It is weeks away from the opening of his new Greenwich Village private dining club, Omar, and despite the ruins that surround him—a construction site with dismantled floors and walls—Omar Hernandez is unflappable. A friend, model Trish Goff, dropped by to say hello, before bemoaning that she has to leave to slip into her J. Mendel gown for the glamorous New Yorkers for Children fete that night. Hernandez gives her a double air kiss and utters “Ciao,” while flipping through hundreds of swatches of leather and velvet, and simultaneously grilling, in rapid-fire Spanish,
Rosa Cantillo, his fabric expert, a former hidden asset in the fashion world, for just the right distressed vintage look.
“The idea is to create a tactile experience for the guest,” says Hernandez, whose shock of jet-black hair gives off a natural bedhead air that complements his Euro-casual ensemble of midnight blue Yves Saint Laurent slippers, Levi’s jeans, Rag & Bon
e striped shirt and casually draped Brooks Brothers crewneck sweater—along with a bevy of bracelets surrounding his Tag Heuer, all gifts from friends. Hernandez says, “I work best under pressure. There are few things that take me over the edge.”
He certainly has his work cut out for him—his ambitious goal of creating an eponymous restaurant and adjoining private club is a lofty one, let alone in Manhattan, where hot boîtes come and go as quickly as Daphne Guinness changes outfits. There is little doubt he is as gifted as the accessories that adorn his wrist.
Still, this is the moment that Hernandez—the off-the-radar insider with a not-so-little black book—has been prepping for his entire life. And he is determined not to squander his opportunity.
The concept: to open a popular restaurant and ultra private dining club in the highly coveted Gold Coast on West Ninth Street, just off Fifth Avenue (a building that formerly housed the short-lived restaurant Hotel Griffou). It sits among other historic Greek Revival and Italianate townhouses, with notable neighbors including Nate Berkus, artist Ross Bleckner and Susan Sarandon. Hernandez’s avatar is more akin to Mark Birley’s groundbreaking Annabels in London during the Sixties. “Not just some party club like Amy Sacco’s 8,” he says, just a tad dismissively. Nor will it be at all similar to larger brand clubs like Soho House. Hernandez observes, “They have no personality. They’re all based on hype and not guided by a particular person’s vision.”
In the tradition of his role models Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque and Giovanni Tognozzi of Bar Pitti, Hernandez will be the hands-on visionary: welcoming and hosting his members on a nightly basis. “You’re being invited into my home—and thereby, become a part of my family. In this town, there isn’t one club today that has a truly personalized lifestyle to it and looks after every single person there.” During this preview for DuJour in advance of its scheduled December opening (at the time of going to press), Hernandez sums up the decor as “a Hôtel Costes feel with an air of elegance, yet with the idea of simplicity—Hermès is my palette.”
The old romanticism ambience of the club was conceived with the help of Dan Mazzarini, who designed the Lords South Beach Hotel in Miami as well as New York’s the Lion. Omar will have a succession of private rooms, offering everything from a member’s private wine cellar to cuisine customized to a person’s every wish. “It all comes down to great food, particularly in New York,” rightly says Hernandez. He has hired Kenny Cuomo, former sous chef at Del Posto in New York and the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, who also had a stint at Per Se. “We want to make this one of the top 100 restaurants in the world,” Cuomo says. “Four-star Michelin, no less.”
Not to mention a five-star roster of chic. Hernandez, who refuses to disclose the “nominal” membership fee, is intentionally courting the international jet-setters he knows best, particularly those from South America, Europe and Asia, whom he insists are in need of a Manhattan destination “where the host knows who they are, where they will be taken care of faithfully, and where they will feel like they belong amidst the inconstancy of New York.”
Founding members likely will include Rafael de Medina, the Duke of Feria (son of Valentino muse Nati Abascal); Sir Alex Ferguson, the iconic Manchester United footballer; socialite Andrea Dellal; Delfina Blaquier (Nacho Figueras’s fashion maven wife); Michelle Violy Harper; art collectors Darlene and Jorge Perez; and such artists as Luca Pizzaroni.
There will be no jineterasthere to meet clients, nor a heavy quotient of movie moguls, fashionistas and celebrities—though if Hernandez pals Dree Hemingway or Marisa Berenson come knocking, he won’t turn them away.
Hernandez, who grew up in Venezuela, the son of a retired army general and an observant Jehovah’s Witness mother, is at first blush a surprising choice for the beau monde’s navigator of chic. After studying, of all things, electrical engineering in Caracas and in Canada at McGill, against his rather strict father’s wishes he entered the hotel and hospitality business under Miky Grendene, owner of Miami and Aspen’s beloved Casa Tua, and became André Balazs’s longtime “director of ambience.” As a consultant the past four years, he helped open the Lion and the Hôtel Americano. Behind the scenes he put together dinner parties to honor Olivier Rousteing as the new head of Balmain (in attendance: models Arizona Muse and Karlie Kloss) and Charlotte Rampling, hosted by Mexican-born New York artist Alex Hank (Lisa Immordino Vreeland and Elisabeth de Kergorlay, among others, were there), as well as an event for the Frieze Art Fair (designers Sarah Burton, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu).
Little wonder Hernandez’s black book has some 10,000 contacts, in addition to a winnowed elite coterie of a hundred high-flying intimates. Like the legendary restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, Hernandez always “defers to others and excuses myself from the guests. I leave myself to the end.” He unwinds on weekends at his homes in Greenwich Village and in Miami with his Argentine boyfriend of seven years, a reserved Miami financier who shuns nightlife.
“Omar is a people person, and I’m sure he will do a great job,” says Grendene. “He also has the character to succeed in this business.” He has the wherewithal to be unafraid of taking on Graydon Carter, whose Beatrice Inn is nearby. “He is Vanity Fair, but I have a crowd that he doesn’t have. I’m more guerilla style.” Or be just another culinary passing ship in the New York night. “A place can’t become too hot. Then there’s no gain,” Hernandez states. “You have to stick to your guns and keep the integrity of your vision. Trendy is tempting. But chicness is a state of mind.”
Photos: Grant Cornett