The New York times once credited David Barton as “The Man who Made Workouts Cool,” a title we simply couldn’t find more fitting. Storming the scene in the summer of 1992, David Barton founded a boutique gym in a New York City basement – and went on to revolutionize the health and fitness industry. But it’s not really just the fitness tips we want to talk about when it comes to this gym aficionado, nor the workouts, nor the protein-rich diet everyone’s dying to get the details on. What interests us most is how Barton made fitness a culture and a lifestyle. He no doubt transformed the scene of drab health club chains into something fashionable and social – his gyms boast an aesthetic that’s just as invigorating as the workouts. The venues seem more like lounges you’d find in New York’s Meatpacking District or Miami’s Downtown than the membership fitness centers they actually are. It would be out of character for Barton to make any kind of “uncool” decision, for that matter, yet he’s managed to make “cool” also timeless…a feat nearly impossible to accomplish.
After sitting down with Barton – a man whose personality is as infectious as his workout regimes – I was ready to pull on my long lost gym gear and sneakers and take to the treadmill. Describing himself as a guy who pushes the imagination, pays attention to detail, and strives to surround himself with beautiful things, Barton is a lifestyle in and of himself, which makes him the household name he is. As a result, he is king of what he calls “day life” not nightlife, a regiment where you socialize and enjoy but come out of the experience looking better rather than looking for hair of the dog. Now Barton and his team celebrate twenty years in the business, and with locations in New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Los Vegas and Los Angeles, the brand has become a health standby for fashion, film and music personalities alike. The New Potato was excited to sit down with a different kind of Icon this week – one who may shake up your regiment, but also may surprise you…
What would be your ideal food day?
Is this ideal where I’m being healthy and eating good, or like my ultimate splurge fantasy?
Definitely your ultimate fantasy…
Depends on the day, honestly some days I wish food came in a pill – that’s just when I don’t have the time to deal with eating. But my ultimate food fantasy would probably be a day in Italy or the South of France somewhere with amazing food and produce. Giant rare steaks and eggs – I love eggs. I love the food in Italy, so just eating all day, eating my way through (laughs). But, some days I don’t even want to deal with food and what I’m eating. It depends.
You’ve been in the gym business twenty years, and it’s become more than a gym but rather a household name. What would you define as the David Barton lifestyle?
It depends on the individual. There’s definitely a work hard play hard aspect. In the cities my gyms are in, the people lead very intense lives. They’re busy; they’re competitive; they get up early; they go to bed late. And my gym becomes something that people really need to get something out in a small amount of time. So what you get are intense workouts that fuel very intense lifestyles. They’re intense, competitive, work hard play hard people and they want to be strong and energized.
Aesthetic is so important to you when it comes to your venues. Why is that?
It’s really about the whole experience as well as the visual experience – what someones sense is and what they imagine themselves as when they walk in and work out. I always wanted to stimulate people’s imaginations. Someone needs to imagine what he or she will look like after working out. It’s a gym that doesn’t look like your living room – or anywhere you’ve ever been before. To do something you’ve never done before you have to become someone different and envision yourself differently. Also gyms are an emotional experience; I want people to be excited. I’ve been to gyms where I want to take a nap, and I’ve been to gyms that are exciting. I want it to be a place where you walk in and you can’t wait to work out.
Why a gym-as-nightclub? Why do the two go well together?
I don’t think it’s a gym as night club necessarily. It seems like a night club because there’s great music and a sexy environment; the energy can be like walking into a party. When I was growing up I lived in nightclubs – that’s where people saw their friends. I always wanted to create daylife not nightlife. When I go out at night now it’s not really where I see my friends, and starting in the 90’s people were starting to go out less at night. So I always wanted my gyms to be the place people saw each other. People spend more time in our gyms than in their own living room (they may not have a living room since it’s New York, but still). It’s like Times Square here. People come not just for the results, but to be social. And instead of coming out with a hangover, you come out looking better.