paperwork signed!