February 23, 2020

Playboy Club’s Nicole Levinson on Los Angeles, the Brand’s Expansion and More

Relaunched last year, the Playboy Club New York opened its doors 50-plus years after its initial early 1960s launch. In addition to a cocktail lounge and bespoke spirits library with an interplay of surprise elements hidden within, the after-hours playground is also home to fine dining. Among the top-tier talent that helped Playboy Club New York become a reality were creative director Richie Notar (of Nobu fame), executive chef Tabitha Yeh, sommelier Andrew Bell of American Sommelier and drinks consultant Fred Dex.

Nicole Levinson is the senior vice president of Brand Marketing and Partnerships for Playboy Club North America. Prior to landing in her current position, Levinson was a veteran of the luxury brand world, working with the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, LVMH, Rolls Royce, Art Basel, JW Marriott and Ruinart, to name a few of prior credits. With Hospitality House, where Levinson was the Chief Operating Officer, she oversaw the firm’s marketing, operations and administration.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Nicole Levinson about the Playboy Club New York – which hosts Backgammon Night every Tuesday night – and plenty more, including her bat mitzvah. Highlights from that Q&A are below.

Jewish Journal: You have consistently worked with luxury and upscale brands. What first drew you into that world?

Nicole Levinson: I studied Art History at Vassar College and always knew I wanted to be on the business side of the art world. When I decided to move on from the art world, I realized that one of the biggest learnings I had from working in the auction business was my early understanding of the luxury consumer, their attitudes and behaviors. The same art collector I had been marketing multimillion paintings to was staying at luxury hotels, driving art worthy cars, and sipping artisanal cocktails. I wanted to take that knowledge luxury world and build on it across other verticals.

JJ: And how did the opportunity to work with the Playboy Club brand come about?

NL: I was the Chief Operating Officer of a real estate company that worked with developers on putting restaurants into commercial and residential real estate to add value for their customers. The developer of Playboy had approached me when he brought the property to walk the space. He didn’t end up going with my firm but offered me a position to lead the marketing. In taking the COO position, I had taken a detour from my marketing career to round out my executive management skills but realized I was ready to return back to my first calling, Brand Marketing.

JJ: For someone who may been to one of the original Playboy Club locations, how does this relaunch version compare?

NL: Sadly, I had never been to the mansion or any of the past clubs. Part of me wishes I had the chance as I always get inspired when building heritage brands by exploring all part of a company. But I do look at in a positive way as well. It allows me to reinvigorate and reinvent the brand in a way that is inspired by the past but mostly looks to the future. I always say, we are not trying to build the Museum of Playboy but rather a venue that exudes the lifestyle and what makes the brand relevant to today’s evolving and discerning audience.

JJ: Do you have a favorite item on the Playboy Club menu?

NL: I love the truffle fries. It is my one weakness!

JJ: The Playboy brand is very synonymous with Los Angeles. Are there plans for the Playboy Club to expand out to L.A.?

NL: At one point in the history of the Club, there were over 30 Clubs worldwide. The brand was very successful and expanded very fast. And as it relates to Los Angeles, when [Hugh] Hef[ner] brought the brand out west, L.A. at the time was the center of Hollywood and celebrity. This time around, we are reinventing and reinvigorating the brand, and this needs to be highly strategic and carefully thought out so there are no missteps. Our plan is to really make NYC an iconic global destination that redefines what the Club means to today’s audience. From there, we would love to expand and would look to markets that help to tell the brand story as it relates to today’s day and age.

JJ: So what is coming up for the Playboy Club in the near-future? Events? Tie-ins with other brands?

NL: The Club has been the new home to all the iconic Playboy events that happened at the Mansion. We held our first Halloween event, which was a Masquerade Ball that used to happen at the Mansion. And we also held the Iconic Playboy New Year’s event, which was themed after our iconic Bunnies. Next up this summer, we have the iconic “Midsummer Night’s Dream” where the who’s who of L.A. would come to the Mansion in sexy lingerie and the men in smoking jackets. It is going to be wild to reinvent that event for the NYC landscape.

JJ: When not busy with the Playboy Club, how do you like to spend your free time?

NL: I never go very far from my roots and spend a lot of time viewing art and creating art. I love visiting art galleries in New York City in Chelsea and of course all the major museums. I also have an art studio in my home and love making art with my nine-year-old son.

JJ: As this is for the Jewish Journal, I feel compelled to ask: Did you have a theme for your bar mitzvah?

NL: OMG. I had the best Bat Mitzvah! It was a carnival theme with lots of fun games and treats. All I remember is playing “Coke and Pepsi” with the boys though!

JJ: Finally, Nicole, any last words for the kids?

NL: As a Jewish working mom, I feel proud of the achievements but I take nothing for granted. I share with my son everyday how important hard work is to achieving goals. He is a tier-1 Triple AAA Mite in ice hockey and he works so hard and keeps making his team and being asked to play in the best. I always reinforce this messaging to him so he reaches his dreams.

For membership info, upcoming events and other info on the Playboy Club, please visit www.playboyclubnyc.com.

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