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

Consumption as Competition in Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

There is an international competition every four years that brings athletes from all over the world for several weeks to participate in events of all types. There is a social competition every night that patrons of every class, race and demographic group compete in when they step up to the bar. Olympic athletes compete for fame, medals and patriotism. What do drinking competitors getting out of their experience? What motivates them to push the boundaries of tolerance and risk damage to their health and social status?

When Drinking Becomes a Sport

Keep in mind I’m not referring to any specific drinking game here. We are discussing drinking as a competition in and of itself without any other secondary set of rules. The rules of the game are simple; who ever is perceived to consume the most liquor in a given period of time and remain functional wins. This is a sprint, not a marathon. Someone who has one drink every night for ten nights is irrelevant to this contest. Someone who has ten drinks in one night is likely to get attention.

The interesting thing about the rules of competitive drinking is that they are seldom explicit. They are only hinted at in the statements that these rivals make:

Don’t try to keep up with me. I will drink you under the table!

You had 5 drinks last night?  I don’t even remember how many I had. It must have been around 9 or 10....

Who wants more shots?

The message is clear; in order to participate in this competition you have to keep drinking until you attain the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

Benefits of the Game

In competitive drinking, the quality of the drink is not important. The quantity is important. That means the benefits of this type of drinking are not sensual, they are social. The winners of competitive drinking are attempting to raise their social status among their peer group. It is a display of strength meant to send a message of high tolerance, endurance and superiority in comparison to the other drinkers. It is also a secondary signal of abundant resources and enthusiasm to push oneself in the name of “having a good time”.

All of this might sound petty and juvenile to the nightlife foreigner but the same dynamic exists in all levels of modern society. In the normal world, we compete in terms of money, house size, weight, hours worked, material goods owned and a host of other social struggles that are nothing more than substitutions for violent conflicts for dominance among our peers. Not everyone subscribes to competitive drinking as a concept, but that doesn’t make it any more or less credible as a social competition within that environment.

Pitfalls of the Game

Every game that has a winner also has a loser. In the case of competitive drinking, the loser is the one who consumes alcohol to the point where he is damaged socially, legally, financially or physically. This can manifest itself in a drunken brawl inside the club, a tarnished reputation, a lost job or a trip to the hospital. The pitfalls of competitive drinking both in the short term and over time can impact every other aspect of the competitor’s life. Like any other social competition however, some people are willing to risk everything for the chance at success. Everyone feels invincible when they start and very few people imagine themselves being the losers. Winning is a more happy daydream.

Two Types of Player

In competitive drinking there are the ones who drink and the ones who pretend to drink and exaggerate their consumption. The drinkers have the ability to enjoy the benefits of the game but also are susceptible to all of the pitfalls. The pretenders also can enjoy the benefits but can often avoid all of the pitfalls depending on how adept they are at subterfuge. While there is a potential social backlash for a person who is consistently caught lying about their drinking levels, the reality is that many people exaggerate their consumption to participate in the game and most of the drinkers do not have the attention span to keep track of what the pretenders do and don’t drink when they are in the heat of competition.

Organizers of the Game

When we try to find out who set up this game and who benefits from it, it is easy to point our fingers at the operators and accuse them of organizing and profiting at the expense of the patron. But a more reasonable observer has to look beyond the four walls of the bar. It is our wider society that pushes the maxim that more is better. It is our general economy that encourages increased consumption as a cornerstone of our prosperity. Outside of nightlife we have found a way to make every aspect of our social lives into some kind of competition. In many ways, nightlife culture is a mirror to mainstream culture. The patrons are primed to compete long before they step past the velvet rope. The operators may profit from this behavior, but they are hardly the ones to create it.

The Game in the Context of Nightlife Culture

Nightlife Culture is an artistic and social environment. If there is an absence of other types of interaction (musical, sexual or communicative) many patrons will default to competitive drinking. Understanding the motivation behind the action and dealing with those drives will help both the patrons and mainstream society better handle the benefits and pitfalls that it creates.

Have fun.
Gamal

Why You Should Support Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

When I talk to potential sponsors and charitable foundations about supporting nightlife culture, the first question I normally hear is “Why does nightlife culture need support?”

