Influential writer E.B. White once said there are three New Yorks; the natives, the commuters and the settlers. In nightlife that number explodes exponentially. There are so many little “New Yorks” that it often feels like every taste, preference and orientation has its own scene with its own players and venues. How long can that last? It’s natural to stick with what you know, but it seems to me that a little cross pollination makes for the best experience.
The music you listen to, the people you hang out with, what you do and how much you spend all help define your nightlife. You might like that underground lounge in Chinatown that “no one knows about” and you’ll probably abandon it when the B&T crowd shows up. The hipsters don’t mix with the house kids, the jazz crowd doesn’t drink with the rockers, and the pub crawlers wouldn’t be caught dead with the model/bottle crowd. New York City has plenty of generic venues, but it’s big enough and diverse enough that everyone can party separately.
The divisions go much deeper here than just the major genres. There are multiple sub cultures within each set. Hip hop has mainstream industry spots like 40/40, old school spots like bOb Bar and your occasional hipster rap party. Lesbians can be broken down into butch, lipstick and older scenes. Someone once joked that if you’re an Asian woman looking to drink cosmos and watch Sex in the City with gay Brazilian men, there is a bar in New York for you.
The different scenes are affected differently as changes occur in the city as a whole. Just consider the economy as an obvious example. There are some people who were all about bottle service before the sub prime fiasco and they will still be buying bottles this weekend. There are other people in that scene who were abruptly ejected from it when their finance, investment or real estate company collapsed. Then you have the scene that wasn’t buying bottles before, isn’t buying bottles now, and wouldn’t buy a bottle if they won the lottery.
The fragmentation of nightlife groups mirrors a similar dynamic in a wide spectrum of entertainment. Before the rise of cable, you had a handful of television stations to watch. Now you can have 500 channels and sites like YouTube allow you to have more focused interests, watching hundreds of hours of video and never turning on your TV. During the 80’s you listened to radio or watched MTV to get your music. Now digital music, internet radio and Ipods give you the ability to ignore radio altogether. We live in a time and a place of limitless choices when it comes to personal entertainment, so isn’t it natural to have hundreds of choices in our nightlife entertainment?
But all these different niches might not be able to stay afloat. As the local economy grew, more spots could open catering to smaller crowds. These spots might count on their group’s excess cash to make a profit. If that group can’t keep spending at the same level, the clubs that cater to them might not survive. Nightlife luminary Steven Lewis has predicted a shake up in the market, with a lot of venues folding or changing hands as economic forces separate the well run clubs from the transitory spots. This week a friend of mine suggested that if a club opened for a larger group and then catered to its sub groups on different nights of the week, then they could have the best of both worlds.
We can all have the best of both worlds. New York nightlife needs its diversity to cater to its varied consumers. Too much of anything is a bad idea for individuals and for the industry. As a nightlife consumers, my friends and I try to move between scenes in different parts of town, trying different things every once in a while to find out what we do and don’t like. I definitely have my favorites, and I’m still not a fan of karaoke, but you can appreciate more of what the city has to offer if you get out of your little box.