NCI President Offers Seminar on the Importance of Nightlife Culture Next Week.

The Nightlife Cultural Initiative (NCI) in cooperation with the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) will be hosting a webinar next Tuesday entitledThe Business and Culture of New York Nightlife.”

The goal of this discussion is to tie the public support of nightlife with its economic success. A strong nightlife industry stimulates job creation, tourism and cultural development. However, if public perception focuses only on the negative aspects of nightlife and ignores the benefits, the entire industry and its related markets can suffer. The city as a whole can be weakened. This webinar will highlight the cultural benefits nightlife brings to any city and explain the challenges that nightlife currently faces in New York City.

The speaker, Gamal Hennessy, is the President of NCI and author of the book Seize the Night. RHI is a nonprofit organization founded in 1983 with a mission to assist businesses and communities to plan safe and vibrant nightlife areas. This webinar is part of RHI’s Sociable City program which includes regular discussions online and in conferences designed to enhance and facilitate hospitality and nightlife nationwide.

Anyone interested in participating in this or any other Sociable City event can find more information on their registration page.

Have fun.

Gamal Hennessy

Vital Information

Date: Tuesday, September 11th

Time: 10:00 am- 11:00 am PST

Cost: $50

Link: http://rhiweb.org/webinar/author/hennessy.html

Two Boots Celebrates its History in the Lower East Side

 

Nightlife culture includes a wide range of creative elements from music to culinary arts to visual spectacles. It has a broad appeal not just for exclusive audiences but for the wider community. Two Boots, a long-time resident of the Lower East Side community will be celebrating its anniversary with an evening of music food and entertainment this Thursday.

At first, you might not think of a pizzeria as a part of the nightlife community, but anyone who has emerged from a bar or club in the middle of the night knows the importance of late night sustenance. Two Boots has been providing grub to the nightlife community for 25 years and is planning to celebrate with an outdoor festival at the East River Park Ampitheater. They are calling it the World’s Best Pizza Party and they are working with Summer Stage, AT&T and the Onion for this free event. There are over 100 performers and artists scheduled to participate including:

Luis Guzman

Nuyorican Poet’s Café

The Sierra Leone Refuge All Stars

Odetta Hartman

Lady Circus

Grolsch and Smutty Nose will be providing the beer and of course Two Boots will be supplying the pizza.

Mike Rosen is the spokesperson for this event. He told me that this event is about recognition. Two Boots knows that much of their character, history and success comes from the Lower East Side and the nightlife community. Over the years, they have worked with various local groups including the Lower Eastside Girls Club, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Time's Up. This enormous pizza party is just another way to give back to the people who support them. The mainstream media is very quick to report on stories that paint nightlife and its related operators as blights on their community. This event does more than show that local businesses like Two Boots contribute to the community. It shows that the elements of nightlife culture can be shared and enjoyed by everyone.

Details

Event: Two Boots Anniversary Concert

Cost: Free

Date: Thursday August 23rd, 2012

Time: 5:00 pm- 9:00 pm

Place: East River Park Amphitheater

Twitter: @TwoBootsHQ

Have fun.

Gamal

Creating a Hedonistic World: The Nightlife Culture Interview with Giselle Reiber

 

by Gamal Hennessy

There are a lot of cocktail lounges in New York City. It has become a niche market unto itself. Every new venue is trying something different to stand out and appeal to the discerning New York native. Demi Monde is a new lounge that combines craft cocktails with creative entertainment for a very compelling effect. NCI sat down with their manager Giselle Reiber just before one of their unique nightlife performances.

NCI: Tell me about your career in nightlife and what you were doing before you got to Demi Monde.

GR: I got my start at Norwood where I learned a lot about how nightlife works. For a little while I was a bottle service hostess, but that wasn’t my thing. I transitioned pretty quickly into a management role and I’ve managed and help launch Pulqueria in Chinatown before coming to Demi Monde.

NCI: Give me an idea of the concept behind Demi Monde and how you are expressing that concept.

GR: Demimonde is a term made famous by Alexandre Dumas in the early 20th Century that literally means “half the world”. It refers to a high class hedonistic lifestyle. We’re trying to recreate that environment by combining high end craft cocktails with various types of performance art. We’ve only been opened a few months and we’ve already had contortionists, aerial silk dancers, fire eaters and burlesque shows. We plan to explore even more entertainment and performance art, although we probably won’t do the fire eating thing again.

NCI: Your cocktail menu is rather unique. Why do you think there has been such an international interest in cocktail culture over the past five years?

GR: I think it is a natural extension of the rise of foodies and the increased appeal of unique and exotic ingredients in food. When I first came to New York and started exploring restaurants I was exposed to cuisines and spices I never knew about growing up. I think it is similar for a lot of people when they start to explore cocktails. The same operators behind Death and Company developed Demi Monde so our approach to craft cocktails rivals anything available in New York.

NCI: You said you worked in bottle service before managing cocktail lounges. What do you think is the difference between your bottle service patrons and your cocktail patrons?

GR: I think the bottle service patron and the cocktail patron have different goals when they go out. The bottle service person is using the night to impress someone, whether it is his date, his client or his friends, about his income. The bottle is incidental. The cocktail patron is looking for a more sensual experience. They want a unique taste and a refined construction to what they drink. Whenever possible, we try to combine the two experiences by offering our hand made mixers with the bottle service instead of the standard juices to help our guest have a more distinctive experience. (See also: The Cultural Impact of Bottle Service

NCI: Demi Monde isn’t in an area known for its nightlife spots or cocktail lounges. Do you think you can lure more of the nightlife crowd downtown or do you think most of your regular patrons are the people who live and work in the area?

