By Gamal Hennessy
(Adapted from the upcoming book Seize the Night)
If you are a sane individual then you usually have reasons for doing the things you do. You go to work to make money. You eat because you’re hungry. You fall asleep on the train because you’re tired. You may not consciously know why you do certain things, but if you stop and think about it, you can usually figure out the reason.
So why do you go out at night? It can deprive you of sleep, money and the chance to watch reality TV. If you spend time in bars and clubs, you put in time, money and energy. Do you get anything out of it?
I think there are as many reasons for going out as there are people who go out. After years of non-scientific, anecdotal, and random observation, I’ve devised eight broad categories to explain our motivations. Seven of them can be lumped under the concept of “having fun,” and one is almost a burden (but still much better than being in the office). Take a look and figure out which category fits you best.
Acceptance (The group we belong to):
Many of us have feelings and lifestyles that don’t fit the image of what is “normal” in American society. Maybe it is the way we want to dress or the way we want to act or who we are attracted to. When you go out during the day, you have to hide it. When you’re at home with your family, you might have to repress it. But you can find a party or a scene in nightlife with people who see the world in ways that are similar to yours. And that can make the rest of your existence much more bearable.
Consumption (The things we take in):
For some people, it’s beer. For others, it’s dirty martinis. Some of us want to eat sumptuous food and some of us want things that perpetuate the war on drugs. It doesn’t really matter what your particular poison is, a big part of nightlife is about eating, drinking and smoking freely. The reason specialty venues like wine bars, micro brew bars and hookah bars do so well because we are willing to pay good money to satisfy our hunger to imbibe.
Connection (The people we meet):
You can meet a friend at a bar for a drink when she wants to talk. You can go out for happy hour after work with your co-workers to bitch about your boss. You can have girls’ night out or you can cruise the hotel bars looking for cougars. Humans are social creatures. We have a need to connect with one another. At work and at home, you are constrained in your behavior and limited as to the people you can interact with. When you go out, the walls come down. You can talk and act more freely. You can meet people for a minute or forge bonds that last for years. The connections might be intense or shallow, but the energy is different at night than it is during the day.
Entertainment (The things we see and hear):
The chance to see, hear or feel something is a huge part of nightlife. You might be listening to an unknown comic one night and be part of the insane crowds at a Danny Tenaglia concert the next night. Nightlife entertainment can be something as innocent as watching a baseball game at a local bar or as corrupt as the champagne room at a local strip club (actually, it can get much worse than that, but you get the idea). It’s been said that one man’s pornogrpahy is another man’s art, and no time is that more true than at night. What you want to see and hear at night actually says a lot about how you see yourself as a person.
Flash (The wealth we display):
There are people who want to be seen spending big money on bottle service. They want you to see their Mercedes SUV. The idea of getting a discount or going to happy hour makes them cringe. Why? Because they are living the glamorous life and they want you to know it. Consumption here isn’t as important as being able to afford the consumption. If you have the money (or just want to look as if you do) you want the car, the clothes and the Grey Goose. What better place to display your status than in the club?
Obligation (The social debt):
There are times we go out when we don’t really want to. Your client is in town from Kansas. Someone has to take them out. Tag, you’re it. Your girlfriend’s brother is having a birthday party. She’s going, so you’re going. Tag, you’re it. Your friend just got fired, dumped or rejected for the cast of Real World 37. He or she wants you to meet them for a drink. Tag, you’re it. This is the only reason for going out that might not be much fun, but compared to being stuck in your office or bored at home, it’s not that bad, is it?
Release (The temporary escape):
Sometimes you need a break. You can’t sit in your cubical anymore. If your boss calls you one more time about TPS reports, you’re going to cut someone. You’ve tried to like Glee and it’s just not working for you. You need to dance. You need to spend time with your friends. You need to get away from the desk, the Blackberry and the TV for a few hours. Going out isn’t as long as a vacation, but you don’t have to be frisked by Homeland Security to get into the club.
Sex (The common theme):
Expressions of sexuality can be found in almost every aspect of nightlife. The clothing is tighter and more revealing. The conversation has more carnal energy. Inhibitions are lowered with alcohol. The movements on the dance floor don’t leave anything to the imagination. Nightlife is a sexual metaphor on a city wide scale. It can be simple or elaborate, fun or dangerous, satisfying or forgettable, mysterious or revealing, expensive or cheap. Whatever the experience, sexuality is the main reason why so many people keep coming back night after night.
Nightlife is a cultural setting that can be many things to many people. What you find when you go out depends a lot on what you’re looking for. The magic of New York nightlife is that, no matter what you are looking for, you can find the spot or the scene that fits your tastes. All you have to do is find it.