Daniel Nardicio is a prolific gay party and events promoter whose Dworld brand is responsible for Fire Island’s famed underwear parties at the Ice Palace. He also co-created NYC’s Club Cumming with Alan Cumming.
How do you get Liza Minnelli to come to Fire Island and perform a couple of shows with Alan Cumming? You ask! Of course, this game-changing moment in the career of Daniel Nardicio (danielsbigideas.com), was a little more nuanced and required some benevolent scheming, as he tells it.
Nardicio is happy to impart such stories and dishy anecdotes about his experiences with celebrities and LGBTQ icons like Chita Rivera, John Waters, Patti LuPone, Bridget Everett, Dina Martina, Bianca Del Rio, and Carol Channing during a conversation with Passport in the office/apartment above Red Eye, located just a couple of blocks south of Hells Kitchen, while cuddling Beau, his affectionate Dixie Dingo, with special guest appearances by Tabasco, his Chihuahua.
Nardicio is a prolific gay party and events promoter whose Dworld brand is responsible for Fire Island’s famed underwear parties at the Ice Palace. He also co-created NYC’s Club Cumming with Alan Cumming, manages fabulous Fire Island Pines mansion turned inn Reflections (reflectionsfip.com), and during Pride season 2022, co-opened a brand new gay coffeehouse/bar/performance space, Red Eye (redeyeny.com), and its downstairs sister dance club Cockpit
But back to how Nardicio made that epic, already legendary Liza appearance happen almost a decade ago. “I started doing shows at Feinstein’s at the Regency Hotel, because Michael Feinstein and Liza are friends,” he explains. “I did shows there with Amber Martin and Bridget Everett, knowing that Michael would get to know me…there’s a method to the madness. So [eventually] I called Liza’s people and said I wanted to pair her with Alan Cumming and they said yes, as long as I gave all the money to, I think, The Actors Fund. You can’t give Liza her fee, so you can give her a good time, which is what we did.”
He gave Minnelli such a good time, that she kept requesting additional nights in the house Nardicio rented for her, and he happily obliged. “I said, ‘I will literally buy this house and let you move in because of what you did for me and my career,’” he recalls. “On the day we finally left, we got in this little golf cart and as we headed downtown she said, ‘honey, take me to a store, I want to go shopping.’ I said, I ordered a special boat for you, it’s pulling into the dock. And she’s like, ‘I just want to go to a store.’ So we went into Rainbow Dreams, and she’s shopping and word got out she was leaving, and as we went downtown again there was a sea of people everywhere going, ‘we love you Liza!’ We got on the boat, went up to the top and she was looking out and they’re screaming, ‘Liza! Liza!’ And she just started singing for everyone!”
Once Minnelli’s crowd of chanting admirers faded into the distance as the boat made its way back to the mainland, she turned around, sat down, and tossed off the amusing, albeit cryptic comment: “My mother created a monster.”
“To this day I don’t know if she meant the gay adoration, or if she was the monster just giving, giving, giving,” Nardicio muses. “It was one of those moments you get once or twice in a lifetime.”
Born in Painesville, Ohio, the now 55-year-old Nardicio initially planned to spend his lifetime as an actor and opera singer, attending a San Francisco conservatory and completing his training in Berlin. Five years later, in 1995, he moved to NYC and found himself dating another aspiring actor, Andersen Gabrych, who landed roles in movies like the 1998 gay coming of age classic Edge of Seventeen, while Nardicio worked a law firm reception desk. Nardicio grew bitter about Gabrych’s success and, convinced he wasn’t a “pretty boy type” made for a life on stage or in front of the camera, conceived of a Plan B.
“I was at my day job, writing down all the things I wanted out of life, the things you get from performing, like accolades and making people happy,” he recalls. “I thought, what other careers could I get that from? And that slowly led me to party promotion. I started working at an events company and doing bar mitzvahs, and that led to nightlife. It’s been a one-way ticket to hell since!”
