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

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

Nightilfe Culture Expo Recap Day 2: Celebrating the Gay Foundations of Nightlife Culture

The upper level of Stonewall didn’t have the look of an unusual party. There were women drinking at the bar and couples whispering in the corner. There were old friends reconnecting after a long period apart and new people getting to know each other. The major difference in this room revolved around attraction and identity.

Most of the women were sexually attracted to other women. A few of the men in the room were attracted to men. It was difficult to tell who some of the guests were attracted to. At a certain point, it was hard to tell if someone was a man or a woman. The party had an ambiguous fluidity that you could see, but only if you looked closely. In many ways this wasn’t an unusual party in New York nightlife because of the strong influence the LGBT community has had on us.

Nightlife is a sexual arena. It is a sexual metaphor. Sexual exploration, sexual identity and sexual expression are at the core of the experience. Boundaries are often tested, limits are pushed and possibilities are explored in ways that are not acceptable in most homes, work places, churches or schools. The LGBT community often came together in nightlife venues because it was the one of the few places where they didn’t have to repress who they were. It was in places like Stonewall that the community fought back against institutionalized discrimination. Many of them used nightlife as a springboard for acceptance and success in other parts of society. The influence of their perspective and taste can be felt in venues of all types today whether they are gay, straight or somewhere in between.

When we talk about nightlife culture, we have to recognize the contribution that the LGBT community makes to every type of nightlife. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about music, fashion, sexual exploration or sexual identity. Without the gay community, there really is no modern nightlife. We all need to recognize, appreciate and celebrate that. We did it with powerful and energetic performances from Maor, T.R.I.G.G.A and Paige Turner. You do it every time you go out, whether you realize it or not.

Have fun.
G

Built to Fail (Four Ingredients for an Unsuccessful Nightclub)



By Gamal Hennessy

I’m not an operator. I have never owned or managed a club. The jobs that I have had in nightlife have been minor and temporary. So, I don’t presume that I can tell professionals how to run their businesses better. I don’t pretend to have answers based on years of work in the trenches. All my observations and ideas ultimately come from the patron’s side of the bar. The ideas I recommend or pass on are offered from the perspective of a nightlife native obsessed with going out. Now that I have offered that disclaimer, I can share my observations about how NOT to open a new venue.

There are a lot of different ways to jump into the New York market and establish a new spot. Once you figure out how you are going to fill up your room with people and how you are going to make more money than you spend to keep them there, your options are only limited by your imagination and your resources. But while there might be a lot of right ways to do it, there is a recipe for the wrong way to do it. Here are the ingredients:

Your venue has no hook: Patrons have a lot of choices when it comes to where they party in New York. If you give them a reason to come to your place, then you stand out from the competition. Maybe you offer a distinct style of music. Maybe you cater to a specific type of crowd. Maybe you have celebrities showing up. Maybe you are just convenient to get to for a quick drink. Any reason helps. But if all you can offer people is a liquor license and a dark room, then you probably won’t last long.

The music is too loud to lounge and programmed to prevent dancing: As an operator, you can use music in the same way a golfer uses clubs. A golfer picks his the club based on what kind of shot he wants to make. You pick the music based on what kind of crowd you want to draw and what you want that crowd to do when they arrive. If you want them to do more dancing and less talking, you can play house or hip hop loud enough to get girls on the dance floor. If you want drinking and conversation, you play jazz, top 40 or whatever so it is just loud enough to be pleasant background noise. What you can’t do is play music that literally clears the dance floor and play it so loud that people couldn’t talk to each other even if they resorted to licking each other’s ears. A musical combination like that will shank your crowd right into the sand trap.

Your gender ratio is way off: At the risk of sounding preferential towards women, I firmly believe that a successful venue needs to have a crowd that contains more women than men. Men go out and spend money at places where they know (or at least hope) women will be. Women don’t feel comfortable in a room overwhelmed by hordes of drunk and horny men. If the ratio between men and women is even or favors the ladies, then you will avoid potential fights and keep the sexual energy high enough in the room to encourage people to stay. If you look out onto your dance floor and there are 30 guys trying to dance with 4 girls then your doorman let in too many guys. That will lead to trouble. Please note that in a gay bar this rule does not apply because many straight girls that I have talked to love to be in a room overwhelmed by drunk and horny gay men.

Your bottle service system kills your revenue: Some people think that the bottle service trend in New York is over. Some people think that it is just as prevalent as it ever was. I don’t know which statement is true. I do know that if your promoter gets comp bottles and then everyone in the spot goes over to the promoters table to drink for free, then you have just eliminated your major revenue stream. If you have no cover and no one is actually paying for liquor, how are you making money? And if you are not making money, how are you going to stay opened?

There are probably quite a few other ingredients that go into this formula that my operator friends will tell me about later. There are issues like complaints from neighbors, internal theft, poor service from your staff and bad publicity that can be just as bad for the long term success of a venue. But when I’m in a new place that has no hook, bad music, not enough women and too many people drinking from the comp bottles I start to wonder how long this place will last and who is going to come in and do a better job.

Have fun
G

14 Tips for a Good Club Night



By Gamal Hennessy

The article I published last week with
tips for ladies to keep themselves safe in clubs got a lot of positive feedback. This week I’m going to be more inclusive and less ominous. I’m offering 14 tips to increase your pleasure and decrease your hassles no matter what type of bar, club or lounge you plan to visit.

Every social situation has a set of guidelines to help things run smoothly. The dinner table, the classroom, the office and the locker room each has its own customs to keep people from throwing food, throwing a tantrum or crossing swords.

People who know the rules often get ahead, even if they don’t always follow them. People who don’t know the rules often suffer. The nightclub is no different than any other social environment. There is a certain way to do things. Common sense will make most of these rules obvious, but fanatics have proven that common sense isn’t that common, so I’ve developed a few tips to help people along.



Before you hit the club, it pays to be prepared

1. Decide where you’re going and have a couple of back up options. Going online and doing a little research will help a lot.

