One of NYC’s few truly great and original nightlife event producers, this giant got his start at a small dive bar in San Francisco before making it big here with the notorious Westgay at Westway. He’s still giving us massive weekly kikis featuring the best of the scene and way beyond, but lately he’s been offering some more intimate vehicles as well. Thotyssey rides the cutting edge with Frankie Sharp!
Thotyssey: Hello there Frankie, thanks for finding a minute out of your super busy schedule to chat with us! How are you doing?
Frankie Sharp: I’m great! Super high from last night’s MARY, my weekly cabaret at Club Cumming. It was a great show. But today, back at the grind. How are you?
I’m hanging in there, and riding these weird weather fluctuations! You’re a San Francisco native… I think that city has the best weather.
SF has the best weather probably one month of out the year, September, which is their late summer. It’s perfectly sunny and warm, and not too hot. Otherwise, surprisingly pretty grey and nippy. But when its good it’s good. I respond better to the drama of the seasons. I need constant change around me. My blood pressure responds well to that, I think.
That probably translates well to your work as a nightlife event producer, where if you can’t consistently change and innovate, then there’s no point in being there.
I certainly can’t stand still or in one place for very long. That also probably has to do with me being a military brat, living in a new city every year. Every grade from Kindergarten to ninth grade was a new place for my family to call our temporary home. That also sharpened my skills on how to make new friends very quickly.
Were you always creative / artistic in some way when you were growing up?
Very much so. I had some friends, but usually only at school. I spent most of my time alone. I would write and draw my own comic books about gay superheroes, except I didn’t know they were gay at the time. I just knew they were hot men I liked drawing, and powerful female characters whom I suppose were drag queens. I feel like I manifested those characters into my current adulthood. I’m surrounded by powerful creatures and gay superheroes all the time now.
I’m predicting a Frankie Sharp graphic novel in the future! So, I understand it was a dive bar called the Gangway in San Francisco where your nightlife career began?
Yes! I was working answering phones for an advertising / design firm. I hated having to be somewhere at 9am, and at a desk no less. So on my weekends I was eating ecstasy and running around with all the nightlife creatures, going to all these great club events listening to house music.The best house music outside of Chicago is San Francisco house. I was going to parties thrown by magnificent drag queens like Juanita More’s Booty Call and Heklina’s TrannyShack, fun club nights by Honey Soundsystem. SF nightlife is all performance-based and peacocky, I loved the nightlife there.
But there was still something missing. When I first went to Gangway, I fell in love. It was a dilapidated dive bar–a half-working jukebox and carpeted walls, but 100% gay clientele over 50. I loved it. I grew up in bars, as my mother was a stripper in the Philippines and that’s how my father met her when he was a sailor stationed there. So for some reason, those kind of bars are very sentimental–almost spiritual–to me.
So I decided to throw a party there on a shoestring budget–way before I knew what a “guarantee” was, or how to strike a deal. I just wanted to have fun, and be able to afford a pizza slice. I DJ’d from iTunes, and filled the room with 99 cent balloons. It was the best time.
OMG after that graphic novel you need to write a full-on book!
What motivated you to come out and mix it up in NYC?
I was very into reading PAPER Magazine, The Face and i-D, and NYC was so fully represented in those mags. And then I became obsessed with all things New York. It was during Electroclash era. There were great bands like W.I.T., Fischerspooner, Scissor Sisters, the goddesses AVENUE D (”Do I Look Like A Slut?”) and wonderful performance artists like Sophia Lamar and Amanda Lepore. I I had them all cut out and taped to my wall like some kind of teeny bopper fan. They were all queer, bold, interesting and unapologetic about their message of both fun and consciousness. Talk about manifestation: all those people I mentioned who I was full-tilt-boogie fans of are now all very close friends of mine. Not to mention when I first saw Wigstock when I was 16. I knew New York was going to be my home eventually.
I was able to afford my pizza slice and I was having fun outside of work, but then it hit a wall. There’s only so much you can do in San Francisco; albeit a wonderful city, it’s a small town, too. I needed more room to grow. So a one-way ticket to NYC was booked, and I never looked back. I moved Sept 11, 2009. I remember ‘cause the ticket was super cheap to fly on that date.
