It’s June 1, and Barack Obama is in town for a fund-raising event at the Chicago Cultural Center. Jon and Andrew Landan are in the front row, pushed against the velvet rope, preparing for the big moment: Obama, flanked by security guards, is walking toward them, shaking hands with everyone he passes.
“The twins from East Bank Club!” Jon shouts as he shakes the President’s hand. “What’s going on?”
There’s a millisecond of uncertainty—will he remember them? Then, there it is: “Mmmrrff frrf mrrff rrrf,” Obama says before moving down the line.
The YouTube video ends.
“Did you hear that?” Jon screams. “Play it again!” We’re on the 39th floor of the Aqua building in Lakeshore East, in an apartment owned by Jon and Andrew’s friend, watching the 19-second clip on a 50-inch 3-D television. It’s nearing 3am.
“Play it again!” Andrew demands.
Their friend obliges, restarting the video Andrew recorded, and Jon posted, of the Obama encounter. (Its title: “President Barack Obama Reminisces W/ The LANDAN TWINZ.”)
After four times watching—with the Landans giddily narrating—what the President is saying becomes clear. “These are the two biggest hacks on the basketball court.”
Jon and Andrew Landan, 35, are identical twins who dress in head-to-toe neon. They live together and are rarely apart, going out at least four nights a week to charity events, restaurant openings, music festivals, Wrigley rooftop parties and River North clubs. They wear large, black-framed glasses with no lenses. They also wear contacts. They usually sport bow ties. A few years ago, they were rarely spotted without bulky headphones around their necks. These days, it’s timepieces; each twin sports several bright plastic watches on each arm. They are very, very tan.
The twins also draw attention because they are loud and pose for a lot of photos, often directing a bro-ish sideways peace sign at the friend, celebrity or quasi-celebrity they are with. Recently, this list has included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, electronic music artist Skrillex and rapper Drake, whom they met at his concert’s after-party at club V Live in Logan Square. On the party circuit, rumors about the Landans fly: They have bunk beds. They have trust funds. They don’t have jobs. This, Jon bristles at: “We’ve been working since we were 13!”
But that is the mystery surrounding the Landans—what do they do, besides go to parties and document them on Jon’s Facebook feed, a carnival of LOLz and capital letters and exclamation points? (Andrew’s page is private.) Even friends are curious. “What do you exactly do? Whatever it is…looks like an awesome job lol” posted one woman on Jon’s wall on June 5, after he put up the Drake photo.
Jon’s answer was to “like” the post. The real answer is more complicated: The brothers Landan are surprisingly business-driven and have managed to turn partying into a paycheck. (“Not partying,” they correct me during one conversation. “Interacting.”) They make cash by planning events, hyping events and getting sponsorships (i.e., companies who pay to get their products or representatives in front of an audience of young partiers). Jon does this freelance, consulting for restaurants and clubs. Andrew works mainly through his new company, Chicago Interactive Social Club, which throws monthly networking events for people in the advertising industry. Companies like job recruiting firm Onward Search have paid between $2,000 and $5,000 to do things like dole out raffle prizes and collect business cards at his events. Andrew will also tweet and Facebook about sponsors, and use their name in e-mails that go out to a list of 10,000.
People either love or hate the Landans, says one event planner familiar with Jon and Andrew. Recently, I was at a party for the W Lakeshore Hotel’s new seventh-floor deck and, in the interest of this story, mentioned the twins. I was met with eye rolls and some snarky gossip about them hooking up with a friend of a friend. Another day, right after interviewing Jon and Andrew, I ran into a friend, the wife of a River North chef, and she asked why I was clutching a notebook. “Do you know the Landans?” I asked. She laughed. TheDirty.com, a national gossip blog, tags Jon and Andrew as both the “Landork Twins” and “shomos,” a blend of short and homo. (The twins say they’re straight.)
Yet, they’re doing well enough in their solo ventures that Andrew quit his job as an account executive at Fox-owned IGN Entertainment in April. Jon left his gig as marketing director at Rockit Ranch last year. (The trust-fund rumor is just that; the brothers don’t receive any support from their parents, who are estranged from the twins.) Meanwhile, Jon last month was appointed secretary of the board at Gateway Green, a high-profile nonprofit dedicated to beautifying Chicago, for his work on annual fund-raiser Green Tie Ball. Laugh at them all you want, but the Landans—35-year-olds who wear armfuls of Day-Glo watches yet win the trust of fiftysomethings in stuffy dark suits—are emerging as legitimate entrepreneurs.
