Below Union Square's venerable Coffee Shop, is party promoter-turned-partner Michael Gogel's first official nightclub in the bustling subway hub neighborhood since Palladium's heyday. Union Square Lounge, dubbed USL by anyone who has stepped past the faux-velvet rope, has a strict door policy: come one, come all. With the intimate sub-basement decor and 150 person capacity, not to mention the hip patrons smoking cigarettes, USL masquerades as the toughest door in town, but in reality is the most welcoming yet high-brow establishment in the city.
Niteside caught up with Michael Gogel over after-hours drinks and banana cream pie from Coffee Shop's kitchen about his beginnings as a nightlife promoter in Paris, close friend and mentor Richie Rich and how anyone with a Bloomingdale's bag won't be turned away from USL's door, as long as they can find it.
What did you do last night? And what are you doing tonight? Last night USL...Tonight USL..
How did you get your start in the NYC nightlife scene? And how long have you been doing it? I grew up in Paris, spent my first year of college in Florence and moved to New York in 2002 to finish off my studies at NYU. In Europe, we get into nightlife at an earlier age -- I think I was 15 when I first discovered my nightlife crush. I would always play host, throw parties and go out each week to some of the hip Parisian clubs, Les Bains-Douches, Regine's, L'Etoile, Castel, Queen. ... In Italy, I discovered promotions and student nightlife, threw some of my first real parties and also realized for the first time that if I was to do nightlife well, I had to learn the business of nightlife.
When I moved to New York, I switched my degree to a major in entrepreneurship, & design so as to teach myself proper foundations to run a successful business and decided it was time to seek out some real experience. I got my official New York nightlife start in 2003 at Lotus working under Jeffrey Jah, Mark Baker, David Rabin and Will Regan as my mentors. ... In 2006, the crew opened Double Seven, which was also an amazing venue and a mind-blowing experience for me. ... Since leaving the group, I worked in 2008-2009 as Director for Bijoux and Merkato 55 and formed my consulting and events group called PPX. As of October 2009, I have also been working as nightlife director for USL -- Union Square Lounge -- located below Coffee Shop in Union Square.
Any memorable nightlife encounters? So many great people over the years. ... I find myself most intrigued when I meet individuals who've played a part in the development of nightlife -- Richie Rich, who is now a close friend, represents an era in nightlife I imagine and think of all the time like 90s New York, the club-kid era. I wasn't here during that time period but am wishful for more adventure, creativity and freedom in nightlife. Whether from him or any of the other people I meet through the scene -- the best part is hearing stories and the sharing of experiences.
Nights that stand out?
Halloween. Always Halloween. We didn't have that in France
when I lived there -- it's sad I know, but we have it now. I only wish that much creativity flowed year round.
How do you think the party scene differs in NYC than in other cities? New York City offers a unique form of nightlife. Nowhere else is there so much going on 24/7. There is something here in New York for every type of person. Most of us get stuck up on the pop/VIP nightlife scene that is the Meatpacking [District] and Chelsea today, but there is so much more to this city. Hundreds of bars, clubs and lounges open every night. ... I love New York.
When did you first realize you wanted your own place and why? Owning my own place, building it out and developing its design and architecture is the only way for me to really showcase my personality and create a world fitting for the customer.
What is your goal with USL? How do you make it stand out from the crowd of "it" spots? I want to offer a more accessible form of nightlife through USL, and I'm hoping the current door policy reflects the club's personality. Union Square Lounge is a small 150-person room with an intimate feel, and here I want to bring together the most popular DJs, the hip New York crowd but also have no-name DJs and open up for those people who are looking for a simple good night out and not wanting to put up with the stress of the popular nightlife scene. USL offers the same great atmosphere, service, music, bar and food menu options you would expect from a high-profile establishment, all without the usual stresses you traditionally encounter when going out -- usually at the door.
What has been your favorite event at USL since it's "reopening"?
Probably our Phoenix and Passion Pit afterparty. Maybe it's the French connection.
If you could open a venue in any other city where would it be? A few projects in mind. Looking to make it to Cartagena, Bangkok, and Dubai. Will be back in Paris someday but other things first.
When you're not at USL, where do you hang out? I don't have a preferred hangout. I like to change scenery and lots of my hanging out entails going out to see friends in the industry. As for nighttime, it's either attending events or hopping around. Last week included visits to 1Oak, Avenue, The Standard Hotel, Black&White, KGB Bar, Don Hills, Beauty Bar, Nevada Smiths, Darkroom, Spin. ... A bit of this, a bit of that.
Published at 7:49 AM EST on Mar 18, 2010