Eventually you start meeting these people here, and making things happen with the Frankie Sharp brand. MySpace and Facebook were definitely around then, but I’m not sure how much they were being used to market nightlife… is that how you were doing it?
Sorta. Myspace was somewhat used for promoting, but I was still printing out paper flyers then. Passing them out everywhere, legit putting them on cars, etc. I kinda miss that old school aspect. Nowadays, being able to monitor the response gives me a lil’ anxiety. But I have anxiety over everything. I just wanna do a good job and make everyone happy.
I miss those days too! And yeah, having access to all that promotional data can be information overload.
The party that most people will always associate you with from your earlier NYC career is WestGay at the Westway! It was such an interesting location for a kiki because it was kind of isolated in its neighborhood, but that just added to the appeal.
Yeah, exactly. Once you were there you were stuck.
What else was it about WestGay that resonated with people so much, do you think?
We had very, very, very few rules. I mean, dicks and titties were out, celebrities getting laid by gogo boys, the influx of Drag Race was just happening which we heavily included in our programming. Not to mention I had even more NYC idols who became friends perform: Lil Kim, Azealia Banks, Eve, Foxy Brown, Mel B from Spice Girls, Hercules Love Affair… I even had C&C Music Factory perform. They were the first actual CD I owned.
I mean, it was just everything! And at the time, there was nothing like it. All the other parties were sorta people in black, all kinda looking at each other. Honestly, it was some guilt-free, shameless fun that you didn’t have to feel bad about. It was chic, in that it was totally not at all. It was completely hedonistic. Over indulging was the theme.
In the event production world, rules suck. Is that like one of the hardest aspects of planning a memorable event where guests can feel like they can really let loose… dealing with restrictions from the management, and the limitations of the venue?
Yeah it was one of the reasons Public Arts sucked so hard. A great venue to look at and on paper. But horrible behind the scenes.
You’re talking about a party you were heading this past summer for a brief but memorable run, Something Special. Who or what wasn’t working for you there?
A lot of venues want gay dollars, but they don’t want gay people. And it wasn’t Matt and Carlos (who also owned Westway), they were great. It was their partner, The Public Hotel. They were corporate assholes, and made life very difficult for me. The didn’t respect what we were doing, and took months to pay. They could’ve really ruined my reputation, because it took forever for me to pay my staff sometimes. And these are hard-working artists.
But oddly, it was still a successful night and very well-attended. And it served me in other ways. At least it got the attention of the Moxy Hotel, who is a part of the Tao Group and the home for my new Sunday night MAGIC. They are incredibly supportive, saw what were up to and signed off on our buffoonery (because our buffoonery is also lucrative).
But it was very stressful [at the Public Hotel]. Not sure why anyone would continue doing things there, especially gay folks.
Ironically, you got a GLAM nomination this past year for Something Special, and the GLAMs were held in the Public Hotel!
I introduced [GLAMs producer] Cherry Jubilee to that space at the tail end of my time with Public. I was trying to do them a favor. The GLAMs had some very familiar technical fuck-ups throughout the night that were the venue’s fault. It actually gave me PTSD. But the GLAMs themselves were just that… GLAM!
I love what Cherry Jubilee does, what a great producer. I just hope one year it becomes more inclusive to all aspects and pockets of the city and surrounding boroughs. Because right now, it really is just a popularity contest for clubs above 14th street. Westgay won best party every year for four years. For that I am so grateful. But it seems things have changed.
But maybe its not the awards–perhaps its the parties that have become more segregated. At least in the small time MAGIC has been running, it feels like a good bridge between uptown and downtown, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
What are the seeds that need to be planted for an event to be Frankie Sharp-level great? And then, how do you know when it’s time to switch things up with something that’s already going strong?
In the beginning stages, I have a tight group of people I work with, and have for years since Westgay: DJs, performers, hosts and sub-promoters. Then with each new event, I hire a second string, usually of younger up-and-comers.
But before everything else, it’s location location location… venue venue venue. Does the room have heart? Can you do Runway? Can you zigzag and find something new all night? Will Amanda Lepore look good in this lighting? Does the sound hit the bottom of my spine? There are many questions that need to be addressed. But it’s always an ongoing transformation. I’m never, ever satisfied. I’m always tuning something.
