Is Limelight Market the Last Nail in the Coffin of New York Nightlife?

By Gamal Hennessy

The big news in nightlife this week wasn’t about a new club. It was about a new shopping mall. The Limelight was an iconic venue throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s. This week, the infamous former dance hall began its new life as the
Limelight Market. What does this change say about nightlife in New York?

The History

Limelight was a staple in New York club scene. Housed in a historic church, it drew the biggest names in house and techno music. It was the playground for the Club Kids of the 80’s and 90’s and became one of the most prominent clubs in the country. It was also infamous as a criminal haven. The venue was closed several times on drug related charges and was connected to Michael Alig’s murder of Angel Melendez. The venue reopened as Avalon in 2003 and closed again a few years later. Late in 2008, there was a plan to turn the venue into a corporate event space and TV studio, but that deal fell through. The Market, concept has also been on the table for several years. Now it is a reality.

The Cultural Shift

Limelight is the latest in a long list of nightlife icons that have been replaced by more suburban commercial interests. Studio 54 is now a theater. Palladium is now an NYU dormitory. CBGB is now a John Varvatos boutique. Limelight is now a shopping mall. As New York nightlife changes historic venues are replaced by living spaces, shops and other staples of

But it is not just the buildings that are changing. The generational change has shifted much of the mentality of nightlife itself. In the era of venues like the Limelight, nightlife was about creativity and excess. Now it is about segregation and commerce. Getting in before meant being artistic, unique and sexually stimulating. Now getting in is about being affluent, conformist and sexually stimulating (some things never change). It was once about the music, the decadence and the celebrity of the few. Now it is about the bottles, the marketing and the celebrity of everyone. In the Limelight era, one of the biggest media depictions of life in New York were
Fame. Now its Sex and the City. Venues like Limelight don’t exist anymore because the culture and the city that produced it has changed.

We changed because of factors that weren’t prevalent during Limelight’s peak; In the early 80’s the AIDS crisis was just beginning to kill a huge percentage of club patrons and altering the behavior of the ones left alive. Real estate prices were nowhere near the levels that we see in 2010. Government crackdowns in nightlife in everything from drug use to
smoking to dancing itself didn’t gain momentum until Giuliani became mayor. Professional promotions, social networks and digital music were not staples of the industry. The gentrification of New York was still more than a decade away when the Limelight was the place to go. In 2010, operators, patrons and city residents are all dealing with a set of circumstances that are very different from life the way it was in 1983.

The New Landscape

Of course, the end of Limelight was not the end of dancing or nightlife in New York. There is still a Soulgasm party. We still have Dance Here Now. We still have Pacha. We still have Santos Party House. We still have Cielo. There are still people drinking, dancing, sweating, hooking up and having fun at night. In spite of the closures and the crackdowns, nightlife is still here.

However, there are operators who are concerned that all the stress and changes in the politics and economy are going to change New York from the City That Never Sleeps into a
bedroom community…the world’s largest suburb. Some operators told me that this has already happened. When one of the biggest former venues in New York becomes a shopping mall, it’s hard to argue with that opinion.

Are people still going out? Yes, perhaps more than they did before. Are they having fun? Yes, in their own way. Is it different than it was before? Absolutely. Was it better then? That is an open question, but many operators and patrons from the previous generation will say nightlife was definitely better when the Limelight and similar venues were around.

Granted, there were things happening in the Limelight that were detrimental to the people involved and the city as a whole. The people who were there know what they did (or they at least have a vague idea of what they did but can’t remember everything because of whatever they were on) and they know what they regret doing. But there were also a adventurous and creative energy that inspired people all over the world. Venues like the Limelight defined nightlife for an entire era.

Can we separate the creativity from the decadence? Can we have art without madness? If it is possible, how do we do it? If it’s not possible, have we decided to give up art for order? Is it too late to create the creative energy that
New York nightlife is known for?

The Limelight Market might symbolize the last nail in the coffin of New York nightlife glory. It could be a wake up call to anyone who still cares to go out and take back the night on their terms. Or it could be just another change in an industry that will always change and adapt to the culture and circumstances of the city that it calls home.

Have fun.


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