The New York City of today—a land of luxury condos, polished cocktail bars, and impossibly high rent—is a different beast than it was in the ’90s, when Richard Melville Hall, known by his stage name Moby, came into his own as one of the world’s most recognizable electronic musicians.
Born in New York on 148th Street, Moby spent the first part of his career living in the Lower East Side with fellow musicians, visual artists, and creatives. During this fertile period, he frequented the kind of dives where a pre-LCD James Murphy wowed a crowd of degenerates pounding Bud Light and vodka; conducted meetings with music-industry folks at strip clubs on the West Side Highway; and knocked elbows with Yoko Ono at Mr. Chow.
From the time his breakthrough hit “Go” dropped in 1991, to the last album he made in NYC in 2009, Moby was deeply embedded in NYC’s music scene. Because albums capture a specific moment in time, we asked Moby to trace New York’s restaurant and nightlife history alongside his career, citing the spots where artists and industry folk went to party, wind down, and talk shop over a plate of chicken satay. Granted, Moby has been a vegan for the past 27 years, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hitting up Indochine in the early 2000s with the likes of Robert DeNiro and Kate Moss.
After spending decades in the Lower East Side, Moby relocated to Los Angeles, where he made his last two albums. This summer, he plans to open a vegan bistro called Little Pine near his home in Silverlake.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hangout: Mr. Chow
Moby says: “Around the time Moby came out, I went to a few industry dinners where an A&R person or a label president was trying to get me to sign with them. And there was a place called Mr. Chow (324 E 57th St, 212-751-9030) in Midtown, and it was really big and fancy and completely wasted on me because I’m a vegan and I was a vegan back then. And so these record company people would take me there to try to impress me, and pretty quickly realized that there was nothing I could actually eat on the menu. I think the first time I went to Mr. Chow, Yoko Ono was having dinner at the table next to me. It was the quintessential New York moment.” (Photo: Discogs, Genius)
Everything is Wrong (1995)
Hangouts: Max Fish, Brownies, Spring Street Natural
Moby says: “Everyone I knew who lived on the Lower East Side went to Max Fish (reopened at 120 Orchard St, 212-529-3959) at three in the morning. Max Fish was where I went when I wanted to drink cheap beer and flirt with Norwegians. And the other place musicians hung out at was Brownies on Avenue A. If you think of an indy-rock band that came out of New York in the mid-to-late ’90s—everybody from the Strokes to TV on the Radio—at some point, they played at Brownies. James Murphy was DJing at Brownies long before he was in LCD Soundsystem.
In terms of restaurants, the place that I always took record company people was Spring Street Natural (62 Spring St, 212-966-0290) in Soho. This was the first health-food restaurant that wasn’t vegetarian, and it had a lot of vegan options. Many of the record companies and managers had been in Midtown up until the early ’90, then as the ’90s progressed, Midtown became too expensive and record companies began moving downtown. I remember holding a meeting with my lawyer at Spring Street Natural, and Adam Yauch and Mario Caldato—who was the Beastie Boy’s mixer—were having lunch together. (Photo: iTunes, Facebook/Max Fish)
Animal rights (1996)
Hangout: Niagara (formerly A7 and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut)
Moby says: “This was a very low point in my career. Animal Rights was a critical and commercial disaster that led me to get dropped by my record company at the time, Elektra. So I’m sure there were fancy deals happening at the time, but for me there wasn’t. I had started drinking again, so I was basically just going to dive bars. I went to one that was on the corner of 7th and Ave A. In the early ’80s it was called A7, and it was a punk rock club, and then it was King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, and then it became Niagara (112 Avenue A, 212-420-9517). I ended up there quite a lot, just drinking and getting into trouble.
It was still an affordable place where you could get a Bud Light in a plastic cup and a shot of vodka. If you felt fancy, maybe you would add a slice of lime into your vodka. This was before expensive wines, and Cosmopolitans, and mixologists. Everyone drank like they worked in a factory.“ (Photo: iTunes, Yelp/José Ignacio O.)
Hangout: Privilege strip club
Moby says: “When Play came out, the place I spent the most time at was this strip club on the West Side Highway called Privilege. I doubt it’s still there; I’m sure it’s been torn down and turned into a thirty-story condo. A friend of mine opened it and it became a clubhouse for a lot of people—athletes, actors, musicians—because it was really quiet. You could sit and drink and people wouldn’t bother you. And I did sort of like forcing the people I worked with to have meetings in a strip club; there was something that seemed kind of perverse about it.
The odd thing was, Privilege was less degenerate than almost any bar in New York. There wasn’t really much promiscuity or drugs. It was just a nice place to hang out and be left alone.” (Photo: iTunes, Facebook)
Hangouts: Indochine, Joe’s Pub
Moby says: “In the ’90s I had a small amount of success, but by the early 2000s my career had gotten a lot bigger. I still had my drinking habit, so I would go out six to seven times a week. Around this time I started to go to the restaurant Indochine (30 Lafayette St, 212-505-5111). In the late ’90s, something happened and Indochine became a really exciting, vibrant place. You would be at Indochine and see Robert DeNiro having dinner with Al Pacino, or the mayor with Donald Trump. It was such a New York place—very theater based, fashion based, and straight and gay. You’d see Kate Moss throwing up in the bathroom and Stella McCartney eating vegan food in a booth. It had this kind of glamor like New York had in the late ’70s, around the time of Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Then there was another place, Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St, 212-539-8778), where you could stay until 3am.” (Photo: iTunes, Yelp/Indochine)
Hangouts: Maritime Hotel, Sway
Moby says: “Last Night came out right before I stopped drinking, so I was completely off the rails in terms of drinking and drug use. The record sort of sounds likes that. Once a month I hosted a party under the Maritime Hotel (363 West 16th St, (212-242-4300) called Degenerates. I would also end up at Sway (305 Spring St, 212-620-5220). It was a degenerate bar that I started going to when it opened in the ’90s, and it was similar to Max Fish in that it was consistent. I feel like everybody in lower Manhattan that was interested in drinking 15 drinks and doing as many drugs as possible knew it was just where you had to go. At some places, buying drugs was a challenge. At a place like Sway, not buying drugs was a challenge. And the people who owned it were sometimes nice enough to keep it open until 10 or 11am for the regulars.” (Photo: Discogs, Sway)
Wait for Me (2009)
Hangouts: Candle 79, Pastis
This was the first record I made after I stopped drinking. One industry restaurant hangout was Candle 79 (154 E 79th St, 212-537-7179), an upscale vegan restaurant on the Upper East Side. I would see Alec Baldwin, Natalie Portman, and Charlize Theron there.
Publicists and record label people would sometime take me to those huge cavernous places in the Meat Packing District. For the most part, I just hated them because they were super loud and the people there were doing way too many drugs. I don’t even remember the name. These places seated 200 people. Basically, they were nightclubs that served food. I did everything in my power to avoid going to them. The only place I didn’t mind going to was Pastis (9 Ninth Ave, (212-929-4844). They could always make something vegan. (Photo: iTunes, Yelp/John-Paul P.)
*Note: Moby’s last two records, Destroyed and Innocents, were made in LA.