Magic Carpet Ride

Clubland Potentate David Marvisi Gets the Rug Pulled Out From Under Him

It sounds like another one of those classic tales of clubland reinvention: A teenage Persian Jew escapes the Iran of the ayatollahs, comes to America unable to speak English, but nonetheless manages to make a small fortune peddling car stereos, roach clips, and feather earrings. Despite his newfound affluence, he gets turned away from every trendy disco he tries to enter on account of his garish attire. As revenge, he vows to create his own fashionable nightspot, and after a visit to the hair colorist and a trip to a Dolce & Gabbana sample sale, ends up as the power behind four of the biggest Manhattan nightclubs of the moment: Spa, Exit, Capitale, and Estate, as well as the restaurant Butter. David Marvisi may be the new king of New York nightlife, but that title may not mean as much anymore, given the sorry state of the post-Giuliani club scene.

The 41-year-old Marvisi (born Homayoun Marvizi) is the mysterious multimillionaire who built a nightlife empire while nobody was looking. While the rest of clubland was preoccupied with the travails of his archrival Peter Gatien, Marvisi quietly rose from the shadows, and all of a sudden he was the most powerful club operator in town, drawing thousands of people to his venues. With a flamboyant lifestyle that automatically attracts attention, Marvisi is famously cheap but also a spendthrift who shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars for big-name DJs like Junior Vasquez and Paul Oakenfold. He drives around in a custom-made orange Bentley, wearing matching orange shoes and shirt, a diamond-encrusted watch hanging from his wrist. The effect that he creates is more Vegas—like Siegfried without Roy—than downtown cool. "I'm the king of the world," he likes to brag, and from the outside at least it might seem that way—a magic-carpet ride to the top and a tribute to the American free-enterprise system.

But behind the scenes, Marvisi's fledgling empire is already teetering, beset by money woes caused by the disastrous recent launches of both Estate and Capitale, not to mention the NYPD closure of his most profitable venue, Exit, three weeks ago for drug sales. Add in a rumored FBI interest in his operation and the new Peter Gatien is starting to sound a lot like the old one. (While the bureau's policy is not to comment officially on ongoing investigations, a paid government informant claimed to the Voice that the FBI is curious about Marvisi. In addition, a former top Marvisi employee also said he was recently questioned by a federal agent concerning allegations that the club owner was involved in laundering money. "I know for a fact that the FBI is looking into Marvisi," he said. "They called me a couple of weeks ago.")

illustration: Allen Douglas

After initially agreeing to be interviewed by the Voice, Marvisi failed to turn up for a dinner date at Tribeca Grill. He declined repeated requests to reschedule the appointment and didn't respond to written questions. His publicist, Claire O'Connor, subsequently confirmed that her client is aware of stories that the feds are looking into him and added, "I think it's a tragedy in the current climate in which we live that someone who has done so much for New York City both in terms of generating employment and providing entertainment is now being taken to task based on the sour grapes of a few disgruntled former employees." (Of course, the mere existence of an investigation is no proof of any wrongdoing.) Further contributing to Marvisi's woes, his business partners in the stillborn Estate—launched last November but already temporarily shuttered, except for the lucrative Sunday nights, because of a lack of customers the rest of the week—now want him ousted, fearing that a scandal will stain their reputations.

"Marvisi is out, that I can promise you," said an important player in the current drama surrounding the old Limelight space. "As far as I'm concerned, Estate will not reopen unless Marvisi is gone. Going into business with David Marvisi was the biggest mistake of my life."

Marvisi first sprang to public attention in the mid '90s with Mirage, on West 56th Street. This cavernous disco was truly a twin vista of tackiness, featuring two vast floors of chrome and mirror, a Versace room, and a young Sean "Puffy" Combs as a main party promoter. It was here that disgraced club kid Michael Alig threw his last ever bash before going to jail for manslaughter. Mirage eventually developed into Carbon, a hip-hop spot, which in turn became the more fashionable Exit, which unexpectedly became a raging success. For a while, Marvisi was bringing in buckets full of cash, which was stored in three large walk-in safes in the upstairs offices.

In April 2001, news of Marvisi's booming business reached the ears of a crew of Italian gangsters. "They approached him," said the former top aide, "and told him, 'We know you have a lot of problems at the club with drugs, and the police are always busting your balls. If you want the problem fixed, you have to pay us.' There were four of them. One of them told me to get out of the car and showed me a pistol he had in the waistband of his trousers. He said, 'Don't worry, we're not going to hurt you. We just want to talk.' Marvisi told them, 'Fuck you. I'm not paying you anything. I'm going to call the FBI,' and he did. The FBI agents interviewed me and David, but I don't think they believed him because David always exaggerates."

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