2.
Find out how you need to dress to get in and respond accordingly. You don’t want to be turned away because of your clothing. You can figure this out from online reviews, word of mouth, or just looking on the venues website.
3. Figure out how you’re getting in whether it’s reservations, personal connections, using a promoter, standing in line or just walking in. Do not stand in line unless it is a short wait and you can stay relatively warm and dry. Nightlife does not have to lead to pneumonia.

4. Don’t travel with people who are going to sabotage your fun. That means leave the fanatics at home unless you plan to take responsibility for them.

5. Decide if you’re buying bottle service (and who is paying for it) before you get there. Standing at the door, in the cold, with a promoter in your face and a girl standing next to you that you’re trying to impress might not be the time to make a $1,000 decision.

6. Be realistic about how much money you’re spending. If you go to a high end spot on a Saturday night and order 10 shots of premium tequila to ‘get the party started’ you can easily spend $100. If you do this 4 times…you get the idea. It is pointless to throw a drunken tantrum when your bill comes at the end of the night. I’m not suggesting that you don’t drink when you go out. I’m just saying that if you know you’re going to spend that much, accept it in the beginning of the night and stop worrying about it.

7. When you get there be nice to the bouncer whether you are on the list, ordered bottle service or just standing on line. Giving them a hard time won’t get you in faster. It might prevent you from getting in at all.


Once you’re inside the main goal is having fun.

8. You can have a good time without giving the club staff a hard time. You can be cordial (or at least diplomatic) to them even if they don’t return the favor. It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

9. Unless your express goal is
getting a hangover, it is always wise to drink and do something else while you’re there (dance, flirt, eat, talk, whatever).
10. The key to meeting people is helping them feel good about themselves while you’re around, not using them to help you feel better about yourself. This doesn’t apply just to your romantic interests. The people who bump into you on the dance floor, or stand next to you at a concert are not your enemies or your targets. They want to have a good time just like you do.

11. You don’t have to get drunk just because you drink.


When its time to go make sure things end well

12. If you can catch the attention of the staff that served you without getting in the way, thank them on the way out. They don’t get much of that and some of them will remember you if you come back. This can lead to a better time the next time.

13. If you leave with your people, make sure everyone gets to their chosen transportation. For guys, this means putting ladies in cabs before you jump into one (unless they are going home with you). Nightlife is a relatively safe environment, but even one Imette St. Gullien is too much, especially if it’s your friend.

14. Before you pass out on the short road to hangover (assuming you ignored concepts 8 and 10), try to make sure your people actually got home. Again, New York is safer than it has been in decades, but it shows you care. You don’t have to have a conversation. Just ask them for a quick ‘I’m alive’ text when they get in the door.

None of these ideas are designed to kill your mood or discourage you from clubbing. They are designed to make a good night better. If you give a little thought to your night out in the beginning, you’ll be in good shape to go out again on the following night.

Have fun.
G

Nightlife as a Political Issue


by Gamal Hennessy


"Those who do not do politics will be done in by politics."
French Proverb

Politics is the peaceful struggle for control over resources that people want. It is also the way we establish the predominant ideology that defines a particular group or area. Politics exist on a variety of levels but the mechanism that is used to make decisions is constant. Like minded individuals form alliances, to represent their interests. Relative power is determined, positions are defined, meetings are held, and negotiations are made. Control and influence over whatever resource is at issue shifts from one side to another. The process is the same whether you’re talking about who is going to take out the garbage to how many nuclear bombs each country has.

Now what does any of that have to do with grabbing a drink with your friends, chatting up a girl for her phone number or dancing like no one is watching? Don’t we use nightlife to escape the struggles of daily life? Why would we want to inject politics into an area of life that represents pleasure and release? Why not sit back, have a good time, and leave politics for the politicians?

Ignoring nightlife politics is a dangerous choice because if we choose to not see nightlife as a political issue, we place ourselves at the mercy of those groups who are willing to exert influence on the resources that nightlife needs; physical space and the ability to make money. Almost every bar, club and lounge in the city has a fixed location which immediately places it in potential contention with other interests in general area. If a real estate group wants that location for development, there is a struggle. If adjacent residents want their neighborhood to have certain features that the venue doesn’t support, there is a struggle. Various voices weigh in on what they want in relation to nightlife and each one has a certain level of organization and influence that give it the power to realize its agenda. While each group acknowledges the need for some sort of nightlife in the city, the issue often revolves around where and how much nightlife is desirable.

At this point the only major nightlife group that does not have a seat at the table to push its agenda is us. Nightlife patrons do not have an organization that directly represents their needs or even defines what those needs are. The other groups recognize that we exist. Depending on their position we are seen as a benefit or a detriment (or a combination of both) but not as a political force in our own right. If we don’t organize, then our voice cannot be heard on issues that are important to us. Our views on how many clubs there are in the city, where the clubs are, what the clubs offer, and a multitude of other factors are decided by other groups that are focusing on their own needs, not necessarily what we need or want.

That situation is changing. A group called the

Nightlife Preservation Community
(NPC) recently formed to give nightlife patrons the chance to become informed and vote on nightlife issues. Their first major project is the New York City primary race. The NPC has endorsed certain candidates who have expressed a pro-nightlife agenda. They are encouraging club patrons and operators to vote for these candidates in next week’s primary and give nightlife more of a voice in city politics.

This is not a militant call for nightlife to become a single issue party like Green Party or Right to Life. It is a recognition that nightlife is a political issue. Nightlife brings jobs and revenue to the city. It is a source of culture and it defines New York as a city. It is time that the industry and the patrons who support it translate their economic power into political influence.


Have fun
G

The Next Big Thing in Nightlife



By
Gamal Hennessy

Things change. What worked yesterday might not work today and the stars of today will be the relics of tomorrow. Talking to people in nightlife recently I’m getting the sense that the industry is in a state of flux. It’s like we’re in a transition period between the bottle service trend and whatever comes next. The problem is that no one is sure what comes next, or if they do know, they’re not telling me.