One of Nardicio’s first attempts at a regular gay nightlife event was titled Daddy’s Chicken, a weekly queer burlesque revue/party. “The name came to me when I saw this young girl, probably 20, with this really old man who was pawing her, and her arm had “Daddy’s Chicken” tattooed on it”. He took out a $10k loan, enlisted members of NYC’s burgeoning neo-burlesque scene like Dirty Martini and The World Famous Bob, booked East Village NYC venue the Slipper Room, and adopted debauched weekly themes like “Octoberfist.” This being the prudish Mayor Rudy Giuliani era, which saw nightlife, sex, and even dancing cracked down on and/or forbidden (an obscure “cabaret law” was enforced that forbid dancing in any space without a permit), Nardicio nonetheless found clever workarounds to keep things sexy, naughty, and fun.
“I wasn’t allowed to have go-go dancers, so I had ‘no-go dancers,’” he recalls. “Austin Scarlett from Project Runway came a couple of times and I asked him to ‘no-go’ dance. He asked, ‘what would I do?’ I told him to come onstage, lay on a blanket and eat a bratwurst. And he did! He created this whole scenario, and other guys would come out and wrestle. Every week I lost money, but at the end of the year these two guys came and said they’re opening a bar on the Lower East Side and asked if I wanted to come in with them, and it was The Slide. That’s when it really began.”
Nardicio admits there were speed bumps over the years that made him worry his career and name might get canceled, but ultimately helped him grow and proved pivotal in positive ways, like an early gig organizing a Hedwig and the Angry Inch-themed benefit concert for the Harvey Milk School that John Cameron Mitchell asked him to secure Cyndi Lauper and Yo La Tengo for.
“I booked Webster Hall, got them, and then received a crazy email from the partner of Stephen Trask [Hedwig co-writer and musician] saying that if I didn’t drop the gig and send them all the information I’d be sorry,” he recalls. “I was just making my name and said, ‘no, I’m not giving you this information, I just did all this work, fuck you!’ The next day the NY Post ran an article about how I’d been dropped from the project because I was bungling and messed things up! At the time the Post mattered, it wasn’t quite the Republican rag it is now, and I remembered thinking it was a big deal. I thought this is it. And now looking back, it wasn’t. It taught me a lot. I picked myself up by my bra straps and continued on.”
By 2006, Nardicio was working with Louisiana-born pre-Drag Race queen Bianca Del Rio, doing a radio show together (a sort of pre-podcast podcast) and live shows at Eastern Bloc, the East Village gay bar that would later become Club Cumming. One night, Cumming came by to watch, and since nobody was on hand to hold a light on Del Rio as she performed, he was drafted to volunteer on the spot.
“He’s holding it and Bianca was doing the show, it’s her third week in New York, and she looks over and goes, ‘Alan Cumming is doing my lights?’ Alan is that good, salt of the earth person. He also did clothes check at my underwear party in Fire Island once. Someone came up and asked me, ‘do you know Alan Cumming is doing clothes check? Why?’ I said, ‘because Lynda Carter canceled.’”
Flash forward a decade later to 2017, and Cumming and Nardicio teamed up for Club Cumming, which went against gay bar trends: instead of DJs, drag, and lip synching, CC featured jazz, cabaret, and live singing from powerhouse newcomers and big names alike. Why jazz? “I live in New Orleans part time, and I would think, I want to go on a date with a guy to a jazz club,” Nardicio says. “It’s a really sexy date, jazz and having an Old Fashioned cocktail or something. And the different direction really paid off. People came in saying, this is why I moved to New York. That makes me very proud. And same in Fire Island when you see a young kid there for the first time, and he walks into our underwear party with 700-800 people in their undies dancing with wild abandon, and they’re not all traditionally hot, they’re different types—it’s the most thrilling thing.”
