You might not have heard of Jue Lan Club, which opened in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood at the end of last year, but you probably know the famous rectory that houses it. In the 1980s, the deconsecrated Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion on Sixth Avenue was converted into a nightclub that later became Limelight, “one of the wildest clubs in history” according to journalist Michael Musto, “a den of hedonism for a generation of heat-seeking Club Kids.”
Grace Jones partied there. So did Madonna and Debbie Harry. But to entrepreneurs, the star was owner Peter Gatien, known then as the king of the New York club scene. After Gatien was deported to Canada following a tax fraud conviction, the church became a rehab center and later, a mall-slash-gym. Reviving its ’90s-era glory (already fading by 1998, when it was featured in Sex and the City) would be impossible, but Jue Lan Club has made a winking effort by naming one of its private dining rooms in Gatien’s honor. There is work by Keith Haring on the show, along with new ceramic sculptures by artist Yeats Gruin.
Maybe it’s the insistent nods to a lost past, or the servers in flight attendant-red belted dresses handing out endless hot, perfumed towelettes, but dinner at Jue Lan Club can feel more like taking a wild ride at a garish theme park than like eating dinner. The main bar and dining room are all dimly lit bare brick, a kind of Disney Gothic, and they are outfitted with baroque green velvet banquettes. Those are often packed with middle-aged white men in shiny suits and women clinking glasses of Champagne over plates of hastily sliced raw fish in various gaudy shades of pink and orange. One man kept it brief when introducing another to his girlfriend: “We used to party together, babe, back in the day.”
limelight nyc restaurant
The restaurateur behind Jue Lan Club is Stratis Morfogen, better known as the founder and former CEO of Phillipe Chow Restaurants (which is, for the record, not connected in any way to the Mr. Chow restaurants; see court case here). Morfogen, along with partners Robert Collins and Richie Romero, named their new place after a Chinese art society of the 1930s, but the food is more in the tradition of clubby Chinese-American restaurants such as Buddakan, where the chef cooked previously. The scene comes first, and the view is fueled by the sweet, persistently easygoing flavors of pan-Asian fare. Pass the FettiChino!
You can draw it out with fried noodles and choose-your-own-meat skewers, which are crispy-edged and wrecked with butter, as well as oxtail bao—lonely, unseasoned heaps of braised meat. Hot and Numbing Beef is a Sichuan dish, the meat usually stained with a thick red oil that gives you a killer two-for-one: the blasting heat of chili pepper and the buzzing, electric numbness of Sichuan peppercorns. At Jue Lan Club, the meat is in skinny, frizzled pieces, thick with a sticky batter and doused in a sticky sweet syrup that looks like something you’d force down to help you sleep. A lot of the savory entrees are not unlike the takeout versions you’d turn to during a night in—at twice the price, and without the comforts of slippers and your favorite giant, unbreakable wine glass.