The demise of Home and Guesthouse last week prompted Steven Lewis to initiate a Facebook discussion on the future of the industry. There was a consensus among the random participants that many clubs and lounges won’t be able to thrive by simply selling bottles. The operators that survive are going to give their venues personality. Whether it come from the music that they offer, the entertainment the provide, or the unique people that they cater to, the next wave of nightlife is going to have to be known for something more than just the ability to stand in a generic room, listening to generic music and drinking generic expensive liquor. The mere illusion of exclusivity just doesn’t cut it in the post recession world.

Real exclusivity in nightlife is taking tips from previous trends. Prohibition type speakeasies are a staple of New York City lounges now, with everything from fake phone booths in hot dog stands to secret keys, passwords and other shenanigans. At the same time, ‘secret parties have begun to emerge as a natural response to oppressive gentrification and the general anti-nightlife stance of local government. Neither of these trends have a clear future. The secrecy and strict rules of some speakeasies give it the veneer of high end exclusivity, but the inherent drama involved with just getting a drink sucks much of the fun out of the experience. And in an age of text messaging, Twitter and social media, nothing stays secret for very long, especially a secret party.

I don’t know what the next major trend in nightlife is going to be. I’m not that smart. I do think more spots like Home and Guesthouse will close as the bottle service market continues to shrink. I hope that personality will replace table service as the major selling point. And I also hope that we don’t have to hide from the rest of the world just to have a good time. Nightlife needs to evolve like everything else. If we recognize the industry as an asset, it can thrive instead of going into hiding.

Have fun.

G

The Changing Face of New York Nightlife



By
Gamal Hennessy

Nightlife isn’t static. There are trends and changes in the industry in the same way that fashion, art and other cultural institutions change. Economy and personal taste are having a major impact on some new venues while others try to ride out the downturn and stick with a formula that has worked in the past. This article looks at some of the major trends that have taken hold over the last two years to help you navigate the shifting waters.

Low Key Spots

The economy is just beginning to recover from a severe economic recession. Many people who used to be willing to buy bottles are now happy just to have a cold PBR. Several operators have responded to this desire by creating low cost, low key venues that are diametrically opposed to the velvet rope spots of Meatpacking and West Chelsea. Spots like 675 Bar in Meatpacking, Super Dive in the East Village are the most prominent examples of this trend. Even larger venues that feature A-List talent like Santos Party House can be considered part of the low key movement because of the emphasis on dancing instead of posturing.

Speakeasies

At the same time that the low key bar gains traction, the low profile venue has also become a fixture in New York nightlife. These lounges take their cue from Prohibition Era speakeasies. Most of them are characterized by a semi secret mystique instead of leaning on promoters. They also have specialized cocktails that run in the $13-$25 dollar range instead of reliance on bottles to generate revenue. Milk and Honey, and Flatiron Lounge led the quiet charge here, but they have been joined by Little Branch, Ella, PDT, Mayuhuel, the Eldridge and other spots so secret that they don’t actually have names.

Rooftop Bars

Speakeasies took New York parties into basements and behind closed doors. Rooftop bars put them above the whole city. Taking advantage of the cities spectacular skyline, and the ability to keep the roof heated all year, these venues use the open air motif and impressive views as a refreshing change from the closed in feeling of a normal club. While the smoking ban is less of a factor in these spots, noise bleed from the venue to the neighbors can lead to problems in the future. 230 Fifth and Ava Lounge have been in place for a few years now and they’ve been joined in the last few months by the Empire Rooftop, Above Allen and Hudson Terrace.

Fighting the Trend

If you’re the type who liked the lounges and clubs that have dominated the nightlife scene for the past few years, don’t despair. There are still new venues opening that cater to you. While they are appearing with less frequency than they have in the past, these venues still offer models, bottles and the occasional celebrity sighting. While the economy has hit this type of business hard, there will always be people who prefer the experience that venues like The Gates, The Grand Ballroom, Citrine and Greenhouse offer, so those spots will always be with us.

One of the strengths of New York nightlife is the diversity we have. It doesn’t matter what type of venue, music, drinks or people you want to hang out with. You can find your niche here. All you have to do is look for it. The latest trends may or may not become staples in the nightlife scene but the ones that fail will be replaced with new concepts and new options for all of us.

Have fun.


The Story of Claire and Imette


By Gamal Hennessy

Imagine this; you and your friend go out for drinks. You both succeed in getting very drunk. At 3:30 the two of you leave the bar. But she isn’t ready to go home. She wants to hit another spot. You playfully argue with her in the loud, slurred tones that drunks argue in and neighbors complain about. Finally you agree to disagree and separate. You get into a cab and watch her stumble down the street towards the next bar. You shake your head and laugh at her. You go home, go to sleep and wake up with a hangover.

A few days later, you find out that your friend was abducted, beaten, raped, murdered and dumped on the side of a road in Brooklyn. Your friend is dead and the image of her walking away haunts you for years.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an imaginary story. Imette St. Guillen was murdered in 2006 after she left a bar called the Falls. When the trial of the suspected killer started this week, her friend Claire testified to watching Imette walk away after failing to convince her to get into the cab. It was the last time she saw her friend alive.

This tragedy raises a question for natives; what can we do and how far can we go to keep our friends safe?

I tend to overanalyze things, so there are principles I follow when I go out with a girl. When it’s time for me to go home I do one of four things; I put her in a cab heading to her place, I leave her with her friends, I take her to her place or take her to mine. If I don’t go home with her, I ask her to call or text me when she gets home to let me know she’s OK. I feel like if I follow this principal, the young lady won’t spend the night tied up. (Now if she likes being tied up, that’s different. I can do that for her, but that is another story and not the point of this post.)

The problem is that my principal does not guarantee her safety. She can get out of the cab or walk away from her friends. She might meet Justin Timberlake at the bar and will actively get rid of me to prevent inadvertent cockblocking. We must remember that nightlife is a playground for adults. As an adult, she is free to go where she wants to go, even if she’s blind drunk. Our playground has potential dangers, just like any other playground. There is no guarantee that she or any of us will live to see another bar. My principal reduces the risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it. Nothing can.

