in the mood for
Hidden beneath The Roxy Hotel, next to the cinema, the Django jazz club draws in its audience with its lineup of talented musicians. But it’s decor is just as alluring as the entertainment. We met up with the hotel’s creative director Briana Stanley to learn about the inspiration behind the jazz bar, its persona, and the intersection of design and functionality.
dimanche How did you decide to open a jazz bar at the Roxy?
Briana The Roxy was formerly the Tribeca Grand, so when we decided to rename and rebrand it, we redid the entire space. Originally when it was the Tribeca Grand, the cellar was just meeting rooms. It was a sheetrock box We thought, “okay, it would be awesome to have a jazz club.” These jazz clubs can’t survive in New York anymore hardly at all; they’re shut down because they can’t afford the rent, especially in Tribeca. We thought it would be a perfect scenario for the cellar to have a jazz club. It kind of grew from there!
We did a lot of research on the jazz clubs of New York, and the history…tons of books on every jazz club ever. Then we looked at Paris as well - that that kind of culture connected New York and Paris, and Barcelona as well. We wanted to make it cavernous. A lot of times they have the vaulted ceilings, which really helps the sound. We just wanted to make it feel like it was a hundred years old. That it’s been there and it paid homage to the jazz clubs of what used to be.
dimanche Where did you source all of the materials?
B The plaster in there is done by hand by a local artist. She and I work really closely together on a lot of the painting and decorative painting at the properties. She also worked on the cinema. She used wallpapers in various places. The wallpaper is one of my favorite elements. We chose ones with metallic in them so in the low light they're picked up. It's always a nice element. I did a lot of research. I found websites, books and blogs about photographers going to abandoned buildings where you can see layers of different elements: plaster, metals, wall coverings, signage, and you can see it when it's abandoned. The details tell the history. That was something we really tried to bring in to the design, make it feel very theatrical. We have a demi-disco ball on the ceiling - we actually have two of them - one of which we had custom-made.
dimanche How do you balance the artistic side and the function side of creating a space that has to serve a specific purpose?
B You know, that's really hard. I think especially with the Django. Bringing so much entertainment and music into the hotel in general, the sound is so important. I think that the biggest thing in terms of function is making the sound work and making it feel comfortable. You can be right up next to the stage and not even be able to have a conversation, but sometimes when I go to jazz clubs around town, sometimes you like to sit a little bit further away and have a conversation with some jazz in the background. The combination of the soft surfaces and the hard surfaces is key. You don't want to create an echo, which can happen with cavernous ceilings.
dimanche Were there any huge complications with trying to replicate something from the past?
B I would say the arches and the curves were really hard. Obviously they would have been innately built into a building back then, but I kind of created them. They weren't a part of the infrastructure. When you walk into The Django, the ceilings are lower than when you go near the stage. We had to figure out where the curve starts in one area and where it's going to meet in the next area. It's bananas. That was definitely the biggest nightmare about it.
dimanche How does the design play into it? In terms of the cocktail menu, the food menu, the uniforms, how does all of that interact with the personality of the space?
B The uniforms are designed by Craig Robinson. They have burgundy vests and coats. You know how I was talking about how the lights come down and there's a soft glow? You expect everyone to always be in black, but then you see burgundy coats and you think "oh this is legit." You get the gold buttons, you can see those twinkle. It just really feels like what it would have been. Then for the menus - a lot of people abandon the books and instead just have a single paper with the list, but to me, when you think about a performance, I just imagine a book.
dimanche Almost like a playbill.
B Exactly. We actually did a playbill. We stopped doing it recently, I'm hoping to pick it back up. But we had a playbill so that when you are here, sitting, say you're waiting for somebody or whatever, or you're hearing the music, you can flip and see who's performing and it gave their bio. It's funny you mentioned that.
dimanche I love the idea!
B It also said like "on Thursday, this person plays..." and it went through the different features. We still have a version of them at The Django with the booklet menus. Different shapes and sizes and everything.
dimanche How do you think The Django adds to the entire personality of The Roxy and I guess the coffee shop, the lobby area. Do you guys own Paul's downstairs?
B Especially in New York, you kind of have to jump all over the city to go do anything, and it's nice sometimes when everything is just in one place. It kind of builds a community. You can go to the movies, you can catch a show, you can have happy hour oysters, you can go to the club... I mean there's a Blackstone's hair salon in the back. And then Jack's too! It's nice to have everything at your fingertips - for locals, but also as a traveler. You can come downstairs and just start your whole day. That's what our tagline is, "Meet me at The Roxy" because you really can just meet anybody here , or be alone, and do the whole thing from start to finish.
dimanche Do you have a favorite film?
B I have five favorite films. My top five in no particular orders and for a variety reasons would be: Gangs of New York, Hook, Gone with the Wind, Kill Bill (Part 1 & 2) and Big Lebowski. Film is a really good way to illustrate your ideas or be inspired. You hear the music, you see the outfits, you see the type of people there. Obviously it's fake, it's a movie, but it paints a picture.
dimanche Do you have a favorite space anywhere else in the world?
B I love Bemelman's Bar. That was a space that really inspired me in some ways for The Django. It just feels cozy, wintery.
dimanche There's an authenticity, a kind of New York character to it.
B Exactly. I love it there. Another favorite space in the world...
dimanche Or a favorite interior designer.
