Why No One Taught You about Nightlife Safety


By Gamal Hennessy

Many of the activities that adults enjoy have safety rules designed to protect participants from harm and injury. We have classes on driving safety, fire safety and gun safety. We have safety drills to protect us from workplace emergencies. Safety instructions are plastered on planes, trains and cups of coffee. But in spite of an abundance of safety tips in our daily lives, there are currently no comprehensive tips for nightlife safety.


I doubt that there is any plot or conspiracy to deliberately place nightlife patrons in danger. No one in the nightlife industry benefits when someone is robbed, assaulted or arrested in a bar. I also don’t think that we have a lack of information that can’t be collected and distributed to a potential audience of several million people per year. I believe there are two fundamental reasons why nightlife safety is not a priority; a high degree of illusion and low degree of advocacy.

Nightlife’s Grand Illusion

In 2007, David Grazian released a book called On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife.  The central idea of the book sees nightlife as a series of illusions. These illusions, or hustles, are designed to separate something valuable from someone by offering them something perceived as less valuable in exchange. Club owners create artificial environments and sell bottle service as a thinly veiled real estate ploy. Public relations companies, local media and promoters invent flimsy excuses for events and pay celebrities to show up in the hopes of luring the naïve. Men do it in an attempt to gain sexual contact from women and prove their masculinity to other men. Women do it to counteract men, acquire drinks and pursue their own sexual conquests. Every element of the subculture participates in and has knowledge of a façade designed to create and control a public image. According to Grazian, in nightlife, no one and nothing is what it seems.

Whether you agree or disagree with this vision of nightlife culture, the theory of illusion does play a role in the lack of nightlife safety. Everyone in the culture, to one extent or another, participates in projecting three overarching illusions. Each of these concepts is in direct opposition to any discussion of nightlife safety. Each of these fallacies is an idea that we broadcast to others and convince ourselves of as part of our nightlife persona.

  • The illusion of experience: Very few people in nightlife are willing admit when they have no idea of what’s going on. Some people would like you to believe that they’ve been going to clubs since the age of 6. They want to pretend to know everything and everyone in every venue they enter. This ability to project jaded cynicism is a prerequisite in some circles, but it’s also a calculated risk. A person who tries to maintain this kind of façade might be unwilling to admit being in over their heads. They might do or get involved with something they don’t want, just to maintain the mask.
  • The illusion of independence: Freedom is an inherent feature of nightlife culture. The idea that you can make your own choices and define yourself according to your wishes instead of those of society is a powerful aspect of going out. Independence as a concept is valuable, because it gives us the strength to be adventurous, creative, political, social and sexual. When independence leads to isolation, patrons can become the prey of potential predators. When independence becomes a refusal to accept help from your friends or nightlife staff, you might get stuck in something that you can’t deal with on your own.
  • The illusion of invincibility: We project the idea that we are experienced and independent to show friends, strangers and potential lovers how capable and powerful we are. At an extreme level, we claim to be able to drink anything, do anything and deal with anyone we encounter. We might do this with or without words, but either way we create a potentially dangerous dynamic. Instead of putting a limit on our drinking, we might drink far more than we can handle to prove our ability. Instead of avoiding confrontations, we might instigate a shoving match to prove how tough we are. Ironically, the more we drink, the stronger this illusion becomes. Few people believe they are more invincible than the drunken fighter.

Speaking for the Nightlife Patron

Almost every group with a stake in nightlife has advocates fighting on their behalf. Nightlife operators have lobbying groups. Liquor and food distributors have their own spokespeople. Community boards, the police, and local government each has their own organization and mechanism to deal with nightlife issues, whether they support nightlife or not. The only group that has no advocate at this point is the community of nightlife patrons. This is understandable. Nightlife culture isn’t a single monolithic organization. It’s made up of dozens of different subcultures, each with different demographics and priorities. Many members of the patron community do not think about or do not want to engage in any kind of discussion that breaks their illusions. They go out to escape the worries of their normal lives, not to worry about a completely new set of problems.

The Nightlife Cultural Initiative (NCI) is not a true advocacy group at this stage. Our mission is elevating nightlife culture, not providing a political or social platform. We do believe however, that the more people can go out safely, the better their experience of nightlife culture will be. We are willing to pull back the curtain for a moment to help people avoid those things that might injure them. We have interviewed professionals in the areas of law enforcement, public health and nightlife to create a source of information to encourage nightlife safety. NCI will release The Nightlife Safety Guide in June of 2014 for free on its website.


Nightlife isn’t any more dangerous than driving a car or taking a plane ride. It does have a more complicated relationship to safety because of the illusions we all try to maintain. NCI isn’t trying to eliminate those illusions. We do hope to reduce the negative effects of those illusions on the people who enjoy nightlife.

Have fun.


Do No Harm: The Evolution of Harm Reduction in Nightlife Culture


Consumption is a fundamental aspect of nightlife culture. Food and entertainment are two of the main lures that attract patrons into bars and clubs, but the use of alcohol and other drugs plays a role as well. The use of any intoxicant carries risk of overconsumption and responsible venue owners, city planners and public health departments work together to reduce that harm. 

However, with the case of illegal drugs, venue owners are often unable to address these harms because they are afraid to address the consumption itself.  Nightlife regulatory policies, reflective of this country’s prohibition-based War on Drugs policies, make it impossible to admit drug use occurs in nightlife venues without risk of police scrutiny, fines or closure. In this case, it is not just the over consumption of illegal drugs but the policies themselves that cause harm.   

The struggle to reduce the harms of drug use as well as ineffective drug policies is being led by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Over the years, DPA has worked on the legislative and policy level to develop alternatives to destructive drug war policies. By working with high profile supporters like Russell Simmons, Arianna Huffington and Sting and creating programs that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, DPA has promoted change on local, state and national levels. Thanks to the work of advocates at DPA like Stefanie Jones, nightlife is becoming the next arena for education and change with three upcoming events:

1)    Ms. Jones and Dr. Brenda Miller will be conducting a webinar with the Responsible Hospitality Institute at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, March 26th to discuss various aspects of harm reduction in nightlife including patron education and amnesty bin programs that allow patrons to surrender illegal substances when discovered in a search instead of being arrested.  The goal of the webinar is to foster a less antagonistic relationship between patrons, police and club owners in relation to alcohol and other drug use.

2)    DPA, in cooperation with the Columbia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy will be hosting a free panel discussion at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, March 27th entitled The Truth About Molly that aims to dispel the mythology about a drug that is becoming more popular in urban culture and entertainment.

3)    Finally, DPA is working with organizations like Dance Safe and the San Francisco Entertainment Commission to produce a three day conference called Club Health San Francisco 2013 from May 28-30. The Club Health conference will bring together experts from around the world to discuss increasing harm reduction, decreasing violence and improving the safety of nightlife culture across the board.

The relationship between alcohol and other drug consumption and nightlife culture is diverse and complicated. Each sub culture faces different challenges associated with the different substances found in each setting. It will take a substantial amount of effort and political will to alter the impact of over consumption and misguided policies, but the events that DPA is hosting and the focus of people like Ms. Jones builds a solid foundation for expanding harm reduction practices and bringing the potential for policy change to nightlife culture.