Twenty four million people go out in New York every year and violent crime and death are extremely rare. Ms. St. Guillen fell victim to an isolated but fatal combination of insanity, oversight and error. Her death isn’t something we would wish on anyone, but her circumstances were not that uncommon. How many times have you lost track of your friends after they were amazingly intoxicated?

Everything turns out fine most of the time. There is no realistic way to force someone to do what they don’t want to do. There are no neat answers on how to protect our people. Having said that, I still think it helps to at least try and keep an eye on our friends when we’re out at night. We’re all big boys and girls, but the extra effort is worth it. I don’t want to pick up the phone and get the call Claire got.

Have fun.
G

The Social Side of Nightlife



By
Gamal Hennessy

An excerpt from the upcoming book
Seize the Night

Communication as culture

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 digital cameras.

There is a certain amount of random shenanigans going on here, but if you sit back and observed them you can see that there are various types of communication, interaction and connection that going on in the room. Being able to understand what is going on will give you a stronger appreciation for the social dynamic in nightlife. 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.

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: While there is an axiom of never mixing business with pleasure, anyone familiar with the nightlife knows this combination occurs 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 seven. 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 it’s 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.

It is easy to see how music, food and architecture 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, 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.

If Nightlife is Dead, then You Killed It


By Gamal Hennessy

If you read the nightlife blogs on a regular basis, you’ll often find reader comments about how New York nightlife is dead, how all the clubs suck, how all promoters suck, how (insert the name of a random city here) has a much better nightlife scene, how things aren’t as good as they were in the old days and other cultural critiques ad nauseam. This commentary isn’t isolated to online chatter. It isn’t hard to find people willing to bemoan the current state of affairs and pine away for the good old days (even if they weren’t around during the good old days)

What do people mean when they say our nightlife is dead? They can’t mean that no one is going out anymore. Clubs in New York currently register more than 64 million entries every year, which by some accounts is more than every major local sports team and Broadway show combined. They can’t mean that nightlife doesn’t generate any money. Clubs are responsible for 9 billion dollars in annual spending which is a lot of money for a dead industry. They can’t mean that no one is working in nightlife. The unofficial count right now is that there are at least 30,000 operators in the city. They can’t mean that the environment is stagnant. At least a dozen spots open up every week. So what are they talking about?

I think what they are really saying when they say ‘New York nightlife is dead’ is “my personal experience in New York nightlife is not meeting my expectations and therefore I have decided that the entire industry is somehow deficient.” If that’s your opinion you can’t be wrong. That’s the way you feel and no amount of statistics or data will change that. Your level of satisfaction with the nightlife climate is a subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you can’t consistently find a party you like in New York then you might want to consider changing your game instead of bitching.

Option 1: Look around
The sheer size of New York nightlife negates the idea that you can’t find your sweet spot. There are literally more than 1,100 nightlife venues that have a valid liquor license (I would never send you somewhere that had no liquor) and there are thousands of parties going on every single week. There might be tens of thousands of parties but I’m too lazy to sit here and count them all. I’m not talking about parties just on the weekend. There are events every single night. I’m not just talking about bottle service and Top 40 hip hop either. Almost any variation and combination of qualities you might be looking for happens here. You want reggae music in an outdoor garden on the East Side? Done. You want an interracial swinger party in Midtown? Not a problem. You can have loud or quiet, cheap or expensive, basement or rooftop…whatever. You can find it. All you have to do is look for it. Besides, that’s why God made the internet, so you can find stuff like that.

Option 2: DIY nightlife
Now let’s assume that you’re selective. You’ve searched and searched for a party that has the right combination of people, music, and atmosphere that you’re looking for but can’t find anything. That means NY nightlife is dead, right?

Wrong. If you can’t find what you’re looking for you can make it yourself. A prominent promoter that I recently interviewed told me that the only thing you really need to throw a party in New York is a Crackberry. A few phone calls, a couple of handshakes, an invite on Facebook and Going and you’re in business. You won’t be running Saturday night at Pink Elephant, but if you wanted that, you wouldn’t need to throw your own party. If it’s your party and you can pick the setting, the crowd, the music, the theme and all the other factors that you feel are missing from nightlife now, how can you not enjoy it?

Some people simply enjoy complaining. The ‘lack’ of nightlife in New York just gives them another reason to bitch. Some people are intimidated and complain as a defense mechanism because even if there was some ‘perfect, ultimate party’ to attend, they wouldn’t go. It is easier to wait around for some amazing party to walk up and smack them in the face than actually look for it or create it. But that probably won’t happen. Don’t let the complainers discourage you from going out and having a good time. Life is short. There is a lot of drinking, dancing and general carousing to do before we’re done. We don’t have time for a lot of bitching.

Have fun.
G

The Best Jobs for Dating in 2009


By Gamal Hennessy

In certain circles, the job you have has a direct effect on how successful you will be at dating. Certain jobs are seen as more attractive than others and the people who have those jobs can parlay that into success with potential suitors. The New York Times recently published an article about which professions are more desirable now that finance careers are on the rocks and college students are no longer banking on a Wall Street job. The real question for us is which professions will make it easier for you to get a date?

There are some professions that are highly coveted in nightlife; being a celebrity, athlete, or musician never goes out of style. Lawyers and doctors are pretty safe bets, but they don’t go out much because they are usually stuck at work. That’s not helpful for our purposes. The stocks of other professions rise and fall with the changing times. Internet moguls had a few good years, then their bubble burst. Finance guys dominated bottle service, but now their industry is taking a pounding. For some, it’s time to look for a new power job.

Of course, the New York woman is looking for more than a guy with a specific job. It helps a lot when you actually have a personality too. But if your profession is a tool in your dating arsenal, here are some ideas on which ones will give you the highest value relative to other potential guys. (I refer to guys here because our culture judges women largely on factors that have little to do with their job.) I’m not an expert by any means and my list isn’t scientific by any stretch of the imagination. It’s based on nothing more than my own observation and experience. It just seems to me that there are certain jobs that have a dating upside, even in these uncertain times.

