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NEW YORK — Gliding through the West Village on a pair of electric orange flip-flops, his tiny, three-legged bichon, Ladybug, lovingly ambling along behind, Karim Amatullah hardly looks like the type to traffic in glamour. But when it comes to creating a scintillating scene, he’s a true professional.
Amatullah, a charmer with a playboy’s glint in his eye, has owned and managed some of Manhattan’s most notoriously fabulous night spots, including Halo, Wax and Veruka. His personal address book is the stuff of legend. He hangs out with guys like Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon and Ed Burns. Models love him. And last weekend he turned down an invitation to Mick Jagger’s birthday party in Prague. He had to. After all, the opening of his latest spot, Hue (pronounced whey), on Bleecker Street is only a few days away.
Though Amatullah, 34, started in the restaurant business helping out a friend who owned the Chicken Kitchen chain, he soon moved on to more highbrow ventures. From the night Halo opened in 1999 with J.Lo’s birthday bash, he provided three years’ worth of celebrity-fueled fun, with everyone from Prince to Reese Witherspoon; P. Diddy to Leonardo DiCaprio, and Denzel Washington to Britney Spears turning up at the Grove Street spot.
But Amatullah promises that his latest venture, a partnership with Frank Prisinzano of Frank and Supper, won’t be all bling and no bite.
“I can always do a lounge,” he says, making his way past the scores of workmen putting finishing touches on the two-level restaurant, which he also designed. “I can always have a party, but to get people to come out after work to eat dinner is a different story.”
Hue’s menu will offer French Vietnamese cuisine and sushi served casually on the first floor or on the more dramatic lower level, with its soaring skylight and fleet of plush banquettes. Amatullah hasn’t yet been to Vietnam, but the interiors at Hue, named for the one-time imperial city, invoke modern, Zen-luxe, with rough stone and plenty of polished wood. “It’s home for me,” he says.
For those who like to make themselves at home, there are plenty of places to lounge beyond the dining areas at Hue, including the sleek bar upstairs and the wraparound suede couches lining a labyrinth of dark rooms below. “I love lounges and I hate clubs,” says Amatullah. “They’re impersonal and passé. It’s more of a touchy-feely time now.”
And what says touchy-feely like a queen-sized bed? Two face a long line of couches in the “hotel suite.” Lest his guests get too frisky, Amatullah has installed a tiny camera near the ceiling. “We want to make sure no one spills their drinks on the bed,” he laughs.
What fabulous outrageousness that camera’s lens could witness in the coming months is anyone’s guess. But Amatullah hopes Hue will attract food- and fun-loving denizens from every sector.
“Who even knows who’s a VIP anymore? Hue will bring in people from the entertainment world, but also from finance and the art world,” he says. “I build places for people who feel that they belong there.”