COURTNEY LOVE: I’m sitting here with Mr. Nur Khan and we’re relaxing in my lovely loft in beautiful Soho, New York. You open these spaces and they’re always so exclusive like Rose Bar, Kenmare, Don Hill’s. I played the best show of the last 10 years at Don Hill’s, god rest his soul.
I fucking rocked that night. I loved the room. You know what I believed that night? I will never play another show again. I did bad romance with bad voice.
NUR KHAN [Don Hill’s] was my passion project. I was friends with Don Hill for 20 years. We had just finished all our paperwork. The company was getting transferred to my name, and then he passed away—it was the craziest shit that ever happened. I’d been having the most fun of my life – doing shows for downtown kids, bringing the downtown scene back. We opened up and had this kick-ass week: Iggy Pop, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alice Glass rocking the house out. Then my mate passes away.
COURTNEY LOVE: I asked Mark Birnbaum about nightlife, he was an investment guy-
NUR KHAN I was too. I was on Wall Street. I was trading for Lehman Brothers. I was in the World Trade Center in 1993 when that bomb went off. I was on the sixth floor.
COURTNEY LOVE: Wow, so you went to actual school right? You’re from Connecticut.
NUR KHAN I was at Lehman for six years. I opened one of my first clubs in Norwalk, CT, which is called the Marquis Theater. It was one of these old decrepit movie theaters, a piece of shit. It was dead for 50 years and I renovated it with people you probably know—Bob Ellis, Diana Ross’s husband who lived in my town, and Ron Dellsner. I converted this old theater, it held like 1500 hundred people. This is 1990 before I [moved] to New York and I was commuting doing this rock and roll venue [at night] and working on Wall Street [during the day], sleeping two hours a night, getting [back] on a train [in the morning] coming to New York and probably reeking of booze next to the trader next to me. I’d tell them all of these crazy stories. I would get the bands that…Ron [Dellsner] would bring the Academy and Roseland. It was prime time. Nirvana had just done Bleach. I was getting everybody for great deals. Pearl Jam had just come out. Alice in Chains…
COURTNEY LOVE: The night that Pearl Jam hit the level was January 1, 1991. Kurt said to me, “Should I put this funky Chili Pepper band on here?” The dude at CB’s, Hilly, sticks Pearl Jam opening for us. It was genius. It will never happen again, but it was genius. So the shows that Dellsner isn’t doing, you’re doing.
NUR KHAN Yeah, eventually I couldn’t do both [jobs]; I sold the club and moved to New York. I had had enough of Wall Street. I’m watching people on the trading floor having aneurysms in front of me. I started slowly building Wax, which was ’94. It was Wax and Spy Bar because Kelly Cole was my roommate at that time.
COURTNEY LOVE: At that point I was pretty famous. Wait, what happened from ’90 to ’95?
NUR KHAN I was on Wall Street waiting for a liquor license. My first bar in New York—as soon as it was built they created the 500-feet law. Now these days it’s common practice, if you want to have a bar within 500-feet of another bar, you have to go through a community board meeting.
COURTNEY LOVE: Why didn’t you start a band? What I’ve found, in order to be a rock star, you have to hate your parents. You can’t just not care what they think, you actually have to hate them. The people that survive as rock stars the longest want to destroy their parents. If you get caught in this middle place where you want to impress your parents, you’ll never be a rock star.
NUR KHAN I was too busy getting in trouble. I was too busy making my parents hate me. I was the black sheep of Westport, CT. I was the poor kid with a Volkswagen in the richest town in the country. My mom moved me there so I would get a good public education. I got a quality education for free because I lived in [that] town. We sacrificed shit. My mom was single and doing the best she could for her kids.
COURTNEY LOVE: Why do you resonate, [especially] with the British?
NUR KHAN At that point in New York, there were all of these super clubs—the Palladium, the Tunnel, they had 2000 people, and then the 10 person VIP area. [When I opened] Wax, my first bar in 1995, I was kind of the first one to take the VIP area, and just [put it in] a 2000 square foot room. My taste in music was [also] so different than everybody. To answer your question in a nutshell, I was on point when [it came to British culture]. It was a Blur, Damien Hirst, and Tracy Emin. Maybe I was the only one who got it in New York at the time. I lived probably six months ahead of time. All those folks loved what I was playing.
COURTNEY LOVE: Remember the Ungrounded in London? That’s where I would dance with Justine Frischmann. I thought maybe grunge and Brit pop needed a little love together.
When I would come to NY I would go to Wax because the music was good.
NUR KHAN When those guys came to NY we would hang out because of the music. We developed really good relationships and we were all on the same page. Everyone else played shit music as far as I’m concerned.
COURTNEY LOVE: A lot of your DJs are female, which I really, really like.
NUR KHAN The difference is my DJs make sure they are completely on my page because it either comes from your heart or it’s some asshole telling you what to play. I never have to have a conversation with any of my DJs and that’s that. If you like my world and you like what I’m doing, you come and hang out there.
COURTNEY LOVE: Can I ask you a question about the shelf life? One of the worst days in my entire life was when I opened the NY Post and read, “COURTNEY LOVE has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon…Martin Scorsese has fired her off Hello, Suckers.” Wow, bad fucking day! I remember it was June 29th 2003. Hello, Suckers was this great old Bette Midler movie about this woman who ran nightclubs and speakeasies. So I’m trying to talk to Sacca about trying to survive a man’s world and she kept talking about shelf life. I lived in NY in 1985 and when I scored a sublet on Mott Street I thought I’d arrived. This was coming from living in the basement of ABC No Rio on maybe a little performance art. Once a month I get called upstairs to get beaten with a fish. I couldn’t get into the good clubs. What is the shelf life of clubs?
