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Reply to "Farewell Charming Old New York"

Farewell charming old lines outside of nightclubs! Finally, no more waiting around to get into all my favorites: Cielo, Spirit, et al. It's PartyBuddys! Yesterday's NYT had a fascinating story about a couple of alleged former Limelight habitues, who are putting their club-smarts to good use: PartyBuddys helps Joe and Jane Schmos bypass lines and gain instant access to VIP lounges at all of the city's top clubs -- for a fee. I am so down with the hire-a-paparazzo, too. A steal at $250/night. It's not enough to have an open-door policy all over town these days. Now goons can bypass the hundreds of other goons in line, by paying out the wah-zoo. Paging doorminatrix Kitty Boots! Now why didn't I think of this??

January 16, 2005
An In With the In Crowd, for a Fee
New York Times

DRESSED in a sober business suit, Jorge Lima, 30, a salesman for a pharmaceuticals company, looked out of place among the gyrating house music mavens at Cielo, a lounge with a futuristic theme in the meatpacking district known for a rotating cast of celebrity D.J.'s.

But Mr. Lima didn't mind. On a recent Saturday night, sitting at a private table with a bottle of overpriced vodka, he was having the time of his life watching his pal Sam Oro awkwardly navigate the sunken dance floor and listening to Veronica Vega, a trim and attractive 28-year-old, urging him to dance with her as she poured him a drink.

By day Ms. Vega is a makeup artist, but on Saturdays she works for a company called PartyBuddys and is paid to accompany people like Mr. Lima and his friend from club to club, making sure the velvet ropes always part and that they are shown the best tables.

Ms. Vega, who was dressed this evening in Seven jeans and a Phat Farm top, was to earn $200 plus tips for her night's work from PartyBuddys, a six-month-old service that is basically a nightlife tour company.

"Many of our clients work for big corporations and they don't know the scene," Ms. Vega said. "My job is to make sure they get treated like V.I.P.'s so they can concentrate on having a good time."

Only 20 minutes after arriving at Cielo, Mr. Lima vowed to invite his pharmaceuticals-company colleagues to join him next time. "This is as cool as it gets," he said, as the walls pulsated with lights behind him. "I'm so relaxed right now. I don't have to worry about anything. The guys I work with would love this environment."

Outside a Town Car waited to whisk Mr. Lima off to the next stop, Spirit, the cacophonous West Side dance club, where George Parades, another employee of PartyBuddys, had already arrived to makes sure managers, bouncers and doormen were aware that special guests were on the way.

"I hope there's a line 50 feet long at Spirit just so I can bypass the whole thing," Mr. Lima, who lives and works in New Jersey, said as he headed out of Cielo. "You know what it feels like to get out of the car and walk straight into the club without having to deal with doormen or bouncers. It's amazing."

For the average person, gaining entry to a Manhattan nightclub can be an exquisite form of cruelty. There's the velvet rope that separates the hip from the hoi polloi. There's the seething crowd waving worthless invitations and begging for admittance. There's the snooty doorman looking for flaws in your appearance. Once through the front door, there are often more barriers to navigate: the V.I.P. rooms and the V.V.I.P. rooms, all designed to underscore the customer's place on the social totem pole. Even the most enthusiastic clubgoer can feel deflated.

PartyBuddys, the inspiration of James King and Jason Roefaro, both 30 and both from Union City, N.J., promises to "make normal people feel fabulous for the night," according to its Web site,
Its night-out package includes a guide (the party buddy) to usher clients "through crowds of jealous bystanders," limousine service, complimentary drinks and V.I.P. treatment at six Manhattan clubs (Cielo, Plaid, Webster Hall, Copacabana, Spirit and China Club).

Fees for the night start at $350 a person; full rock-star treatment is available for $1,200.

Mr. King and Mr. Roefaro, who operate the business out of Mr. Roefaro's late grandmother's brick house in Union City, estimate that at least 60 percent of their clients are middle-aged professionals from out of town who have never visited a New York nightclub.

"This service is like paying to drive a race car or be taken up in a fighter plane," Mr. Roefaro said. "They're not race car drivers or fighter pilots, they're accountants and lawyers, but for a short time they can imagine they are. For that night, they're not an accountant; they're Paris Hilton or P. Diddy."

He told the story of a dozen executives from a Minneapolis financial consulting firm who were visiting New York for a conference. "We didn't plan this part," Mr. Roefaro said, "but they hired fake paparazzi to photograph them getting in and out of the limo. They also had their own velvet rope and red carpet they carried around with them."