B So hard to decide. I'm so inspired by different things, cultures, I guess. I love New Orleans - the history and the culture..it's so rich with culture. Even the plant life just adds so much . Again they have that history of the plaster and the paint that I love. And you see it peeling... it just has so many layers. Another place I love is Dali's house. He has his museum but he had a house that is now a museum in Portligat. He worked and lived there. There's so much art, and the paint and everything that he created is all part of it. It's fascinating to walk through it. I feel like when artists live in their space you can feel the stories.
dimanche Were there specific design elements that referred specifically to historical periods or specific jazz clubs?
B Yeah, I would say around the twenties - I didn't want to go too far in the direction of too art deco or too industrial. The cinema is right there too so I did a lot of research on old movie palaces and kind of found that these old places, old jazz clubs and movie palaces that have been there a million years, have layers and layers of paint. The paint and the plasters and the textures get layered over time. You'll see chips or peeling wallpaper where old paint shows through. We went in the direction for the jazz club - it kind of feels like it has one hundred years worth of stories in it. There were always shapes and patterns painted on walls; you'd see wallpaper painted over. We replicated this effect. We did all these different wall coverings that you would see in a jazz club or a movie palace, but added layers of paint and plaster to make it feel more lived in.
dimanche How does the lighting contribute to the mood of the space?
B The light compliments the warm hues in the plaster and the reds used throughout. It's a flattering light. We have little lanterns on the tables and everything has a warm glow. We put put lights on the columns and pilasters, and behind the banquettes there's the occasional sconce. To me, the space feels very wintery. I was just down there the other night, and to me, when you walk downstairs, you feel like you're going into a place that not a lot of people know about, which is awesome, and there's music flowing out of it.
dimanche Where did the furniture come from?
B Every single jazz club has the bent wood chairs. And it's not like I wanted to reinvent the wheel on that. I purchased some of them from Brimfield, some of them I found in random thrifts, and then other ones we bought new from Paris - that way there's an eclectic mix. Just as it would have been a hundred years ago; if it had been twenty years later and they have to replace the chairs, there might be a different lot that time. We kept some of the other furnishings really classic for example, the enamel Parisian bistro tables.
dimanche I can imagine. Did you work with a sound designer as well?
B We did. We worked with someone at both properties, who does a lot of our sound stuff. Which is funny because a lot of times they want to bring in all the best, most recent thing off the shelf, or all the stage lighting - and you're like "wait a minute, that isn't what it would have looked like." So then you're combining and making compromises. Sometimes the equipment needs to look like equipment, but when we first opened there were LED lights installed and I was like "no, no, no! We need to change that." My boss was like, "Are you kidding me? These are the best ones!" and I was like "No, at least not the LED dot ones! Not the dots!" So then we changed them. Sometimes I get people who tell me that it's not going to work. Not in that case, but it's funny trying to figure out the design side with function - marrying the two.
dimanche What about what's on the menus?
B When we worked on the cocktail names, each one has some sort of connection to the narrative. i.e. "Banafish Garden" was taken from a movie palace/rock theatre located in Brooklyn. We got to tour it when we were building The Django. It was set for demolition and was being used as a furniture storage warehouse. The name "Bananafish Garden" was evidently inspired by JD Salinger's short story "A perfect day for a banana fish". Other drinks names lend to notable jazz musicians' nicknames, like "Tiny Giant" and "Dr. Sax". "A Love Supreme" is after the John Coltrane album. "Cat in the Cellar" refers to The Django being in the cellar of The Roxy. So the naming of the cocktails was really fun in bringing another layer to the experience.
dimanche Completely. So if The Django were a person, how would you describe them? What would their character be?
B If The Django were a person... it's funny. I always think of things in terms of movies. But if The Django were a person he would be a combination of Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Hemingway, Egon Schiele and Ludwig Bememlamans.
dimanche What about movies then, what would movie would The Django be in?
B Girl on a Bridge, Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris" specifically when they go to the café back in time, The Talented Mr. Ripley "My Funny Valentine" scene, Cotton Club, and Cabaret. Whenever I start a space, I always create a list of what the movies are.
dimanche That's so interesting that you're inspired by film in that way.
B It's so visual and I love seeing the experiences and the people and how they interact with the space in the movies, but also the set designers bring something to life of a certain time - I love seeing them do that. Sometiems I'll watch a film and I'll be like "oh my gosh, that ottoman is such a good idea!" I just catch those little elements.
dimanche Every aspect of it has been thought out and put together for a reason, so it's interesting to reflect on that and see why those things were chosen and how they all tell a bit of the story. Do you have a favorite aspect or detail from The Django?
B I love the demi-disco ball. It's a nice little glamorous element that adds movement to the room, it's also just an interesting fixture. Also, right when you walk in, there's a mirror that has this border around it with these gems I got in Brimfield. Obviously you're making a space from scratch, but bringing in those older elements again lends to the story and most of the fixtures in there are salvaged - all of the chandeliers, the sconces. Even a little guy... when you walk in there's a little guy with the business card holder. He kind of looks like a bellhop or something. He's holding a tray. I found that on Etsy. Bringing in those elements adds to the narrative in an unexpected way. With a salvaged piece, you couldn't have even thought it up; you just find it. I definitely like bringing in those elements as unexpected surprise.
dimanche Do you have any other projects coming up?
B Yeah! We're working on some things. Well, I have a lot of projects, but I have to keep them hush hush for now.
Interview by Carly Smith
Photos Courtesy of Grand Life Hotels