Sutra Celebrates Seven Years as a Hip Hop Icon



By GamalHennessy

Most clubsin New York City do not last very long. Normally, a club can go from thehottest place on Earth to closed in 3-5 years. For a club to last more than 5years and still be relevant is a rare and wonderful thing.

Clubs thatstay opened the longest rely on good management and a reputation for particulartype of music. There is a club on the corner of 1st Street and 1stAvenue that is still going strong after 7 years.  Its owner has been a strong supporter ofnightlife culture who has built a haven for both underground and mainstream hiphop at a club called Sutra. I sat down with Ms. Ariel Palitz on the seventhanniversary of the space to discuss the impact that it has had on the LowerEast Side, nightlife and the culture of New York City.

GH: What was the goal when you firstopened Sutra? How close have you come to achieving that goal seven years later?

AP: I spenta lot of time in Bar 16 as a patron before I bought it and opened Sutra. Iloved spending time there because of the type of people I met and the vibe ofthe place. When I became the owner, I wanted to keep that spirit. I wanted aplace where different types of people could come and have a good time. I wantedto have different types of parties and different types of music. I wanted Sutrato represent underground New York. We had that vibe from day 1. It didn’tmatter if we did bhangra parties, soulful house sets or hip hop parties. Thegoal was to always to celebrate the diversity of New York and we were always ableto pull that off.

GH: I know you have a lot ofdifferent types of parties, but I’ve always seen Sutra as a hip hop spot. A lotof that has to do with the people who perform here. It’s a long list thatincludes Funkmaster Flex, Questlove, Mos Def, Slick Rick, DMC, Just Blaze and alot of others. When did you first realize that the hip hop industry embracedSutra?

AP: Therewas a night early on when Questlove was in the DJ Booth spinning and BlackThought and Mos Def just jumped in there and started freestyling.  We had no warning but everyone in the roomloved it. It has such a raw energy about it. It felt very natural. There was nohype, no drama no problems. Everyone was just flowing with them. I sat back atthe owners table and knew it was special.

GH: Were there a lot of nights likethat?

AP: Yes. Alot of artists come to Sutra to experiment on a live crowd. You can put outmusic on the internet, but nothing beats getting the reaction of people in theclub. Artists like Just Blaze and Tony Touchknow that. They’ll come and drop new beats and hooks and samples all the timeand then we’ll hear those same elements in top 40 songs 6 months later. Sutrahas been the birthplace for a lot of new music.

GH: What has been the most successfulparty Sutra has had over the years?

AP: We’vehad quite a few long running parties, but Toca Tuesday has to be the crownjewel. Tony is truly a professional artist and it is people like him that keeppeople coming back week after week. He is one of the reasons Sutra has been sosuccessful.

GH: What are the other things thathave helped Sutra last so long when so many other clubs don’t?

AP: We nevertried to make people feel like they didn’t belong or they couldn’t come in. Wewon’t turn your friends away because of their race or anything else. We don’ttry to force bottles on everyone. We throw parties that people enjoy. We’vealways been able to attract talent that people wanted to see. We have a goodrelationship with people on the block and in the neighborhood. All those thingshelp keep the doors opened.

GH:  So what’s next for Sutra? Do you plan to keepit opened for another 7 years?

AP: Iactually put Sutra on the market for sale this week, partially to coincide withthe anniversary. I had a goal in mind when I opened Sutra and I’ve achieved it.I love Sutra and the impact it has had on my life and the life of the communityand culture, but I have other goals, new businesses and new ideas for the Sutrabrand. Once I find the right buyer, it will be time to move on.

GH: How do you think Sutra willchange once you sell it?

AP: Ideally,the new owner would inject new energy into the place but still keep theinclusive spirit I inherited from Bar 16 and developed in Sutra. Ultimately Idon’t know what the new incarnation will be, but I will do everything in mypower to make sure that it will be a benefit to the quality of life forneighborhood, the people and New York.

GH: Do you think artists who havestrong ties to the spot might buy it? Rappers have bought venues before…

AP: Owning anightclub is a very different business than being a rapper or a DJ, but ifsomeone in the industry would want to take it over that would be great because hopefullythey would be able to infuse the same great talent and great vibe that has keptSutra alive this long

Have fun.
G