So far, have two waves of patrons on a typical night. Between 5-10pm, we get a combination of the Wall Street crowd and the regulars who live in the new buildings going up in the Financial District. Later in the evening we are seeing more people migrating down here from SoHo, LES and the Village.

NCI: People travel downtown for your cocktails even when there are several craft cocktail lounges in those other areas?

GR: They come for the cocktails and the entertainment. Demi Monde has become a destination spot because we offer an experience that includes cocktails, but we don’t just serve cocktails on their own.

NCI: What are you involved in outside of Demi Monde and where do you see yourself going in the near future?

Demi Monde is only part of my involvement in nightlife. I play keyboards in a performance group called Ice Balloons in addition to managing here. Both jobs give me a chance to be creative in different ways which is really what I want to do. I think I will stay in nightlife until I can work on my music full time or an even bigger creative opportunity comes along. 

Have fun.
Gamal

 

The Cultural Impact of Bottle Service in New York Nightlife

By Gamal Hennessy

If the rumors are to be believed, Rhianna might be single handedly responsible for altering nightlife culture this year. The bottle throwing brawl between Chris Brown and Drake, allegedly over her, has shut down W.I.P, sparked statements from the City Council, the NYPD, the State Liquor Authority and the newly formed Hospitality Alliance.  It remains to be seen what will come out of this controversy, but it is clear that for better or worse, changes in the bottle service dynamic will have a direct impact on nightlife culture itself that should be considered before any sweeping changes are made.

Historic Origins of Bottle Service

The practice that is now referred to as bottle service began in Post War Japan, where sake bars began to serve seated soldiers whole bottles of liquor at once, instead of constantly shuffling back and forth with drinks. What started out as simple efficiency evolved into a motivation for club reservations in Europe and finally a barrier to entry in New York, Miami and Las Vegas. The popularity of bottle service grew for two reasons; the economic benefit to the operators and the social benefit to a specific type of patron.

Economic Impact of Bottle Service

Everyone knows that the difference between the cost of a bottle of liquor in the store and the cost of a bottle in the club can easily be several hundred dollars, but not everyone knows why. Bottle service has nothing to do with liquor. It is about real estate and social prestige that has no realistic relationship to the actual cost of the liquor. When you order bottle service you are also assigned a specific geographic area that is far more valuable to the operator than the bottle. Each table they sell represents a specific stream of revenue. If bottle service was really just about liquor, the bartender would hand you the bottle and send you to stand in a corner.

The value of that real estate can be fundamental to the bottom line of any venue. A recent Harvard study called “Marquee: The Business of Nightlife” claimed that while only 40% of patrons on any given night might buy bottle service, that group accounted for more than 80% of the nightly revenue. From an economic standpoint, that means that the reduction or elimination of bottle service from New York nightlife would make it difficult for many venues to remain open. From a cultural standpoint, a severe contraction of the market could alter the basic activity and interaction that people have when they go out, regardless of whether they buy bottles or not.

Psychological and Social Impact

Patrons don’t pay for bottle service because they don’t know how much a bottle of vodka really costs. They buy bottle service because they perceive several benefits in this nightlife ritual:

  1. It is a temporary display of wealth that sends a message to potential lovers, rivals and associates.
  2. It is a source of ego gratification that can give the buyer a higher sense of worth relative to the rest of his or her normal daily routine
  3. It is a method of segregation that patrons use to separate themselves from other groups in a venue.
  4. It is a security blanket that patrons can use to feel safer in what might otherwise be a foreign or uncomfortable situation.

Ironically, it is social and mental aspects of bottle service that are the source of the problem. When celebrities, or any group, enjoys a feeling of entitlement they are more prone to act out in an anti social manner, especially if they feel there are no consequences. If a bottle throwing melee breaks out and the club is punished instead of the celebrity fighters then that feeling of entitlement is reinforced. We shouldn’t be surprised if they engage in similar behavior in the future.

Is This the End of Bottles?

There have been rumors and theories floating around about the end of bottle service from the time that it became a staple in nightlife culture. The most recent prediction of its demise has come in the wake of the economic crisis but the number of venues that provide bottles has not decreased significantly.

Can new regulations and laws hurt bottle service in ways that the economy couldn’t? Is it possible that we could see the practice altered, curtailed or eliminated from the nightlife landscape? To the best of my knowledge that decision hasn’t been made yet. I do know that if local officials are attempting to send a message to the nightlife community, that message needs to be sent to the people actually fighting and not the location that the fight took place.

 

Bottle service isn’t the main problem in the Brown/Drake fiasco; uncontrolled male aggression and fragile male egos are the main problem. We can’t solve that problem by legislating away bottle service. Take away the bottles and boys will find something else to fight with.  The most adequate response to promoting safety and security in nightlife is not to ignore the fanatics and punish the operators. If there is video of the crime, check the video tapes. Prosecute the bad actors in criminal and civil court. If the venue is found to be complicit in the events that occurred, then punish them in addition to everyone in the fight. To simply close the club and let the celebrities walk away empowers other fanatics to engage in similar behavior without fear of the consequences and they’ll do it with or without bottles.

Have fun.

G

Stonewall, Nightlife Culture and Gay Rights in America

By Gamal Hennessy

The modern era of gay rights in America can be traced back to a small bar in New York’s West Village. When a group of transvestites refused to go into the bathroom to have their genitals inspected to determine their gender, it marked a turning point in the relationship between homosexuals and heterosexuals in the US. To a large extent it also changed the perception of homosexuals about themselves. The annual Pride Parade, positive gay figures in the media, debates on gay marriage and open sexual orientation in military service are all a by-products of the first Stonewall Incident.

