In nightlife’s lurid pecking order, club owner ranks only a notch below promoter in sleaziness. But NICOLAS MATAR, Cielo’s co-owner (he only has one partner, PHILIPPE RIESER), defies all clichés about club owners. You won’t read about him hanging out with celebrities in Page Six. You won’t see him plying customers with bottles. He’s the rarest kind of club owner—a music lover and a DJ who honed his chops on the Ibiza club circuit during the ’90s at the famed club Pacha.
I met him for the first time one April afternoon at Cielo. He wore a light blue sweater and the kind of squarish, smart glasses that might get him mistaken for an architect. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, the 33-year-old Matar speaks four languages, and was raised on New York house music. His father, who owned a men’s fashion boutique in Washington, D.C., was such a dance music aficionado, he built a mini-club in their basement. The usually reclusive Matar comes out of his office and from behind the decks, just long enough to promote the double mix CD Cloud 9—on which he shares duties with Cielo resident WILLIE GRAFF—the first in a series of Cielo discs.
It is because of Matar that Cielo, on Little West 12th Street, is one of the only pleasant places to actually go dancing in New York. Instead of an impossibly small area in the corner, the club has a proper sunken dancefloor and an exquisite sound system with the soundproofing built into its award-winning design. The formula is so simple, so obvious, yet it seems no one ever gets it right.
“A lot of club owners, they’re nerdy bankers who made a fortune. They have some money to play with, they know nothing about music, they know nothing about sound, they know nothing about the flow in the club, they know nothing about designing a club, and they open a club,” says Matar. “And that’s the problem. That’s why they put the bass cabinet on the ceiling—because aesthetically they don’t like the way it looks, and especially in New York in the last decade we’ve seen this. And I just thought, you know what? I’m so fed up with dealing with these owners who don’t really care about music, who don’t really care about the programming, who don’t care about the vibe and the energy. They just want to attract attention to themselves, meet girls, do drugs, and make a lot of money.”
“Nightclubs historically have been owned and operated by people that are in it for the wrong reasons. They’re in it because they’re seeking notoriety. They’re trying to buy in to a lifestyle that they weren’t a part of.” He takes a breath. “Am I talking too much?”
The club’s cozy construction makes it appealing to superstar DJs who normally only play for thousands of dollars and thousands of people. Everyone from DANNY TENAGLIA to ROGER SANCHEZ to DERRICK CARTER to HONEY DIJON to DOC MARTIN to MARQUES WYATT has spun there, and even during a normal week one can find house music’s most elite DJs. FRANCOIS K.‘s Deep Space party on Monday nights remains a local favorite, as does LOUIE VEGA and KEVIN HEDGE‘s weekly Wednesday party.
Matar says Ibiza club Pacha provided the blueprint for Cielo—not the infamous New York clubs. “People in this country talk about Studio 54 being a legendary club, but Pacha opened in 1967, and it’s still open today. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most legendary nightclub that’s ever existed. I was fortunate in the early ’90s, in the heyday of the club, to have worked as a resident DJ there for almost a decade, and I also got involved as a consultant at that time for them. It was like the Harvard Business School of nightclubs. That big club New York City underground experience died for me when the old Sound Factory closed.”
For now, he keeps house—and hope—alive via the little club that could.
Nicolas Matar spins July 9 at Cielo. His double mix disc hits stores July 12.