Laura Neilson | January 8, 2013
Omar Hernandez. CreditBenjamin Norman for The New York Times
WHEN Omar, a restaurant and private supper club, opens next month at the former Hotel Griffou in Greenwich Village, many night-life veterans may ask, “Omar who?”
He would be Omar Hernandez, a behind-the-scenes fixture on the party circuit who is seeking the same first-name-only recognition once reserved for legendary hot spots like Nell’s and Elaine’s.
“It’s not meant to be a vanity project,” Mr. Hernandez said the other day, as he whirled about the gutted space on West Ninth Street, pointing out the new décor and not-yet-arrived fixtures. “It’s about the spirit I want to convey.”
He may not be well known, but partygoers are certainly familiar with the places that he has presided over during the last decade, including the Raleigh hotel in Miami; the Standard hotel in West Hollywood; and the Mercer Kitchen, Hôtel Americano and the Lion in New York.
His title might have been “hospitality consultant” — someone who oversees the scene at a restaurant, club or hotel to ensure the environment gels with the crowd — but a more fitting job description may be “ambience director,” which he adopted several years ago when he was working for André Balazs, the hotelier.
“I have a business card that also reads: ‘Omar, Director of Spark,’ ” he said. “André was always great about letting me do my thing — as long as I did it well.”
He also proved to be industrious. Once, in 2008, he helped to organize 22 parties during the four-day frenzy of Art Basel Miami Beach.
But after holding other people’s parties, he is ready to host his own. When he noticed that the former Hotel Griffou had closed, he contacted the previous owners and lined up several silent partners to open his first space. “It’s an organic evolution of what I’ve done all these years,” he said. “This idea of having a home where I would host people and entertain them kept popping up in my head.”
The 4,000-square-foot space is divided into two areas: half will be a restaurant that serves seasonal American cuisine; the other half will operate as a private dinner club for neighbors and special guests (“like having a key to Gramercy Park,” he said). The gold-trimmed sconces and mirrored wall panels hint at Mr. Hernandez’s preference for Art Deco, but the overall décor could be called town-house chic.
Though a private club may smack of snobbery, Mr. Hernandez prides himself on mixing company. He likes to talk about the time when, as the hospitality consultant at the Lion, he sat Madonna near Sir Alex Ferguson, the head coach of England’s Manchester United soccer team. “Sometimes I invite the most random people,” he said. “It just feels right.”
He pays similar attention to his daily wardrobe, which includes a rotating lineup of luxe cashmere sweaters by Lucien Pellat-Finet, dress shirts by Thom Browne and one of 30 pairs of Yves Saint Laurent loafers he owns. His choice of jeans is more attainable. “Nobody’s making better pants for guys than Levi’s today,” he said, spinning around to reveal the back label. “My best red pants that I have are Levi’s.”
Mr. Hernandez grew up outside Caracas, Venezuela, where, he said, he was a wallflower until his teenage years, when he began hosting parties. “I rallied all my friends at school on a Sunday once, and we told our parents we were going to this camp in town,” he said. “Instead we took a bus to another city a three-hour drive away.” Even as an adult — he reluctantly admits he’s somewhere in his late 30s — his youngish appearance could let him pass for a “Gossip Girl” extra.
In 2001, after graduating from McGill University in Montreal, he moved to New York, eager to experience the city’s energy. He met Mr. Balazs through a friend at Ford Models, the agency run by Katie Ford (who was married to Mr. Balazs at the time). Mr. Balazs, he said, employed him shortly after their introduction. “He hired me to wear any hat as needed, always in the front of the house,” he said.
He organized countless parties for Mr. Balazs, but his most memorable to date, he said, was a New Year’s Eve party at the Raleigh in 2008, when Mr. Balazs still owned the hotel. “Everyone ended up in the pool in their tuxedos and beautiful dresses, and there were all these Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos floating in the water like decadent wreckage,” he said. “I felt so proud.”
Knowing how to give parties, of course, is not quite the same as running a restaurant. He keeps six shoe boxes under his bed filled with business cards of industry-savvy friends he has made over the years. To design the interior of Omar, he enlisted the firm BHDM, which had outfitted the Lion. Dan Barber, the owner of Blue Hill, recommended Kenny Cuomo, whom he hired as the chef.
Confident that the menu is in good hands, Mr. Hernandez said, he is content to focus on what he does best.
“Ultimately, I’m a host,” he said. “A consummate host.”