NY party lab has Filipino at the helm
COSTUME DRAMA - Joanna N. Francisco () - October 7, 2011 - 12:00am

The proliferation of lifestyle-driven boutique hotels has brought with it chic spaces where fashion, culture and music meet. In New York, Andre Balazs’ A-list boutique hotel in the heart of SoHo, the iconic Mercer Hotel, was the first to offer luxurious loft-style living, attracting equally iconic personalities such as Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs (who lived here briefly). Today much of the noise at this address is happening underground — literally, at the subMercer, the hotel’s sexy subterranean club located two levels below the street. The insider hangout is the “it” place for private parties and underground dance music, with a sound system and acoustic ambience that encourages DJs to explore their musical range in a club setting “with no restrictions.” This week subMercer marks another first by launching its own music label, The Underground Series (pun intended), an idea hatched right here where hip creatives mix with the city’s DJ elite.

Hard work: Gabby Mejia multitasking — mask on, drinks and walkie-talkie in hand, with DJ Stretch Armstrong

Behind the success of subMercer is its director Gabby Mejia, consummate party host and occasional DJ. The 32-year-old Philippine-born stunner earned her street cred waiting tables and managing the floor at chic downtown lounges, eventually joining hot property The Standard before moving to the more laidback subMercer. Having worked in hotel management for a decade, and now overseeing everything from operations, guest relations to creative direction, programming and marketing, she says her fave aspects of the job are booking talent and signing musicians for the new music label.

Part of the lounge’s success, according to The Standard, is the “family feel” Mejia has cultivated and nurtured at subMercer. The exclusive but intimate vibe has seen the likes of fashion first-namers including Madonna and Gaga, Mark and Charlotte, Jack and Lazaro, Mary Kate, Helena, Coco, and more. Beyond famous faces, what makes the club unique is its devotion to “artists, DJs and designers… the people who make things happen.”

The music label project, a first for a hotel, is largely due to the creative advocacy of Balazs as well as the “uncompromising vision” of Mejia. The release was done on 12” vinyl as a stamp of acoustic integrity for DJs and audiophiles alike. The record’s red packaging with its unmistakable gold M in double parenthesis mirrors the club’s red door with gold letters.

With The Underground Series, the subMercer is set on bringing underground music to a wider audience and keeping at the forefront of cutting edge music. 

Next gen: Paz De La Huerta at the birthday party of eight-year-old godson DJ phenom DJ Arson, son of NY artist-filmmaker Nemo Lebrizzi, and protégé of DJ Cassidy.

YSTYLE: What does your work at subMercer entail?

GABBY MEJIA: I’ve been managing, programming, promoting and doing events — I’ve even often DJ’ed, too — for Andre on and off since 2004.

What do you like about it?

All things music. Music always incorporates itself into anything I do, and I DJ, too, so it heavily influences every aspect of my job. And, of course, I love throwing grand parties! My job is a lot of fun because there’s a fluidity to the properties, and I often get sent to different properties to help out or head various events or creative initiatives, usually music related.

What’s it like working for Andre Balazs?

Absolutely inspiring and fun! He’s really a pioneer and a visionary, but he’s also very human and accessible to his guests and his team, which is really important. Andre is very warm and visits all of his properties and knows everyone by name and is always very humble and asks for honest feedback from his team. He fosters a creative work atmosphere, and encourages his team to come forth with fresh, fun ideas to further make our product and services special and unique.

Tell us about the music project.

SubMercer has come to fill a certain niche in NY nightlife — one of quality, underground music — and has become the mainstay to catch top, underground dance music producers playing unrestrained on a massive, crystal-clear sound system that we’re known for. Most of our DJs are purists, mainly playing vinyl or CDs because the sound is just better than digital. You can’t replicate the warmth and integrity of vinyl. The label seeks to cultivate, support, promote and elevate underground music and have that subculture flourish because New York’s always been at the helm of influential, breakthrough music, so this isn’t the usual boutique hotel CD lounge music compilation of mainstream songs. We’re commissioning original productions. We wanted to contribute to the rich and distinctive cultural fabric of NY.

Bar none: Andre Balazs’ subterranean club is a dark, sexy space with brick walls and arches, low, mirrored ceilings, red leather seats and a stripper pole in the VIP section.

What parties have gone down there lately?

Guy Osiri has had his birthday party with a pretty spectacular guest list. It was pretty wild seeing Madge and Lady Gaga dancing face to face. Kanye West just had his 34th birthday there this summer, and he and Jay-Z did their hip-hop-royalty laden album wrap party for “Watch The Throne” which was recorded mainly at the hotel. Paz de la Huerta was there for her godson’s birthday. The subMercer is incredibly intimate in scale, so it’s a completely different experience to have these sorts of parties there... more personal, more interactive, more fun, more private.

Describe the scene before Fashion Week.

Fashion’s night out is always madness on Mercer St because of the designer boutiques on our block and the fashion crème de la crème in and out of the hotel. But it’s very glittery and fun.

Where do you hang out?

Juvenex Spa — a fabulous 24/7 spa in Koreatown, replete with steam room, sauna, baths, impeccable service and the best massages in the city. Great Jones Spa is a close second, followed by the Russian Turkish baths in the East Village. I’m a hardcore spa junkie. I also love hanging out in the Mercer lobby, which is still quite the place to be — what can I say, I love the hotel. I love having dinner at Hudson Clearwater in the West Village, and for amazing food and one of the best summer Sunday dance parties, Tiki Disco at Roberta’s in Brooklyn — phenomenal, market-fresh food, killer music and unprecedented outdoor fun.

What do you like to wear for parties?

I like to dress up designer vintage with modern. I’m 5’9” but I love heels. Currently, I’m in love with my Miu Miu’s. I also get dressed by designer friends...local jewelry designers, KREL knits and Felder Felder. My fave piece is a silk jersey, asymmetrical Missoni gown. I love pairing vintage YSL and Gucci with Zara. My new fave is a timeless camel Rochas overcoat... perfect for fall.

Any plans of coming to Manila soon?

Yeah, I’ve been raring to go back recently. I’d love to DJ there actually... then go back to Palawan to escape everything — God, I love it there!

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