When Obama good-naturedly called the Landans hacks, he was critiquing their performance on the basketball court at East Bank Club, where the President regularly played when he lived in Chicago. The Landans have been working out at the swanky health club since eighth grade. I join them there on a weekday afternoon. Walking up the main staircase, Jon high-fives Oprah’s boyfriend, Stedman Graham. (“That was Oprah’s boyfriend,” Jon tells me. “Did you get that down?”)
The twins’ privileged childhood included a four-story Gold Coast townhouse, where they threw parties for their classmates at Francis Parker and the rival private school, Latin. The first one, in 1994, they named “Landstock.” Jon also got into the club scene in high school, hitting spots like Elixir and Shelter with people he met while working at a tanning salon, who got him in without ID.
This lifestyle ended abruptly, the twins say, when they were 18 and their dad “went away.” Went away? They share a quick look. “Jail,” Jon says bluntly. (Their father, a lawyer, was convicted in 1996 of attempting to defraud a Texas bank out of $10.5 million. He served a 6.5-year sentence.)
The twins had just started college, and their mom cut them off financially. “If we needed anything, she’d say, ‘Go ask your dad’ and she knew our dad was away,” Jon says. “It was crazy.”
“We don’t talk to either of our parents,” Andrew says. “Nobody knows that. But I’m not ashamed of it.”
They supported themselves—Jon at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Andrew at Indiana University—by “working in mail rooms” and also doing what they knew: throwing parties. By charging a $3 cover, they could walk away with $500 in a single night.UPDATE: Though the Landans did work during their college years, their father paid most of their tuition. We regret that the Landans misled our readers on that point.
(Our conversation is interrupted by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice, who stops by our table in East Bank’s café to high-five the twins. “That was Simeon Rice,” Jon tells me.)
After college, the twins lived together for four years in a 700-square-foot studio in River North and saved every penny they could: Andrew doing ad sales at Kelly Scott & Madison and AOL (later, Hearst Corporation and IGN); Jon spawning a promoting career out of the club connections he made in high school. He started at Bortz Entertainment (owners of erstwhile megaclub Circus) and then launched his own club-consulting company, ALife Group. In 2005, the Hyatt on Wacker Drive hired him to consult on Hard Drive, a club that opened with a bang but quickly lost steam. After that: Rockit Ranch.
The Landans talk quickly, finishing each other’s sentences in loud bursts. Everything is a superlative. “The greatest.” “The biggest.” Even their family drama ended up being “the best thing that could have happened.”
“We were bitter then,” Jon says.
“But it helped us be independent,” Andrew finishes. “And have to work. And know what a dollar actually means, and not go out every night and spend all our money on bottle service and alcohol.”
What about the post on restaurant blog 312 Dining Diva calling out the twins, Zac Efron and Heather Graham for racking up a $135,000 bill—including a $100,000 bottle of Champagne—at River North club Board Room on a Tuesday night last October? It’s a true story, they say, but an undisclosed billionaire had sent over the bottle and picked up the tab.
Former Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is no Zac Efron, but he is at River North’s Hubbard Inn on a Thursday night, putting on the twins’ glasses and taking goofy photos on Andrew’s iPhone. A small posse, including Giannoulias and the Landans, has ended up here after a charity event with Bill Clinton at House of Blues, which the twins chose over a grand-opening party at Gold Coast rooftop Drumbar.
It’s a ridiculous world—packed with overlapping parties and free drinks and insincere hugging and overzealous card swapping; chiefly populated by liquor reps, club owners and society couples. The Landans get invited to hang out with celebrities like Efron and Graham via connections they’ve made in New York and L.A. Front-row tickets to Obama and Clinton events come from Francis Parker connections or friends like restaurateur Phil Stefani, a regular client of Jon’s. Other events they’re helping throw, like a Green Tie Ball preview party, held at Hubbard Inn just hours before the Clinton speech.
