The Return of the Nightlife King: Seth Greenberg
Seth Greenberg is holding forth on history. Boston’s, not his own. He’s standing in the doorway of what will become Woodward, the "modern tavern" he’s opening this month in the new Ames Hotel, in which he’s a partner. He’s looking out at the Old State House and down State Street toward the Custom House Tower, pondering the past, the city’s long memory. "This is where the Boston Tea Party took place," he says of his new neighborhood, sounding a bit awestruck.
He’s an unlikely history buff, standing here with his tousled hair, fancy watch (Chronoswiss), and artfully untucked blue shirt. Of course, the tea dumping took place down the harbor a ways—but no matter. What he’s getting at is what makes the old Ames building—the city’s first skyscraper when it was completed in 1893—such a compelling place for a swank new hotel, and the perfect spot for his own latest experiment. "The Ames family, who built this place, had a company called Ames Plow," Greenberg says. "When Mr. Ames died, Mrs. Ames remarried a man named Woodward and opened a tavern at her home. So this is named after Mrs. Woodward’s tavern."
To know anything about Seth Greenberg is to wonder at his desire to become a tavern keeper. But Woodward, he explains, won’t be your great-grandfather’s watering hole. What Greenberg has in mind is a vibe he describes, with a straight face, as "Ben Franklin meets supermodel." The way he sees it, if a colonial about town were alive today, this is just the sort of place he’d enjoy. And hey, who doesn’t want to hang out with supermodels?
Seth Greenberg is handsome and perpetually tanned. He loves fashion. He loves Saint-Tropez. And the Hamptons. And models. And South Beach. And working out. And fast cars. He also loves Boston. A purveyor of a glam lifestyle in a notoriously buttoned-down city, Greenberg has always glimpsed opportunity here. With Woodward, amid both a recession and a poorly timed hotel building boom, he’s out to redefine a career that’s fixed in time to a spectacular moment in the 1990s, when he invented an entire subculture at M-80 and later at the Theater District’s Aria, then the city’s most glittering nightspots. That early success spawned other deals—including Mistral, the restaurant he opened in the South End—but after a string of run-ins with the city’s licensing board over underage drinking and overcrowding, his flagship club was shuttered. In frustration, he left the bar business behind and set up shop in New York, giving up the Ladder District condo and the band of trailing Greenberg wannabes and Maggie Inc. models just as the lights dimmed on what was the most glorious nightlife era in Boston since the jazz club days of the 1940s.
Now, a dozen years after he opened his last big property here, he’s back in Boston to accomplish what he says has been his goal all along: becoming a player in the hotel business. If he succeeds, Boston will once more witness his talent for spinning a sleepy scene into something sparkling. And if he really succeeds, we may also witness a transformation in the once-rowdy club king himself.