Advertising, Marketing and PR: While these corporate mouthpiece jobs often don’t translate into big paychecks, they do have perks that are highly recession proof. They have access to promotions, events and ‘meetings’ that are usually overflowing with free liquor in exclusive venues on any given night. Add that to their regular brushes with celebrity and the illusion of media exposure and a savvy guy can create an exciting and dynamic spectacle to draw people in.

Creative: The one similarity between a starving banker and a starving artists is that neither of them have a lot of cash. The one difference is that being an artist implies a certain amount of passion which is attractive in its own right. You can be a photographer, painter, or whatever else you want as long as you can express yourself and make it interesting. You might be dramatic and insane too, but at least you’ll be interesting.

Entertainment: While the guy in front of the camera has an obvious advantage, there are benefits to being the producer, engineer or (again) photographer. You can combine the celebrity access with the creativity in a way that taps into peoples fantasies about being celebrities themselves. There are quite a few aspiring models, singers, dancers in the clubs that are drawn to people who might be able to help them blow up.

Hustlers: If you’re still on the grind and working to make it big in spite of the hard times, you display a resilience that increases your survival value. The theory is that people are more drawn to people who are active than those who are waiting around for the market to pick up. So if you’ve got big plans and you’re actually doing something about it instead of just talking or sitting on your ass, you’ll benefit your business and personal life.

Survivors: If you happen to be one of the many investment bankers, hedge fund managers, or real estate developers who still has a job and is picking up the pieces of your fallen competitors, congratulations. Your competition both in business and pleasure has been cut down considerably. You might not have time to go on a date while you’re raiding the carcasses of your enemies, and there might be a little more oversight on those bottles you charge to your expense account, but that is a small price to pay for retaining your position, right?

In the end the job you have is only a small piece of the social interaction puzzle. Your style, personality, wit, and charm are much more powerful dating tools and if you have those you might not need to have a job at all. Things get better when you add a socially attractive job into the overall package, but don’t let it be a crutch. The girl who is dating you just because of your job might not be worth dating in the first place.

Have fun.
Gamal

The Four Residents of Nightlife



An excerpt from the upcoming book Seize the Night.


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 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. They are the people who have spent time in the clubs and maintain a harmonious relationship with nightlife. 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 friends 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, 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!” The volume of liquor they can drink is an indicator of their status. They see fights and police altercations as struggles for respect and freedom. The destruction of property and the disruption of people’s lives are inconsequential and 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. It is a pattern of behavior and a 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.

G

The Definition of Nightlife Culture


By Gamal Hennessy

(Note: This article has been modified from the upcoming book: Seize the Night)

People don’t often associate the words “nightlife” and “culture”. At first glance, the two ideas don’t have anything in common. But when you take a moment to consider it you’ll see that nightlife has a direct relationship to and a profound impact on all aspects of our wider culture.

Before we can look at the ways nightlife influences culture, it would probably help to know what we’re talking about when we use the word “culture” since it is a word that has a variety of meanings and value judgments embedded in it. Once we know what culture is, then it will be easier to determine if and how nightlife offers any substantial contributions to it. We already know that nightlife means the environment of bars, clubs and lounges, so we don’t have to spend too much time on that.

I found several definitions of culture online. While they are all similar, each one offers a slightly different perspective for analysis. Culture has been defined as…

  • Socially transmitted behavior, art, beliefs and institutions.
  • The patterns and traits considered to be the expression of a period, class or community.
  • Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.
    Manifested in activity such as music, literature, lifestyle, food, painting, sculpture, theater and film.
  • A set of material, intellectual and emotional features of a society or a societal group including art, literature, lifestyles and values.

If we look at nightlife through the prism of any one of these definitions, it is not difficult to see how this environment fits within the cultural landscape. Nightlife has its own behavior, art, beliefs and institutions that are distinct to our community. Our patterns of behavior express the changing times we live in as well as our social class. Nightlife is an abundant source of artistic activity that manifests itself in the music, drink, food, interior design, fashion and lifestyles of our community. Finally, nightlife represents a societal group that has its own values, its own emotions and its own perspective. Nightlife as a distinct aspect of modern culture is readily apparent to anyone who actually takes the time to observe it. As we separate nightlife into its individual elements, the components of each of these definitions will become clear.

There is another definition of culture that needs to be addressed before we talk about nightlife culture. Matthew Arnold was quoted as saying that culture is “the best that has been thought or said.” This definition helps create a divisive split into two forms of culture; highbrow culture and lowbrow culture. There are those who see highbrow culture as museum quality art and classical music and lowbrow or pop culture as everything else; anything that has mass appeal. Basically, under this paradigm, self proclaimed cultural warriors see highbrow culture as a treasure worthy of protection and respect and lowbrow culture as the dregs of society, worthy only of disdain and ridicule.

The problem with this definition is the subjective nature of its assertion. The first question that we ask when faced with Arnold’s definition is what constitutes the best and more importantly, who exactly decides what is best? The subtle implication is that some, mostly European, cultural movements are intrinsically better than others. Attacks on lower forms of culture can be seen as attacks on diversity and individual choice. It is interesting to note that some aspects of nightlife culture, especially music are non European in origin. Does the fact that nightlife serves as a haven for minorities, homosexuals, and progressives make it easier to reject nightlife culture as viable. Does it make it easy for the cultural warriors to deny that nightlife culture even exists?

It is important to recognize that different cultures cannot be placed on a linear scale and compared against each other as “more” or “less” cultured. Non-classical, non European art, lifestyles and values do not represent less culture. They represent a different kind of culture. A Zulu tribesman is no less cultured than an Eskimo, who isn’t less cultured than an Irish Catholic who isn’t less cultured than a ballerina who is not less cultured than a Goth. Each has, to a different degree, all of the traits found in the definitions of culture on the previous page. Any assertion that alternative cultures are somehow less worthy of appreciation and respect is narrow-minded, self centered and xenophobic. Once we understand that, we can understand that nightlife culture has just as much to add to our society as any other culture.

Have fun.
Gamal

More Bars are Better Than More Taxes


By Gamal Hennessy

Governor Paterson recently announced a plan to balance the New York State budget that includes higher taxes and fewer services across the board. The plan has been met with attacks from all sides. Unemployment is rising and the constant barrage of Wall Street failures has sucked faith out of the market. If the Governor is looking for an alternative to his current plan, he might consider how much money can be generated by improving the SLA.

