“I don’t like to follow trends”
Nightlife extraordinaire Nur Khan explains why nightlife in New York is unique and the reasons behind his motivation to be successful in this business….
Hi Nur, you are well-known for your massive contribution to the nightlife scene in New York due to having owned several clubs in the past (these including ‘Wax’, ‘Sway’, ‘Hiro/Hiro Ballroom at The Maritime Hotel’, ‘Rose Bar at Gramercy Park Hotel’, ‘Kenmare’, ‘Don Hill’s’), and currently the ‘Electric Room at Dream Downtown’ and Creative Director of ‘Tao Downtown Lounge’, but what is it about this particular city that you love and are there any differences that you have noticed in the nightlife in various cities around the world perhaps?
I love New York, especially at night, because there is so much diversity. There’s something for everyone, at any given time. The nicest thing and the biggest difference about nightlife in New York is it is so simple to get to any destination you want, you’re always a short taxi.. (umm UBER) trip away. You can hit multiple places easily whereas in other cities it’s much more of a production, drive, more planning involved in picking a destination, because if you fancy something different, it’s not as easy to get there in a short amount of time. NYC makes your choices very simple to make.
In past interviews you have spoken about how you were poor while growing up in Connecticut, is this one of the reasons why you were inspired you to start up your business? To make a success of yourself? And what were some of the challenges faced while running these clubs?
I just started working at a very young age, pretty simple. And I developed a hard work ethic to get the things in life I wanted, because no one was going to hand them to me. There are always challenges, but if you manage them correctly you wind up with a good experience and something people enjoy. The biggest challenge for me usually (yet the most rewarding) is the creative process, and in my personal case I like to shake things up each time I do something new. I don’t like to follow trends, I’d rather create something relatively different then what’s going on or has been going on for a while. I take pride in that. Trying to be ahead of the curve..
What have been the highlights so far of this incredible business career that you are sustaining? Did you ever think it had this sort of longevity?
There are way too many highlights to list. Each one of my venues have been very special in their own way. And I’m rather discreet so I probably couldn’t highlight most of the fun stuff that’s taken place in my places. Names would have to be changed to protect the innocent??
No I never thought about longevity, although now 20 years after opening my first NYC venue “WAX” I am launching a new website NURKHAN.COM showcasing the past and current venues and the good times that have been had . There will be a soft launch of the sight this week and then stay tuned for the official launch party, there’s gonna be some good music involved that night !!
The interiors of the venues you have owned, past and present, are all very beautifully designed, where do you come up with ideas for how you want the rooms to appear?
When I design a room I usually start with the “bones” of the place and then see what I have to work with. Then ideas come to me and if I have to travel to get design ideas or fill a container with items that can’t be found locally I will do so. I’ll get a concept and then it usually comes to me relatively quickly once I know which way I want to go. Then it’s just a matter of getting creative and doing something different. I usually like to involve a lot of texture I will say in my rooms. There’s nothing worse than painted sheetrock!!
In the ‘Electric Room’, one of your current projects, the design is very British themed. Is there a reason for why this was chosen? Also, you had a recent visit to London, what do you like about the place?
I have always had an extremely British contingent of friends from the first place I opened in NYC and consistently up until now. I have a lot of friends from London and the UK. It probably started because of the music I play. It’s always had the new UK single that hasn’t been heard yet over here, and the musicians appreciate that musically literate sensibility to my rooms. I can get away with things that the larger clubs can’t because they have to cater to the masses to fill those rooms. I can keep things tighter and a little more obscure in a smaller room. I like that and most of my guests do. Electric room is kind of an homage to the “cool britannia” era as far as design goes, with the cool Brit Pop scene when the music and art scenes blew up there.
Being heavily involved in fashion, are there any particular designers that you admire? And you love to adorn your clothes (which I must say your style is rather distinctive) with your own jewellery pieces…does it feel great to see ideas that you have thought up with friend Lazaro (who designs jewellery for menswear designer John Varvatos) come together and then wear it?