This is a good question. When people normally think about donating to cultural organizations ballet, operas and museums quickly come to mind. Nightclubs, bars and lounges are not normally identified with culture or the need for charitable support. What most people fail to see is that nightlife culture is a social good that is just as worthy of support and protection as any library, art gallery or concert hall. This is true for several reasons.

Nightlife culture is central to a city’s the quality of life. Without a thriving nightlife culture, our social dynamic is crippled. When that aspect of a city is gone students, tourists and young professionals migrate to other areas to satisfy that social need. Without a thriving nightlife culture, the artistic and creative community withers. When that happens, the economy and reputation of a city falls dramatically because people do not feel drawn to that environment. The health and progress of a city is directly related to the health of its nightlife culture.

Nightlife culture in New York is complex and multilayered. It has fostered our arts, giving us dozens of musical genres, culinary innovations, fashion styles and architectural novelties. It has shaped the relationships between people of different classes, races and backgrounds. It has attracted people from all over the world to visit, live and work here. It is as much a part of our history and identity as Wall Street, Times Square or Fifth Avenue.

In recent years, nightlife culture has been damaged by political, economic and technological changes. Nightlife has been made a scapegoat and held responsible for everything from drug abuse to urban crime and a general lower quality of life. Rampant gentrification, higher real estate costs and contradictory urban planning have created conflict between nightlife and local communities. Advancements in digital technologies and fragmenting entertainment markets have stifled many traditional creative outlets in nightlife. While nightlife culture continues to grow and adapt, it has suffered recently.

Supporting nightlife culture isn’t about supporting any one venue or style of club. It is about recognizing and appreciating everything that we gain from a healthy and vibrant cultural experience. This isn’t just the responsibility of the club owners. Everyone can benefit from nightlife culture, so everyone can play a part in appreciating and sustaining it. Without nightlife, New York would lose an essential aspect of what makes it the dominant city that it is.

So care about nightlife culture because it is one of the reasons you live in New York City. It is our soul and economic engine. Understand that it is important to everyone whether or not they patronize nightlife venues. Expose yourself to the cultural side of nightlife and experience everything it has to offer. Most importantly care about nightlife culture to make sure that it isn’t further eroded to the point where the city completely loses its artistic and social prominence.

Have fun.

Gamal Hennessy

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

The Social Side of Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

When you walk past the bouncer and into a lively bar, it might feel as if you’ve submerged yourself into a chaotic mess. Various sized clusters of people are interspersed with floaters, stragglers and spectators. Some are laughing, some are dancing, some are yelling, some are oddly silent and a few of them are chasing each other around the room with phone cameras.

There is a certain amount of random shenanigans going on here, but if you sit back and observe them you can see that there are various types of communication, interaction and connection that going on in any bar or club. Being able to understand what is going on will give you a stronger appreciation for the social dynamic in nightlife culture. The following examples are not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive. Many of these interactions can happen simultaneously and even a conversation within a group can ebb and flow from one to the other. But these examples will give you a sense of the complex dynamic going on in any crowded bar.

Elements of Social Interaction in Nightlife Culture

Sexual: The most obvious type of connection in nightlife is the sexual one. Nightlife is sex and sexual energy is sublimated in to every aspect of the nightlife experience. We present ourselves in ways that we hope will attract potential partners. We tease and flirt to test the waters. We play games of attraction and seduction to capture their imaginations and then we go where that connection leads us. Whether you are talking about pick up artists in a meat market or a quiet date at a martini bar, a one night stand or happily ever after, modern courtship happens in the nightlife space. Without it, a major link in the sexual selection process would be gone.

Business: There is an saying about never mixing business with pleasure but anyone familiar with nightlife knows this mixing goes on every night. Nightlife is integral to many business practices and many deals, business connections and meetings would not happen absent a night of drinking. I’ve spent time with people in the advertising, legal and media industries. Going out to “events” for or with the client is just as important (if not more important) than the work that goes on from nine to five. I’ve seen upscale lounges sectioned off for so many private parties of investment banks and insurance companies that the place looked less like a bar and more like a convention at the Javits Center. I’ve been on both ends of the buying and selling process in several cities around the world and one thing remains constant; if a deal is going to get done, someone has to take someone out for some drinks. It could be a few pints at the pub. It could be bottle service at the newest lounge. It could be lap dances in the champagne room of a strip club. The concept is the same. If there is no pleasure, there probably won’t be any business.

