One of New York City's hottest nightclubs is located in the newly trendy meat-packing district, where the smell of rotting animal flesh can be stifling. Accordingly, the door policy at Lotus is to let in the beautiful people and turn away lesser mortals within five minutes. In this West Village neighbourhood, where the dark streets were once lined with prostitutes, SUV limos now shuttle glamorous types to chic restaurants like Pastis and Fressen. And at Lotus, models arrive with celebrities in tow, sashaying past the velvet rope, a doorman and a bevy of security guards. Inside, they move along the bar made of bobinga wood - a luscious mahogany from Africa - sipping $12 mixed drinks served by Gwyneth Paltrow look-alikes. Thanks to a $5.2-million renovation, this onetime strip club is now a three-level restaurant-lounge-dance club, packed with regulars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Naomi Campbell, Elle McPherson, Kristy Hume, Sean (Puffy) Combs and Jennifer Lopez. Even Salman Rushdie boasted recently that he'd been to Lotus. And pulling the strings is Canadian co-owner Jeffrey Jah, a 31-year-old model turned party promoter, and currently the go-to guy of New York night life.
Jah looks like the guy next door, but talks like a jet-setting arbiter of cool. Dressed in an old flannel shirt and jeans for a recent interview, his hair unkempt, he tells stories of partying all over the world with models, actors, photographers and power players. Obviously proud to have such well-known friends, Jah floats the cliché "celebrities just want to be treated like ordinary people." Still, he knows they are his ticket to continued success - and Jah is unapologetically ambitious. He talks of taking his concept for Lotus to London, Paris and Los Angeles, and of what he will do when Lotus withers. "There is no doubt the hype will go down," says Jah, whose girlfriend of seven years, Zofia Borucka, is a model. "To be very arrogant, every two years I would like to open a new club so I will always have the hot club."
And he is not to be underestimated. In his 10-year ascent to the top of New York's night life, Jah has been associated - in a non-ownership capacity - with almost every club-of-the-moment. In 1991, he started at Danceteria, throwing parties with Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In the mid-'90s, he worked under Canadian-born New York club impresario Peter Gatien at Palladium, Club USA and Tunnel. Then two years ago, while he was co-directing promotions for Life - a hot lounge on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village - Jah was approached by successful New York restaurant owners Will Regan and David Rabin with the idea for Lotus. "We needed a partner who could pick up the marketing," says Regan. "Jeffrey is so good at pulling people in the door, he was at the top of our list."
Quite a leap for a middle-class kid from suburban Toronto who devastated his parents when he dropped out of high school at 16 and began staying out all night. But Jah says although his mother, Patricia Katz, a real estate broker (his father, Ely Hacker, is retired), may not have understood the lure of the club scene, it was her style that has always influenced him. "She is very trendy and cool," says Jah. "She had that whole jet-black hair thing going long before the mods or the punks."
Mom might have preferred Jah stick with modelling for the Bay and Eaton's print ads, which he did during his teens. Instead, he immersed himself in the music and business of Toronto's night life. He began throwing underground parties at so-called booze cans, bringing in the latest DJs from New York and Chicago and charging $10 for all you could drink. For one of these events, Jah was fined $10,000 by the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario. In 1986, Jah made his first visit to New York and was hooked. Back in Toronto, he took on a series of day jobs while throwing parties at night to amass enough capital for his assault on Manhattan.
That took place in 1989. He changed his name from Jeffrey Allan Hacker to Jah, his initials, and began building his Rolodex - targeting New York's fashion crowd - while working illegally. Within a few years, he recognized that what New York was lacking was European-style intimate VIP lounges. In 1993, Jah impressed club owner Gatien with his ability to draw an upscale crowd to a dance venue full of thousands of young kids. Gatien made Jah director at his next two hot spots, Club USA and Tunnel. At both places, Jah's VIP rooms were a huge success.
In 1996, Jah left the large club scene for the smaller, more intimate atmosphere at Life. A year later, Gatien became the target of a crackdown on ecstasy in clubs. He was acquitted of drug-conspiracy charges in 1998 and has since reopened three of his venues. But his onetime protégé now seems destined to eclipse him.
In 1999, The New York Post deemed Jah one of "the five most important people in New York...if you're Leonardo DiCaprio." In fact, Jah did introduce DiCaprio to onetime girlfriend Bridget Hall - but more important, Jah is the guy celebrities call when they are in New York to plan their evenings out. Now, Jah often directs them to Lotus, which has become the place to throw a private party. Last May, Talk magazine editor Tina Brown opened Lotus for business with a party for 600 celebrities and TV executives. Since then at Lotus, 'N Sync has held an after-concert soirée, and Combs threw a surprise 30th-birthday party for his girlfriend, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez. "Puffy," says Jah, "is very last-minute - he calls me five days before her birthday, saying, 'I need a surprise party for Jennifer.' We had to bring it all together: cake, decor, security, permits, police and not leak it - which is very hard to do in New York." Lotus is also a hot restaurant, getting 300 requests for reservations a day. "After 10 o'clock," says Jah, "if you are not a good friend of ours, you are not going to get a table." One recent evening, Rob Lowe was working the room while diners tucked into the chocolate pyramid filled with hazelnut mousse and other culinary extravaganzas. Jah, dressed stylishly in black with his hair pulled back, moved from the bamboo dance floor downstairs to the bar-restaurant on the main floor to the mezzanine lounge upstairs, inconspicuously controlling what he calls the flow of the club.
He says his main concern is the door - who's getting in and who's being turned away. Jah thinks the best thing about his place is that you can be a nobody and if you show up at the door with that certain edge, you'll be rubbing shoulders with all of his celebrity friends. "It is really egotistical and pretentious to divide groups of people up," says Jah, "but that's the nature of the business. I can't let a group of six Wall Street guys in my place and I can't let in four couples from Brooklyn with big hair and pink fluorescent dresses." But Jah insists, no matter how teased your bangs might be, you will be turned away politely and quickly. That niceness, he says, is the Canadian in him.
Maclean's November 6, 2000