When the city closed the gay bathhouses, others came in and reinvented them. Hayne Suthon led the charge for her family, converting the old Club Baths into a series of restaurants and fun lounges. Cave Canem was a Roman- themed joint that had me on day one. Its conversion in 1983 to the drag queen-heavy Lucky Cheng’s was an inspiration. Owner Hayne was the belle of the ball. Throw together Amy Sacco (before she was Amy Sacco) with a little Susanne Bartsch, and a Barnum and Bailey ringmaster with serious legal schooling and bizness-savvy, and you have Hayne.
All was good until the neighborhood changed. The East Village/LES's conversion from hipster heaven to dormitories for slaves and students left them without their base. Bachelorette and birthday shindigs filled the Lucky Cheng’s room,and Hayne eyed the new Times Square. A year or two ago, I told everyone in town that her space was available and the best game in town. Now, operators are clamoring for it and deals are done... almost. Someone will make it nice for those who are now around. Money will be spent to pay for the rent, the renovation, and other things. The neighborhood can now support that. Whatever fabulous that comes in will set a bar... a tone for the area. Sutra Lounge, available and nearby, should also be scooped up by entrepreneurs going with the flow.
Hayne will bring Lucky Cheng’s to Times Square - and, therefore, the world - this Monday, the 15th. It's a dream come true for her and her loyal companions. NYC...just like I pictured it.
How will the new space differ?
The difference is the space. It's a beautiful and theatrical setting, and it’ll feature a different show-formatting. We'll seat a little over 300 people with a massive staff of waitresses, bartenders, hostesses, and yes, managers - all of whom will perform. There will be an MC also doing a few numbers, but that part of the show will feature less audience participation and more stand-up comedy. With the high ceilings, the two Asian performers have created costumes with height. They’ll have sequins and massive wingspans. Black lights will be a part of the Asian dance numbers. And Richard Krause’s food is going to be simply ridiculously delicious.
How will your marketing change?
The demographic will change: we’ll have tourists, theatergoers... but most importantly, cast and crew of several shows have discovered us and plan to host very organized events and become regulars for after-work drinks. Although not a destination per se, we need to focus on bringing business through concierge outreach, street teams of queens, and partnerships with Broadway shows. Totally new sales and marketing strategies are being developed.
What is your history with the old Lucky Cheng’s space on lower First Avenue?
My history with that building dates back to 1986, when my family purchased the Club Baths, and demoed the building with up-and-coming graffiti artists who filled and tagged 40-yard dumpsters daily. I transformed it into Cave Canem, Lucky Cheng’s opened in 1993 while I was pregnant with my daughter Josephine , who is now attending Sarah Lawrence. Both Lucky Cheng’s and Josephine have grown up together and are simultaneously graduating to the next level.