I have many designers I like. Too many to name, but I will say, the majority of my daily wardrobe year round is by my friend John Varvatos. He pretty much dresses me head to toe. We have the same rock n roll couture sensibility. I love his clothes!! Yes it feels great to collaborate with friends on clothing or jewellery as I do with Lazaro Diaz, (show also happens to do a jewellery line for John Varvatos now). Lazaro and I have been collaborating on jewellery for a hell of a long time. I don’t like to wear things that other people can buy off the rack for the most part. I like to be part of the creative process of almost anything I wear, and design my things as well.
Is there any advice you would give to someone who is trying to start up a business?
Have a great vision, believe in it, and work your ass off to make it come to fruition!!
Who are your favourite musical artists? And have you ever been genuinely star struck by anyone you have encountered?
Way too many musical artists to list, I’m inspired by, and appreciate so many. I don’t really get star struck, I have met so many of the people who come to my venues and whose music I love. I’m fortunate to have them like what I do, and come visit me or vice versa, invite me come to their shows. I do appreciate the common thread we share, which is a general deep love and appreciation for the music and artists I may happen to like.
You have mentioned that you feel there is a general misconception about ‘the scene’ which your restaurants/clubs encompass due to the fact that many of the people who visit are artistic/musical. Why do you think some who may enter for the first time may possibly feel intimidated? (For example, as previously mentioned food critic Sam Sifton from ‘The New York Times’ negative review about ‘Kenmare’?)
That was a quote taken out of context. Let’s be clear, Joey Campanaro is a 2 star chef!! You either like the vibe or feel at home and comfortable or you don’t I suppose? Different strokes for different folks that’s all.
Now that you are launching a website and Tumblr page to celebrate 20 years in the business, are there any goals you feel you are yet to achieve?
Aah, the website haha.. mentioned that earlier. Of course I have goals. I always want to grow and be successful. I’d like to get more involved in the scope of hotel projects in general and partner up and get more involved in the hotels, the design of the entire project with developers, the interiors, and the venues incorporated in them… I can see that as another step I would take. My venues help market these properties already. It’s logical to take the next step after being in hotels for the past 10 years now – that and being able to give myself some more time to myself for starters. The world is your oyster.
How do you like to spend your down time?
I’m most passionate about my martial arts. I like to train in my down time. If I had my way and hit the lotto I’d be training all day. Nothing makes me happier than gaining martial arts knowledge and training. I had an opportunity to travel to China for quite some time to train in the legendary Shaolin temple and with the warrior monks full time, the best experience of my life by far. I can’t check out of town like that at this point in my career, but when I do have time that stimulates me the most, if not that a nice holiday on a remote beach is always nice. The less commercial the better, I can see whoever I want in NYC practically.
Where is the best place in the world you have travelled to?
So many places to list. I used to love Bali, however it’s become way over developed so I don’t go there as much as I used to, and certain parts of Thailand. I’m due for a nice trip to Africa. Love to be in nature, diving off a great reef somewhere remote is always nice for me. It’s twice as peaceful underwater in beautiful colourful surroundings.
Sum up the nightlife in New York City in 3 words?
Vibrant, Exciting, HOME ..
If you were trapped on a desert island, what 5 things would you want to have with you and why?
A great companion, ‘nuff said right? As many martial arts books I could read, unlimited music selection that I could listen to, great food, and of course as my friends know .. Sake.. Why, because those things all make me happy?
You are given a list of 10 songs you would like to have played at one of your venues, what songs would these be and why?
It would depend on which venue, and what demographic that particular venue caters to. Way too many to list…I’m sure there would be some Rolling Stones, Jack White, Led Zeppelin, The Blues, reggae, if it were one of the smaller more intimate venues. I couldn’t think about narrowing it down to specific songs, each place is different. That’s a tough one, way too much good music out there to narrow it down to 10 songs. I’d be doing an injustice to way too many artists, whose music I appreciate, by leaving them out.
Check out Nur’s new website, includes amazing videos:
Look out for Nur at an upcoming event:
Nur will be hosting the hospitality/artist area at the Governor’s Ball. This will be tied in with the official launch party of his website.