Nightlife culture has a social impact that goes beyond bottle service and DJs. It is an environment that pushes the envelope of American culture as a whole. Historically, it is the space where minorities and homosexuals felt accepted when they weren’t accepted anywhere else. It is where modern music and fashion trends are tested before they slip into the mainstream. It is where social protests and movements from anti-Prohibition crime to the start of the gay rights movement found their home. If more progress is going to be made, it may very well continue where it started. Even if common society’s apathy, red state mentality or tabloid media slurs continue to promote division and hate, nightlife can and should be a haven for those who need a place to get away from the negative elements of society. Natives need to protect each other.

As New York celebrates LGBT Pride in parades and parties, we should keep in mind the importance that nightlife culture has played in providing a social haven and building the communities that drive progress in America.

Have fun.
G

The Pride of New York Nightlife: The Nightlife Culture Interview with Sabrina Haley

Pride is a cultural celebration born out of New York nightlife. It came from the Stonewall Riots and grew into similar LGBT events around the world. For some nightlife natives, Pride doesn’t just happen once a year. Some people live, breathe and create this culture every week. Sabrina Haley is one of those people. As a producer, bartender, photographer and activist she supports nightlife culture on a year round basis. NCI sat down to talk with her on the eve of her biggest event of the year 

Sabrina Haley Website

NCI: Let’s start by talking about how you got started in nightlife and what you are up to now.


SH: I came to NYC in 2004 to be a photographer. I attended work scholar program at the Aperture Foundation. I worked there forty hours a week but didn’t get paid. I needed to find another way to make some money. An old friend of mine from San Francisco got a DJ gig at a place called Girls Room. The parties were scarce for us back then so I joined her to create a new event. That turned into a weekly party called Girl Scout. We had girl-scout cookie cocktails and gave away merit badges for best breasts and best dancers. Girl’s Room was a dirty spot on Lower East Side but the party took off and I was hooked. I started to promote, attend and photograph as many parties as I could after that. NYC was alive and I wanted to be a part of it. I learned then that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. When you let go of that concept you can succeed and rock anything!  

Right now I am working to support Pride because it is my favorite time of year. I am working to produce some of the biggest and best parties. The biggest one I’m doing this year is the Siren Pride at the Beekman Beach Club. I’m planning to have great music, good food and drinks and sexy mermaid burlesque dancers celebrating with 3,000 people with a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

NCI: Tell me all the different things you do in nightlife culture in a normal week. And then tell me what drives you to do all those things.

SH: Currently I produce and bartend a weekly Tuesday night event called Mix Tape, at Henrietta Hudson’s. It’s a happy hour into night dance party focusing on old school hip hop and throw back dance music.  I also am the lead bartender and host of a Friday party called Lesbo A Go-Go at the infamous Stonewall Inn that has been going on for six years. We offer a high energy dance party with no cover, sexy go-go dancers, and lots of women every week. I also attend many other events to stay connected to the community. I’m out and about taking photographs at a lot of different places; everything from benefits to roof top launches to gay boy dance clubs to special house DJ sets. All my weeks look different! 

My drive comes from the passion I have for my community. I want my life and work to be about helping people and bringing them together. It is so rewarding for me to get emails from young queers thanking me for what I do because it makes it easier for them to be gay and feel comfortable in their own skin. That makes it all worth it to me. What I do sends the message that I believe in our rights and am here to fight for them. That makes much more sense to me than spending my days checking into an office or selling my soul to corporate America.

NCI: Talk about the struggles that go into putting together a successful one off party and a successful weekly party. How many hours go into preparing for one night?

SH: They are very different beasts. When I am doing a one off party, it’s really best to have at least a month of preparation. If it’s a big annual party like Siren Pride our team usually works on it for at least four months. The concepts get kicked around almost as soon as the last one is done.  It takes lots of hours. People really do not have any idea how much work it is to create a good party. It’s not just a FB invite. It’s a long term relationships with venues, talent and guests. It’s marketing across the board. It’s creative work to develop press, fliers and the look and feel of event. It’s decision making. It’s gambling. I have to decide which is the right DJ to make this crowd pop? What are the right hours for this night? The list goes on and on…


For a weekly party, I treat it like a relationship. You are working on it all the time, keeping up the momentum, coming up with new specials, theme nights, drink specials, promo, new talent, continued guests and things like that. You have to make the guest feel wonderful so they come back. A weekly survives on regulars. We love our tourists, and visiting partiers, but they do not keep it alive from week to week.

NCI: Tell me what you are looking for when you are conceptualizing a new event or looking at a new space?

SH: I usually have a creative spark; an idea of the event. Then I estimate the numbers from a 150 to 2000 person party. I try to find a space that is the right size and accommodations for that crowd. I like a nice full room, not too empty and not to packed. And the sound system is key. Finally, the venue has to be queer friendly (obviously) and the staff has to be both professional & fun. 

NCI: What is the single most important thing that goes into a great party?

SH: I like to say..."Energy In, Is Energy Out". It’s a simple concept of physics. I put my heart into my events. I give it my energy and then people feel that. Everyone we hire from DJs, dancers and staff all get behind the idea. Then it becomes a community. That is contagious. The crowd feels it. And that’s when you have a great party.

Sabrina Haley Website


Have fun.

G
 

Must Be the Music: The Nightlife Culture Interview with DJ Herbert Holler

 

By Gamal Hennessy

Music is the heart of nightlife culture and DJs are the people who keep that heart beating every night in New York City. This week, NCI is proud to present three interviews with unique DJ’s filling clubs and dance floors all over the city. We begin with a pioneer of nightlife culture and the creator of the Freedom Party, DJ Herbert Holler.

NCI: You have been involved with nightlife culture for almost 10 years now. What do you see as the biggest difference between the environment you found in 2004 and what you see now?

