The Changing Face of New York Nightlife

Gamal Hennessy

Nightlife isn’t static. There are trends and changes in the industry in the same way that fashion, art and other cultural institutions change. Economy and personal taste are having a major impact on some new venues while others try to ride out the downturn and stick with a formula that has worked in the past. This article looks at some of the major trends that have taken hold over the last two years to help you navigate the shifting waters.

Low Key Spots

The economy is just beginning to recover from a severe economic recession. Many people who used to be willing to buy bottles are now happy just to have a cold PBR. Several operators have responded to this desire by creating low cost, low key venues that are diametrically opposed to the velvet rope spots of Meatpacking and West Chelsea. Spots like 675 Bar in Meatpacking, Super Dive in the East Village are the most prominent examples of this trend. Even larger venues that feature A-List talent like Santos Party House can be considered part of the low key movement because of the emphasis on dancing instead of posturing.


At the same time that the low key bar gains traction, the low profile venue has also become a fixture in New York nightlife. These lounges take their cue from Prohibition Era speakeasies. Most of them are characterized by a semi secret mystique instead of leaning on promoters. They also have specialized cocktails that run in the $13-$25 dollar range instead of reliance on bottles to generate revenue. Milk and Honey, and Flatiron Lounge led the quiet charge here, but they have been joined by Little Branch, Ella, PDT, Mayuhuel, the Eldridge and other spots so secret that they don’t actually have names.

Rooftop Bars

Speakeasies took New York parties into basements and behind closed doors. Rooftop bars put them above the whole city. Taking advantage of the cities spectacular skyline, and the ability to keep the roof heated all year, these venues use the open air motif and impressive views as a refreshing change from the closed in feeling of a normal club. While the smoking ban is less of a factor in these spots, noise bleed from the venue to the neighbors can lead to problems in the future. 230 Fifth and Ava Lounge have been in place for a few years now and they’ve been joined in the last few months by the Empire Rooftop, Above Allen and Hudson Terrace.

Fighting the Trend

If you’re the type who liked the lounges and clubs that have dominated the nightlife scene for the past few years, don’t despair. There are still new venues opening that cater to you. While they are appearing with less frequency than they have in the past, these venues still offer models, bottles and the occasional celebrity sighting. While the economy has hit this type of business hard, there will always be people who prefer the experience that venues like The Gates, The Grand Ballroom, Citrine and Greenhouse offer, so those spots will always be with us.

One of the strengths of New York nightlife is the diversity we have. It doesn’t matter what type of venue, music, drinks or people you want to hang out with. You can find your niche here. All you have to do is look for it. The latest trends may or may not become staples in the nightlife scene but the ones that fail will be replaced with new concepts and new options for all of us.

Have fun.