John Bolaris wants to know if I’ve tried the duck. Plenty of it left, he says, and he’s right. The “Oriental Station,” as it is titled in the email inviting me to this party for “high net worth individuals,” features a chef with a massive knife presiding over a golden-brown bird with a long, drooping neck and beak straight out of a Chinatown window display.
It takes up an entire room of this 40 story-high Two Liberty Place condo that will soon belong to Joel Embiid. I’m serious. The Sixers center will rent this space for about $9,000 a month with the possibility of buying it in the near future for about $2 million. Presumably he will not keep the Oriental Station.
Embiid’s not here on this night as mostly suit-wearing men network, eat duck and drink brown liquor (yes, the brown liquor station gets its own room, too) because this party isn’t about him. It’s about the man who helped orchestrate the deal for the apartment. It’s about John Bolaris. The celebration marks the launch of his new real estate brand, TCS Black Label.
His weather career on hiatus, the onetime meteorologist also known for his model girlfriends (and for being roofied by two Eastern European women on consecutive nights in Miami) has begun a second act where he’s no longer the celebrity. Instead, he’s in service to celebrities. John Bolaris is now Philadelphia’s real estate agent to the stars.
Dysktra, Brodsky and the Gatsby house
Bolaris might not be here, 40 stories up in the future living room of Embiid, if not for his close friend Lenny Dykstra. It was Dykstra who, in the mid-aughts, instructed Bolaris he needed to meet Bert Brodsky, the well-known New York entrepreneur (Bolaris recounts the description of Brodsky in a mock Dykstra voice: “One of the motherfucking richest dudes you’d ever meet, and he’s a smart and honorable dude”).
Bolaris had just quit his gig at NBC10, a year after the 2001 “Storm of the Century” fiasco where he and NBC10 warned of a massive snowstorm that never materialized, to be chief meteorologist at CBS New York. He and Brodsky began golfing while he was in New York, and after a particularly bad breakup Brodsky even let him stay at a huge piece of property he owned on the Gold Coast. The bedroom alone encompassed 4,000 square feet. The pool overlooked the Long Island Sound.
Bolaris was going through another tumultuous time in 2014. It had been three years since Fox29 fired him, his last TV weather gig, and he was still sorting through his dwindling meteorological options. He was back at Brodsky’s, lounging in the pool of an East Hampton property. Through cigar puffs, Brodsky told Bolaris he’d be “magnificent” as a real estate agent.
“Besides that,” Bolaris recalls him saying, “I want you to sell Gatsby.”
The property overlooking the Long Island Sound wasn’t a regular mansion. It was said to be the inspiration for “The Great Gatsby,” perhaps for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s house. Though the mansion was razed in 2011 (in part because of financial difficulties brought on by the Bernie Madoff scheme), Brodsky still owns the property and is slowly developing it.
When Bolaris enrolled three days into the semester for real estate classes at Temple in 2015, he was thinking big, much bigger than cold calls and other typical duties of rookie real estate agents. The Condo Shop offered him a job, with plans of letting Bolaris use his deep list of contacts to make deals with Philadelphia’s rich and famous. He started with them last August almost as soon as he got his real estate license. Bolaris took the test in Allentown so he could easily drive to Harrisburg afterwards to pick it up, and not have to wait for it in the mail.
“Maybe Memorial Day Weekend last year he was studying for this test,” says his friend Hayley Beisel, “and by the end of the summer he was already in Antigua selling properties.”
He got a real estate license in New York, too, for Gatsby. Bolaris is now a little over one year into his new career, one he says he’s nearly as passionate about as he was when he got started in weather.
“I tried to stay in the weather field as long as I could because it was my number one passion since birth,” Bolaris says. “But circumstances sometimes get out of control and there are sort of things you can’t control. I just call it a series of unfortunate events that led to me leaving or exiting the TV news industry.”
He almost sounds like he doesn’t miss TV weather, the gig that turned him into a local celebrity. But then he starts talking about the industry.
‘Do shot’: The Weather Savior’s end in Philly
What Bolaris calls “a series of unfortunate events” began with a trip to Miami and ended with Roger Ailes’ signature on his pink slip.
Perhaps you remember the Miami trip. This one. In 2010, his friend backed out of their annual vacation to South Florida. Bolaris went on his own. One night, he ended up at a hotel bar approached by two attractive Eastern European women. They took a shot…
… And the next thing Bolaris knows, he’s in his hotel room with a wine stain on his clothes and a faint memory of buying a weird painting. The women contacted him to say they had his sunglasses. They ended up hanging out again. This time Bolaris woke up to find out $43,000 had been charged to his American Express card. Turned out his new friends were con artists. The feds eventually enlisted his help in an attempt to shut down a major organized crime ring.
But let’s set the record straight, in his own words: The “real story isn’t I was with hookers in Miami, not being with my daughter and being a big shot spending $43,000 on cocaine and Russian hookers,” Bolaris says. “I knew these girls for 15 minutes.”
The first time he told this story was to the Daily News in 2011. He says he had to do it because information about the federal court case was being investigated by the Inquirer, and then-Daily News editor Larry Platt convinced him to share the details before they got leaked.