HH: I’ve actually been involved with nightlife culture for 18 years now, if you can believe it. I started in 1994 promoting Giant Step parties. I was one of those dudes standing outside near the Cube on Astor Place, handing out flyers. (Ahh…The good ol’ days!) The main difference in the culture between then and now is that today, the culture itself has been turned into big business—molded, processed, and mass produced. There are “parties” everywhere. There are individuals calling themselves “DJs” and “promoters” everywhere. They’re pumped off the assembly line like bags of chips, so of course quality of the nightlife suffers. There’s still a culture, though, just not one with as much significance as before.

NCI: You told me that it is harder to figure out why people come to a party than to figure out why they stay away. What are some of the reasons people won't go out to a party and how have you learned to deal with those factors?

HH: There’re lots of reasons why someone may not come out. It could be location of the party, costs associated with attending (admission, drinks, food, transportation, etc.), what they’ve heard or not heard about the party, the kind of music played, maybe they’re tired, maybe they have to get up the next morning for whatever reason…The list goes on. I never know what’s going on in the minds of potential patrons, so I just try to make it as enticing as possible by taking away these obstacles. I choose venues that are easy to find and get to, I don’t charge a lot of money to walk in the door nor do I fuck with venues that hit you over the head at the bar. I make sure the music played is the BEST music in town (of course). I do my events on weekend nights so everyone can come out. I make sure I get the word out as much as possible, build as much buzz as I can, so people get excited and everyone’s talking about it. Etc., etc..

NCI: Explain the philosophy behind the Freedom party. What were you trying to create when you started and what have you learned about people and music as the party has developed?

HH: Freedom was created to, basically, help preserve NYC nightlife culture. Marc Smooth, DJ Cosi and I felt the BEST way to do this was to bring music back to the forefront. Make it about the music and the dance floor, and that in turn would work everything else out, from vibe to price. (Music is the answer!) Parties were mostly about attendees and how much money was spent. Freedom is about what’s being played. We completely flipped it around when we started in 2003. Today, we’re learning that a “classic” record’s excitement depends on what age group you have on your dance floor. “Funkin’ For Jamaica” was a big record for us when we started 9 years ago, and now, we barely play it. Most of our big records are from the later 80s, early 90s, and that has everything to do with how old the people dancing are.

NCI: You described the music that you play as music that has stood the test of time or will stand that test. What do you hear in a song today that tells you that song will last? Where do you find your new music or your musical inspirations now?

HH: For me, it’s pretty easy to determine whether or not a song will stand the test of time: Does it have soul? It’s that simple. Does the record have a soul? A heart? A spirit? Melodies help, but melodies alone don’t make classics. The song has to have an identity, tell a story, DO something other than pull out pop devices and clichés. Most people think Isaac Hayes or Al Green or James Brown when they think of soul. But I think soul can be in anything. Dubstep, electro, commercial dance music, pop…All these things CAN have soul, and I find when they do, they stick around a lot longer. (Adele, Gotye, etc.)

NCI: Where do you see nightlife culture in the next 10 years? What will social entertainment look like in 2022 and will you still be a part of it?

HH: That’s too big of a question to answer on just one page. Shit…You can do a whole thesis paper on the future of nightlife culture. In brief, I guess…Nightlife culture will still be here, and perhaps it will find new breath, a new raison d’etre. Cycles play a big role in lots of different things. Perhaps we’ll enter a new cycle and see a revival in the respect and preservation of the culture. Maybe we’re entering one now. Regardless of where it will be, I will most likely be there with it. After all these years of spinning records and putting together parties (soon-to-be operating/owning), it’s safe to say that this is my calling.

Links:

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/herbertholler

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/herberthollerpage

Soundcloud: http://www.soundcloud.com/herbertholler

Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/herbertholler

Subsriptions: http://www.tinyurl.com/subscribe2holler

Web: http://www.herbertholler.com

Have fun

G

Where is the 21st Century Protest Music?

By Gamal Hennessy

I was recently having a drink with a veteran rock musician, discussing the changes in nightlife and music over the past two decades. At one point, she asked me “Is this generation of musicians protesting anything with their songs?” She said it as a rhetorical question but I think it’s a question that deserves attention from a cultural standpoint, especially since there are several factors that influence the music we listen to when we go out.

20th Century Protest Music

Modern social movements are identified with music that captures the spirit of that protest.

  • Various artists including James Brown, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone and Bob Dylan supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
  • Musicians like Gil Scott Heron, Marvin Gaye, Joan Baez and The Doors wrote songs protesting the Vietnam War in the 1970s
  • In the 80’s, the Police, U2, Prince and Bruce Springsteen released protest songs concerning various issues while rap music grew out of protest songs from artists like Grandmaster Flash and developed with groups like Public Enemy, NWA, and the Beastie Boys.
  • Rage Against the Machine, Living Color and the Fugees were three of the most prominent protest groups of the 90’s.

There have been a few other established artists using their music as a platform since then, but the end of the 20th century saw a decline in the socially conscious popular mainstream songs that were present in every other decade.

Reasons to Sing…or Not Sing

It’s not as if American musicians can’t find social and political issues to fuel their music. Ten years of war in two countries, the struggle over same sex rights, bank bailouts, Occupy Wall Street, Trayvon Martin, online privacy invasions, right wing fundamentalism, sexual identity debates…there seems to be plenty of inspiration for protest music.

But does modern culture discourage that type of expression? When many musicians have to be their own PR and marketing department, can they deal with the backlash that might come from a protest song? When so many artists are struggling to get a deal or utilize corporate distribution, can they afford to stick it to the Man? When militant political sensitivity in the media is combined with a 24 news cycle and social media, can any musician or artist afford to hold any strong political or social position? Have we created an environment where every artist has to behave like a politician running for office if they want to sell music on iTunes?

