He Hosts Miley and Rihanna, and Now He’s Getting a Taste of Their Fame


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Richie Akiva at a Met Gala after-party hosted by Rihanna at Up & Down, one of several nightclubs he owns.

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Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

Miley Cyrus posed with Sean Combs. Kendall Jenner hung out with Justin Bieber. Vanessa Hudgens chatted with Selena Gomez. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen held court in one corner, while Madonna danced in another.

It was the night of the Met Gala, and after all the red-carpet posing, cocktails, dinner and assorted parties, the A-list celebrities ended their night at Up & Down, a two-story club on West 14th Street.

Sure, that may have had something to do with the host, Rihanna. But it was also a testament to the celebrity-charming magnetism of Richie Akiva, one of the club’s owners, who is becoming a boldface name in his own right.

After buying out his longtime partner, he is now the sole owner of the Butter Group, a company that runs a growing empire including 1Oak clubs (the name stands for “one of a kind”) in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Mexico City, which cater to celebrities and hangers-on.

They are places where the bass always throbs, the champagne is perpetually being popped, bottles of vodka are delivered by beautiful women in lingerie and celebrities are coddled — with their comings and goings dutifully reported in the tabloids the next day. “Bella Hadid parties at 1OAK with Miley Cyrus in NYC,” the Daily Mail announced in a recent headline.

“I don’t use them to better my business, they’re my friends,” Mr. Akiva said. “I try to protect them as much as I can.”

His ease around his star clientele was evident on a recent afternoon, during lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Wearing a crisp blue button-down shirt and a gold Rolex, Mr. Akiva, 37, carried himself like the coolest kid in school, who is humble enough not to brag about it.

On his way in, he ran into Naomi Campbell. They kissed cheeks and chatted like old pals about their evening plans and whose house they would meet at beforehand.

“I host all my parties with him,” Ms. Campbell said. “I don’t go to any other clubs in New York but his. I know I’m safe, and I know I’m taken care of.”

Famous friends echoed a similar sentiment. “Richie creates an experience, it’s much more than just a club,” said Sean Combs, who attended Mr. Akiva’s birthday party at 1Oak in West Hollywood last September. “No matter what property, whether it’s 1Oak New York, L.A. or Cannes” — where Mr. Akiva organized a pop-up during the annual film festival — “it’s always a good time.”

Mr. Akiva has also been romantically linked in the tabloids to various celebrities, including Rihanna and Heidi Klum. He neither confirms nor denies those reports. “I take a page from friends of mine who are celebrities,” he said. “Let people believe whatever they want to believe.”

He was not born for flashbulbs and gossip. Mr. Akiva grew up in TriBeCa with his father, who manufactured and imported sportswear, and two sisters (his mother died when he was 3).

He lived on two tracks, spending days at the private Dwight School on the Upper West Side, and nights on a skateboard, scrawling graffiti and partying downtown. He started going to nightclubs before he was of legal age and began promoting parties, like Monday nights at Lot 61 in Chelsea and Friday nights at Life in Greenwich Village, as a way to meld his uptown and downtown circles and to make a little money.

That is also how he met Scott Sartiano, a Columbia University student, who would become his business partner for more than a decade. As promoters, cultivating the connections they made at Lot 61 and Life, they turned the nightclub Spa, near Union Square, into a celebrity hive during the early 2000s.

“It was the No. 1 club for four years in New York,” Mr. Akiva said. “It was where Justin Timberlake met Pharrell, where Pharrell met Jay-Z.”

But they wanted more. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m tired of making money for all these owners, I’ve got to do my own thing,’ ” Mr. Akiva said. So in 2002, he and Mr. Sartiano, with money raised from friends and investors, opened Butter, a scene-y restaurant on Lafayette Street. Their reputation preceded them.

“The day we opened, there was a line around the block because people thought it was a nightclub,” Mr. Akiva said. “We went and took business cards and said, ‘It’s a restaurant, please make a reservation.’ ”

In 2007, they opened their first nightclub, 1Oak, on West 17th Street in Chelsea. “We didn’t want to force people to spend money,” Mr. Akiva said, a reference to the mandatory bottle service that ruled night life at the time. “It was about great music and enjoying a room filled with a beautiful mix of models, celebrities, artists, photographers and fashion designers.”

Their clubs sometimes land in the news for the wrong reasons. In April, the N.B.A. player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside 1Oak in Manhattan, and last August, Suge Knight was shot at a pre-MTV Video Music Awards party at 1Oak Los Angeles.

“It was an unfortunate, isolated incident that happened to be at 1Oak,” Mr. Akiva said about the shooting. “I hire the right security, I make sure my door is as tight as it can be.”

The fast pace of night life may have contributed to Mr. Sartiano’s decision to leave the partnership in March. “My passion for things I wanted to do in the future shifted,” said Mr. Sartiano, who got married last year and now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles.

“I’m on a different path right now,” he said. “I don’t really want to stay in this nightclub business.”

For Mr. Akiva, last call seems far off. He plans to open outposts of 1Oak in London, Dubai and Tokyo in the coming year, and bring Up & Down to Los Angeles.

Still, he knows that even the most prolific club kid must eventually hang up his snapback hat. He recently broke ground on a 140-room hotel in the NoMad district of Manhattan in partnership with Richard Born and Ira Drukier, whose past projects include the Mercer Hotel and the Jane. While Mr. Akiva has yet to decide on a name, it won’t borrow from one of his club franchises.

“This is going to be a Richie Akiva project,” he said.



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