Mixing Business with Pleasure

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to 230 Fifth by friends for drinks under the stars. When the elevator opened it seemed like I walked into an insurance convention at the Javits Center. Citigroup had a closed off space. Deloitte had a space. Several other companies had areas reserved for their semi private parties. The men traded in their uniforms of suits and khakis for “casual” uniforms of striped shirts and jeans. They clustered around the roof deck, looking for models and talking about the Hamptons. Drinks were flowing, but in a couple of places the cold glow of laptops drowned out the mood candles. By the time I found my people and sat down, I was depressed. I saw this as just another example of the corporate take over New York nightlife.

A lot of bandwidth has been used to decry the mixing of business and nightlife. Criticism has been leveled at clubs for the rise of bottle service and the associated encroachment of bland, homogenized clubs. New York Nights has been part of this condemnation since its inception. We talk about the current nightlife culture being focused on money and not about having fun (however ‘fun’ happens to be defined).

People who live, work and built up the industry maintain that clubs have always been a business from the historic pubs where the American Revolution was conceived, to the speakeasies of Prohibition to Studio 54 to now. One thing I haven’t heard anyone mention is the way the rest of us are also in the nightlife ‘business.’ It’s not just the club owners, managers and promoters trying to make money. All of us are on some kind of hustle.

Millions of dollars and hundreds of bottles are used for corporate entertainment every week. Outings for everything from concerts to strip clubs are really nothing more than the continuation of business meetings from earlier in the day. Musicians, DJ’s, dancers, producers, dealers and bartenders sell their goods and services, constantly on the lookout for the next step up in the food chain. Men and women scope each other out to either close a quick deal or start the due diligence for a long term strategic partnership (you might call refer to this practice as dating). Some ladies (and men) trade their good looks and sex appeal for free entry and free liquor. How many of us really go out ‘just to have a good time’ without working with some ulterior commercial motive?

I am just as guilty of this practice anyone else. I often dress for the club in a suit. I’ve closed a majority of my business deals over drinks. I move from club to club with the efficiency of a cold calling stockbroker. I refer to a lot of my dates as “operations” or “jobs”. My whole business model is based on the money people spend in clubs. At this point, I don’t think I mix business and nightlife. It’s the same damn thing.

I was sitting in Rockwood Music Hall last night thinking about what all this means. If many of us, or most of us, are doing business at night, and always have been, what is the point of condemning it? Is it time to stop pretending that business ends when the sun goes down? Just because something is designed to make money doesn’t mean it can’t be about pleasure. Is it time to start looking at the nightlife culture the same way we look at the movie industry or the music industry? Should we look at a clubs profits as a sign of success the same way we look at which movie makes $100 million dollars, or which record sold a million copies? Maybe if we embraced nightlife as a New York business, we’d be more interested in protecting it.

Have fun.