Talk Loudly… Part One

January 27th, 2010 by Inkslinger


Talk Loudly and Carry a Big Stick

Lately, it has come to our attention that the link to the original “Good Night, Mr. Lewis” story on Abbe Diaz is permanently defunct, possibly due to Steve Lewis’s defection last year from Joonbug to BlackBook magazine. Due to popular demand, we hereby re-create the entire article but, for the sake of clarity, verity and comprehension, have taken the liberty of editing those portions in which the original was remiss (a copy of the article in its original un-edited state is currently hosted here).


Abbe Diaz: Talk Loudly And Carry A Big Stick…Too (Part One)

I’ve known Abbe Diaz forever. She used to bartend at a couple of clubs where I used to be a big wig. Most employees of clubs that are run well are hired because they are either great to look at or are blessed with an undeniable charisma. Some of them actually have skills relevant to the jobs for which they are hired.

In the present hiring climate most owners demand lots of experience as the stakes are higher and the need for service with a million dollar smile (and often a $20,000 boob job) is more important than how cool you are. Today it is far more common to have a professional bartender or waiter serving up the Goose. Most of these ‘servers’ call themselves actors or models or artists and some of them actually are, and many spend a lot of time convincing themselves that they will be all that they can be. A nearness to massive amounts of booze provides much comfort when their dreams seem so far away.

The clubs, bars, restaurants, and hotels often referred to as the hospitality or service industry have always provided income to future celebrities in many artistic fields. Whether that fame lasts fifteen minutes or a lifetime, the biz helps pay the rent as they study, go on castings, and network. Some even leave, have a career, and return in some form or another. Many invest and are the ‘owners’ of places that remind them of less complicated days. A look at the club Plumm’s cast of celebrity owners ensures a Page Six mention at least twice a month. I can’t ever remember hiring a professional server. With me it was always the starving actress, model, artist, or writer, and it often bothered me when one of them was still working for me years later, long past the time when they answered that very New York question "So what do you do?" with "Actor." They had become bartenders or managers or such, and it was kind of sad. For every Debbie Harry, Bruce Willis, Keith Haring, or Dustin Hoffman who has climbed out of the biz to stardom there are thousands of lesser successes.

The multi-talented Abbe Diaz has worn many hats in the service industry and she still wears them once in a while, when her art doesn’t feed her. When we worked together it was only a hey or a nod. Years later we connected as friends. She left a comment on one of my earliest posts and my editor Josh, who I assume toils away here on his way to the New York Times Best Seller List or something like that, ran up on me with a "Abbe Diaz commented!" He was all excited and I couldn’t imagine why. It seems my old employee/new friend is a bit of a controversial figure and I, embarrassingly, was unaware of her work. I guess I had spent so many years superficially nodding hellos that when I became friends with her I didn’t pay enough attention to the substance…in my girlfriend’s words, I was listening with my mouth again. I let Josh sit in on my interview with Abbe, and he even wore a clean shirt.

Steve Lewis: What’s funny about this, of all the people I’ve interviewed, I know you probably as well, or even better then all of them, but I don’t know anything about the stuff that we are talking about. Josh called me up once, ‘cause you must have made some sort of comment on one of my posts, and said, ‘Steve, Abbe Diaz said something about what you wrote!’ And I went, ‘Abbe Diaz, I know Abbe Diaz,’ and I found out at that moment that you had a blog.

Abbe Diaz: Even though I told him like three years ago.

SL: I didn’t listen to a word you said; I just checked you out and said, ‘Wow, she’s hot.’ And then of course I read on some other website, it might have even been your site, there was something about me, and you said, oh Steve Lewis sweats me, which is absolutely true for the record… Abbe worked with me a long time ago, you were a bartender at Limelight was it? Palladium?

AD: Yeah Limelight, and the Palladium. I moved over with Rickey.

SL: Rickey Mercado was the manager.

AD: Then I left for a little while and went to Miami for like four months, and then came back.

SL: I was still at Tunnel at that point. The funny thing about it is I never had bartenders working for us, in our organization, unless they were super hot. We thought the girls had to be hot, it was one of those things. But, I never looked at them twice. Then one day I was going to Brooklyn, at that time I must have been going to Peter Luger, because I don’t really go to Brooklyn for any other reason and I still don’t. Anyway, so I’m on my way to Luger’s, I’m stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and you went by on a motorcycle.

