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.

The Four Residents of Nightlife Culture



by Gamal Hennessy

All nightlife patrons are not created equal.

I am not talking about differences in race, income, social status or gender. I am not referring to the reasons they might go out or the things they might like to do or the places they might like to go. The personal preferences of one patron and another is a natural and normal expression of individuality. I am talking here about basic patterns of behavior. I’m referring to the perspectives that separate one person from another and directly influence that person’s nightlife experience and the experience of the people around him or her. In my experience I have found that there are four types of residents in the nightlife space; operators, natives, amateurs and fanatics.

Operators: make the nightlife machine work. They are the people who offer the services and experiences that patrons come to enjoy. Operators exist on many levels and perform a wide variety of functions. Everyone from the owner of a venue to the manager, bartender, DJ, musician, hostess, waitress, security guard, dancer, sound technician and promoter are one level or another “operating” in nightlife. For many of them it is a passion. For all of them it is a business. Whenever you go out and enjoy a good party at a well run venue, with no fights, good service and a positive atmosphere, you have the operators to thank from the top of the food chain all the way down the line.

Natives: see nightlife as their natural habitat like a polar bear in the arctic or a tiger in the jungle. They are the people who spend a lot of time in nightlife and maintain a harmonious relationship with it. These are the people who go out to on a regular basis for a variety of different reasons and experiences; lounging with friends one night, listening to new music on another night, meeting clients for drinks and then dancing with a date at the end of the week. Some of them might know operators and use those relationships to get the inside track on the latest and greatest. All of them know the spots that best suit their personalities. The most important aspect about a native is the sense of balance. These people can drink, dance, and date several nights out of the week without sacrificing their health or their ability to work and without leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Amateurs: are relatively new to the nightlife experience. Circumstances like age, a previous lifestyle or simply being new to an urban environment have limited their exposure to clubs and the things that go on inside. New amateurs haven’t been to many venues. They don’t know what to expect when they get there. They don’t know what they can handle. They don’t know how to react in different situations and they haven’t integrated nightlife into the rest of their life. Old amateurs only go out to the clubs on rare occasions, but they go out on these same occasions every year. Although they have been exposed to nightlife on their birthday, New Year’s Eve and possibly Halloween, their relationship with nightlife is tenuous at best. Many of them still are unsure of what goes on in nightlife, many of them consume too much when they do go and many of them suffer in one way or another as a result of that over consumption. While some new amateurs evolve into natives, old amateurs shy away from repeated exposure to nightlife because of the pain associated with their over consumption.

Fanatics: combine two distinct qualities. First, they have considerable exposure to nightlife. They know where to go, they know what to do, they know what they can and can’t handle. Second they consistently strive to go beyond the limits of what they can handle with little regard for the consequences. These are the people who leave their homes at the start of the night with the mantra “Tonight, we are going to get fucked up!” They believe the volume of liquor they can drink is an indicator of their status. They see fights with other patrons and police altercations as struggles for respect and freedom. They consider the destruction of property and the disruption of people’s lives as inconsequential. They regard blackouts, hangovers and strained relationships are the cost of doing business. In the mind of the fanatic, if you’re not going to go too far, you shouldn’t bother going.

So where do you fit in?

Everyone who goes out fits into one or more categories. It might not be easy at first glance to figure out where you fit in. As I said before, it’s not based on age, standard of living, gender, race or social background. What kind of resident you are is based on your pattern of behavior and the frame of reference that guides your actions when you are out. Some patrons enhance the night, some patrons cause problems. You know who you are. The question is, are you the nightlife resident that you really want to be?

Have fun.




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.


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


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.

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.



Nightlife Culture Expo Recap Day 4: Debating the Past, Present and Future of Nightlife Culture

Mornings are often not good for nightlife natives. Most of us would rather stay in bed after a night of dancing, drinking and general carousing. That made it even more impressive when the artists, experts and interested showed up for our brunch seminar last Saturday. It would have been easier to stay home on that sunny spring afternoon, but group all felt that this topic and this discussion was worth the effort. I’m sure the free brunch didn’t hurt either.