Always seeking that elusive perfection! Speaking earlier of Brooklyn, your Saturday party Metrosensual at Metropolitan Bar has been running strong for a while now, with top notch guest performers ever week. Metrosensual has definitely helped put Brooklyn nightlife on the map, as far as star power and general epicness.
I LOOOVE METROPOLITAN. Those boys there who run the show are probably the most professional, supportive and friendliest out of every venue I’ve ever worked with. I always tell Steven Mac, who is the GM there, if I ever open my own club, he’s going to run it.
Do you have a favorite Metrosensual moment from parties past?
Bringing Brooke Candy and a her full band–people lost their minds. I loved bringing Latrice Royale there, because the crowd is just drunk and wanting to have a good time, and extend love to the performers and the performers only want to give the same in return. Valentina, of course, was a big night. What a pro, and in person looks not real– like an Almodovar goddess. Frankly, every week rules. Its pretension-free, which is so refreshing and important to me. I think of Metrosensual as my Marc by Marc version of my bigger nightclubs. It’s really my favorite.
Dragula’s Biqtch Puddin will be there this Saturday!
Her manager reached out to me about having her perform, and when I mentioned it to some kids they were like PLEASE have her. I think people are super excited to see her. I know I am.
MARY at Club Cumming is a weekly cabaret variety show that you produce, and it’s a much more low key but still eclectic affair, in a very intimate setting. Ragamuffin and Tyler Ashley are among the performers who appear each week, and you frequently sing on the stage yourself as well! What prompted you to create this very different sort of production?
Our administration, and my sobriety. When Club Cumming was Eastermbloc, I was doing Friday nights there… a party called Dumb Club. It was house, hip hop, party jams, a short drag show, gogo boys, debauchery, classic East Village. When it was bought by Daniel Nardicio and Alan Cumming, they approached me about doing something there still.
But I needed to give something more soulful, something more fulfilling and intimate. I needed to engage with the people who have been coming to my clubs. So I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do just that–while being radically queer, irreverent, political and warm, inviting, inspiring and honest. It’s all the club hosts, gogo boys and DJ’s I have at my club nights, who have all of these additional talents that have been laying dormant finally get to see the light of day.
There were enough unhinged, boozy, headless dance nights. I wanted to build an environment full or art and love. Music and Song. It’s been life-changing thus far. And my new sobriety needed a new project. I couldn’t have asked for a better sponsor.
Congratulations on your sobriety. There’s a growing number of sober people in nightlife who keep at it, but it never ceases to amaze me with all the world’s vices at arm’s reach. Is it still a daily struggle?
It was never a struggle. I’m not one who wakes up in the morning and wants booze or drugs, or is like “what a stressful day, I need a drink.” I would drink heavily at work because work was in bars and clubs, and I would work 3-4 nights a week and then I would recover from that 2-3 nights a week. That’s your whole week.
And I wouldn’t be able to grasp reality. It really screwed with my emotional and mental state. I was unable to be productive, and that’s what I am: a producer. What is a producer who can’t produce? When I was doing WestGay, I was in a blackout pretty much for four years… and it was very successful. That was me at a C- grade level. I wanna see what I can do at a conscious, strong A+.
Being sober has changed my life rapidly, and I keep becoming brighter, lighter, stronger. And I feel love more than I ever have. I describe it often as getting as close to the divine as I’ve ever felt. Close to God. I know that’s heavy. But I feel very connected to the universe and our planet these days. The high that drugs and whiskey used to give me I get from hard work, building communities and hitting a high note at MARY. Cheesy, but true.
What an amazing place to be at! That brings us to MAGIC at Magic Hour, which I guess is only a month or two running now and already a tremendous success. Did everything just kinda “magically” fall into place here?
Honestly, yes. They called me. I called up my business partner in crime, Birdy Black, and we did a walk-through. When we realized the topiary of the bushes were teddy bears fucking, I knew this was our new home.
