By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
A year ago, he was asked by managers at Westway to host a night. "We always wanted to have a fun gay party," says Lyz Olko, nightlife director at the club. "I've been friends with Frankie for a long time, and knew his parties at Bedlam. His parties are fun, diverse, and—fortunately—very popular." Sharp had conditions. "I told them I would do it if I had full creative control," he says. "I wanted a gnarly circus. I wanted downtown and sleazy. I remember watching Drag Race and saw Sharon Needles and kind of had a feeling about her. I told the management that I wanted to fly her here to perform. They were not into it, but I told them, 'If we do this, you will get your party on the map.' By March, WestGay was huge."
On a Tuesday afternoon in February, Sharp is folding laundry in his bedroom in the small East Village apartment he shares with a roommate. (He has a boyfriend, but they don't live together.) RuPaul's Drag Race plays on his TV with the sound off. His iPhone buzzes. "Sorry. Tonight is our one-year anniversary [at WestGay] and there's a little bit of drama." He checks his phone often, but Sharp, who is exceedingly polite, manages to stay present even as he taps away.
He just bought steel garment racks to get his clothes off the floor, and hanging on them now are rows of bright tracksuits with music-note, skeleton, and zebra prints. In one corner sits a neat stack of brightly printed canvas tote bags. "They are all from Jeremy Scott's shows," he says. "You get one every year if you are in the front row." Sharp attends the designer's show every season, and was the face of Scott's Adidas men's line for its first three years. "I believe that Frankie's parties speak to the same group of people that I do," Scott says via e-mail.
Sharp may like the front-row treatment at fashion shows, but he says his agenda at WestGay is to keep things unpretentious. "One time, I had a group of people show up—three famous designers and one famous celebrity," he recalls. "The manager came up and asked if we could get them a seat and a bottle right under the neon sign—for some reason that's the spot people like to be seen at—and I told them no. Everyone's the same here."
He also allows his creative team a surprising degree of freedom. "He's not one of those promoters who tells you what to do," says Nita Aviance, one of his resident DJs. "Nightlife was getting lame, and music had gone to the wayside when they set up a party. But we are supposed to be the New York City underground. It's not about what they want to hear; it's what they need to hear."
Sharp describes his party-organizing style as putting on "layers and layers" to build a night. That means having highly regarded DJs like Aviance or JonJon Battles, arranging a performance by talent like dance-music trio the Ones or Chicago's gay rap group Banjee Report, putting a DJ like Timmy Dowling in the back room, and making sure his co-hosts and comps are all happy, all of which requires running endless laps around the room. "It's all personality management," Sharp explains. "I'm really OCD, so I love it when things align. It's a Rubik's Cube of duties." Now that he is hitting critical mass with the three events, Sharp is making enough to live comfortably. "I can pay rent, eat where I want to, and go shopping," he says, as well as send money home to his two sisters and his parents, who now live in Seattle.
"This is a Big Boys job," he writes later, in one of his constant e-mails. "Every day Mon–Sun from 9am on I'm answering emails, Facebook messages, texts and phone calls about booking talent, whether it be flights, hotels, dates for WestGay and Friday. EVERYTHING. I'm ALWAYS personality managing. Blowing up EGOS, taming EGOS, lighting fire under lazy asses and calming the overly ambitious ones down."
"Nightclubs, when they're good, are about creating social spaces and breaking down cultural and social barriers," says Jake Yuzna, manager of public programs at the Museum of Arts and Design. "Frankie has a certain unabashed love for things that are tacky and over the top. You get the sense he celebrates all the things that you're not supposed to." For the past three years, the museum has awarded grants—the Fun Fellowship in Social Practice of Nightlife—to personas like Ladyfag and the collective FKNLZ to explore clubland's meaning and value. Sharp is one of this year's recipients. He plans on creating, he says, "an event or exhibit that celebrates every important person in nightlife in the last 40 years."
Bringing in Frankie Sharp to host a Friday night is an obvious calculation by Santos Party House to capitalize on his brand of tastemaking cool, and also represents a kind of crossover for him to a much bigger, more mainstream, straight venue. "I was beyond ecstatic when I heard that Spencer Sweeney [one of the Santos co-owners] was bringing Frankie Sharp on for a new weekly Friday party," says Cherie Lily, one of the club's creative directors. "I love Frankie's crowd and the energy he brings to his events." Santos, which was opened in 2009 to much fanfare by a team of entrepreneurs that include the pop star Andrew W.K., has had a challenging time re-establishing its presence since a drug bust in 2010. "There's the curse of Santos. It has a party hex," says one promoter. "They don't give out enough drinks to promoters and hosts, and they have a really jarring door policy where they search your bags and frisk you. Not good for parties, because you want people who do drugs. You don't want them driving a bus, but you want them at your night."