To Sell…or Not Sell

There is still plenty of protest music being made around the world. The Arab Spring, political developments in African countries and drug related terrorism coming out of South America are all the subject of protest music. There is also a strong element of American protest music in underground rap, rock and alternative music. But outside of a few isolated cases, mainstream American music seems to have fully embraced escapism to the detriment of the protest song. Since several social movements once grew out of nightlife culture, does this lack of protest music mean there will be a lack of social change emerging from bars and clubs in the future? If so, nightlife culture can’t be a strong catalyst for social change until the next wave of protest music fills the bars.

Have fun.
Gamal

The Sources of Segregation in Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

Influential writer E.B. White once said there are three types of New Yorkers; the natives, the commuters and the migrants. In New York nightlife culture, the number of groups and subgroups we have is impossible to count. 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 did this happen? How long it last?

The Major Divisions

There are easy ways to understand what the different scenes are in New York nightlife. The music you listen to, the people you hang out with, what you do and how much you spend all help define your experience. You might like that underground lounge in Chinatown that “no one knows about” but you’ll probably abandon it when the B&T crowd finds it. Similarly, 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 and bottle crowd. New York City has plenty of generic venues, but it’s big enough and diverse enough that everyone can party separately without ever being exposed to another lifestyle

The divisions go much deeper here than just the major demographic groups. There are also multiple sub cultures within each set. For example, hip hop has mainstream industry spots like 40/40, old school spots like bOb Bar and your occasional hipster rap party in Brooklyn. Lesbians can be broken down into butch, femme, older and minority scenes. Someone once joked that if you’re an Asian woman looking to only drink cosmos and watch True Blood with gay Brazilian men, there is a bar in New York for you.

The different scenes are affected to different degrees as changes occur in the city as a whole. Just consider the recession 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 who were in that scene but abruptly left it when their hedge fund or investment bank fired them. 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. Your nightlife depends on how you define your experience.

Universal Separation

The fragmentation of nightlife groups mirrors a similar dynamic in the wider spectrum of mass entertainment. Before the rise of cable in the 1980’s, we only had a handful of television stations to watch. Now we can have more than 500 channels. In addition, sites like YouTube allow you to have more focused interests, watching hundreds of hours of video without ever turning on your TV. During the 80’s you listened to FM radio or watched MTV to get your music. Now digital music, streaming radio and iPods give you the ability to ignore mainstream radio altogether. We live in a time of limitless choices when it comes to personal entertainment, so isn’t it natural to have hundreds of choices in our nightlife entertainment too?

Terrorist Segregation

Not necessarily. Some nightlife operators point to more sudden and sinister reasons for segregation within nightlife. Tastemaker Roxy Cottontail has noticed a significant division into niche groups since 9/11. The ever-present icon Steven Lewis calls this the concept of Safety in Numbers or SIN.  

“9/11 had a major psychological effect on nightlife culture. Instead of feeling confident about interacting with people who were very different, we began to huddle up with their own kind. Now most of us are more nervous hanging around anyone who isn’t like us in ways we think are significant. The growth of bottle service is a direct by product of people’s need to be separated. It’s not that each group of people is doing radically different things. They are drinking the same drinks, dancing to the many of the same songs and still trying to have sex with each other. They are just less willing to mingle with other people.”

Segregated Collapse

The danger of all these different niches is that they might not be able to remain viable. As the local economy grew more spots could open catering to smaller crowds. If that group becomes more and more fragmented the clubs that cater to them might not survive. 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. A recent article in Elite Daily predicted that New York will die a slow death caused by oversaturation.

Nightlife culture is not a single monolithic concept. It has always had its divisions but modern factors have created scenes that are smaller and more fragmented. It is unclear whether this segregation can thrive long term. But the strength of nightlife culture is its ability to entertain diverse groups and feed different needs. Every scene is valid. Every scene contributes something, positive or negative, to the vital dynamic that drives the city.

Have fun.
Gamal

Women Behind Bars: Drinking with the Fairer Sex

Last week, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic took over dozens of venues in New York for a celebration of spirits, cocktails and the leaders in the industry. One of the more unique events was the Women Behind Bars seminar at Pegu Club on Saturday afternoon. Over rum punch, hanky pankys and gin mojitos, the speakers offered an overview of the historical role of women in the business of drinking.

The discussion was sponsored by LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) and traced the involvement women bartenders from medieval Europe to today. Two recurring themes came across whether they were discussing public houses in England, taverns during the American Revolution, bars during the Industrial Revolution, saloons of the Western Migration, speakeasies of Prohibition or the modern cocktail lounge. First, women were both implicitly and explicitly used by men to attract men to places where liquor was sold. Second, women have always had to fight for access, rights and respect when it comes to being involved in this culture. Sometimes they had to fight moral attacks, sometimes they had to fight misogynistic attitudes. Sometimes they had to fight each other. It was their success in those battles that helped shape the environment we have today.

Nightlife culture became a focal point for social change in the role of women in a manner that was similar to minority integration and the rise in LGBT acceptance.  None of these groups have taken control of nightlife away from the establishment, but they have changed the perception and experience of nightlife that we have the luxury of taking for granted today.

Have fun.

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Burlesque for Everyone: A Nightlife Culture Interview with Kita St. Cyr

Burlesque is one of the growing cultural trends in nightlife. The rise of this historical culture into mainstream consciousness offers creative opportunities in fashion, interior design, cocktails and dance.  I caught up with one of the prominent members of the burlesque community to discuss the cultural impact and direction of burlesque in New York nightlife.