The cover story ran with the headline “Russians, Roofies and a 43-Grand Rip-Off: Like the Movie, John Bolaris Is Nursing a Real-Life … HANGOVER!” Playboy followed with an article. Bolaris says his relationship with Fox was fraught to begin with and the publicity about Miami sent the station to the edge.
“The number one thing you need to know about Fox News, they deplore press,” Bolaris says. “(It’s) their number one pet peeve, Roger Ailes’ number one pet peeve. He signed off on my firing.”
His last night on Philadelphia television was in late December 2011. But his career wasn’t quite over. Nor were his disputes with local media networks.
Bolaris started his own online service, dubbed it the Weather Savior, and Philly.com began using his forecasts for about two years. He says their popularity skyrocketed during the 2014-15 winter season, earning about 2 million pageviews a month, and, he was told by an anchor at NBC10, drawing more than the websites for NBC10 and CBS3 combined, driving NBC10 brass crazy.
Bolaris says he would send the Google Analytics of his Philly.com reports to NBC. He says he was trying to get back on the network and even had a three-hour dinner with one higher-up (“Mayor Nutter stopped by the table and said, ‘you should hire this guy’”). But any chances of returning to NBC were dashed after a phone call with then-GM Eric Lerner.
“Lerner says, ‘I’m not going to hire you,’ Bolaris recalls. “‘I’m not going to hire someone who I think will bring me trouble.’”
At least he still had his deal with Philly.com. Or so Bolaris thought. He says two days before he was due to re-sign his contract he found out NBC10 had offered Philly.com a deal it would eventually accept to be its weather partner.
“I’m fighting with a fork,” Bolaris says, “and they got Comcast nuclear devices going off in front of me.”
NBC10’s executives declined interview requests through NBC spokespersons. A source familiar with the situation said the NBC10/Philly.com agreement had to do with wanting to separate from Bolaris’ past, his sometimes confrontational behavior on Twitter and the divisive comments bound to appear with his articles.
For nearly 20 years, Bolaris was the biggest star in Philly weather. Now he pretty much only forecasts on Twitter, every once in a while.
“Whenever I feel like getting in trouble,” he says, “I go on there.”
Penthouses for Flyers, Eagles downashore
Bolaris’ phone is ringing. Again. Over a 90-minute conversation at Joe Coffee in Rittenhouse Square, he takes four calls. This time it’s Raffy. That’s what he calls Michael Raffl, one of the Flyers’ top players.
The Flyers are getting back into town after the offseason. Bolaris helped Raffl get the penthouse at The Griffin, a new luxury apartment complex near Broad and Chestnut. On the phone, he reminds Raffl to check out the virtual game system on the Griffin’s roof.
“I talk to (Claude) Giroux, Brayden Schenn,” Bolaris says. “(FlyGhost and the younger guys will get to know me.”
Bolaris says he has a relationship with the Sixers, and this summer he helped Eagles players get rentals at the Shore. His other clients include businessmen, investors and at least one rap star.
By design, the work doesn’t stop when the deal’s done. The purpose of that party in Embiid’s future apartment was to launch his new group within The Condo Shop, TCS Black Label. In addition to real estate, it offers concierge services, essentially acting as a one-stop-shop for well-heeled clients who don’t have the time to worry about, for instance, setting up electricity or designing their place.
Guarav Gambhir, principal of The Condo Shop, says no other company in Philly does anything similar. Over lunch at Estia last summer, he says they decided on the vision for TCS Black Label, and Gambhir realized Bolaris was worth the hire, despite his past.
“He told the whole story, and I believed in him,” Gambhir says, “I believed in what he said and I think the American Greed show proved that.”
The public may never forget, though. Earlier this year, Bolaris managed to get banned from Rouge after a dispute with a fellow customer. It was the night the “American Greed” episode aired about his Miami troubles. Bolaris, who was with a friend, says a drunk guy at the bar pushed up against him, saying “You trolling for pussy…a guy like you needs to go to the high schools to troll for pussy.” They got in each other’s faces, and Bolaris decided to leave. He gave the man the finger on the way out. The manager on duty thought the gesture was intended for her. He says he hasn’t been allowed to Rouge since.
“I don’t need it,” Bolaris says. “Matter of fact I’m much happier going to Parc Rittenhouse than going to Rouge. It’s a better space.”
Sometimes, too, the animosity is apparent in his interactions with other real estate professionals. His partner Andrea Desy says he’s forced to prove more because of his background and the way he’s gone from newcomer to working major deals in a year. Bolaris says he was blackballed by another realtor who was hosting an open house in the same building as one of his units and had the boyfriend of a client try to convince her to drop him.
He compares the way he’s starting his real estate career to the way he started his TV career. After only a couple of newscasts at a small Long Island station — and an audition tape with Brian Williams — he got the weekend weather gig at CBS New York.
“Even then I was swinging for the fences,” Bolaris says. “There’s no other way to have it. Why would you not?”
The fences this time are Philly’s athletes, the Gatsby property, a Tuscan-style villa in Reading and a $30 million deal he claims he’s close to taking away from a big brand name. But for now, as Bolaris finishes a chai latte, he’s texting another client who’s at Marathon Grill.
“I can’t lose her,” he says, and soon he darts across Rittenhouse Square Park, onto something he hopes to control more easily than Philly’s fickle weather.