My view of the meal before the round table was encouraging. I saw operators talking to academics about the impact of gentrification on the nightlife industry. I saw friends sharing stories about meeting over body shots several years ago. My guests enjoyed eggs Benedict and waffles with a mimosas or a Bloody Mary.   By the time we started our formal discussion the crowd was well fed, relaxed and ready to talk.

The subject of the discussion was the same as the message of the entire Expo; importance of nightlife culture to New York City. To do justice to the topic, I collected a diverse group of experts to approach nightlife culture from different perspectives. Steven Lewis is a former operator and current nightlife personality. Paul Seres is president of the New York Nightlife Association and a member of several community boards. Shonali Bhowmik is an underground musician and comedian who performs in nightlife several times a week and madison moore is a doctoral candidate from Yale who created a nightlife culture course at Yale University. With this collection of opinions, I was hoping for a lively debate.

That is exactly what we got. Steve prickly insights counterbalanced Paul’s pragmatic expertise. Shonali’s defiant optimism blended with madison’s quiet observations. The discussion often shifted into debate and at times the debate became heated, but the passion that everyone brought to the topic infected the audience and gave everyone a new appreciation for the importance of nightlife culture. That is exactly what I was looking for.

We ended the seminar and the Expo with a private burlesque performance, because there is no better way to end a discussion of nightlife culture than with music, dancing and sexual innuendo. The Expo ended on a high note. Hopefully next year’s Expo will pick up where this one left off.

Have fun.

Why Do You Enjoy New York Nightlife? The Motivating Factors in Nightlife Culture

By Gamal Hennessy

People usually have reasons for why they do things. We go to work to make money. We eat because we’re hungry. We fall asleep on the train because we’re tired. We may not consciously know why we do certain things, but if we think about it, we can usually figure out the reason.

So why do we go out at night? It can deprive us of sleep, money and the chance to watch reality TV if we don’t turn on the DVR. We put something into nightlife. Do we get anything out of it?

I think there are as many reasons for going out as there are people who go out. But after years of non-scientific, anecdotal, and random observation, I’ve come up with seven broad categories to define why we go out. Six of them can be lumped under the concept of ‘having fun’, and one is almost like work (but much better than being in the office). Take a look and figure out which category fits you best.

Consumption: (The things we take in)
For some people its beer. For others it’s dirty martinis. Some of us want to eat and some of us want substances that are illegal in many states. It doesn’t really matter what your particular poison is, a big part of nightlife is to indulge in eating, drinking and smoking. The reason cocktail lounges, wine bars, micro brew bars and hookah bars do so well is because we are willing to pay to satisfy our hunger to imbibe.

Connection: (The people we meet)
You meet a friend at a bar for a drink when she wants to talk. You go out for happy hour after work with your co-workers to bitch about your boss. You might have girl’s night out once a month. You might cruise the hotels bars for cougars. Humans are social creatures. We have a need to connect with one another. At work and at home, you are constrained in your behavior and limited in the people you can interact with. In nightlife culture, the walls come down. You can talk and act more freely. You can meet people for a minute or forge bonds that last for years. The connection might be intense or shallow, but the energy is different at night.

Entertainment: (The things we see and hear)
The chance to see, hear or feel something is a huge part of nightlife culture. You might be listening to an unknown comic or garage band one night and part of the insane crowds at a Police or Danny Tenaglia concert the next night. You might go out just to see other patrons devolve into a hot mess Jersey Shore style. Entertainment can be something as innocent as watching a baseball game at a local bar or as corrupt as the back room of a swinger’s club. It’s been said that one man’s porn is another man’s art, and no where is that more true than in New York nightlife. What you want to see and hear at night actually says a lot about how you see yourself as a person.

Flash: (The wealth we display)
There are people who want to be seen spending big money on table service. They want you to see their Mercedes SUV. They want to drop a few thousand on membership to a private club the rest of us can’t get into. The idea of a discount service or happy hour makes them cringe. Why? Because they are living the glamorous life and they want you to know it. Consumption here isn’t as important as being able to afford the consumption. If you have the money (or just want to look that way) you want the car, the clothes and the Grey Goose. What better place to display your status than in the New York dance clubs?

