New York Nightlife Kingpin Opens His First Venue in Bali
To say that Mark Baker’s life journey has been unique would be somewhat of an understatement. The Briton, who originally hails from Brighton on the south coast of England, describes it as a “wild ride” that has eventually brought him to Bali.
Baker, as a young boy, joined a traveling circus before becoming the best skateboarder in Europe, and eventually made his way to New York, where he built a small empire in the entertainment business by opening nightclubs and hosting world-class events.
Along the way, he befriended celebrities, supermodels and Hollywood stars, and was soon dubbed “the godfather of New York nightlife.”
Baker and his company, CI-5, have owned and operated some of the world’s most prestigious and happening restaurants, clubs and lounges, and produced international events at film festivals, fashion weeks and grand prix races. The 51-year-old recently settled down in Bali to bring his expertise to the Asian region and opened his first venue, Townhouse, in Seminyak. Baker talked to the Jakarta Globe about his extraordinary past, why Asia’s nightlife scene is the next big thing, and the fact that he still doesn’t feel tired after three decades of working in a business as exhausting as his.
Tell us more about your very unusual upbringing.
Gosh, what a life! But it’s really been a fun, colorful and crazy one. I joined a circus when I was 8 years old and spent around three years with them until I had to return to some sort of normalcy. Most of my family had died when I was still very young, and my mother was dealing with bringing my brother and me up and had quite a job at that. I don’t think she had much fight left in her after my father died, and I took advantage of that.
But why a circus?
Basically, the circus came to town one day and I got a job dressing up as a clown, and sitting on top of the van, driving around town with the music blaring, waving to the kids. I did that as a summer job for six weeks, but because school wasn’t very friendly to me and vice versa, I decided to take off with the circus. I know it sounds really bizarre, but back in the ‘60s in England, I just did it, and my mom wasn’t strong enough to fight me on it. That was the start of the travel bug.
What came after the circus?
Later on, I came back to England — I went to some sort of schooling but it wasn’t much — and then I started skateboarding when I was a teenager and became world champion skateboarder and again, traveled around the world and met all these wonderful, weird characters that later on in life would come to play a part in what is going right now. I was skating in California and went around the world on tour, but when I was around 20, my skateboarding career was over, and skateboarding was starting to die down after the phenomenon it was, and I was just sort of drifting and making decisions about whether to stay in Brighton, which was quite a rough town, and for someone without a formal education, a potential disaster was looming.
So how did you end up in New York then?
I met some guys from New York on a trip to Greece, and they had invited me to come, so I went to New York, and the city just stole my heart. So from 20, 21 up until last January, New York has been my home. There is so much opportunity in New York if you are just prepared to work for it. I started working as a waiter and met all those wonderful crazy celebrities at the place I was working at. I was pretty much going out every single night of my life and just networking and being around the same kind of black sheep people that migrate to New York.
And you just sort of made the nightlife scene your home?
Basically, nightlife in New York has gone through many chapters, but I started when the whole supermodel thing became a phenomenon. All my friends who would come to New York happened to be those girls, the Lindas, Naomis and Elle MacPhersons, and all the photographers, that whole fashion scene was just our gang. So when I opened my first place, it was a hangout for them. We then ended up opening more venues in New York and throwing these fantastic events around the world, and basically just building a bridge between nightlife communities.
How does Indonesia fit into the picture?
I used to come to Bali every summer to get a spiritual fix, and to just catch my breath for a moment from the madness of New York. Indonesia has always been very, very good to me. I love Indonesia and the people, and I’ve traveled extensively around Indonesia. It’s always been a refuge to me and has healed me when I’ve been extremely beaten, battled and bruised, both physically and emotionally from this lifestyle. Bali was sort of the cherry on the cake, and I always knew at the back of my mind that at some point, that Bali would be home when my time in New York was done — or at least, put my flag in the ground in a new region and to extend the world of New York nightlife into a new territory.
Why did you think that this was the right moment to move on?
About three years ago, I started to look at the current state of New York nightlife, the big Las Vegas influence which sort of excludes intimate VIP clubs that we were primarily running, like Lotus and Double Seven. I had to start to open up bigger and bigger nightclubs, but I never wanted to build a club I didn’t want to go to. It wasn’t the direction I wanted to go anymore in New York, and I certainly didn’t want to go to Las Vegas, so I decided it would be time to make my next chapter and move to Bali, as a base.
What is the concept behind Townhouse?
I had seen this building on Jalan Laksmana in Seminyak, and I looked at it and figured, there’s a building that I can put a number of our brands into that one space. I’m bringing it all together to make it a total lifestyle experience for a somewhat niche group of people in Bali and the region.
[The Townhouse] includes a cafe, a photo gallery, and we also have a chain of juice stories called the Juice Press, which is an extremely popular chain in America, so we started a version of it here called Squeeze. Then we’ve been building a restaurant and bistro, we have a lounge club that is very similar to Double Seven in New York, and we have a big, beautiful roof garden, so we have five stories of fun, and it’s not too big so I can somewhat control what comes into that building and keep it nice, clean and fresh.
How do you rate the nightlife in Indonesia and Asia?
As the economy started to boom, we were getting requests from all over Asia, from Manila, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, to bring in our brands, so the timing was just perfect for us to introduce the next level of nightlife sophistication in Asia — the excitement of New York meets the magic of Bali.
Indonesia has some incredibly talented and fashion-forward people, stylish, super-traveled. They’ve been in New York clubs and the fashion shows, and I’ve been watching a lot of Indonesians who traveled out of the country to have fun with their nightlife and dining experiences, but I think it’s about time now that Indonesia embraces Indonesia, because you have it all.
Don’t you ever get tired?
Yeah, I do… But I love creating places. I don’t think there’s a better feeling in the world than when you have built something and you see thousands of people just having the greatest time — it’s just so rewarding. I’m not selling insurance, so people remember me for the good stuff. We are selling fun, and that’s a good thing to sell.
Townhouse, Jalan Laksmana 151, Seminyak, Baliwww.thetownhousebali.com