AD: That’s how I got hired, you know…

SL: How?

AD: Someone sent me over to Palladium, I was advised to talk to the people at Palladium if I wanted to work for Peter Gatien, so that’s where I went. You remember Damir? Anyway Damir is at the front, and he sends me to the office. So, I give them my résumé… no call of course, so I come back like a week later. I see Damir again, and I say something like "just give me the deal, what’s the best time to meet the guy who can hire me." Where, who, what, when…?
Then— I mean of course I’m smart enough to come while they’re still setting up for the evening, not smack in the middle of service— they were literally just setting up the horses and ropes up front. And so I ask— ya know— what’s the proper protocol? And he replies, "You know what you should do, you should go over to the Limelight, that’s where they all are." So OK, I decide I’m going to go to the Limelight. I ride my bike over, pull up right in front. And Mark Murray was at the door with a bunch of other ‘doorperson’ type people.

SL: And Tom.

AD: No, not Tom— but I knew Tom from before though, as a patron…
So anyway— Mark Murray. So I ask, "Hi, are you hiring?" And he asks, "For what position?" So I say, "Bartender." And he looks at me and tells me to give him a minute and goes inside. Then he comes back and tells me, "Why don’t you park that thing across the street and come on in." So I did, and I guess it was a big scene… they were all standing around gaping, and of course later I realize Mark Murray has a thing for motorcycles. Anyway, I walked in and I met Rickey right on the spot— nice guy— and we sat down and talked. A few minutes later I had the job.

SL: Did you work that night?

AD: No, I worked the next night. And apparently Tom Buckley remembered me from when I used to come into Limelight.

SL: Well you’re an unforgettable, striking girl. So you starting working there and little did you know what you were getting into.

AD: That was a crew, huh?

SL: It was. I was saying though, I never really looked at the staff, ‘cause it was always in my mindset that you never ever hit on the staff, it’s like a golden rule. And there I was in a cab going to Peter Luger and you pulled up next to me on your bike. You just paused right next to my cab and I looked out the window and my jaw dropped. I was like— man, is she hot. ‘Cause on that motorcycle Abbe, you are one of the hottest girls around. And you look amazing today, and I’ve known you for a long time…
So, we know each other back from Limelight days. You were always on the periphery, being that you were in a different position than I was. I was basically management there, running a joint that was really notorious. I would say it was one on the most fun places that ever was.

AD: Definitely, no doubt about it.

SL: Tunnel was good and then there were the others…

AD: … they opened for the "runoff," like when you open a restaurant across the street from your own restaurant.

SL: It was way before bottle service. People were mixing: gays, straights, everybody was mixing, Uptown, Downtown, it was a mad house. I say it was the time that the inmates ran the asylum. I used that the other day, because I think it’s true. It just happened it was an organic thing.

AD: I think that’s true. I don’t know why.

SL: I mean the fact now that you can’t even smoke in a nightclub, the vibe isn’t really right. I talked about that in a story we did the other day. The atmosphere has changed. We are a society that does not embrace change. We are a society that represents homogeneity. Is that right, homogeneous? We have an editor here with us. So, Josh, after he told me, "Abbe Diaz posted a comment on the blog," he explained to me you’re actually a person of respect.

AD: I am?!

SL: Josh is a fan. He was happy that you came in. He actually prepared questions for me because there are things that I don’t know about you. I kind of knew that you wrote a book, but I didn’t know that the book was so ‘out there.’ It’s ‘out there’ in a sense that you went above the powers that be, and told the truth— or a number of truths— that really went against the mainstream. You outed this huge organization, Jean Georges.

AD: A place, not necessarily Jean Georges. Jean Georges-esqe.

SL: Everyone knows it’s Jean Georges, isn’t that true? Abbe, for the record, is not admitting that it’s Jean Georges. She was talking about a fictional character, what was the name of your character?

AD: johnny-g.

SL: Johnny-G. That’s clever.

AD: Well, you know what it is— while I was writing it was a diary, it was my diary. I mean that’s what I do when I think of people, I give them nicknames. Like superhero nicknames.