Obligation: (The social debt)
There are times that we go out when we don’t really want to. The client is in town from Kansas and someone has to take them out. Tag, you’re it. You’re girlfriend’s brother is having a birthday party. She’s going, so you’re going. Tag, you’re it. You’re friend just got fired, dumped, rejected for the cast of Real World 37. They want you to meet them for a drink. Tag, you’re it. This is the only reason for going out that might not be fun, but compared to being stuck in your office or bored at home, it’s not that bad, is it?

Release: (The temporary escape)
Sometimes you need a break. You can’t sit in your cubical anymore. If your boss calls you one more time about TPS reports, you’re going to cut someone. You’ve tried to like The Voice and its just not working for you. You need to dance. You need to spend time with your friends. You need to get away from the desk and the TV for a few hours. New York nightlife doesn’t last as long as a vacation, but you don’t have to get frisked by Homeland Security to get into the club.

Sex: (The foundation)
Expressions of sexuality can be found in almost every aspect of New York nightlife. The clothing is tighter and more revealing. The conversation has more carnal energy. Inhibitions are lowered with alcohol. The movements on the dance floor don’t leave anything to the imagination. Nightlife is a sexual metaphor on a city wide scale. It can be simple or elaborate, fun or dangerous, satisfying or forgettable, mysterious or revealing, expensive or cheap, all at the same time. Maybe that’s why so many people keep coming back to it night after night.

Of course, many of these categories overlap. Any of us might have several goals on any given night, making any club night an exercise in multi-tasking. But if you think about why you go out, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of place you want to go to and finding the right place for you will be much easier. In short if you know why you go out you will have more fun.

Have fun.



Sexy, Rich, Creative or Connected: What is Your Best Nightlife Resource?

By Gamal Hennessy

There is a class of people in New York nightlife that I refer to as nightlife natives. These are not the people who go to the most exclusive clubs. They are not the people who wind up on Page Six of the New York Post or even Guest of a Guest. They are the people who have made nightlife a fundamental part of their lifestyle. They are comfortable in the nightlife environment in the same way a tiger is comfortable in the jungle. There are many different types of natives who have many different traits. The one thing that is similar about almost all of them is the fact that they have learned to be successful using their personal resources when they go out.

I define "success" in nightlife as the ability to consistently going out and having a good time. A big part of that success comes from proper use of your personal resources. According to Catherine Hakim, author of Erotic Capital, everyone has four types of personal resources: erotic, social, financial and intellectual.

This might sound complex, but it basicallly boils down to how sexy, popular, rich or smart you are. Having financial capital means that you can spend money (either yours or someone else’s). Having social capital means you know a wide group of people or you know a few influential people or you are somehow influential yourself. Having erotic captal means you have can attract people because of your charm, style or sexual energy. Having intellectual captlital means you use your intelligence, creativity or experience to succeed in life.

It’s easy to see how each one of these resources can be used in your nightlife. Let's take a common situation as an example. There is a high end club with a very tough door. You want to get in. How are you going to do it?

That depends on the resources you have at your disposal. A girl with a high level of erotic capital can smile and flirt her way in. A boy can pull off the same thing with his style, but he won't have the same level of success unless he shows up with a hot girl (or girls). A boy or girl with the financial capital can buy bottles to get in. A boy or girl who has the intellectual capital to be a musician, DJ, writer, artist, or actor can not only get in, they might be the center of attention. A person can use their intellectual capital to get in by working in certain industries (like media, advertising, fashion or liquor) regardless of their looks or bank account. Finally, a person can use social capital to make connections with the operators who work at the venue or any combination of the other groups. While social capital might not seem useful, it is actually the most influential type of resource management because this person can bring whole crowds into a club. It can even get to a point where he or she controls the door itself. We call those people promoters.

Using personal resources in nightlife extends to every part of the experience. The people who have the widest range of experience can combine different types of resources to adapt to the situation at hand. No one resource is better than any other, but the refusal to use any resources at all (or trying to use resources you don't really have) is a recipe for disappointment. You don't have to be the richest, hottest or most famous person in the club. You don't even have to go to places that require extensive resources to bave a good time. The important thing to remember is that what you bring to the nightlife experience will have a direct effect on what you get out of it.