One thing I realize is, I’m huge on energy. Every event I’ve ever done is an exact representation of where I am in my life. WestGay was LOUD, ruthless and intoxicating because I was loud, ruthless and intoxicated. Something Special was just that: special and confused and erratic, because circumstances were just that. MAGIC is everything I’ve learned and manifested and called upon for everyone else. It has nothing to do with me. It’s not about my ego or money; it’s about giving a gift to New York City, the love of my life. It’s truth, acceptance, art and cuckoory harnessed.
There’s always a great cast of hosts and performers there, and you’ve really done wonders bringing actual huge stars to appear or perform there. Damn, Charlie XCX is gonna be there this Sunday, that’s amazing! How is this even happening?
I saw she was in town performing, and her show sold out in 60 seconds, or something absurd. I saw everyone on social media freaking out about not snagging tickets. So in my usual fashion, I wanted to find a way to give something to the kids and create something special for everyone. I reached out to a mutual friend and asked if she had an afterparty planned. She did not… so I made some phone calls.
She’ll be performing with a huge roster of other stars we’re not announcing just yet. But it’s going to be insane. It’s taking everything for me not to mention who they are! but everyone is going to gag with everyone on board. Which then inspired me to do a big performer once a month, moving forward. We have lots planned!
Lindsay Lohan hosted a Brian Rafferty party this past MLK Weekend.
I love Brian Rafferty. We were just texting the other day because he found some old tally list from his Griffin party, which I hosted once. I brought 25 people! It was my first NYC hosting gig. Hes a good egg.
Is queer nightlife now officially a vessel for major artists and celebrities to reach out directly to their fans?
I can’t speak on that. But personally, I’ve always tried to have bigger names perform or DJ at my events. It’s New York! I love the idea of having Andy Cohen DJing my small bar parties, or Azealia Banks at her career height performing the closing of WestGay so people can be really close to them. I love the surrealism of that. I think, like me, those celebrities just wanna give something back.
And everyone wants to be a part of New York Nightlife. It’s Legend.
Do you have anything else in the works, as far as events or other projects?
Jazz singer and musician David Raleigh and I are starting a monthly, social media free eleganza of a dinner party called IRL (In Real Life). I’ve been planning it for a couple of years now, but life kept happening. I have a gorgeous space in the East Village for it now. People will check their phones at the door, a small orchestra provides the evenings soundtrack plays, Stacy Layne Matthews will cater it for the first one, and we all just actually get to exchange with one another. All this exciting bumper cars we do in the club is wonderful, but I wanna know more about the people around me. We can still have club looks and glamour, but Its a classic dinner party where people TALK.
Every month starting in August, we will always have a spotlight on a superstar chef, a bold-named performer from everything from Broadway, opera to hip hop, and a speaker doing an inspirational ”TedTalk.” We already have very recognizable names scheduled to perform, and inspirational speakers we just love to hear preach their path of success: authors, filmmakers, writers, politicos… etc.
So classy! That should certainly break some ground as far a nightlife experience goes.
Also, I’ve been working on a scripted TV show for what seems like years now. It’s gone through so many incarnations and different producers and networks interested, but we have a new avenue for it now, and that’s exciting. And pretty soon, my full attention might have to go there. We’ll see!
Right now, everything I’ve ever wanted is happening. And I know that sounds like I’m gloating, but I wanted to honor my sobriety once again–and not in a preachy way, but in a conscious way. With a clear head, strong muscles and sharpened tools, anything you want… you can just take. It’s a magnificent discovery to uncover.
A true inspiration! Okay, to wrap it up: what’s the best piece of advice you can give to a newbie who wants to start producing nightlife events in NYC?
Stay out of my way. Just kidding!
Be nice to everyone. You never know who anyone is. Plus, just be a kind human person. Life is better that way. Know your worth, but leave your ego out of it.
Do not poach talent.
Respect other promoters’ venues.
And always find a balance of night with day. Vitamin D is needed, so is water and exercise. Feeling powerful from the inside out will get you far.
Thank you, Frankie!
Frankie Sharp produces MARY at Club Cumming (Tuesdays, 9pm), Metrosensual at Metropolitan Bar (Saturdays, 10pm) and MAGIC at Magic Hour Bar & Lounge (Sundays, 10pm). Check Thotyssey’s calendar for a full schedule of his events and appearances, and follow Frankie on Facebook and Instagram.
See Also: Frankie Sharp (11.30.2018)
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