The Return of the Nightlife King: Seth Greenberg
What Greenberg has in mind at Woodward is a charming open space, filled with light bouncing off the old building’s brown and white marble mosaic floor. There will be glossy white Windsor chairs, banquettes overflowing with fabulous people, and a bar stocked with craft drinks made with local cider and herbs. The venture is a partnership between the boutique hoteliers at the Morgan Hotel Group—owners of Mondrian in L.A. and the Delano in Miami—along with Normandy Real Estate Partners, which owns, among other things, the Hancock Tower. With players like these, Woodward will be a far cry from the sort of ye olde beer bar that could easily have been plopped onto this Freedom Trail parcel. It will also be a far cry from the crowded after-dark hideaways in which Greenberg used to hold court. What he wants is to create a scene that feels like real Boston, only cooler, a place where you feel you simply have to be. And almost no one is better at creating that kind of thing than Seth Greenberg.
To truly understand his talents, you have to go back to the mid-’90s, to M-80, the old Comm. Ave. concert hall he turned into an orgy of indulgence. The club, which was located inside the storied Paradise Rock Club—a mere cork’s pop from the BU campus—catered to an international crowd the likes of which the city had never seen. Saudi princes rolled up in their Mercedes S-Class convertibles, and Venezuelan scions ordered $200 bottles of Cristal for everyone they knew. As the economic slowdown gave way to a local tech boom, even homegrown kids were suddenly awash in unprecedented piles of discretionary cash.
Greenberg’s clientele was young, flush, and ready to party. Models and fashionable brainiacs rubbed elbows, and even John Kerry made frequent appearances. Designers like Versace and Betsey Johnson hosted fashion shows. The mantra was "Dom is for drinking and Moët is for spraying," and during its run, M-80 was selling more high-end champagne than any other venue in New England. In that era of pre-9/11 innocence, Saudis mixed with Jews, Turks mixed with Greeks, and the sign above the bar read "World Peace." "It was kind of magical," says Bethany Van Delft, a former model who was an M-80 regular. "Every now and then, if there was something really political happening in the Middle East, you might notice some tension. But nothing erupting into violence. Nothing like that. Nothing that wasn’t solved by a bottle of champagne being shaken up and sprayed on everyone."
The scene that coalesced around Greenberg in the 1990s was proof of his ability to capture the moment. It’s a skill he’s been honing since his teen years in Miami Beach, where he lived with his father, a garment industry and real estate entrepreneur; his mother, a former model; and his sisters in a Mediterranean-style waterfront house on North Bay Road. At 15, he discovered the Cricket Club, then a posh hangout for an international crowd of disco dancers, Spanish-speaking expats, and tennis-playing locals. "It was amazing," he says. "Europeans, wealthy Latins, the WASP community, Miami Jews, all mixed together. I’d put on a three-piece suit and get a ride from my parents’ friends. That’s what got me hooked on nightlife."
It gave him a vision of a lifestyle, and when he arrived at BU in 1978, he set about creating an undergrad version of the same. Through a friend whose father owned the Theater District’s Hotel Bradford, he arranged to rent the hotel’s ballroom to throw his first major party. Nothing too raucous, just some music and drinks, but what other freshman would’ve had the confidence to pull that off? "I had a great group of friends," he says. "I was 17 and the drinking age was 18, so I couldn’t legally get into a club, but I could certainly do business."
"Seth had an entrepreneurial mindset, even in the college years," says his former roommate, Michael Conte, now a surgeon in San Francisco. "Within the first couple of months of starting school, I remember, he received a shipment of high-end designer jeans, 20 or 30 pairs, and was selling them out of his dorm room." Students flocked to Greenberg; it didn’t hurt that his looks brought to mind a cross between David Duchovny and a young Richard Gere. "But it was more than that," Conte says. "He was magnetic, he really knew how to have fun, and he had a way of promoting that was unique. There were a lot of people who wanted to be around him."