Businesses can’t sell liquor in New York State without a license from the State Liquor Authority (SLA). The process that an applicant has to go through is very involved. The application itself is dozens of pages long and the review process is detrimental to the nightlife industry and the state.

According to the liquor control law, the SLA is supposed to review a properly filed application within 30 days. Experts say that this has never been the case. In previous years, the turnaround time for an application was 2-3 months. Current estimates are that it takes 4-8 months for an application to be reviewed.

There is a school of thought that sees a strong stream of revenue coming into the state if the licenses under review are processed as soon as possible. According to unofficial estimates there are currently close to 2,400. While all of these licenses are not for bars or clubs (on premises licenses) even if only half the licenses resulted in new bars, the economic affect on the city could be dramatic.

If 1,200 open licenses translated into open venues, New York could experience direct and indirect benefits. If you assume each bar employs a manager, a bartender and a server, then 1,200 bars would lead to 3,600 jobs. Keep in mind that a New York bar with 3 employees is an extremely low estimate that doesn’t take into account security, bar backs, DJ’s, hostesses, or multiple people in each position. The actual number of new jobs could be as high as 7-10 thousand. To place this in perspective, Mayor Bloomberg recently had a press conference where he publicized the fact that more than 4,000 jobs would be created from the 17 on location TV productions lined up for 2009. Approval of outstanding SLA licenses could lead to twice as many new jobs.

There is also a potential for secondary job creation. Bars have to be constructed, maintained and serviced. This creates work for construction crews, lawyers, accountants and hospitality vendors. An influx of 1,000 bars would also lead to commerce associated with nightlife. Despite the way nightlife is depicted in music videos, people don’t just magically appear on the dance floor. They go out and buy clothing and beauty services before they go out. They take cabs and public transportation to and from the venue. They eat in restaurants before and after they go out. The ripple effect in terms of jobs in New York can be substantial if the venues are allowed to open.

There could also be a positive effect on local investment. As investors take their money out of the stock and bond markets and look for places to put it, nightlife can be an attractive option. A significant portion of the owners, managers and promoters in nightlife come from the finance, investment and real estate industries. But those investors are not willing to tie up money in a business that might require them to wait a half a year or more after the construction of the business to actually be able to open for business. The current waiting cycle of the SLA creates a chilling effect on nightlife investment that ultimately deprives the state of millions in revenue.

Of course, a sudden influx of venues would alarm certain groups and the frenzy of competition would prove chaotic initially. But the patrons would weed out the poorly run establishments and they will close. And the community boards, police and other advocacy groups will continue to make their displeasure known if and when a venue goes too far. But in this economic climate it might be better for the state to promote viable businesses in New York by allowing them to open, rather than drive them out of the state with increased taxes.

I am not advocating wholesale approval of all licenses. I am not implying that the SLA should abdicate its authority by rubber stamping every applicant. I do think that the Governor can realize his economic goals with less hardship to the citizens of New York if he takes a responsible look at the SLA review process and takes steps to overhaul it.

Have fun.
Gamal

Thinking About Nightlife


Seize the Night

By Gamal Hennessy

Introduction


When you think of “nightlife” what goes through your mind?

Do you imagine drunken scantily clad women gyrating in a pitch black room to a deafening sound that can scarcely be referred to as music? Do you picture husbands on the prowl at sleazy bars buying drinks for women half their age when their wives think they are working late? Do you assume that nightlife is the domain of thugs, criminals and celebrities who want to be photographed in compromising positions? Is your concept of nightlife synonymous to a modern den of inequity?

Or is your image of nightlife different? Perhaps you see nightlife as fertile soil that has produced some of the most dominant artistic movements in modern history. Maybe you recognize that nightlife is a multi billion dollar industry that provides valuable jobs, tax revenue and support for other local industries in every city it exists. On a deeper level, you might see that the reputation of a city and its ability to attract tourism, new residents and prestige is in many cases tied to the strength and depth of its nightlife. Do you consider nightlife a fundamental component to the identity of a city?

The first view is the more popular one. The second view is not recognized or discussed. This book seeks to change that.

It is true that there have always been elements of the chaotic and immoral in nightlife. There is a side of nightlife that is subversive, banal and even criminal. But those elements do not define the entire environment or everyone in it. The idea that nightlife is completely (negative) is a caricature that threatens a vibrant and creative culture.

I have three goals in writing this book. The first goal is to show the cultural and financial benefits that the nightlife industry brings to the city. The second goal is to spotlight those aspects of nightlife that are seen as negative, strip away the sensationalism and misguided perception and place these (things) in their proper context without trying to minimize them. The third goal is to motivate nightlife natives to actively support and protect the treasure they enjoy. My hope is that after reading Seize the Night, more nightlife natives will be prepared to take action on behalf of our culture.

Before anyone can be ready to defend something, it helps to know exactly what you are defending. What do we mean when we talk about nightlife? Under the broadest definition nightlife could encompass any activity that happens at night, but we will be more specific here. For our purposes, nightlife refers to adult activities outside the home that revolve around social connection. Our primary focus will be on nightclubs, lounges and bars and their numerous variations to the exclusion of other forms of entertainment. While restaurants for example play an important role in the culture and economy of New York, I don’t refer to them as directly in the nightlife sphere because children are present on a regular basis. In addition, internet use and watching TV are not part of nightlife because they are primarily done at home (unless you’re surfing the net at the bar). At the same time, sports or music arenas are not included in this definition of nightlife because the primary goal is not connection with other people there, but access to the live performance. While there is a very thin line between a band performing at the Knitting Factory and the same band performing at Madison Square Garden or watching a game at a sports bar versus watching it at Giant Stadium, for purposes of discussion the distinction between them is specific enough.

