Daniel Nardicio, the man who revived Playgirl, tells us some of his most scandalous playboy stories as a promoter of the best gay sex parties in Manhattan. He talks Gaga, his stripper mother, and the like.
Nardicio's day job as Vice President of Marketing for Playgirl magazine gives him a healthy dose of cachet in certain New York circles, but we might venture to crown him, unofficially, as the king of gay New York. We met recently at Port 41, an all-American dive located amidst the chaos and grime of Port Authority with System of a Down blasting in the background. The joint was filled with Jersey boys sucking down 4 p.m. Budweisers that a bored bartender in a bikini served them. Though Nardicio has been noted of late for getting Wasilla Baby Daddy Levi Johnston on the cover of Playgirl and overseeing the magazine's renaissance, his history extends deep into New York and plots a historical map of party dynamics. Nardicio, all smiles, discussed the trajectory of his career and his observations of the New York gay scene's evolution.
GofG: Take us back, way back: before you immersed yourself in the belly of the New York gay scene, what was your childhood like?
DN: I was born in Ohio, in a small town outside of Cleveland, a farm town, and it’s funny, oddly enough, I mentioned John Waters before- I just read his book Role Models and there’s a story in it about Zoro, the stripper in Baltimore. And it reminded me a lot of my story with my mom. My mom was a stripper also, so it reminded me – Zoro was a little more intense than my mom, but my mom was a bartender and a stripper at this bar called The Buttercup Lounge and I was born out of wedlock, so I spent a lot of time at the Buttercup Lounge. Frankly, it was a lot like where we’re sitting right now--it was a lot like this--which is odd that I’m in here talking about it. My earliest memories were being in bars, basically. The Buttercup was very much like this, you know, beer signs lit up everywhere. I have a real fond memory for it, a lot of people go, ‘Oh god, that’s tragic,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know, it’s interesting.’ At least it wasn’t boring. And that was basically the extent of my childhood. I basically raised myself until I left when I was eighteen years old. I worked in Berlin before I moved here, in a venue for live music, and I did it for five years. I used to do concerts with The Scissor Sisters, shows and stuff with them. We did Joe’s Pub about eight years ago. I did stuff with Gaga, too. It’s kind of incredible to watch. Now it’s like Gaga’s eclipsed everyone. She performed for my birthday party two years ago. It’s on Youtube, if you google Lady Gaga Fire Island, it’s there. She’s really good. Dealing with her’s always been really pleasant, she’s really sweet. I have nothing do to with her now, I think she’s probably impossible to reach now.
GofG: Tell us about your notorious parties.
DN: Well, it’s kind of weird; I’m really good friends with Justin Bond, the performance artist, singer, great guy. Very well known, very interesting. We were friends for years and Justin was really shocked that I’m not into nightlife, because I didn’t go to clubs in my twenties and thirties. I think there’s this residual fear that I was going to turn into my mother, an alcoholic. So I just didn’t go to bars, and I eschewed them and even was really judgmental of the whole thing, like, people’s lives are wasted in bars. But I was also really attracted to it. I don’t want to be hanging out in a bar necessarily, but I started throwing events in bars and that kind of happened through me throwing corporate events and that led me into the nightlife. That was the perfect thing, because I’m driven, so it was an opportunity for me to throw parties in bars. I didn’t just sit around in them. I had something to do in them, and I could meet people and be social. I’m kind of shy by nature so it gave me an opportunity to meet people. And that kind of led me to do performance art parties, with drag queens, Scotty Blue Bunny, and Justin, and Dirty Martini, very burlesque queer art parties -but there’s no money in that. So I did that for a while and then decided to really go into more gay parties and have that element in them of those performers. Dirty Martini, a great legendary burlesque performer, often says that, you know, I supported her for two years. I booked her all the time. I loved working with burlesque girls and putting them in the gay environment.
What happened was I was just very permissive, and those environments just started to happen. I never thought of myself as a sex party promoter. I created a vibe where anything could happen. And I didn’t really care if sex happened or not. It was never like, ‘Let’s throw a mattress on the floor, we’re gonna have sex parties,’ it was like, ‘let’s just organically see what happens.’ Some nights some people would come up and complain that it wasn’t a ‘real sex party,’ but it was like, oh well, it just didn’t happen. If you want something crazy to happen, make something crazy happen. But I’m not going to force that issue. Of course, in the ensuing years, now I market them as more sexual. But I have a lot of people who come and don’t get dirty. I have a lot of –I don’t want to say celebrities, but nightlife people, and people in the know or insiders- they come and just hang out, and don’t get dirty. Everyone from The Scissor Sisters to Alan Cumming, different performer types, and they don’t have sex. Or at least, not that I know of.
