Interview: Provocateur co-founder Brian Gefter

The story behind the club and how it will add to Dubai's nightlife scene

Brian Gefter in Dubai [Photo: Lester Apuntar/ITP Images].
Brian Gefter in Dubai [Photo: Lester Apuntar/ITP Images].

Rahul Odedra speaks to Provocateur co-founder Brian Gefter about the story behind the club and how it will add to the UAE’s nightlife scene

Five years after opening the venue, the management team behind Provocateur in New York was fielding offers from cities and partners around the world.

Other nightlife hotspots in the US, such as Miami and Las Vegas, could have proved lucrative, while the likes of London and Paris were also eager to bring across the club. So why did the co-founders choose Dubai for their first true international venture?

“What happened in Dubai is that there is a bit of magic to it with our local partners whom we firmly believe in. They have the belief in the brand that we have, and love the brand as we do. And of course, being in the Four Seasons was huge for us,” explains co-founder and co-owner Brian Gefter.

“And having other brands like Coya and Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] opening within the property, and with us bringing in our design and lighting team, and staff, and bringing the authenticity of what we’ve created in NY to that space. There are not many opportunities where you have the ability to do that; whether that’s the financial backing or the space. From every perspective it felt right and continues to feel right, and that’s really hard to find.”

That mention of Four Seasons — or Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, to give the property its full name — was clearly a large part of the puzzle. It was one of the most eagerly-awaited hotels in the emirate last year and Provocateur sits within its Restaurant Village, which houses a number of third-party operated F&B venues.

New York beginnings

The story of Provocateur goes back to 2008, when the idea was conceptualised by Gefter and business partner Michael Satsky. Opening in 2009 in New York’s trendy Meatpacking District, it has two distinct elements: a lounge-like café, set under a retractable roof; and a more traditional nightclub.

Gefter says: “We operate today exactly as when we opened — with the same policies, the same procedures, and the same level of attention to service and hospitality. We opened Provocateur with a number of innovations. One was to create an international nightlife venue in New York City, in contrast to a lot of New York-centric nightlife venues which existed during the time when we opened. One of the main points of difference was that we would open with an electronic music programme, again in contrast with the landscape during that time, and even still now today.”

Dubai days

While clearly Provocateur Dubai arrives on the back of its success in New York — a club in São Paulo, Brazil, also operates under the Provocateur name as part of a license agreement — the venue is a very different one to its older sister. For starters, there is no café here. “We decided intentionally not to have the café and club concept because of a few reasons, namely that in Dubai you close at 3am,” explains Gefter.

“That gives you a really short, high-impact window from many different perspectives. From a business perspective, you have a short window, and then the experience perspective.

“A lot of times people will go to a restaurant and have a dining experience and then come to the nightlife venue of their choice [in Dubai]. So they have a few hours to enjoy it, whereas in NY you have a wider window.”

He continues: “So that’s the main reason we decided to take a lot of the design elements from the café and bring them into the nightclub and merge the two. So from a design perspective you have a hybrid. It’s exciting because we have the element of the café and the high energy nightlife experience of the nightclub, with the DJs and the level of the sound and the commitment to electronic music, all in one room.”

Covering approximately 7000 square feet, the new club has around 25 tables and is able to accommodate up to 350 people. And in terms of staffing, there is an emphasis on bringing across as much expertise as possible from New York.

“We have an incredible team from around the world — it’s a team that we’ve assembled over the past two years and our local partners here are Antonio Gonzales and Manuel Ayas.

“For us it’s not about their background but ‘Provocateurising’ them and making them really understand the brand.
“We’ve brought all of the senior-level managing staff many times over the past two years from where they are to NY for training. And we’ve brought our high level managing staff from NY to Dubai to train here.

“And we’ve brought a lot of the NY staff here to operate as well. There’s a huge commitment to the brand here.”

Plans for more

Even though Gefter was speaking to Caterer shortly before the club opened, in December, he was already opening up about the possibility of further ventures in the city and region.

When you put so much time, passion and work in a project in one area, I think that sets a foundation for you to grow in that area.

“We have Provocateur in New York and we’re now working on a new project there; it’s drastically different and equally as unique and authentic. When you begin to create and operate in a city, you start to fall in love with that city, and that’s really exciting.”

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