Within the broad umbrella of nightlife there are a large number of activities we can consider. Drinking, dancing, dating, smoking, eating, listening to music, performing, socializing, communicating and rebelling are inherent to the culture. Each one has a rich history connected to nightlife and would be poorer without this setting to nurture its development. The first part of this book will describe the historical and cultural contributions nightlife has made as a part of its natural evolution.

The economic and financial impact of the nightlife industry is just as significant as the nightlife culture is to the life of the city. Nightlife produces jobs in the hospitality field and tax revenues for the state. The industry also promotes secondary economic activity because people don’t just magically appear inside a club. Local hotel, restaurant, transportation and retail industries all benefit as people are motivated to spend before and after their nightlife experience. There is also a less direct economic benefit when a city’s reputation for nightlife helps attract tourists and talent to its businesses and nightlife becomes a mental and emotional release for residents. In terms of both hard dollars and secondary influence nightlife is pivotal to the prosperity of its city.

Nightlife naturally attracts a wide range of people and personalities into its world and some of these people are detrimental to the health and reputation of the whole. This book divides the nightlife population into four parts; natives, operators, amateurs and fanatics. While the differences between each one of these types will be discussed specifically in Section 3, it will suffice to say here that natives make exposure to nightlife a normal part of their social life, operators work in some capacity within the nightlife industry, amateurs do not have the experience to avoid the potential negative effects of nightlife, while fanatics know what to avoid and chose not to.

The distinction between different types of nightlife patrons is important when discussing the social problems that nightlife generates. Nightlife as a whole is often targeted as a breeding ground for abuse of all kinds ranging from noise and pollution to alcohol, drug and sexual abuse. This book will attempt to point out that while these detriments do exist in the nightlife space, they are activities that come from by and large from one specific subset. We will go on to argue that the actions of that subset should not discount or nullify the cultural or economic impact of the industry or nor should they overshadow the activities of the rest of the culture on a nightly basis.

The actions of fanatics and the popular perception of nightlife make it an easy target for those who are looking for a villain to bolster their agenda. Local government goes after nightlife to appear tough on crime. Community boards seek to suppress nightlife in an unrealistic attempt to alter the city to fit their image of it. Real estate developers push for rezoning and increased land charges that push nightlife spaces out of business. And all these attacks are supported by the unspoken proposition that nightlife deserves to be attacked and suppressed because the business of pleasure is inherently evil.

The reason I felt that this book needed to be written is because if nightlife is going to be the sacrificial lamb of local politics and diluted to the point of banality then we need to know what the cost of that sacrifice will be to all of us, whether we patronize clubs or not. If we understand that nightlife is a hub for art and culture we might be more enthusiastic to protect it. If we know that our financial future can benefit from nightlife we might be less willing to passively watch it decline. If we know that the positive effects far outweigh the negative ones we might be more rational in our approach to it. And perhaps most importantly, once we know that we have something valuable we might take more time to enjoy it.

Have fun.
Gamal Hennessy
November 2008

Avoiding Amateur Nights


By Gamal Hennessy

I love Halloween. It might be my favorite holiday. To me, it beats out Thanksgiving, July 4th and even Arbor Day. Part of my attraction to Halloween is the chance it gives people to move away from their day to day personas and create a new identity from their imaginations. Unfortunately, Halloween is also a breeding ground for amateurs, and little good can come from a night over run with amateurs.

Natives and amateurs
I need to be very clear about my distinction between nightlife natives and nightlife amateurs. Where you fit isn’t a function of how many clubs you’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 daily routine. We enjoy the drinking, dancing, dating and hustling that is a part of city living. It’s not a problem for us to go out three or four nights a week and consistently make it to work the next day without hangovers, scars or gaps in our memory.

In contrast, amateurs tend to crash and burn. The combination of liquor, hormones, drugs and sleep deprivation overwhelm them, leading them to make decisions that can generously be described as questionable. When you’re out and you see people starting fights, throwing up in the street, peeing between cars, getting thrown into a squad car or an ambulance, or unable to show up at work the next day you’re looking at amateurs. When community boards complain about the nightlife that is ruining their quality of life, they’re complaining about amateurs. Simply put, amateurs give natives a bad name.

The need for amateurs
At this point, you might think that I don’t appreciate amateurs. That is simply not true. Amateurs are essential to nightlife for several reasons. First, everyone has to start somewhere. It has been said that you don’t really know your limit until you’ve crossed it. Many natives go through an amateur period of excess that teaches them what they can and can’t handle. As long as you 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 revenue. When amateurs go out, they pay bouncers at the door to get in, then pay cover charges and pay full price (or more) for their drinks or even better they just buy bottles. When natives go out many of them have ways of having a good time without spending a lot of cash. If everyone was a native, clubs wouldn’t make enough to stay open.

Finally, and most importantly, some people like being amateurs. Of course, they don’t call themselves amateurs. They consider themselves hardcore gangsters or players who need to prove how much liquor, coke or sex they can consume in public. But since our definition of amateur revolves around excess quantity, anyone whose goal is over consumption qualifies as an amateur.

Avoiding amateurs
If you’ve read this far and decided that you want to avoid amateurs at night, be careful. There are some common misconceptions out there. Some people believe that if you avoid B&T traps, you avoid amateurs. Not true. While it is true that many amateurs come from outside the city, amateurs can pop up anywhere…even in Brooklyn. Also, some people might think that if you just get a bottle and stay in the VIP area you are shielded from amateurs. This is a trap. Amateurs often buy their way into places they couldn’t otherwise get into. They are actually drawn to the VIP area for the temporary status it promises. There is nothing worse than paying several hundred dollars for Grey Goose AND being surrounded by amateurs all night.

There are two main ways I’ve found to avoid amateurs. The first is to go out on the nights that they stay home. Sunday to Thursday are the best native nights. Friday and Saturday are mostly amateur nights. The second solution is to go to the places where amateurs can’t get in, including house parties, private clubs or out of the way spots that the amateurs haven’t found yet. Even in this period of political change, this might be one occasion where segregation is desirable.