NUR KHAN Shelf life depends on square footage. I personally like to have small, intimate clubs that are all friends and family, that are like my loft. When [you only have so much space] you can control [who comes in] and then [don’t] have to take every Tom, Dick and Harry when the market changes and change the dynamic of your original vision of the club. You don’t have to change your business model to let strangers in because you need to fill seats.
COURTNEY LOVE: Your attention to music is amazing. Your attention to detail is amazing. Your attention to who does not stalk me, like if I’m someplace or somebody else who is famous is someplace of yours, we are safe.
NUR KHAN That’s another thing for longevity, sanctuary. You can have a celebrity walk into your place and put him in the papers the next day like a lot of people do. They’ll never walk in your place again. Or, you can just keep your mouth shut and have a good time and that’s where the bonding really happens. You can have great late nights together.
COURTNEY LOVE: There’s no getting around the fact that you are in a luxury market. I’m not walking around every day and thinking I’m really famous but I am really famous. When I patronize there’s a chance I’ll get in the paper. In your terms of branding and expanding, which is what we do in life, where do you want to expand to? And what’s your definition of luxury?
NUR KHAN My bars have been very successful. The nightclubs are branding, and upping brand name and brand revenue for the hotel [I plan to open]. It’s time for me to open my own hotel, take profits from the rooms, etc. If you look at all the great hoteliers right now—Ian [Schrager] pioneered the game, and Sean and André—where did they come from? They all came from nightclub backgrounds.
COURTNEY LOVE: You still didn’t answer my question.
NUR KHAN It’s easier to control and keep. Intimacy and music is my little niche. Good music according to me.
COURTNEY LOVE: As Michael Stipe said to me on Christmas Eve, this is the year of the polymprph. A polymorph is like someone who can understand twenty things at once. Michael said it brilliantly. He said, “My eyes are my ears.”
NUR KHAN I’m a design lunatic. My favorite part of the whole process is deigning the room. That’s what turns me on more than the bar—designing it and creating it.
COURTNEY LOVE: Define luxury.
NUR KHAN Luxury is all about service and cleanliness.
COURTNEY LOVE: That’s bullshit. You already defined it. You defined it as intimacy.
NUR KHAN I also defined it as sanctuary. I’ve always been more rock n’roll and less luxury. Rose Bar was the first luxury bar.
COURTNEY LOVE: As you know, a lot of rock stars don’t have the money they should or the kind of money people think we do because we all get it stolen from us like fucking idiots.
NUR KHAN I started this thing called the Rose Bar Sessions. In Rose Bar to have an intimate show…It goes back to our early relationship where we’re friends…whether it’s the Black Keys doing me a favor or Axel [Rose] doing me a favor, no one can afford to do that in a 100-person room. It’s a relationship. Now every hotel’s got a session going on, every bar’s got a session going on.
COURTNEY LOVE: Yeah, but they don’t have your relationships.
NUR KHAN The thing is that these relationships [go back] so long. I had a conversation with Edge one night in 1982. Edge and Bono pull up to the Gramercy Park Hotel in 1982 and they left all their equipment on the sidewalk and got ripped off. This shit started back then. When we’re friends with these artists when they’re young, the relationships build over all these years. We were all in that one little area in that one little time, some people reach the stars and some people don’t. Hopefully we all remember where we started.
COURTNEY LOVE: So you’re thinking about opening a hotel…?
What neighborhood are you looking at for a hotel space?
NUR KHAN Not really super uptown.
I’m actually touring a place that’s in a location you wouldn’t think. It’s in the higher thirties. I’m an architecture freak and the architecture of this building, the one that we like, is [incredible but the building’s] in this area that people are a little bit afraid of. To me, the architecture makes up for it. People are worried about neighborhoods, but I think that the architecture stands for itself and the design will draw people in. I’ve never been afraid of [out of the way locations]. When I opened Wax there was no one on Mercer Street. When I opened Sway there was no one on Spring Street and Greenwich except for Don Hill. It’s the same thing for Keith McNally. Everyone laughed at Pastis and the Meat Market. When Eric opened the Bowery no one was there. That’s how you get the deals—when people won’t believe in the neighborhoods, and when you have conviction.
COURTNEY LOVE: Do people trust you with their money? It’s like when I told Kanye West, the dude doesn’t own the hotel. It’s investors. He has equal partnership because he runs the place. Who’s going to trust you with their money?
NUR KHAN I’m very uncomfortable asking people for money. But my first couple bars it was only my own money. It wasn’t an issue. Now luckily [my venues have] been so successful people build [them for me].
COURTNEY LOVE: Well, I will tell you I talked to [Julian] Schnabel about his place and he said he “put my own Picasso in that thing.”
NUR KHAN I used to and that’s what got me started. Now people appreciate what I do, I hope.
COURTNEY LOVE: Would you ever think of [opening a place in] London?
NUR KHAN I moved to London to open a project and got fucked over by a friend of mine. I had to walk away from a two year development that never happened. But, yes, I’m definitely going to do something in London because I have a very good posse over there.
COURTNEY LOVE: Is there a point where somebody wants to do business with you and you just say, “I don’t want to do business with that person because they’re a tool”?
NUR KHAN That happens to me every day. People may call me a fool for that, but I’m not selling my integrity. My room is my room is my room and you know it and come to respect it.
COURTNEY LOVE: How are you going to guard yourself? Because I have everyone asking me for favors every day. Who guards you? You are so sensitive.
NUR KHAN I guard myself, Courtney.
COURTNEY LOVE: So you’re going back to London. What about the Cote d’Azur?
NUR KHAN London, Paris, New York, LA. My first hotel has to be in New York. New York is unbeatable.