Bonding: Our experiences are not limited to picking up strangers or selling something to our clients. A lot of our time is spent with people we already know and actually want to spend time with outside of work. Friends, family, couples who are dating, all use nightlife to reconnect and enhance the bonds they already have. How common is it to email friends you haven’t seen in a while and find out where they’ll be on Friday night so you can all hang out and have some fun? What is a date if not a couple spending time together? If family members come in from out of town and they are not too young or too old to go out, isn’t it normal to bring them to some bar? You could get together for conversation, carousing or just to catch up. The bar or lounge are prime places to do that.

Celebration: Venues often market themselves as having the best parties in the city. We use events and occasions both large and small as the reasons to get together and enjoy ourselves. A few close friends might take you out to celebrate your birthday with you. Perhaps you attend a release party for an artist’s album or gallery opening. Maybe it’s an after party for an awards show, closed deal or concert. Or it could be a huge holiday celebration for Thanksgiving Eve or New Year’s Eve. We mark some of the significant events in our lives with a celebration and very often that celebration happens in a club.

Exhibition: The most subtle type of social communication is the exhibition. Many of us engage in a constant struggle to raise our social standing and rank relative to similar people in our surroundings or our peer group. To achieve this, we show the people around us our value through some type of display.

  • Men will order bottle service to show that they have money to spend.
  • Clubbers will throw themselves onto the dance floor to show that the skill they have with their bodies.
  • Women will compare themselves to the size, shape, attractiveness and style of other women in the room.
  • Social butterflies will move through the room collecting handshakes and kisses to show how much people love them.
  • Drinkers will knock back beers as fast as they can to show their superior tolerance for alcohol.  

Each display is meant to send a signal, build reputation and ultimately value. The struggle to climb the social ladder is not unique to nightlife, but the exhibitions that can be found here are often different than what you might find in the daylight hours.

Communication as culture

It is easy to see how music, food and fashion play a role in nightlife culture and by extension influence society as a whole. But culture is not only the artistic and aesthetic components of a society. How people communicate with each other is also an important factor. Nightlife is, at its heart, a social interaction. We go out to connect with friends, lovers and strangers on one level or another. Our social interaction is part of our lifestyle and lifestyle is part of culture.

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

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.
G

New York Nightlife: Where to Go, Where to Avoid and How to Choose

A lot of nightlife writing is a not so subtle attempt to tell you where to go with advertorial features, top 10 lists and the inside scoop on the club no one knows about yet. Some authors put a twist on this formula by trying to tell you where not to go in an apparent disdain for the status quo. Both these approaches can be useful, but I’d rather give you some advice on how to decide for yourself where to go to enjoy New York nightlife.

Because of the writing that I do for nightlife culture and Yelp, people often ask me what club they should go to. I was taught to never answer a question with a question but that’s what I always do. I’m not trying to be annoying (most of the time). I ask questions because the only real way to answer that question is to find out more about the person who is asking. Every venue can’t be everything to everyone every night. Modern New York nightlife has too many niche markets, too much segregation and too much specialization to offer up a stock answer. One size does not fit all.

The questions that I ask fall into 6 general categories.

  1. What kind of music do you want to hear? Because sending the house head to the jazz club probably won’t go over well.
  2. What do you want to do when you are there? People have different reasons for going out and the best place for dancing probably isn’t the best place for craft cocktails or comedy…
  3. Who do you want to meet or spend time with? Where you take your first date is different than where you go out with your boys, or your client, or your female cousin from North Dakota.
  4. What part of town do you want to be in? Different areas attract different types of people. Do you want to be around people like you or are you in the mood for something different? Finding an easy way back home in the middle of the night is also a concern.
  5. What night do you want to go out? Nightlife amateurs might think nightlife is about the weekends, but nightlife natives know that nightlife happens every night. You just have to pick the right night for you.
  6. How much do you want to spend? New York isn’t cheap as a general rule, but some places are more not cheap than others. Nothing messes up a night faster than realizing you just spent this month’s rent having a few drinks.

New York nightlife is huge. The answers to these questions will narrow down the hundreds of options you have every night into something a little more manageable. From there it only takes a little digging online to find the best spot for your nightlife. It might be easier to just check a top 10 list, stay home or follow the crowd. But if you spend a little time finding your own nightlife you will enjoy it more…

And if all else fails, just send post a comment with your question and I’ll help you find something…

Have fun.