When amateurs attack
As I stated before, you can find amateurs all over the city on any given night. However there are some nights when the concentration of amateurs swells to crisis levels. These nights include the birthday of the individual amateur, New Year’s Eve and Halloween. If you consider that Halloween (an amateur holiday) falls on a Friday (a traditional amateur night) during a period of severe economic stress, you might come to the conclusion that tonight is a perfect storm for amateurs. Many natives will be willing to brave this storm and have a good time. I’m not. Enjoy yourselves tonight and let me know how it goes. Hopefully I’ll see you at the lounge next Wednesday for the victory parties…

Have fun.
Gamal

Rock and Roll Real Estate


By Gamal Hennessy

The CMJ festival began this week, which gave me a chance to see one of my favorite local bands down at Fat Baby. The downtown rock sound of Tigers & Monkeys was an enjoyable diversion to everything going on with the markets and the election but it didn’t take long for economics to find its way into the underground performance space.


Whenever you go to a live show in the LES, there is a controlled chaos between acts. Band members become roadies breaking down and setting up their own equipment, friends go off to smoke and refill drinks. I don’t smoke and I wasn’t in the band, so I looked around for a way to pass the time before the next set started. I saw a young lady standing close by that looked interesting. Since flirting for a few minutes is always entertaining, I started to look for an opportunity to approach.

Unfortunately she was already with a guy and their body language suggested they were a couple. While this does present a problem, it is not necessarily a deal breaker. The best solution is to start talking to the guy to avoid conflict, draw both of them in, figure out exactly what their relationship is, and then flirt indirectly. The process takes longer to do, but what else was I doing?

It turns out that this guy, Jay, was between jobs. He recently worked in commercial real estate, but new deals were hard to come by. Even existing deals were falling apart as the market tanked. Jay decided to get out before things got too bad (or Jay got fired, it’s not the important part of the story) and he was relaxing for a few weeks.

I forgot about the girl for a few minutes because I wanted to find out what Jay might know. The rise of the real estate developer has put a lot of pressure on nightlife after 9/11. I decided to get his inside perspective on how the down market was affecting New York’s real estate boom and ultimately impacting nightlife.

Q: What’s going to happen to all the buildings in the city that are half done?
A: A lot of those projects came from new developers who were trying to cash in on the peaking boutique hotel market. Banks are trying to get out of those deals now by putting the developers into default. They’re afraid these new developers won’t be able to turn a profit. At the same time they don’t want to hold such a high volume of property and write down so many bad deals because it will beat down confidence on Wall Street even more. So the developers and the banks are in a stalemate. Neither side wants to blink.

Q: How do you see this shaking out?
A: The banks are going to use the bailout to start over. Once the bailout takes affect, the government will buy a lot of the bad deals. After that, third parties will come in and buy those projects from the government at a discount. The new developers that don’t have experience will be pushed out and flagship property owners like Marriott and Hilton will come in and use their systems and buying power to keep costs down and get those places open.

Q: How do you see all this affecting the clubs?
A: It will hit the bigger places harder. Bottle service spots are going to take it on the chin because finance guys can’t afford it anymore. The smaller spots like this one will do better, because they know how to make money without bottles.

Now I can’t confirm Jay’s credentials and even if he knew what he was talking about he might have been too drunk to make an accurate assessment. But his answers didn’t sound that farfetched. Steven Lewis predicted the recession would create a similar dynamic in nightlife. Clubs run by inexperienced owners who rely on bottles will fold and owners who can keep people coming and keep costs down can ride things out and take over poorly run spots. While Jay’s perspective on bottle service doesn’t take into account all the bottles that the street pharmacists still buy his answers were good enough for an out of work broker.

After a few more minutes of banter, the next band started playing, the girl was gone and my friends came back from their smoking break. Having done all I could at Fat Baby, I followed my friends in search of late night eats. We found a diner built in the shadow of a construction site on East Houston. If Jay was right, that site was might stay empty for a long time.

Have fun.
Gamal

The Best Night Club in the City


By Gamal Hennessy

I sat in on a restaurant panel at the New York Food & Wine Festival last weekend. The moderator started off the discussion by asking the collection of celebrity chefs, owners, critics and PR gurus “What’s your favorite New York spot and why?” As they each chimed in about their favorite places to eat, I thought about how I answer that question when it comes to nightlife. I realized that it is a common question with an uncommon answer.

When I tell people I own a nightlife magazine, they often ask me to name my favorite spots. My answer is never consistent. My list is long and the venues really have nothing to do with each other. While I factor in a lot of external elements like the quality of the music, service and the crowd, my favorite clubs all share something that is beyond the control of the club itself. External factors are secondary to the connections I develop when I’m there.

There is a lounge in the Upper East Side called Vudu. I’ve only been there once and I might have only been there for an hour, but it’s one of my favorite spots. I took one of my writers there and we settled in to watch gorgeous Latin women dancing salsa in every direction. After a few minutes of trying to be discreet with my ogling, I noticed that she and I were both staring at the same women. I said “You’ve got good taste.” She smiled and said “I’m a lesbian. I know what to look for.” We’ve been best friends ever since.

I love Honey even though their music comes out of an IPod, the service floats from decent to poor and the crowd is very forgettable. It’s a favorite spot because I’ve started and built several strong connections there with beautiful women. Everything else that happens there is secondary.

One of my favorite spots of all time is the Ye Olde Tripple Inn. I’m not a big fan of dive bars and calling this place a dive is a rave review. It was a hole, complete with sticky floors, lopsided tables and cigarette burns in the cheap tablecloths. But a lot of my former co-workers became my closest friends in that spot. We celebrated, vented, plotted, and laughed there almost every week for five years. Even when people left the company, they would still regularly come back to drink with us at the Tripple. The bar closed in 2003. The company we worked for fell apart a year later. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

When someone asks you to name your favorite bar or club you might throw out the name of the most popular, most exclusive model and bottle trap or the newest celebrity owned lounge. If you genuinely enjoy those spots, more power to you. If you just need to fit in, it might be time to stop worrying about where everyone else wants to go and figure out where you want to go.

What do you want to listen to? Who do you want to see and meet? How do you want to be treated? What do you need to have fun? Once you find out the answers to those questions, then you can find the best club in the city for you…

Have fun.
G