Have fun.


The Social and Psychological Benefits of Pregaming


By Gamal Hennessy

According to the Urban Dictionary, pregaming is a synonym for drinking derived originally from tailgating before a sporting event such as a football game. It later became known as drinking before any major gathering. Many people see pregaming as simply a cheaper method for overconsumption. In many cases it can have that effect. What most people do not realize is that the practice also has social and emotional benefits based on bonding rituals that are a natural extension of the activity.

Protection and Identity

According to David Grazian in his book On the Make, nightlife is an anonymous environment. Very few people know who you are beyond what you tell them. This situation is beneficial for anyone who wants to redefine themselves or explore lifestyles that they are not familiar with. This relative anonymity is one of the reasons nightlife is so attractive to young people and counter cultures who are seeking to define themselves outside the framework of conventional society. But that same unknown quality can create a high level of anxiety and insecurity for anyone attempting to define their personae and exploring new situations involving class, age, race, or sex.

A pregame with friends serves two purposes here. First, it creates a social bond for the group that they can turn to for short term support as they venture out. The idea that a young lady won't be abandoned by her girls if she is approached by a questionable man gives her more confidence to go out. A boy who knows he won’t be rejected, isolated or unsupported makes going out easier, even if the bond is largely a facade. The pregame creates that short term bond that makes the rest of the night an enjoyable group activity instead of a nervous isolated one.

A pregame also offers an opportunity for the members of the group to engage in activities that display and reinforce their sexual identity. The subtext contained in the competitive drinking games, sharing stories of past adventures, and the collective preparation for the adventures to come all help to establish each members desired (or perceived) sexual and social status.  Because a large part of going out is about projecting image (even more than the actual sexual, consumption or experiential value) the pregame is a vital part of the process because it helps establish image for the night.


Not Drinking Just to Drink

Descriptions of pregame activities reinforce this concept. In Notes from the Night, Taylor Plimpton describes meeting his best friend at a bar for drinks before heading out to the clubs. The experience they share isn’t about the drinks they consume or any conversations they have with strangers at the bar. It is about connecting with each other in a way that prepares them to enter the nightlife environment with more comfort and pleasure than they would have by just going straight to the exclusive venue. Keep in mind, this bonding experience is often not the result of a conscious choice. It is a natural by-product of the activity that would probably be destroyed if the players went into it thinking about the bonding process. 

There are many pregames that end in a sloppy mess. There are many nightlife players that are predisposed to overindulge in alcohol and only use the pregame as the first stop on the road to a drunken stupor. But this does not negate or diminish the value of the pregame on an emotional, psychological or social level. The title pregame is extremely accurate because much like the pep talk that players give each other before a game, pregame drinking puts nightlife players in the proper frame of mind to enjoy the night.

Have fun.


On the Make: Nightlife as a Lifeless Sham

By Gamal Hennessy
On the Make takes a critical look at image management in thenightlife setting. Using Philadelphia as a case study, the book explores the motivationsand tactics of various groups to deceive, manipulate and hustlepeople for various ends. While the book does offer insight into the intriguesof social interaction, the tone drains almost all pleasure from the actors. Itleaves you wondering why anyone would engage in the experience at all.
The central idea behind On the Make is that nightlife can beseen as a series of con jobs or hustles. These are designed by the con artistto separate the victim from something valuable by offering them somethingworthless (or very close to it) in exchange. Club owners create artificialenvironments and force their employees to engage in false friendship orflirting to separate the patrons from their money. Public relations companies,local media and promoters make up flimsy events and pay celebrities to show upat venues in the hopes of luring the naïve and desperate. Men engage in complexrituals to solicit sexual contact from women and prove their masculinity tomen. Women use more complex (and more successful) tactics to counteractlecherous men, acquire drinks and special treatment and pursue their own sexualconquests. Everyone participates in and has knowledge of a thinly veiled façadedesigned to create and control image. In nightlife, no one and nothing is whatit seems.  
There is a significant portion of every urban populationthat avoids the club scene because they see it as “artificial.” That group willfind a lot of ammunition for their position in this book. Most of the workpaints a negative, predatory picture of nightlife culture. It also largelyignores two important facts. First, image management or hustles are notexclusive to nightlife. They are the common mode of conduct in everyday life.The way most of us act at school, work or at home on a daily basis is as muchof an act of deceit as anything that happens in nightlife. Avoiding nightlifein an attempt to avoid fake people or because you don’t want to put on an actis futile. Those people and that act are part of your everyday life.
The other thing that Mr. Grazian and other nightlifeopponents ignore is the cultural components of nightlife that are fundamentalto the experience. Even if you eliminate or discount the musical, fashion, and gastronomiccontributions of nightlife culture, the social aspect cannot be discounted. Theinteraction between people for camaraderie, sexuality and self-expression canbe exercised in nightlife in ways that are not acceptable in professional orfamily life. More importantly, the pleasure and release that can come fromnightlife culture does not occur in other aspects of life. Nightlife may infact be an illusion, but it is an illusion that makes reality worthwhile forthe people who enjoy it.
Have fun.