Paying someone to help get you into a nightclub may seem like a tacky idea, especially to those who use their personal style and personal connections to breeze past the velvet rope. "It sounds absolutely awful," said Jonathan Cheban, a nightlife publicist. "V.I.P. rooms are for real V.I.P.'s; you're not supposed to buy your way in. Who knows who these PartyBuddys people are? Maybe they're celebrity stalkers."

But the existence of such a service in today's club world is not surprising, said Steve Lewis, who has worked at many New York clubs of the last 25 years, recently helping design the interiors of the hot spots Marquee and Select. Mr. Lewis said PartyBuddys was a sign of the times. "The new V.I.P. isn't a downtown trendy, a Suzanne Bartsch or a Chi Chi Valenti," he said. "The new V.I.P. is a businessman with a credit card in his pocket who is willing to spend money."

Noah Tepperberg, an owner of Marquee, which is known for attracting celebrities, has never heard of PartyBuddys. To him, he said, it sounded like one of the many so-called concierge services (Fast Metropolis, Quintessentially, Key2NewYork) that phone Marquee regularly to try to get clients admitted. "We tell them to come down but we can't guarantee entry," Mr. Tepperberg said. "Basically it's up to the doorman."

Mr. King said PartyBuddys is different from a concierge service. "Concierge services don't send their employees out with you to watch your back," he said. "With a concierge service, once you get to the club, you're on your own."

The idea for PartyBuddys came from Mr. King's and Mr. Roefaro's experience as club-goers dating back to the early 90's, when both were regulars at Limelight, the Chelsea nightclub that stands as a kind of high-water mark of 90's nightlife decadence. "Friends would always call and ask us, 'What do we do? Where do we go?' " said Mr. King, who is short, stocky and baby-faced. "After a while, we were like, 'Let's make a business out of this.' "

After a car accident in 2001, in which Mr. Roefaro nearly died, he quit his job at a funeral parlor and persuaded his boyhood friend Mr. King to leave his job as a television cameraman and go into business with him, first with a small advertising agency, and then, three years later, with PartyBuddys.

But times have changed since Limelight's heyday, as the new company's founders realized. New York clubs are now more conservative environments that cater to a crowd ready to spend generously on a night out.

Exorbitantly priced liquor, not drugs like Ecstasy or Special K, is the intoxicant of choice. "Our clients aren't snorting coke in the back of the limo," said Mr. Roefaro, who is tall and thin, with long hair and a beard that make him look like Al Pacino in "Serpico." "In fact, we make them sign a contract saying that if they use illegal narcotics the tour will be terminated."

PartyBuddys has arrangements with the six Manhattan clubs it visits to pay a fee in advance of a client's visit, based on each club's door charge, the size of the party and an estimate of how much alcohol will be consumed. (Mr. Roefaro said the company estimates one bottle at each club for every three people, which costs between $250 and $350.) The fee also covers gratuities for the clubs' employees; customers may tip the party buddy for good service at the end of the night. In addition, the service includes a "party ambassador" who acts as a liaison with the clubs and makes sure a table is waiting when the customers arrive.

Not everyone who uses PartyBuddys is paying for admittance to a world of fun and fabulousness to which they would otherwise be denied access. Some hire the service for the convenience factor. A week before Mr. Lima visited Cielo, three women in their mid-20's from Weehawken, N.J. - a nurse, a clerk and a teacher - paid $350 each to be ferried from Copacabana to Plaid and then to Webster Hall. All three are regular clubgoers and could have passed through the portals without the aid of PartyBuddys, though they probably would have had to stand in line a while.

But they chose the service because they wanted the night to be hassle free.

"We had a great time," Jennifer Ballester, the clerk, said at the end of the night. "I thought it was good value for money. I didn't have to worry about driving. I didn't have to worry about waiting in line or getting a table. It was well worth the $350."

So far, the nightclubs with which PartyBuddys has negotiated deals also appear pleased with the arrangement. "They bring in a very nice class of people," said Sean McGarr, the president of Webster Hall. "I've heard a lot of people talk about starting something like PartyBuddys, but they were the first to actually implement the idea."

Mr. King and Mr. Roefaro said they are not yet making much money from their enterprise, though they have attracted about 120 clients in six months. About 70 percent of their revenue goes to pay the clubs, the limousine service and the company's guides.

They have added options to increase their income. Now clients can hire a personal bodyguard ($45 an hour), a pseudo-paparazzo ($250 for the night) and a personal shopper to help find the appropriate outfits to wear club-hopping. They are also hoping to expand their roster of clubs. Recently, Mr. King approached Marquee, which is known for its strict door policy.

"I talked to someone at Marquee about our clients coming to the club, and she said, 'Sure, come down, we're interested,' " Mr. King said, and laughed. "I went there but the doorman wouldn't let me in."