NCI: Why do you think burlesque has been gaining so much more popularity in New York in the past few years? What is driving that?

KSR: There are quite a few pop cultural trends that are feeding an interest in burlesque now. A few years back there was the Burlesque movie Christina Aguilera was in with Cher. Shows on cable like Boardwalk Empire followed after that and there has been a steady increase of prohibition style speakeasies and cocktail lounges in major cities. All of that has a positive effect on the interest in burlesque. At this point, there is basically a burlesque show going on every night in New York City.

NCI: Do you feel that more men or women come to your shows? What is the difference between the way men and women watch your performances?

KSR:  When I look out at the audience now, I see a lot of couples coming to the shows. I think there is a something that both men and women get from burlesque that makes it easy for them to come out together. The women are attracted to the glamour, the costumes and the overall spectacle... 

NCI: And what are the men attracted to? 

KSR: Men like boobs. It’s really not that complicated for them.

NCI: Point taken. Are more minorities getting into burlesque? Are more minorities coming to the shows? Why?

KSR: The shows are becoming more diverse as the popularity of the art form grows. Entertainment is a business after all and a venue will decide to bring in different types of girls to fit with the patrons they have or want to have. I’d like to think that I am selected for shows because of my talent, but I’m sure that there have been more than a few shows where I was selected because I attract a certain demographic. When I produce Rhinestone Follies I try to create shows that have body and race diversity, both to show the wide range of burlesque as well as attract the largest audience possible.

NCI: Where do you see burlesque performances going in the next 3-5 years?

KSR: I hope that it’s not a fad that fades out over time. You can see a lot of burlesque culture becoming mainstream in terms of its impact on fashion and general entertainment and that needs to continue. Nightlife culture can always benefit from expression that celebrates female sexuality in ways that are positive and artistic and burlesque offers that to people. It has a long tradition that more people would appreciate if they took the opportunity to enjoy it.

Have fun.

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What Role Did New York Nightlife Play in Same Sex Marriage?

By Gamal Hennessy

I’m not trying to belittle the political choice that the Obama administration made this week. The act of supporting same sex marriage, like getting the marriage equality law passed in New York last year, took an enormous amount of effort and education over the past four decades from thousands of different people. There have been struggles and setbacks within families, among friends, in businesses, courtrooms, schools, churches, legislatures and in the media over this issue. There have also been internal struggles within many people who had a stake in this process to give up, keep fighting or just try to ignore it and hope it would go away. For everyone who is waiting to have the same rights as everyone else, this is a small but significant step.

But just because it is pivotal doesn’t mean that nightlife didn’t play a role in the process. Nightlife was where the LGBT community went to connect with each other and be accepted for who they were. It was in nightlife where people rose up to defend themselves from abuse during the Stonewall Riots. It was in nightlife where people began to organize and share the information that built up their community. It was in nightlife where many of them found their identity, their hustles and the people that they would eventually fall in love with. And it was in nightlife where many of them celebrated the victory of the marriage equality act last year. It will probably be where they celebrate Obama’s announcement tonight.

Saying marriage equality came about because of nightlife might be going too far. But nightlife is a part of that story, so it is a part of our collective story as a society. Who knows where we would be without it.

Have fun.
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Nightlife as a Marketplace of Transgression

Every community claims to offer its members different benefits. Fashion offers glamour and self-esteem. Higher education offers preparation for adult life. Religions offer various types of spiritual guidance. Nightlife is similar. At its core, nightlife is a marketplace of transgression and we need that service to advance as a society. 

What is Nightlife Transgression?

Transgression here means deviating from the norms of contemporary society. The environment of nightlife offers us the chance to transgress on a variety of levels that we can’t or won’t do in daily life. 

Forms of Nightlife Transgression 

1) Sexual: As a sexual metaphor, nightlife encourages various forms of sexual expression, pursuit and exploitation as a fundamental activity. On a certain level, the sexual instinct within us that nightlife caters to provides the motivation for all other forms of transgression. 

2) Creative: Driven by sexual energy, the music, fashion and dancing in nightlife is a thinly veiled public expression of indiscretion that has produced enormous amounts of artistic creation.

3) Consumption: In nightlife, food and alcohol are consumed in combinations and quantities that are often frowned upon by polite society. Illegal substances are also found in nightlife and their consumption clearly crosses public norms,. 

4) Social: The subtle and blatant role playing that patrons engage in is an expression of transgressive behavior in modern nightlife. To a certain extent, the racial mixing and subculture creation that nightlife fosters is also a form of transgression even if it is not explicitly rejected the way some other forms of nightlife transgression are. 

Benefits of Nightlife Transgression

Deviating from the norms of society provides the catalyst that a culture needs to progress and advance. The transgression inherent in nightlife has created several sparks that have led to evolution of American life. 

1) Race: The racial and class mixing of the jazz and disco ages supported widespread integration among different ethnic groups.

2) Sexual Orientation: Increased acceptance of the LGBT community was sparked by nightlife persecution and protest several decades ago. 

3) Socialization: The safe havens created in nightlife for various marginalized groups allows for interpersonal bonding that isn’t readily available in day to day life. 

4) Creativity: Finally, nightlife offers an organic environment for artistic and creative progress that cannot be replaced by mainstream or social media. Although not everyone enjoys nightlife’s cultural advancements (because every generation rejects the new music and fashion of the next generation) it is the act of transgression that gives rise to creation. Nightlife is the social laboratory for that creation. 

Detrimental Effects of Transgression

Public discussion about nightlife often focuses purely on its negative aspects. This creates a perception that nightlife is nothing more than a harmful influence on the city. Transgression in nightlife can create malicious criminal, social and health impacts from overconsumption or illegal consumption. Overspending can create financial liabilities as patrons pursue the objects of their transgression. Destructive prejudices including racism, misogyny and homophobia can also be a part of nightlife transgression.  It would be naïve to suggest that all transgression in nightlife is positive. However, it is just as naïve to conclude that all nightlife transgression is negative. Both exist in this environment and one should not overshadow the other.

