Pop Culture
Jun 06, 2011, 06:20AM

The Death of a Soho Nightclub

Welcome to Madame Wong's.

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On a desolate block in Soho, in front of a run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant, windows covered with newspapers, is a crowd that spills onto the streets. The scrum consists of girls in tight black dresses and stiletto heels, boys in button-downs, t-shirts, or leather jackets. They are smoking cigarettes, texting, and trying to coax a blond holding a clipboard by the door to let them in. Accompanied by a bulky bouncer, the blond doorman refuses to admit any of these people clamoring to get into this makeshift after-hours bar.

Madame Wong’s opened last month and quickly became the new “It” place for night impresarios. During the day, the locale serves Chinese cuisine under the moniker Jobee. But with the direction of Simonez Wolf of Le Bain, Jobee rids itself of its lo mein-stained tablecloths to become Wong’s, a place where models, designers, artists and New York personalities have started to gather—as they always do when there’s a new “scene”—to drink their $12-cocktails and dance to the latest Britney Spears song.

I’ve been curious about the appeal of the bar. Why is it so popular? The music, an assortment of Top 40, can be listened to at any club in New York. The exorbitantly priced drinks are sometimes diluted to the point they’re nearly non-alcoholic. The interior is nothing special; it’s a humdrum restaurant, after all. But not everyone can get in. I don’t think it’s just the exclusivity that has people wanting to go. The sometimes password-protected door at Madame Wong’s is not unlike any of the others I’ve been to in New York that is manned by discerning doormen. If you want to experience the risk of getting rejected, you can easily go to the Jane, Le Bain, Mister H, and so on.

But Madame Wong’s is new. Scenesters are always in search of the next place to be seen, and Madame Wong’s is filling that void for now. The fact that it is at a location not intended for late-night partying makes it much more exciting. It’s a restaurant that moonlights as a club. That’s pretty cool. Add to that the fact that Community Board 2 has denied Jobee a renewal of their liquor license on the grounds that they are operating outside of its original use, going there is a little dangerous.  

Last weekend police drove down Howard St., sirens wailing, and shut down the party at Madame Wong’s. People scattered and tweeted the demise of Madame Wong’s.

My question is: why was this place so exciting to begin with? Like in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, the guests have to be the right combination of celebrities, editors and models. Yes, in cases like these, it is the crowd that makes or breaks the spot. But it is the emphemerality as well. Madame Wong’s will not be around for long. Given its licensing troubles and trouble with the cops, the club is in danger of closing permanently, so you better get in there when it’s still hot or else. That kind of pressure has driven many club kids to try to inch their way through the door in hopes of seeing the large red Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling inside.

In some respects, Jobee/Madame Wong’s is a good case study of the rise and fall of a hot nightspot. With such a short lifespan, Madame Wong’s shows us that an obscure place in Soho can gain a certain cachet just because of the crowd it draws. However, it’s also a reminder that clubs tire easily and that that same group of people will find someplace else to go. When I first went, I was dancing next to Alexander Wang, editors from Interview, and some of the top models in the industry whose faces are on billboards all across the city. The next week no one of importance was there.  

It’s a tenuous pedestal to stand on when you have the new “It” place. Part of the reason people go to a hip nightclub is to earn a certain kind of status. However, to hold on to that status, you must develop a degree of ennui over the same place and seek a new bar—a vicious cycle of sorts. Madame Wong’s wouldn’t have lasted even if it managed to earn the proper permits from the state. Night kids don’t like going to the same place over and over again, especially one that was somewhat kitschy like Wong’s.


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