Why Should You Care About Nightlife Culture?

By Gamal Hennessy
When I talk to people about being an advocate for nightlife culture, the first question I usually hear is “Why should I care about nightlife culture?” It is a good question. This is my good answer.
Nightlife culture is central to the quality of life of acity and the people who live in it. 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 find that connection. 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 cityis directly related to the health of its nightlife culture.
Nightlife culture in New York is complex and multilayered.It has fostered our arts. 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 marked as a scapegoat and held responsible for urban crime and a lower quality of life. Rampant gentrification, higher real estate costs and contradictory urban planning has created conflict between nightlife and local communities. Advancements in digital technologies and fragmenting entertainment markets havestifled many traditional creative outlets in nightlife. While nightlife culture continues to grow and adapt, it has suffered recently.
So care about nightlife culture because it is the real reason why you go out. It is one of the reasons you live in New York City. 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 wherethe city completely loses its artistic and social prominence.
Have fun.

Nightlife as a Marketplace of Transgression

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

What is Nightlife Transgression?
Transgression here means deviating from the norms ofcontemporary society. The environment of nightlife offers us the chance totransgress on a variety of levels that we can’t or won’t do in daily life.

Forms of Nightlife Transgression

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

2) Creative: Drivenby sexual energy, the music, fashion and dancing in nightlife is a thinlyveiled public expression of indiscretion that has produced enormous amounts of artisticcreation.

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

4) Social: Thesubtle and blatant role playing that patrons engage in is an expression oftransgressive behavior in modern nightlife. To a certain extent, the racialmixing and subculture creation that nightlife fosters is also a form oftransgression even if it is not explicitly rejected the way some other forms ofnightlife transgression are.
Benefitsof Nightlife Transgression
Deviatingfrom the norms of society provides the catalyst that a culture needs toprogress and advance. The transgression inherent in nightlife has createdseveral sparks that have led to evolution of American life.
1) The racial and class mixing of the jazz and disco agessupported widespread integration among different ethnic groups.
2) Increased acceptance of the LGBT community was sparked bynightlife persecution and protest several decades ago.
3) The safe havens created in nightlife for variousmarginalized groups allows for interpersonal bonding that isn’t readilyavailable in day to day life.
4) Finally, nightlife offers an organic environment forartistic and creative progress that cannot be replaced by mainstream or socialmedia. Although not everyone enjoys nightlife’s cultural advancements (because everygeneration rejects the new music and fashion of the next generation) it is theact of transgression that gives rise to creation. Nightlife is the sociallaboratory for that creation.

