Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Keys to the City Preview

By Gamal Hennessy

New York Nights is teaming up with Liquid Magazine to offer a new column called Keys to the City that will offer and insiders perspective on New York nightlife. The following article is a preview of what you can expect.

New York nightlife has enough different scenes to fit almost every taste, lifestyle and budget. Part of the magic of the city is that our size and our diversity create a range of experiences that I have only found in cities like London, Paris and Tokyo. As a writer and advocate of nightlife culture it is often difficult for me to make broad general statements about what bars and clubs are like in the city because the variety and choice here defy most attempts at simplification.

My work and my writing take me to a lot of different venues and I have encountered a lot of different aspects of what the city has to offer, but I think there are some things that are essential to a modern nightlife experience whether you are visiting the city for the first time or you are a seasoned nightlife native. I offer these observations and suggestions in the hopes that you will go out, enjoy yourself and have a greater appreciation of what nightlife in New York is all about.

Ladies: Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further; nightlife is a sexual metaphor and women are the soul of that image. They are who we want to see and be with when we go out. They are the reason nightlife has such a vibrant culture. They are the reason we spend money. While every city with nightlife has women, New York is the city where the combination of backgrounds, styles, nationalities, races, orientations and creativity of these women set the standard for women all over the world. New York women define New York nightlife. Everything else flows from them.

Dancing: There are a lot of things conspiring against dancing in New York City. Many venues are smaller than they were in the past, limiting the amount of space for dancing. The rise of bottle service has eaten up much of the remaining space. We even have anti dancing cabaret laws here (although they are not enforced with the same zeal as they were under Giuliani.) Having said that, there are still plenty of parties and plenty of places to get off your ass and (drink in hand) show the world you can do more than 2 step. House lovers have Sullivan Room and Cielo, among other spots. Salsa dancers can hit the Copacabana parties or Vudu. Reggae and soca lovers are in Roam and Element. Hip hop is played where ever you look. In the end, the only thing that can stop you from dancing is you.

Live music: People have come to New York to play music and hear music since Duke Ellington and Fats Waller played the Cotton Club. DJs, iPods and digital jukeboxes dominate the musical experience now, but there is something special that connects you to music when you hear it live. Legendary jazz spots like Blue Note, S.O.B.s, Garage and 55 Bar are all clustered together in the West Village. The East Village has the Knitting Factory, Pianos, Rockwood Music Hall and dozens of other venues. New hip hop acts will drop lyrics at Sin Sin, Canal Room or any place else where they can grab a mike. Patrons who go out to hear live music in New York are often listening to the next big thing, whether you are talking about Hendrix, Dylan, Bambatta or even Lady Gaga.

Unique Locations: Very few bars and clubs in New York are built from the ground up. Most owners go into spaces designed for a completely different purpose and recreate them into a new venue. Theaters, warehouses, storefronts, illegal massage parlors, banks, churches and other structures have all been used to create nightlife locations. The two major trends sweeping through the city now are the speakeasy and the roof top lounge. The speakeasies pretend to be hard to find and even harder to get into in an attempt to recreate the Prohibition Era feeling of transgression. The rooftop lounges use the skyline of New York itself as a back drop and many of them have retractable ceilings so you can party on the roof of a high rise in the middle of winter without catching pneumonia. Sampling both of these recent venue types will give you a new perspective to nightlife in New York.

High end drinks: Drinking is part of almost every nightlife experience, but in certain places drinking is the main point of the evening. I’m not talking about drinking to excess and blacking out in the back of a cab. You can do that in any bar. What I am talking about is going to those spots where the drinks are unique. Where the drinks are crafted with the same care and precision as a chef uses when he fawns over your meal at a five star restaurant. The return of the cocktail lounge is a recent phenomena in New York but there is a wide selection to choose from now. Whether you decide to visit, Milk and Honey, Flatiron Lounge, Mayahuel, PDT, Painkiller, Dutch Kills or Whiskey Ward you’ll get a drink worth savoring and a good reasons to go back to that bar.

There are as many reasons to go out into New York nightlife as there are people who go out. Whether or not you agree with my essential main attractions isn’t really the point. The point is for you to go out and find your own New York essentials and most importantly…

Have fun.

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