Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Does a New Decade Mean New Nightlife?
By Gamal Hennessy
Nightlife in the 1970’s was about discos. The 80s gave rise to the mega club. The 90s brought us lounges. The first decade of the 21st century made the speakeasy and the exclusive venue prominent. What major trend will permeate New York nightlife in this new decade?
Nightlife is similar to any other local industry. It does not develop in isolation. Economic, political and social factors create environment for nightlife trends. The economic malaise, reduced regulation and residual attitudes towards sex and recreational drugs from the free love era of the 60s created a space for the Studio 54, Limelight and Sound Factory scenes. Rising real estate prices, increased gentrification, more scrutiny from City Hall and onset of AIDS caused a contraction in the market leading to smaller venues that charged higher prices without the decadence of previous years. The residential real estate boom, increased security concerns, on demand entertainment and social media shaped the current pseudo celebrity climate that we are currently experiencing. In order to predict what the next decade will bring, we need to look at the external factors that will come into play.
Pundits are predicting a “U shaped recovery” meaning that it will be some time before employment, wages and spending return to pre-recession levels. That means that at least in the short term bottle service won’t be as strong a trend as it was in the last decade. Commercial real estate costs will not come down significantly forcing operators to either go with smaller spaces that are economically viable or go for a major venue that can serve multiple groups of patrons to maximize the revenue coming out of the space.
A third term for Mayor Bloomberg probably signals a certain amount of status quo in the relationship between nightlife and City Hall. However, recent changes in nightlife leadership and the creation of the Nightlife Preservation Community could be the beginning of a stronger nightlife lobby and increased political influence. The new chairman of the State Liquor Authority has made some progress in improving the situation between nightlife and the state government, but pressure from local politicians and community groups could push back any gains that have been made unless the industry remains wary.
Technology is on track to make niche entertainment and mobile connections more prominent. That means it will be harder to have one large venue catering to various different segments of the nightlife population all at once the way Studio 54 or Limelight did. It also means that because everyone is connected to the outside world all the time, it will be harder and harder to create a kind of escapist fantasy environment that nightlife represents. We won’t be able to escape because our connection to our world is always in our pockets. Finally, because everyone is in a position to broadcast their actions in real time and many of us are constantly trying to increase our popularity, status and image, the trend towards more and more outrageous public acts (whether real or staged) will probably increase.
It is too early to tell exactly what changes (if any) New York nightlife will see in the next decade. But it is clear that we need to look outside at our collective situation before we can look into our crystal balls. The operators and patrons who go out into the night with their eyes opened will be the ones who get the most out of the new nightlife.