Zero Bond has become the New York Art World’s favorite private club. That doesn’t make it cool

About a year ago, when I first started reporting for Artnet News’ gossip column, Wet Paint, I took it upon myself to try and participate in every art world party I could. I had a few methods of finding my way in. Most of the time, I’d email the right PR (quite easy), have someone add me as a plus-one (a little harder), or walk in confidently without an invite until someone noticed (pretty hard). I’ll never forget the parties that terrified me; one of them was at Zero Bond.

At the very end of Bond Street (the address is actually 0 Bond Street), the members’ club sits sandwiched between an Equinox and the building that houses the Keith Haring Foundation. What happens inside is almost the perfect combination of those two things. Over two floors, Zero Bond includes meeting rooms, a Japanese omakase restaurant, an art book lending library, a coffee shop, more meeting rooms, and a private dining space called the Baccarat Room. Inspired by London’s member clubs, it opened in 2020 and has since built a reputation as a celebrity magnet. Members pay annual membership fees ranging from $2,500 to $4,500 (plus some hefty startup fees).

Becoming a member is not easy. “While we do not discriminate on the basis of race, socioeconomic status or occupation, we are very picky about character,” the website reads. “We will only accept members who demonstrate a high level of integrity and an ability to contribute to our Zero Bond community.” Many of those members come from the visual arts, suggesting something about their socio-economic status.

The interior of Zero Bond. Photo by Natalie Black.

“It’s like a local watering hole, which I know sounds weird and tribal and animalistic,” Zero Bond art-collecting scion and curator Sophia Cohen, Steve’s daughter, said with a laugh. “A lot of great events have been organized there. I threw a Richard Prince themed birthday party on the fourth floor which was great fun.”

I didn’t say I already knew it was a great party; I saw it from the street. Last September, a dealer at the Armory Fair tipped me that Cohen would be hosting the event. That night I put on a dress and headed to SoHo to try my third and most difficult way to go to a party. But no dice, I couldn’t get in. So I spent the next 20 lurking across the street for minutes, watching Max Levai, Bill Powers, Lily Mortimer, and other glitterati walk in and out of the monolithic building in nurse and cowboy costumes, before deciding that any further attempt to get in would be futile.

Fast forward a year and I’m finally in. It was a Monday afternoon and the energy on the fourth floor of the club was quiet, like a coworking space. Immediately upon exiting the elevator my eye went straight to the Banksy flower thrower on the far wall of the club, divided into three mismatched frames. To my left was a really hideous sculpture of an elephant in a suit, looming above me like a bouncer. (I don’t know who the artist is; Zero Bond’s press agent still hasn’t given me an answer.)

An elephant sculpture of uncertain origin at Zero Bond.

To be fair, no party venue is going to be the most exciting on a Monday afternoon in July, but the general feel of the joint was of a high-end hotel lobby, and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling casual enough within the to really let my hair down. Much of the curation felt a little crazy: a Claes Oldenburg photo of a coffee mug and croissant hung without inspiration next to the coffee shop, and some Warhol prints of fish were, you guessed it, in the sushi restaurant. I was starting to think that the Zero Bond I had in mind might be a lot cooler than the real deal.

An off-the-record study of people who have spent serious time indoors pretty much confirmed this. A source told me that a private dinner in the Baccarat Room with some hugely wealthy members involved a cash-only bar. Another told me they spent all night at a Google executive’s birthday party waiting for Diplo to come, but he never did.

“I’d rather get drunk on the street,” that person added.

That doesn’t stop the VIP hordes (Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson; gallery owner Eli Klein; former Google CEO Eric Schmidt) from descend to Bond Street. Most of that clientele is there because of one man: the owner, celebrity club owner and restaurateur Scott Sartiano.

The interior of Zero Bond. Photo by Natalie Black.

“Art is so inextricably linked to the inner city,” Sartiano told me while we sat on a Marimekko couch in the main lobby of the club. “So I always knew this had to be a part of Zero Bond.”

Sartiano, whose other clubs include Midtown hotspots 1 Oak and Up & Down, is meek and soft-spoken, and as we talked, almost everyone who passed by gave him a collegiate “hello”. Wait staff immediately set down two glasses of water when we sat down, neither of us touching.

At 47 he is tabloid mainstay, known as a playboy who dated starlets like Anne Hathaway, Ashley Olsen and Ashlee Simpson. So there was a surprise in May when his friend Eric Adams appointed him mayor of the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the nation’s premier cultural institution. “Maybe,” one journalist wrote at the time, “Adams is looking for a fresh take on high-art society from a nightlife perspective. Or maybe he’s combining business with pleasure.” I think it’s probably the latter; I’ve already reported on Adams’ affinity with the vibrant nightlife that the art world has to offer.

I go to their meetings about once a month,” Sartiano said of his job at the Met, primarily as an agent for Hizzoner. “It’s a big group, so they don’t necessarily ask me a lot of questions.” Indeed, from my conversations with Sartiano, who told me he just “got wet feet” in the art world, I have reason to believe he is as much a newcomer to the art scene as Adams.

“I don’t remember who made this,” he said, gesturing at a sculptural lamp in the club’s restaurant. “But I know it was very expensive.”

There are many more recognizable pieces scattered around the club: works by Andy Warhol (one of which was acquired with the help of former Warhol muse and art collector Jane Holzer), Petra Cortright, Lucien Smith, Francesco Clemente and Robert Mapplethorpe. I also stopped in my tracks at a photo by infamous art dealer Stefan Simchowitz of a woman who appeared to be in mourning. It’s titled Red lipstick, black veil.

Red lipstick, black veil by Stefan Simchowitz hangs proudly in one of Zero Bond’s bars. Photo by Annie Armstrong.

Some of these works are on member loan, but most are part of Zero Bond’s private collection, for which Sartiano has partnered with Creative Arts Partners, who work for companies such as the Edition hotels, Facebook, and Zero Bond’s apparent competitor, Soho House. After purchasing hundreds of works of art, he tapped Cohen to manage the walls.

“It was weird for me because I’m not really used to putting art in a members’ club,” Cohen told me over the phone. “It was an interesting project because I tend to take a bit more risk with my curation. I never thought I would work in a color scheme. But it was actually a fun way for me to, you know, challenge myself.”

The challenge is underway; according to Sartiano, members continue to buy the works of the wall.

“We’ve kind of become a gallery in this weird way,” he said, saying that the artwork behind the check-in counter had just been swapped out because a few different members were bidding on it.

The interior of Zero Bond. Photo by Natalie Black.

You may be wondering if Sartiano follows the same business model as real estate mogul Aby Rosen, who is known for putting up salable artworks as inventory in places like his Gramercy Park Hotel. Sartiano isn’t quite there yet, but his eyes lit up a little when I said it had been done before.

In my mind, the art landscape in New York City changed in 2019, when the Met announced it would no longer be free for anyone who entered from the street. The ubiquitous exclusivity of art spaces has finally reached the last bastion of democratic art experience, and we’re all worse off. Neither Adams nor Sartiano had anything to do with the museum at the time, but their current involvement feels like confirmation of my suspicion: art is no longer for the people, it’s for the few. The final kick in the side is that now that I’ve finally seen the inside of Zero Bond, it no longer seems ambitious to me. By the time my tour of the establishment was over, I hadn’t even noticed that Sartiano had led me to the front door, and again I was standing outside looking in. But this time the allure was gone.

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