DetrimentalEffects of Transgression
Publicdiscussion about nightlife often focuses purely on its negative aspects. Thiscreates a perception that nightlife is nothing more than a harmful influence onthe city. Transgression in nightlife can create malicious criminal, social andhealth impacts from overconsumption or illegal consumption. Overspending cancreate financial liabilities as patrons pursue the objects of theirtransgression. Destructive prejudices including racism, misogyny and homophobiacan also be a part of nightlife transgression. It would be naïve to suggest that all transgression in nightlife ispositive. However, it is just as naïve to conclude that all nightlifetransgression is negative. Both exist in this environment and one should notovershadow the other.
Anotheradverse type of transgression is pseudo transgression. This situation is thewatered down experience that attempts to create a transgressive feeling but itpurely a commercial endeavor that does nothing to move nightlife cultureforward. Scenes where everyone wears the same clothes, listens to the samemusic over and over and sheepishly follows established trends are as harmful tothe spirit of nightlife as any other detrimental effect of transgression.
Checksand Balances
Nightlifeoperators need to combine two ingredients in order to be successful. On onehand, they need to generate revenue that will pay the bills and satisfyinvestors. On the other hand, the need to provide an experience that promotesthe benefits of transgression while limiting the detrimental effects. Programslike the Nightlife Best Practices and the internal policies of each venue providea system to ensure transgression does not get out of hand. When handledcorrectly, the nightlife experience can feel liberating without beingdangerous.
Nightlifeis a marketplace of transgression. While there are clear detrimental effects,New York needs the catalyst that nightlife creates to advance artistically,culturally and socially.


Halloween and the Nightlife Amateur

By GamalHennessy

Halloweenis one of my favorite holidays. It beats out Thanksgiving, July 4th andeven Arbor Day. Halloween is similar to nightlife because it gives people achance to move away from their daytime personas and create a new identity fromtheir imaginations. Unfortunately, Halloween is also a breeding ground foramateurs, and little good can come from a night over run with amateurs.

Natives and amateurs
I need to be very clear about my distinctionbetween nightlifenatives and nightlife amateurs. Where you fit in isn’t a function of how many clubsyou’ve been to or how many times you go out. It’s about quality, not quantity.

For nightlife natives, going out is part of their lifestyle.We enjoy the drinking, dancing, dating and hustling that is a part of cityliving. It’s not a problem for us to go out three or four nights a week andconsistently make it to work the next day without hangovers, scars or gaps inour memory.


Amateurs on the other hand tend to crash and burn.The combination of liquor, hormones, drugs and sleep deprivation that nightlifecan generate often overwhelms them, leading to decisions that can generously bedescribed as questionable. When you’re out at night and you see people fighting,throwing up, peeing between cars, getting thrown into a squad car or anambulance or unable to show up at work the next day, you’re looking at amateursin action. When community boards complain about the nightlife that is ruining theirquality of life, they’re complaining about amateurs. Simply put, amateurs give nightlifea bad name.


The need for amateurs
At this point, you might think that I don’tappreciate amateurs. That is simply not true. Amateurs are essential tonightlife for three reasons. First, everyone has to start somewhere. It hasbeen said that you don’t really know your limit until you’ve crossed it. Manynatives go through an amateur period in the beginning that teaches them whatthey can and can’t handle. If you can evolve from that stage no worries.Amateurs often serve as an entertaining example of what not to do.

Second, amateurs are a good source of nightlife revenue.When amateurs go out, they are willing to pay extra to get in or they just buybottles. When natives go out, many of them can have a very good time withoutspending a lot of cash. If everyone was a native, clubs might not make enoughmoney to stay open.

Finally, and most importantly, some people likebeing amateurs. Of course, they don’t call themselves amateurs. They considerthemselves hardcore party people or players inspired by Jersey Shore who needto prove how much liquor, coke or sex they can consume in public. But since ourdefinition of amateur revolves around excess quantity, anyone whose goal isover consumption qualifies as an amateur.

Avoiding amateurs
If you’ve read this far and decided that you wantto avoid amateurs at night, be careful. There are some common misconceptionsout there. Some people believe that if you avoid B&T traps, you avoidamateurs. Not true. While many amateurs come from outside the city, they canpop up anywhere…even in Brooklyn.

Also,some people might think that if you just get a bottle and stay in the VIP area ofa club, you are shielded from amateurs. This is a trap. Amateurs often buytheir way into places they couldn’t otherwise get into. They are actually drawnto the VIP area for the temporary status it promises. There is nothing worsethan paying several hundred dollars for Grey Goose AND being surrounded byamateurs all night.

