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

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

Sabrina Haley Website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabrina Haley Website

Have fun.


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


By Gamal Hennessy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








Have fun


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

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

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

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

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

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

NCI: And what are the men attracted to? 

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun.


The Art of the Nipple Pasties

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

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

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

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