Another adverse type of transgression is pseudo transgression. This situation is the watered down experience that attempts to create a transgressive feeling but it purely a commercial endeavor that does nothing to move nightlife culture forward. Scenes where everyone wears the same clothes, listens to the same music over and over and sheepishly follows established trends are as harmful to the spirit of nightlife as any other detrimental effect of transgression. 

Checks and Balances

Nightlife operators need to combine two ingredients in order to be successful. On one hand, they need to generate revenue that will pay the bills and satisfy investors. On the other hand, the need to provide an experience that promotes the benefits of transgression while limiting the detrimental effects. Programs like the Nightlife Best Practices and the internal policies of each venue provide a system to ensure transgression does not get out of hand. When handled correctly, the nightlife experience can feel liberating without being dangerous. 

Nightlife is a marketplace of transgression. While there are clear detrimental effects, New York needs the catalyst that nightlife creates to advance artistically, culturally and socially.

Have fun.

Gamal

 

Is New York Nightlife a Victim of its Own Success?

By Gamal Hennessy

The impending closure of the Lakeside Lounge is the latest example of the gentrification problem in nightlife culture. It is a process that has closed many venues and will probably close many more. But if nightlife can have such a positive effect on an area, why do the clubs in that area get shut down? More importantly, why would operators want to run a business in a city where they are punished for their success?

One of the clearest examples of gentrification can be found in West Chelsea. This neighborhood used to be an isolated pocket of Manhattan with nothing but housing projects, warehouses and a post office processing plant. Now it has some of the most expensive condos in the city. This didn’t happen overnight. The area became desirable partially because the nightlife industry injected new life into it.

In the fields of urban planning and sociology, the nightlife industry in New York suffers from a concept called gentrification. This concept attempts to explain the changing demographic patterns of people who live in a certain area. Under this theory, middle class residents of an urban area begin to relocate to another part of the city or the suburbs. As people move and the price of real estate drops with decreased demand, immigrant and low income groups move into that area. They are followed by students, artists and other young people who want to live in the city, but can’t afford the higher rent districts.

The mixture of cultures and artistic energy sparks a period of creativity. Operators move into the area to capitalize on both the energy of the space and the lack of residential density, which provides opportunities to create environments that might not be attractive to the wider population.

When enough creative and nightlife people establish themselves in an area, it is “discovered” and changes from an unknown art district to “the next big thing.” The area is now ordained a desirable place to go. Using the vocabulary of Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, the area “tips” or, in more basic terms, the area is now “cool”. Younger professionals are drawn there to be close to their artistic peers and the venues they have created. Property values begin to rise. Real estate developers push to build new residences for people to buy and urge changes in the zoning laws to allow for more residences. More affluent groups move in and start families.

At this point, the newest residents who are paying top dollar for their condos, co-ops and brownstones, are unwilling to accept the conditions that artists accepted for the sake of expediency. They are unwilling to trade the quiet or space of living in the suburbs for the convenience of living in the city the way B&T commuters do. They want both. They take steps to change the area by removing the elements that made it desirable in the first place with community boards and other forms of political influence. Prices continue to rise. The low income, artistic and nightlife elements are forced out. The area becomes what some advocates refer to as a "bedroom community,” where little transpires beyond residents going to work and coming back home. The area stagnates. Living there becomes less desirable. The residents of the area begin to migrate and the cycle begins to repeat itself.

Keep in mind that the process of gentrification is not necessarily rapid nor does it apply to everyone who lives in a particular area or every neighborhood in a particular city. It might take decades for a particular neighborhood to gentrify and revert, but the process of gentrification has manifested itself - to one extent or another - in Greenwich Village, the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and the Lower East Side. It has even started in Williamsburg with the announcement of a new luxury condo building. Gentrification causes the “cool” neighborhoods to shift, which has a direct impact on nightlife in that area.

I’m not trying to imply that the process of gentrification is purely negative in relation to nightlife. A certain level of gentrification is desirable, and even required, for nightlife to grow since some operators and natives need a certain comfort level in an area before they move in. But using nightlife to build up and area and then re-zoning it to force the operators out is short sighted and detrimental to the city as a whole. New York City needs to have a healthy mixture of nightlife and residential buildings and both groups need to exist together. Operators won’t continue to dump millions into a blighted area if the reward for their efforts is constructive eviction. And if one group is sacrificed for the sake of another, the area will stagnate again and the cycle of loss will repeat itself.

Have fun.
Gamal

Nightlife Culture Expo Recap Day 3: Rakim Celebrates the Rise of Hip Hop Music

 

The energy for that night had been building up for 25 years.

In 1987, the Paid in Full Album was released and helped start a new age in hip hop music. Up to that point, hip hop was rarely on the radio. It was an underground sound that filtered down out of the Bronx to dominate block parties and after hours clubs. It was a fad. It wasn’t real music. It wasn’t going to last.

In 2012, hip hop music dominates the pop charts and popular culture on every level. It has altered the American language. It has evolved into different sub genres and migrated around the world. Now there are Egyptian rappers making protest songs as the soundtrack to the Arab Spring. Hip hop artists own fashion houses, liquor companies and multibillion dollar sports franchises. At this point, a significant part of American culture is hip hop culture and artists like Rakim made that possible.