Nardicio parted ways professionally and amicably with Club Cumming during the pandemic holiday season of 2020, when he spent time reflecting and reassessing his next moves. The biggest of those is Red Eye, which is a cocktail and cabaret/burlesque spot by night, with dancing below at Cockpit (which will boast a separate entrance). It will also serve as a live podcasting and streaming space with its own “Red Eye Radio” show.
Nardicio’s Dworld line-up, meanwhile, features upcoming performances and parties on Fire Island, in NYC, and, increasingly, in his part time home of New Orleans (the setting of Peacock’s new Queer As Folk reboot), where friends like Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, and John Cameron Mitchell, also have residences. “John Waters and I were in a bar in New Orleans, The Corner Pocket, which is his favorite,” Nardicio shares. “I always say about it, the odds are good and the goods are odd. One of the dancers squatted down and John gave him a dollar or whatever and the dancer asked him, ‘how old are you?’ And John looks at me and goes, ‘old chicken makes great soup!’”
One of his upcoming New Orleans parties, in September 2022, is “Bette Bathhouse and Beyond,” Amber Martin’s spectacular reenactment of Midler and Barry Manilow’s 1971 Continental Baths’ performance, replete with an audience in bathhouse appropriate garb (or lack of). “Amber does the show from beginning to end, all the songs, but better,” he elaborates. “You have to show up in a towel or bathrobe or less, and the crowd really gets into it.” The Bette party will also happen this August on Fire Island, where Nardicio serves as “house daddy/business manager” of a 7-room gay guest house called Reflections.
Nardicio raised some eyebrows and ire during summer 2020 by having guests, when gays hopped on ferries and came over for fancy-free sunkissed fun despite COVID. However, Nardicio also was extremely proactive before the vaccine was available by creating the “COVID Destroyers,” employing those whose nightlife jobs had been paused, furloughed, or eliminated, including drag queens, to hand out masks and sanitizer as people arrived on the island (some of the budget was crowdsourced via GoFundMe).
“My take on COVID was my take on HIV, which is controversial,” he says. “You make choices in life. There wasn’t one person in NYC when I did underwear parties [in the 1990s] who didn’t know to use condoms. If you don’t, you made and need to live with that choice. Same with COVID. I didn’t throw an underwear party, but I was gonna open an Inn where you can rent a room because it would be stupid to tell people you can’t leave NYC! And people were criticizing me for it! I was like, you’re not going after big hotels, you’re going after a gay guy with seven rooms offering a really safe environment.”
Asked why he’s so smitten by Fire Island, Nardicio waxes at length. “Because around every corner is intrigue. It’s magic! There’s sex! You hear music and can walk right into someone’s house. The first thing I tell people [who are considering a first time stay] is it’s always what you make of it. You can go out there and have a yoga or spiritual weekend, or literally get fucked until you have to sit on a bag of frozen peas. People will say, ‘I’m too old/overweight/not hot enough to go,’ but it’s everything for everyone. Walk through the Sunken Forest, a sidewalk that goes through a forest, and it’s like you’re on the moon. And oh my god, the gay history, the first tea dance at the Ice Palace. Even the sad things like AIDS and police raids. Even though it’s changing, more expensive, and people opt for money over community, you cannot beat Cherry Grove for community.”
And for Nardicio, being on Fire Island also spawns plenty of hysterical anecdotes, like informing a laughing, head-shaking Minnelli that the infamous Meat Rack had been dubbed the Judy Garland Memorial Path/Park (it’s on Google maps!), and the time he and Chita Rivera had a run-in with a young fan of the latter.
“This 21-year-old came up and said, ‘I love you so much Chita, I remember I saw you on the Tonys for Kiss of the Spider Woman and I was a young gay boy in Cleveland and it was like my soul opened up, you’re my ultimate!’ She said, ‘oh my god, that’s so great, are you coming to my show tonight?’ He goes, ‘I can’t, we’re having dinner at my house.’ I was like, you blew it kid.”
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