There are two main ways I’ve found to avoidamateurs. The first is to go out on the nights that amateurs stay home. Thedays from Sunday to Thursday are often the best native nights. Friday andSaturday are mostly amateur nights. The second solution is to go to the placeswhere amateurs can’t get in, including house parties, private clubs or out ofthe way spots that the amateurs haven’t found yet. Even in this period ofpolitical change, this might be one occasion where segregation is desirable.

When amateurs attack
As I stated before, you can find amateurs all overthe city on any given night. However there are some nights when theconcentration of amateurs swells to crisis levels. These nights include thebirthday of the individual amateur, New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and ofcourse, Halloween. It might not be so bad this year since Halloween falls on Monday.Saturday will be the big party night, which means I’m going to a private party.Nightlife needs a certain number of amateurs, but I don’t need to be aroundthem.

Have fun.


Tough Doors: The Most Dangerous Place in Nightlife

By GamalHennessy

Two of the majorstories floating around the nightlife press this week revolve around safety. Onone hand, NYNA and the NYPD have released the second edition of the NightlifeBest Practices. This new set of guidelines are designed to help operatorswork with police to protect us from threats ranging from sexual assaults toterrorist threats. At the same time news came out that a man named ChristopherAdames was stabbed and killed just outside of the popular Juliet Supperclub.While details about the latest crime have not fully been revealed, thisincident fits a pattern that is fairly specific to nightlife. History suggeststhat serious violence is much more likely to occur in the immediate areaoutside a venue as opposed to inside the venue itself.

There have been a numberof events over the past 20+ years that support this theory.  
  • ·        In1989, Virgil Sylvia was killedoutside Payday.
  • ·        In1990 David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo shot bouncer Marcus Peterson outside The Palladium.
  • ·        In2001, Terrence Davis was stabbedto death outside Tunnel.
  • ·        In2003, a bouncer named Dana Blakewas stabbed to death outside Guernicaby Isaias Umali.
  • ·        In2006, bouncer Stephen Sakai shotGustavo Cuadros outside Opus 22.
  • ·        Imette St. Guillen and JenniferMoore were both killed in 2006 in separate incidents after leaving The Falls and Guest House clubs.
  • ·        Aserialrapist was allegedly targeting isolated women as they left The Box in 2007.
  • ·        LauraGarza disappeared after leaving Marquee with a mannamed Michael Mele in the last month of 2008.
  • ·        In2009, MarioOlmedo slashed several people outside Deco.

While the years and weapons usedand number of victims are different, one constant thread remains. Each attacktook place outside the venue.

The reasons behind this phenomenon aren’t hard to understandif you consider the mentality of the attackers. From a psychologicalstandpoint, there is a higher chance that the ego and self-esteem of fanaticsis lower at the door. There could be several triggers for their distress. Maybethey can’t get in. Maybe they just got kicked out. Maybe some woman rejectedthem. Maybe they spent more money than they had. Whatever the cause, the endresult is the same. Their self-respect has been lowered and their temper hasbeen raised. They lash out, either the operators, patrons or random passers-by asa way to regain their sense of power and control.

This isn’t a justification for fanatic behavior. It is also nota suggestion that nightlife is inherently dangerous. In the last twenty years,there have been an infinitesimal number of fatalities compared to the 30,000people that nightlife employs and the one billion entries that patrons have innightlife every year. The only thing I’m attempting to point out is that amajor location of potential nightlife violence is just outside the venueitself. That is one of the reasons security is stationed at the door. When yougo out, it’s a good idea to get through the door (in or out) as quickly aspossible. Give the operators at the door a chance to do their job and give yourselfa chance to get out of harm’s way in the unlikely event that a problem arises.

Have fun.

The Important Lesson of Fashion’s Night Out

By GamalHennessy

Maybe youlike Fashion’s Night Out, maybe you don’t. Considering the annual event is onlyin its third year, I understand if you are still on the fence about it. That’show I feel too. I want to dislike it, but it makes a point that nightlife could learn from.

This year, Idecided to join in the festivities by attending the Armani party on Madison Avenue. While this excursion didn't make me fall in love with FNO, it did prove two things to me. First cougars enjoy groping young,well-dressed black men. Second, it is hard to deny that FNO, like the Fashion Weekevent that spawned it, gives the fashion industry attention and buzz thatimproves the industry’s image exponentially.

