Patrons: The Missing Link in Nightlife Politics

By Gamal Hennessy

Last week, local politicians organized a
nightlife town hall meeting so different elements of the community could speak to and ask questions of members of the New York State Liquor Authority. A variety of different groups showed up. Some, like the bar owners and other local businesses, were in favor of protecting nightlife. Others, like local block associations and community board members, were in favor of curtailing nightlife. Each group voiced their concerns about a variety of issues that touched the industry, including the land zoning, noise ordinances, police presence and the smoking ban. Each group showed that they have an established organization and are looking to increase their influence in this aspect of the city.

But there was no one there to speak on behalf of nightlife patrons.

The Sound of Silence
This is ironic because most of the issues in nightlife are ultimately about patrons. When residents complain about noise, pollution and traffic congestion they are referring to the actions of patrons, not the operators or the bars themselves. Operators want to remain in certain areas because patrons will come to those areas. They want to serve liquor because patrons won’t show up if there is no liquor. Store owners want to serve patrons who are out at night. Police and EMS largely have to deal with patrons when they venture into nightlife. But even though this is all about the presence and actions of patrons, there is no constant voice speaking for us.

Isn’t that normal? Aren’t we just in it for the wine, women and song? Do any of us really care about smoking bans, anti-dancing laws, crime, violence and the cost of having fun? Do we want to have a say in which venues stay opened and which ones close? Isn’t it easier to leave politics for the politicians?

Image and Influence
Nightlife politics is important to patrons for reasons of influence and image. Nightlife is one of the reasons that many patrons move to New York in the first place. Our lifestyle, our entertainment and our hustles revolve around this environment. Among certain elements of club patrons, there is dissatisfaction with the way things are. These elements desire to see change and improvement in the industry. But if we don’t use our ability to influence a part of our life that is important to us, then how can we complain about the problems it has? How can things get better if we don’t speak up and define what “better” means and how we can go about improving the situation?

Other interested groups have the chance to express different elements within their large groups. Operators constantly differentiate good operators (who work with residents when problems arise) from bad ones (who abuse their position). Residents get to explain that they are not all NIMBYs and can focus on specific concerns that they have. If no one speaks for patrons, it is easy to lump us all together in the same group of loud, drunken and sloppy fanatics. We become the villain in the story, something to be contained, controlled or removed.

But our reality is not that offensive. Hundreds of thousands of patrons visit nightlife every week. The vast majority of us participate in nightlife without incident. There are tens of millions of nightlife patrons who move through the city every year. If we were nothing more than an unruly mob, New York would be an apocalyptic wasteland by now. Yes, there are fanatics who roam among us creating all sorts of problems at night, but they are a minority. The rest of us cannot be defined by their actions. But if we don’t speak up how will anyone know?

Finding a Voice
It isn’t easy for a diverse group to speak with one voice. The things that the wine bar crowd wants will be different than what the club kids are looking for which will be different from what the bottle crowd, the gay crowd or the live music fans need. But every large political group contains different subgroups. Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives and every other interest group find a niche within the larger organization. Nightlife patrons are no different. It’s not an issue of creating one universal patron position. It is an issue of patrons voicing any position at all.

An interested patron doesn’t have to go out and start a political action group to get involved. There are already organizations in place where you can make your opinions known. You could get involved with the Nightlife Preservation Community that is designed for patron involvement in nightlife. You can get involved with your local community board, since that is a forum where many nightlife issues are debated on a regular basis. Or you could just step up to the microphone at the next Town Hall meeting and provide a voice for the largest group within the nightlife industry.

Have fun

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