GofG: Any party memory in particular that you hold as a favorite?
DN: I’ve had so many- there are always a couple that come to mind that are sort of legendary, stupid moments that make me laugh. I think it was this guy who came to one of my parties and got really wasted and lost all of his clothes. And then went into the bathroom and he fashioned all of these recycling bags, like an outfit. And we’re sitting there and it’s the end of the night, and we’re all just kind of chatting and recapping and out of the bathroom walks this guy who’d been naked all night. Walks through the room, and he’d fashioned, looks like a Comme des Garcons -like outfit out of these plastic bags, and walks up the street- this is on third avenue- and we ran up to the top, because it was a basement bar, to the steps, and we watch him walk up toward Cooper Union in this outfit., It was kind of a magical moment; for me a lot of my experiences in bars that had been the most fun are things that just happened out of nowhere. Those moments are really the best for me, personally. I experience it a lot less now because I’ve seen a lot more, so it’s a lot harder for me to go ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never seen anything like this,’ but I still love nightlife. Love it. A story that we all refer to is, ‘I think I’m gonna like it here.’ A guy who’s gone onto being a pretty successful Broadway costume designer for musicals, he comes to my events, used to come to my events more, a total exhibitionist. And he just really wanted to get on the bar and jack off. And I was like, ‘anytime you want to, go for it.’ So we’re all at the bar, knee deep in jack and ginger, me and a bunch of my friends drinking, and he’s at the bar onstage right there, jacking off. Like, really jacking off, like going for the gold jacking off and we’re like , 'O.K..' And at one point, you could sense that he was getting close to orgasm so Sweeney, the drag queen Sweeney, grabs a shot glass, and goes over and hands it to him, and at that point the DJ –Sammy Jo from The Scissor Sisters- pops in Annie, ‘I think I’m Gonna Like it Here,’ you know, the song from the musical, and foreshadowing, this guy’s gonna be a Broadway designer for musicals, this guy shoots his load into a shot glass, and we all died. To this day, I see him, he told me his name, to me he’s always gonna be ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here.’
My all time favorite night was the night of the blackout. I had a van, I had a van around town, and I picked up people and we went to this bar that I used to throw parties at. We opened the bar u, and had a party that night which was insane. Jason Sellards from The Scissor Sisters dancing naked on the bar, the whole bar was candlelit, it’s the blackout, this was a few years ago. And John Cameron Mitchell was there, and that became the genesis for the blackout in Shortbus. That party- people were performing, and everyone was naked, it was crazy and that’s where the blackout happened in Shortbus.
GofG: Even though this is wild nightlife, I feel like you're sponsoring a sort of creative movement. Do you also hold this view?
DN: I really love creativity and encourage it. I have to say, it’s less now than it was. I don’t want to be one of those ‘oh, things were better back then...’ I don’t know if it’s better. But there’s less, I don’t know, maybe because I do more stuff on Fire Island and people are on vacation and they’re a little less creative than they would be here, but there’s a little bit less of that, that people would just go out and be insane and do really crazy things. I will say that lately the scenes here are much more interested in being fabulous than being interesting and that kind of saddens me. People are very worried about being fabulous.
GofG: What the real impetus for that change?
DN: Because of time. I think people have a lot less time and people are way more connected to their BlackBerries. So people tend to be a little more afraid – I certainly feel- people are more afraid of looking like fools, because it ends up on the web. If you wore something stupid or a bad outfit, the only people who would see it were your friends that night, you could go home and throw it in the trash. Now it’s like, it lives. If you pull your dick out or your tits out in a bar and you’re acting crazy, for one person that could be their night of really wildness, but it could haunt them for the rest of their lives because some douchebag at the bar who has no life is taking pictures of everything going on. And I just want to be like, 'You know, no.' I make people check their phones at most of my parties. No phones. If you’re at a bar and you need to talk to someone, get your phone and go outside. I think that’s really changed a lot.