The people at Sutra’s Expo party last Friday grew up with songs like My Melody, Microphone Fiend and I Ain’t No Joke. They knew the words to Rakim songs in the same way that house heads know their anthems, jazz men know their standards and religious people know their scriptures. Even with the abrasive posturing and aggressive attitudes sprinkled into the crowd, the night felt more like a spiritual ritual and less like a musical performance. The crowd surged when he took the stage. They chanted the lyrics with him and strained to capture his image on their iPhones. I just took in the positive energy of the room that had been nurtured in New York City for 25 years.

I only got to talk to Rakim for a moment after his amazing performance. Hip hop groupies are dangerous ladies and I try not to get in their way. I thanked him for performing at the Expo and for everything his music has done for me personally and hip hop in general. He was gracious and cool with his response. He thanked me for remembering him and wanting him to perform. I laughed to myself when he said that. Considering the impact he has had on hip hop culture, nightlife culture and American culture who else would offer a better performance?

Have fun.
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The Art of the Nipple Pasties

Burlesque in New York Nightlife
By Gamal Hennessy
She steps on the stage in a full length gown, long glovesand high heels when the music starts. By the end of the song, she’s onlywearing the heels and a pair of tasseled sequin pasties on her nipples. Whathappened in between is part strip tease, part comedy and part history lesson.This isn’t Scores or Tens or the Hustler Club. This is burlesque and you areprobably missing it.

What it was. What it is
Burlesque is a form of variety show that started in Europeand eventually made its way to America. It used to include all sorts of actsbut modern burlesque really boils down to X-rated comedy, a little music and alot of women taking off their clothes in a Boardwalk Empire type atmosphere.Picture Eddie Murphy in Delirious backed up by a jazz band and a constantparade of thongs. Add a large quantity of liquor and a crowd of men and womencheering like they are at the Super Bowl and you have a good idea of what theshow is like.
The resurgence in burlesque started in the 1990’s. Most ofthe performances are done by small collectives who perform in art houses, barsand lounges but there is also a professional circuit where full time burlesqueperformers travel from city to city, enter competitions, perform in majorfestivals and become famous for the way they twirl their pasties. The art formhas become so prevalent that there are burlesque shows in New York every week,almost every day.

Classy Smut
The appeal of burlesque is the element of controlled risqué. It is stripping with a more artistic feelthan normal pole dancing. It has an underground feel without being threatening.It encourages an acceptable kind of voyeurism and exhibitionism and burlesque crowdsoften contain as many cross dressers, divas and other assorted characters asthe actual show. If you are bored with the nightlife you currently live, try anight of burlesque for a different type of thrill.

Where to Find It
The 8th Annual New York Burlesque Festival hit BBKings last weekend, but if you missed that show you can find regular burlesqueperformances at Bamboo 52, Bar 9, Carnival, Hells Gate Social, Honey, TriadTheater, and Vig 27. Check the individual websites for dates and times.
Have fun.
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Rakim at the Blue Note Celebrating the Birth of Modern Hip Hop

by Gamal Hennessy

When I was in high school in 1986, I rode the A train from Queens into Brooklyn to get to class. I would listen to my mixtapes (real mixtapes with an actual cassette player, not an iTunes download) on the long ride of all the hip hop songs I patiently stayed up late to record off the radio. Late night radio was one of the few places you could hear hip hop back then. At the time, older people and people who thought they knew music decided hip hop was a fad. They wouldn’t support it on mainstream radio. If it was going to die out in a few months, why bother with it?

Hip hop has clearly lasted longer than a few months.

Last week Rakim and the Roots did a show at the legendary Blue Note to celebrate 25 years since Paid in Full album ushered in the era of modern hip hop. Paid in Full was different from other hip hop albums at the time because its songs had a format that was radio friendly and a structure that was more musically complex. Rakim lead the way for other rap artists like to move into the mainstream in radio, music videos, TV, movies, fashion and other staples of American culture.

During the show, Rakim explained how he grew up as a saxophone player who translated John Coltrane‘s musical flow into his lyrics. His revelation went against the prevailing myth that hip hop artists didn‘t have any musical training. QuestLove, the drummer for the Roots, described his experience in music school when Rakim’s album showed him that rap wasn’t an alternative to music or a rebellion against music. It was music. Even stars like Dave Chappelle came out of self imposed exile to testify about the huge impact Paid in Full had on him while he was growing up.

Hip hop has had a huge impact on world music over the past 25 years, but when the show was over, I wondered who people would be remembering in 2036. Will artists like Drake, Kanye, and Lil Wayne be seen as pioneers opening up new elements of modern music or will someone else release a Paid in Full for the next generation?

Have fun.
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Did Marriage Equality Start With Nightlife?

By Gamal Hennessy

I don’t mean to belittle the historic event that took place last weekend. The act of getting the marriage equality law passed in New York took an enormous amount of effort and education over the past four decades from thousands of different people. There have been struggles and setbacks within families, among friends, in businesses, courtrooms, schools, churches, legislatures and the media over this issue. There have also been internal struggles within many people who had a stake in this process to give up, keep fighting or just move away. For everyone who was waiting to have the same rights as everyone else and for everyone who wondered if this time would ever come, this weekend might be a pivotal moment in history.

But just because it is pivotal doesn’t mean that nightlife didn’t play a role in the process. Nightlife was where the LGBT community went to connect with each other and be accepted for who they were. It was in nightlife where people rose up to defend themselves from abuse during the Stonewall Riots. It was in nightlife where people began to organize and share the information that built up their community. It was in nightlife where many of them found their identity, their hustles and the people that they would eventually fall in love with. And it was in nightlife where many of them celebrated the victory of the marriage equality act last weekend.

Saying marriage equality came about because of nightlife might be going too far. But nightlife is a part of that story, so it is a part of our story as a society. Who knows where we would be without it.

Have fun.
G