Image andSpectacle
One of themajor strengths of fashion is its ability to generate spectacle and manipulateimages. FNO is a perfect example of this. Described in marketing terms, thenight creates positive energy among a very desirable demographic (the ladiesthat spend money on clothes) and encourages brand interaction (going to thestore, getting excited about clothes and ultimately buying something). Thenight is covered by media at all levels before, during and after the partiesstart, creating an attention tsunami that drowns out almost everything else.

Yes, it encouragescougar groping. Yes, it encourages amateurs to get sloppy. Yes, it has thepotential to an annual nightlife train wreck of the same magnitude as New Year’sEve, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. But none of that really matters in the endbecause people eat it up. If defines the conversation people have aboutfashion. No one talks about the price of the clothes, possible sweatshop laboror the negative body image coming out of fashion. They just get hear about aparty, get excited, go out and associate fashion with a good party.

Learningfrom the Masters
FNO issimilar to Restaurant Week, Spa Week & the Tribeca Film Festival in termsof their public impact. Each event improves the image of and generates interestin those respective activities.

Nightlifedoesn’t follow this model. In fact, nightlife operators schedule many of their majoropenings and events around Fashion Week to ride the long tail of media hype(see the New York Times article here).This is a missed opportunity. There is more than enough good energy innightlife to create a spectacle and improve the image. Music, dance, mixology,social interaction, sexual expression and yes, even fashion all converge tomake nightlife what it is. Why not harness that energy create the biggestspectacle of all?

Nightlife hasan image problem both in the mainstream press and within the culture itself. Ifwe take a page from FNO we can change that.

Have fun.

Liquor as a Rite of Passage

by Gamal Hennessy

Nightlife is defined as adult activities outside the home that revolve around social connection. By definition, children are not meant to play a significant role in the discussion of nightlife benefits or problems. However, we all know that minors are drawn to liquor, because it has happened to many of us. So any discussion about reducing underage drinking in nightlife has to include the motivations of the minors if we want to create positive change.

In the United States, consumers must reach the age of 21 before they are legally permitted to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. This legal barrier creates one of the most powerful social effects of liquor in nightlife. Nightlife is an adult environment primarily because alcohol is served there. The collective message we send is, “If you can drink, you must be an adult.”

The fact we label people who can drink “adults” and people who can’t drink “minors” creates a need to drink that has nothing to do with the liquor itself. In our system, the permission to drink is a symbol of adulthood and independence. This is one of the main reasons that teenagers struggle to obtain fake IDs and then sneak into clubs even though they may not like the environment. Ironically, many of them don’t really want the liquor because they dislike the taste of alcohol. But they do want to grow up faster than our society will allow. They want to be adults faster than their physical, mental or emotional capabilities can manage. Consuming liquor is a short cut to that status.

This is not the same in other countries. According to the International Center for Alcohol Policy, many countries have a legal drinking age of 18 or even 16. In influential states like China, France, Israel, Italy and Russia, there is no drinking age at all. There is a direct relationship between the rules for drinking and people’s relationship to alcohol.

We have created a powerful social motivation for minors to drink. But it is interesting to note that while the sale of alcohol to minors is seen as a major problem in nightlife, most minors get their drinks without ever stepping into a club. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 10.1 million people aged 12 to 20 nationwide reported being current drinkers of alcohol. While these numbers might be shocking, it is enlightening to take into account another study conducted by the Department of Health in 2006. In a work entitled. “Where Do Minors Get Alcohol From?” the government found that, depending on the age of the minors, anywhere from 85-97 percent of the alcohol they have access to is from outside the nightlife setting. While underage drinking is a problem across America, nightlife is not a primary location for that kind of abuse.

Unfortunately, nightlife is often singled out as the villain in the story of underage drinking. The social motivation of the minors themselves is often discounted or ignored. But placing the blame solely on the doorstep of the operator will not solve anything. Change can only occur if society changes its perception of and relationship to liquor as a whole. When our indulgence is more responsible, our relationship with liquor is more relaxed. When that happens minors, won’t feel the need to drink illegally because the social benefit will be gone.

Have fun.