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2 NYC nightclub owners increasing AAPI representation in music landscape. Here's how.

Meet 2 nightclub owners who are changing the NYC music landscape
Meet 2 nightclub owners who are changing the NYC music landscape 02:31

NEW YORK -- It is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and CBS New York is highlighting two nightclub owners who are changing the music landscape.

They say the dream of bringing people together through music came with challenges, including cultural stigmas, but they broke through those barriers and hope to inspire others.

Meet Shien Lee

Shien Lee, owner and CEO of The Red Pavilion in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said her space is a cabaret of mostly AAPI performers that she curates.

She said it has become a beacon of AAPI resilience, following the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I really wanted to build this community space where people can get together and heal to uplift Asian voices," Lee said.

Performances range from Old Shanghai jazz to Anime jazz to K-Pop.

Born and raised in Taiwan, Lee said she spent her life longing for a space that didn't have the constraints of the social norms she grew up with.

"Arts [and] creativity not encouraged. You're a number. You have to perform, [get] good grades," Lee said. "That's how you showed your value."

While studying at Columbia University, she says she organized costume- and fantasy-themed parties on the side that took off.

Her parents, Lee said, were concerned for her to have stability.

Of her father, she said, "It wasn't until later he realized I was making a lot more money than he was then. That was his measurement of this is successful."

Meet Nathan Leong

Sharing that drive for success is Nathan Leong, owner of Somewhere Nowhere in Chelsea. His family is Chinese and he was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

"Since I was a little kid, like around 12 years old, I told my mom and my parents, I was like, 'When I grow up, I'm going to turn your restaurant into a nightclub,'" Leong said.

The youngest of four children, he said his parents encouraged him to pursue his passion.

"In school I was OK -- not high honor roll. I was always more social. My parents accepted that," Leong said. "Back then you would buy DVDs of Tiesto's concert. Watching that, I'm like, wow, one day I want to do a concert like that."

Fast forward to 2024. He owns a two-story nightclub with a rooftop where he, himself, DJs. New this summer, he's also managing the popular Ruschmeyer's Hotel in Montauk, which comes with launching a speakeasy lounge, Don Jaguar, and a new restaurant Placēbō Montauk.

When asked if it brings up any emotions to see more representation in the nightlife industry, Leong said, "I do. I think it's needed. I think it's a necessity. It's also really exciting to be someone representing the community on this level.

"I worked from the ground up, the lowest positions," Leong added. "I would tell everyone just go for it, break the norm, and let it be the norm for you."

"Despite the odds, your art is valuable and so this is the message I really want to pass onto people," Lee added.

Both owners want to expand their businesses with new locations to reach an even wider audience and show that the night is young, regardless of your background, no one should hesitate to step on the dance floor or open one up themselves.  

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