SL: What’s my nickname?

AD: You’re Mister Fabulous (laughter)…
… so say you’re writing in your diary and you hate your boss so you don’t want to type your boss’s name and see it all the time in front of your face every day. Like that. So instead I used a nickname and that’s what it was…

SL: So how does it leap from being the most personal thing someone has, a diary, to being a book, exposing yourself?

AD: What happened was I was at a dinner with a bunch of people, a lot of mutual friends… and they happened to be talking about The Devil Wears Prada— oh isn’t that interesting or whatever. Then the conversation turned to restaurants, who owns what, who works where, and then to like Jean-Georges and other big restaurateurs etc etc, and I was like, "Oh, I worked for him… oh, I worked for him too… oh yeah, I also worked for him…"

SL: To my readers…She’s waving her hand like the most fabulous drag queen in the world.

AD: So basically someone was like you should write a book blah blah blah. That’s how it started. And I was thinking hmm ya know maybe I could bust something out— cuz I had just written a screenplay for Project Greenlight in like three weeks— so I figured I could bust out a book in five maybe. Then I realized it’s ridiculous… I was going through my diaries and I realized it’s all there, why change it? So then a friend with a friend in a publishing house… she and her friend looked at it, but they decided there were some things that just weren’t commercial enough. Like, I mean— they wanted me to bold the names— you know, like in Page Six. Then they didn’t like my writing style, with the lower case letters for example… and I did try to change it. I tried to make it grammatically correct and change it, but it had no flow and it was no fun. It came off pompous and pretentious.

SL: So I’m sitting here with Josh, and Josh is my editor I guess. He really lets me flow, he’s a good editor. If it weren’t for him, I’d be making a million mistakes…
Yesterday, somebody said something about me, and if I were the old Steve Lewis, what I would do when someone said something about me, I’d punch him in the nose. You’re laughing, but I was a maniac.

AD: I hear you.

SL: But, we took the higher road and it was absolutely the right decision. But, the old Steve Lewis and the old Abbe… but you’re still that way, aren’t you?

AD: I am, but I have to be. I got one fan over here, but oh my lord, everyone else? They are so fucking mean to me, geezus christ.

SL: Let’s get the record straight— what martial arts are you trained in? The Filipino one?

AD: Jeet Kun Do, the Bruce Lee one.

SL: One summer night I was at La Esquina and you explained to me, emphatically, how you could absolutely kick my ass.

AD: I’m kind of a little out of training.

SL: But you could still kick my ass.

AD: Maybe— I’m thinking I could.

SL: ‘Cause I do sweat Abbe, just for the record. I have visions of the Williamsburg Bridge and this Filipina on a motorcycle.

AD: Whatever, I’ve seen your girl, give me a break, she’s so cute.

SL: Thank you very much, she is cute.

AD: My friend is a manager at La Esquina and we were sitting at dinner, sorry I digress, and for some reason you just popped into my head, and I swear to you like ten seconds later my friend said, "Steve Lewis was in the other night." So I was all, "what made you say that?" She answered, "I don’t know. Because he came in the other night?" and I was like, "Oh my god, he just popped into my head." And then she said, "He was with his girlfriend, some beautiful blonde girl…"

SL: Can you believe I’m dating a blonde?

AD: No, I can’t.

SL: It’s so ridiculous. Abbe knows that I was known, well in one club I operated, I only hired Asian women. And I didn’t do it on purpose, the interviews came in, and it just worked out that way.

AD: It’s cuz we’re the best.

SL: So this is the first white women I’ve dated in almost 30 years. It’s pretty shocking to people who’ve known me a long time.

AD: She’s very cute.

SL: She’s a very cute girl.

AD: Kind of quiet.

SL: I told him (Josh) that you were quiet, by the way.

AD: I am quiet.

Good Night,

Mr. Lewis
Interview conducted and written by Steve Lewis.
Interview has been edited and condensed.

Check back on Wednesday and Thursday for the rest of my conversation with Abbe Diaz. We talk about her art, PX This, the local blogosphere, and much more.


See Part 2 and Part 3 of Steve Lewis’s interview with Abbe Diaz…



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