The New Twenties
The End of Excess
The Pink Elephant’s former GM says the debaucherous consumption his notorious nightclub pioneered in the aughts would never fly today.
The Pink Elephant nightclub once helped define a debauched era of New York nightlife, with its Champagne-sparkler conga lines, showers of Roederer Cristal, and pink-slips and gold glitter shot over the crowds from confetti guns.
A trio of nightlife veterans got the party started in 2004, in a cramped room on West 14th Street with house music DJs imported from Europe, smoke machines and argon lasers, and one of the toughest velvet-roped doors in New York. The diminutive nightclub became a phenomenon—expanding to the Hamptons, moving to club row on West 27th Street, hosting pop-ups in St. Barth’s and in Miami during Super Bowl weekend, and selling its name to the highest bidder with licensing deals in Dubai, Mexico, and Brazil. Regulars at the New York club, like Malaysian businessman Jho Low (now one of the world’s most-famous fugitives), routinely blew six-figures on drinks.
But as the coffers swelled—and the number of partners grew—in-fighting began to put strains on the business. “There were six partners by the time I got there, so it was already like a huge plate of spaghetti, a mess,” says Josh Kaiser, who joined the Pink Elephant group a few years after it launched, eventually rising to become general manager.
There were battles over ownership and over the name itself, which had been inspired by the scene in the Disney film Dumbo when the young elephant, accidentally drunk on Champagne, hallucinates dancing pink pachyderms. A splinter group eventually broke off, launching a competing brand simply called Pink.
Kaiser left after the group’s first bankruptcy filing, in 2009, just as plans were being touted to launch Pink Elephant hotels around the world. A few years later the business imploded completely. “They were a bunch of guys who were well meaning and, at some point, liked each other,” he says. “Ambition can be a dangerous thing… The people that built the brand, they dismantled it piece by piece, until the brand had no meaning anymore.”
Kaiser’s follow-up project, Jbird, a speakeasy concept with its own easy-to-remember animal name, launched in 2009, with branches in Times Square and on the Upper East Side. It lasted barely two years.
Kaiser, who started his career in hospitality as a night porter at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, would go on to spend the next decade retired from nightlife, shifting his focus as an entrepreneur to technology startups. Last year he began the first phase of his comeback, launching an event space in Williamsburg, 74Wythe, in the former home of the Output dance club, an icon on the techno music scene which shut down in 2019.
As a sideline gig, a few nights most weeks—when there isn’t a wedding, bar mitzvah or corporate mixer booked—Kaiser hosts his own chest-thumping ragers, in conjunction with some of New York’s top party promoters, under the name Superior Ingredients (a separate but adjacent enterprise). “We’re an events business that also activates nightlife, we’re not a nightclub that does events,” he says.
The first party, in the summer 2020, a rooftop blowout featuring legendary New York DJ, Little Louie Vega, brought the memories rushing back from his scene-making heyday. “People came out that I had not seen in 20 years, it was spectacular, New York old school nightlife,” he says.
The second phase of Kaiser’s return to the impresario life will revive his Jbird concept, with an intimate lounge hidden inside his existing Brooklyn event space. He told DP the cozy spot will feature a taxidermy installation from magazine-editor turned visual artist Christopher Tennant, an 18th-century church pulpit transformed into a DJ booth, a custom-made Murano-glass icicle chandelier dangling above the bar, and a 600-square-foot walk-in ice vault. “We’ll be making spheres, diamonds, dabbling with suspending objects in ice,” says Kaiser.
Most nights Jbird will operate as a relaxed cocktail lounge, with limited bar snacks and a seasonal drinks menu featuring contributions from “resident” bartenders from across the city and around the world. Late nights on Thursdays and Fridays Kaiser plans to draw more from his Pink Elephant days, with a tight door policy, live entertainment art directed by an ex-aerialist from Cirque du Soleil, and an electric though “elevated” vibe. “I’m not 20-something anymore, neither are any of my friends, so we’re looking at a product that’s a bit more sophisticated,” he says. “This is meant to be an opulent high-end boîte—we want to take your breath away. “
Still, don’t expect Pink Elephant’s legendary bottle-service excesses. “Clearly people want to go out and dance and drink and tell stories but the egregious conspicuous consumption that we were part of putting front and center, I don’t know that New York has the stomach for it,” says Kaiser. “We’ve been through a lot, and I don’t know that anybody needs to see that now. It’s in bad taste. I don’t think it’s good fun-making.”
74 Wythe is located at 74 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg; JBird anticipates a soft launch in mid-February.