G

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

 

What is So Good About Happy Hour?

Depending on who you listen to, the tradition of happy hour is being targeted by local government.  The rumor alleges that in an attempt to curb overconsumption and the reduced quality of life that goes with it, government officials are considering a ban on happy hour. This story probably isn’t true but it does raise and interesting question; does New York nightlife need happy hour and does the practice more trouble that it is worth?

Happy hour is normally the time period between 4-7 pm on weekdays.  During happy hour, a venue will lower their drink prices, offer food specials and have other economic enticements to get people to go out after work and before the night begins. It is the time for co-workers to complain about the boss before getting on the commuter train. It is the time for early first dates, pregaming and the casual consumption that many people rely on. It is the closest equivalent we have to European bar and café culture where people can connect over a stein of beer in Vienna or a glass of wine in Paris. Not everyone can hit the club at midnight or come back into the city on the weekend to go out. In the age of Groupon and Living Social, happy hour is the original discount incentive. It is just another reason for people to go out and do something they were going to do anyway.

I am not aware of any spike in nightlife related crime due to happy hour. Most of those issues happen between midnight and 4am. Banning happy hour will not eliminate early drinking. It will only discourage that percentage of drinkers who were only going out because drinks were cheaper. People will still need to complain about their boss, consume casual liquor and come together in a social setting. If there is a social issue created by happy hour then that issue should be dealt with directly. Trying to discourage social interaction and casual consumption doesn’t help anyone.

Have fun.

Gamal

New York Nightlife Is More than Just a Tough Door

A storm was created in the teacup of New York nightlife writing this week when Elite Daily posted an article lashing out at nightlife because it was becoming oversaturated. The point of the piece was that more and more exclusive venues are fighting over the same small client base to the point where no one is getting a good crowd. The article suggested that New York nightlife would die a slow sad death

There was a small but spirited reaction to the piece that generally fell into three camps:

1)      The author is right. Nightlife in New York will (and should) collapse on itself because small handfuls of people can’t sustain revenue for more than a few venues.

2)      The author is right but no one should care because people don’t need to worry about going to the nightlife they went to 10 years ago. (Chichi 212)

3)      The author is missing the point because New York nightlife is bigger than just the exclusive clubs so the expansion and contraction of one scene doesn’t define an entire industry.

I am a flag bearer for camp 3. From an economic perspective, it might be accurate to say that there are only so many people who can go to the Boom Boom Room, 1OAK, Lavo, double seven and the new incarnations of Beatrice Inn, Pink Elephant and Bungalow 8. But the idea that the only real nightlife in New York City is the exclusive tough door venues is like saying that the only real movies are the summer blockbusters. It is a statement that ignores dozens of different scenes in nightlife culture and hundreds of different venues.

To say that people should move past the type of venues they went to 10 years ago is also accurate…if you went to those places 10 years ago. If you’re just getting into nightlife now, how can you be tired of something you haven’t done yet? It’s true that the nightlife culture you enjoy evolves as you get older. Maybe at 21-25 you want to break into the exclusive scene then at 25-35 you want the lounge scene and then at 35-50 you want the live music, wine bar and cocktail scene. People's tastes and preferences change but someone will always fight to get into the tough door because someone will always be (or pretend to be) 24 years old.

But New York nightlife is a diverse environment. We do have exclusive clubs. We also have dance clubs, wine bars, beer halls, cocktail lounges, strip clubs, sex clubs, sports bars, pubs, live music spots, date spots…you get the idea. That doesn’t even take into account the specific spots we have for different races, types of sexuality, music styles, income levels and a host of other variables we choose to congregate around in what Steven Lewis refers to as the safety in numbers syndrome

New York nightlife may or may not have more exclusive venues than it needs, but that issue will be resolved by economics. Some clubs will stay open. Others will close. But the larger issue revolves around what the nightlife writers define as New York nightlife. It is bigger than the exclusive clubs that we may or may not grow out of. It is bigger than the bridge and tunnel traps that Elite Daily attempts to casually lump every non exclusive venue. There is a lot more to New York nightlife and If you only focus on one narrow, isolated segment of the experience then its not surprising that your reaction will be disdain, frustration and cynicism.

Have fun.
G

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