It seems counterintuitive that folks in charge of a black-tie charity ball would want input from the guys who, in April, had their birthday party at River North nightclub bevy, encouraged every guest to wear neon and passed out neon sunglasses printed with i [heart] landan.
But organizers of Green Tie Ball, which started in 1981, need to attract a new audience (i.e., young people with money) if it—and more important, Gateway Green—wants to last another two decades, and the Landans are the ones to do it. With one click on Facebook, Jon can get the invite out to his 4,447 virtual friends. “Jon is the ultimate hype man,” says the event planner, who requested anonymity. “He’ll introduce you to everyone and say things that are so flattering. It’s his way of making connections with people. And he is good at connecting people. [Both twins] have those old-rooted connections with people who go out and spend money in Chicago.” With Jon’s help, Green Tie Ball saw 2,500 guests last year, about 1,000 more than in 2009.
“These guys, they helped shake [Green Tie Ball] up,” says Steve Traxler, a Gateway Green board member. “They provide all the energy,” says Grant DePorter, board chair and the son of Gateway Green’s founder.
At dinner at Carnivale on a Wednesday night—owner Jerry Kleiner, despite the 20-year age gap, is one of the twins’ closest friends—Jon gets a text; suddenly, a meeting is set up for 9pm at Mercer 113, the newest bar on Hubbard Street. Two owners of a highbrow sound equipment company are interested in bringing Jon on freelance as their Chicago point person, helping them find events and clubs that might want their services.
The meeting goes well. A few hours later and a few shots in, sitting at Studio Paris, Jon tells me every relationship he makes, every night he spends out and everything he does is about business. Trying to find a nice way to ask him if that totally sucks, I go with, “Does that ever make you feel like you always have to worry about what you’re saying?” He smacks the head honcho of the sound equipment company, interrupting his conversation with a blond woman. “Do I have to watch what I say around you?” Jon demands. The guy doesn’t respond. He turns back to me. “I don’t have to watch what I say.”
Near the end of the night, two guys who know the Landans come in, one wearing a Rockit Ranch cap. He says he’s a comedian, and tells me a joke, in reference to the twins, about gingham and bow ties. The punch line is: douche bag.
On a sunny Tuesday outside of East Bank Club, the Landans—sporting madras shorts and matching pink-and-yellow pedicures from the Spa at the Peninsula—say they don’t have time to give a shit about anyone who makes fun of them or doesn’t invite them to events. “They thrive off of anything people say about them, whether it’s good or bad. They use it to their advantage,” the event planner says. Even if people are gossiping about them, “they’re getting brands out there because they’re so out there.”
(They wave to local newscaster Robin Robinson, who is leaving the club. “That was Robin Robinson,” Jon informs me.)
The Landans also shrug off questions about their style. “We like bright colors,” is all Jon will say. I suspect they love the attention their look brings—it’s slightly ludicrous how many attractive women in bars want to try on their glasses or watches—but they deny this. They have been approached by several producers interested in a reality show. Mostly, they’re excited to be working for themselves. The most recent event for Andrew’s startup, CISC, begins at 6pm at Mercer 113 on a Thursday. The bar is packed by 6:04.
The most endearing moment I spend with the Landan twins is watching Smurfs 3D at the apartment in Aqua: “Gargamel!” they yell in unison when the villain comes onscreen. The most irritating moment is following Jon around Studio Paris, holding his sugar-free Red Bull and vodka while he high-fives everyone in the room. “Who were those girls?” I ask Jon about one cluster, who had turned away shortly after high-fiving him. “Family,” he replies.
Do they want wives, or kids? I ask when they’re sober.
Yes. No. Maybe. Not anytime soon. Neither of them is dating.
“With all the business ideas that we have, there’s no room for that full-time girlfriend or kids right now,” Andrew says.
“I truly believe that when you’re a parent, no matter what, you take that full circle even if it’s hurting your own life, and our parents didn’t [do that],” Jon says. “So we gained family in other areas. Friends.” The twins spend holidays at Kleiner’s house.
The night we’re watching Smurfs, after the pizza their friend ordered is eaten, Jon and Andrew excuse themselves: They have Kleiner’s son’s high-school graduation the next day. They apologize for leaving early. It’s 4:18am.