David Rabin is an OG New York nightlife legend, a man who has done so much and been so many places that you could ignore wide swaths of his history and still end up marveling at what an unbelievable, star-studded life he has led.
So now that Rabin and famed mixologist Sam Ross (known for his work at New York’s Milk & Honey and Attaboy, as well as the drinks that were at Comme Ça in the Cosmopolitan) are opening the new 4,000-square-foot Dorsey cocktail lounge at the Venetian in December, let’s start with what might be the most relevant part.
You know how sharp nightlife operators in Vegas are looking for counterprogramming to those big loud nightclubs where you can’t really hear anything except for the music? You know how Steve Wynn has his tiny private club at the bottom of the stairs in Intrigue? How Light Group co-founder Andy Masi has moved on from the megaclubs he built and is focusing on cocktails and conversations at spots like Clique?
Rabin got to that point in his career more than 10 years ago.
He and his partners had been running white-hot Meatpacking District club/restaurant Lotus since 2000. They had seen Prince come over to sit alone in the mezzanine, eat dinner and listen to music for a couple hours. They had entertained Bono, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro and so many other boldface names. But they knew it was time to mix things up.
“By 2003, 2004, our friends were looking for something a little more subtle, a little more personal,” Rabin recalls.
So Rabin, with help from Milk & Honey visionary Sasha Petraske, created the intimate Double Seven—a lounge that married the fashion elite, media-industry A-listers, cool downtown kids and those who came to enjoy some of the world’s greatest cocktails in a sexy setting with fewer than 100 other people.
Rabin understands civilized nightlife better than most. He wants the Dorsey, designed by James Beard award-winning Thomas Schlesser, to be a place you go after dinner on nights when you don’t want to deal with an overheated club. He wants the approximately 125-seat bar to be where you can bop your head to a A Tribe Called Quest beat and a favorite Marvin Gaye track and a little neo-soul and some indie rock while sipping a smoky-sweet Penicillin.
“It’s nightlife for grown-ups,” says Rabin, a music lover who has long programmed playlists during non-DJ hours at his venues and who has enlisted former Lotus DJ Jared Dietch to help curate the Dorsey’s tunes. Dietch has also had a hand in the music at the stylish and popular restaurants and bars Rabin now has in New York: the Lambs Club (with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian), Cafe Clover, Jimmy and the Skylark.
I’ve played poker a lot with Rabin, who used to host a New York game where regulars included Bobby Flay, Hank Azaria and Don Cheadle, so allow me this sentence: If the cards were dealt slightly differently, Rabin, who used to run V Bar at the Venetian, might have become the dominant Vegas nightlife operator years ago.
Rabin was going to open Lotus in the Venetian. The project was fully funded before 9/11, when everything changed.
He and his partners turned down the Bellagio space that became Light. “We stupidly didn’t understand it,” Rabin says. “There was no street entrance, no street signage; you had to line up in a awkward way by the slot machines and go up escalators. It was a complete blind spot, one of the great kick-yourself moments of my life.”
Rabin is a humble fella. He was in a position to say no because he had already accomplished so much. There was supper club Rex, his first New York venue, supermodel central with Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington (all friends of Rabin’s college buddy Will Regan, who would become his longtime business partner) popping by. There was Manhattan Express, the supper club he developed in one of Moscow’s most prime locations. Rabin didn’t realize until he was well into this consulting gig that he was essentially working for the Russian mob.
“It was complete naïveté in 1992,” Rabin says. “There were no articles written about the pervasiveness of the Russian mafia. It was all about how we won the Cold War and Russians want to welcome capitalism. People asked how we didn’t know. There was no Google; we had no cell phones.”
Adding to an already unforgettable experience where “we saw corruption left and right” and Rabin was assured he was protected: “We were [in Russia] for the last coup. We woke up with helicopter gunships and snipers on the roof of our hotel.”
There might be a movie made about Rabin’s stint in Russia, but he’s got jaw-dropping tales about Vegas too. “We had this surreal meeting with Mr. Wynn on the day he moved into his new office,” Rabin remembers. “They were wheeling in a billion dollars of art past our heads, Picassos and Kandinskys and Chagalls.”
Steve Wynn told Rabin and his partners about his plans for the forthcoming Wynn resort and how he wanted them to run the nightlife he would build there. “We were floored, so eager to do it, but he said: ‘You have to move here,’” Rabin recalls.
Rabin and his partners were running hot spots in New York and LA. Rabin and his wife, Elite model Nicki Lorenzo (sister of hip-hop mogul Irv Gotti), just had a baby. He was president of the New York Nightlife Association. His partners were crisscrossing the globe to party with VIP customers during blowouts like Paris Fashion Week and Carnivale.
“I took a deep breath,” says Rabin, who asked Wynn if it might be possible for some of the partners to live elsewhere at times.
“He looked at me and he kind of broke character, he was so polite,” Rabin says. “He said, ‘David, do you know how much f*cking money we’re talking about?’”
At that point, Lotus was doing about $9 million to $10 million a year. Nobody could have guessed that Wynn and others would end up building $100 million a year nightclubs.
But don’t feel too bad for Rabin, who never partnered with Wynn. He’s still opening more places in New York, he’s remained one of the coolest cats in the nightlife game and he will soon debut what could quickly become one of the buzziest bars in Vegas.
“I can’t stop moving,” says Rabin, who still feels the groove after all of his adventures.