Is New York Nightlife Dead?
By Gamal Hennessy
Rest in Peace?
There is certain level of malaise floating through the city when it comes to nightlife. This general dissatisfaction stems from the concept that the golden age of club life in New York is long gone. You can read it in the club reviews from magazines. You can hear it from people who ran through the clubs in the 80’s and 90’s. They say that the New York nightlife scene is dead.
The evidence to support this concept is pretty strong. Legendary spots like Studio 54, Palladium and Limelight have been gone for years, replaced by theaters and NYU dorms. AIDS and drugs hit the club scene harder than almost any other segment of society and took many of our pioneers away. Major acts like Bob Dylan or Madonna rarely bubble out of the club scene now. Today we watch them hatch on American Idol. The cabaret and ‘quality of life’ laws of the Giuliani era have been a further drag on a once very decadent environment. Other cities like San Francisco or Atlanta or Montreal have become the places to party. Things have changed a lot over the past few years.
But does that mean that our nightlife scene is gone? Have we missed the chance to enjoy New York nightlife?
Maybe nightlife has gone from alive to dead, but maybe something else has happened.
The Evolution of Choice
From the 70’s to the late 80’s there were a few dozen spots that ruled the nightlife landscape. When it was time to go out, you went to the places everyone went to and you tried to get in. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t.
Now it’s different.
All of our entertainment is different now. Back then, you had a handful of television stations to watch. Now you can have 500 channels of cable television and sites like YouTube allow you to have more focused interests, watching hundreds of hours of video and never turning on your TV. During the 80’s you listened to radio or watched MTV to get your music. Now digital music, internet radio and ipods give you the ability to ignore radio altogether. We live in a time and a place of limitless choices when it comes to entertainment, so how can we expect nightlife entertainment to just be defined by a few dozen clubs?
Different People, Different Venues
If you actually think about what the New York nightlife scene is, you’ll realize it goes far beyond clubs. There are various venues that speak to the various tastes that New Yorkers have. The wine snob and the club kid for instance, both might go out on Friday night, and they might both come stumbling home at 4 AM, but they each had very different experiences. Even two club kids who have different tastes in music, income and lifestyle might visit wildly different venues. The more choices there are, the more ability we have to enjoy ourselves.
Moving In and Moving Out
In many respects, club life in the past was a binary situation. Either you were in (which meant you knew other people in the scene, you smoked, you drank, you did drugs, you stayed out all night) or you were out (which meant that you didn’t). But because the amount of choice has increased, things are more fluid.
Time is less of a factor. You could decide to go out straight after work for happy hour or catch and early show or watch a game at a sports bar during prime time. If you want to go out later, a club nap (sleeping between 8-10 PM) or a Red Bull will give you the energy to catch a late concert or dance all night.
Space isn’t as much of a barrier either. You don’t have to stick to your neighborhood bar and you don’t have to live near a spot to know what is going on. Many venues have websites. There are several different services available online to find parties of every type in every borough. Travel at night is safer (which might be the only benefit from the quality of life laws) so you can go to any party that you can find and you can find any party that you really look for.
Make Your Choice
Have you ever thought about what makes nightlife work? It’s not really the clubs themselves. They are just buildings. The people in the scene make it what it is. The judgment of whether something is good or bad is a function of who is involved in it and who is making the judgment about it.
Think about the people you have heard say New York nightlife is dead. How do they know its dead? Do they go out now and see empty clubs and bartenders starring blankly out the window? Did these people ever go out in the first place? If they did, why did they stop? Did they decide that they personally didn’t want to go out anymore and then decide that if they weren’t there, then the scene must be dead?
How do they get to impose their decisions on you?
Think about the people who defined the golden age of New York club life. Did they stop going out because they couldn’t find a good scene, or did they make their own party so great that everyone wanted to be included? Did they wait for someone to tell them where to go, or did they follow their own tastes? Did they follow the herd or did they define the time that they lived in?
Maybe you have personally decided that the club scene that gave us the Tunnel and the Roxy was the real thing and today’s scene just isn’t worth the effort. Sexually transmitted diseases and drugs and commercialism did have an intense effect. There are other ways to spend your free time. You don’t have to go out if you don’t want to. That is the power of choice.
Or maybe you are ready to carve your own niche. Maybe you know what you want and what you like and you are willing to get up off the couch and get it. No matter what you like or where you are there is a party for you. All you have to do is find it. You can go out if you want to. That is the power of choice.
In the end each of us has to decide for ourselves whether or not New York nightlife is dead. We all have choices, more choices than the New Yorkers before us. We can find the places that give us pleasure and enjoy our own golden age, or we can just stay home and watch others enjoy life on TV.
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