Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Let the Music Play: The Importance of Nightlife to Our Music

By Gamal Hennessy

Nightlife is Music
In many ways, music defines your nightlife experience. The type of club you‘re in, the type of people who go there, what those people will do when they get there and the unique character of the club can all be determined by the music being played. When someone asks me for advice about what lounge they should go to, or what club they should spend their Saturday night in, I always ask about their musical preferences. While some venues put little or no thought into what kind of music goes on from night to night, the venues that last the longest, whether you are talking about Cielo or Pacha, Don Hills or the Blue Note, are known for a particular type of music.

Music and American culture
As important as music is to nightlife, you must also remember how important nightlife is to music. In an age of American Idol and iTunes it is easy to forget that iconic artists, legendary venues and entire genres of music come from the bars and clubs of New York City. Modern American music was born, grew up in and peaked on our stages. We are not just talking about hip hop and house. We are talking about jazz, salsa, folk, punk and several other genres. We are talking about everyone from Miles Davis to Santana to Bob Dylan to Blondie to Madonna to Junior Vasquez to Diddy and Lady Gaga. New York nightlife is as important to music as Hollywood is to movies.

Nightlife and the Creative Process
Musicians of every type have come to New York to make it big since the 1920‘s. This is where they perfect their skills and musical styles in small empty venues before they become polished enough to go on tour. This is where they watch and interact with other artists to make connections and get better. This is where they hustle to survive until their break comes. Aspiring musicians need nightlife to reach their dreams.

Nightlife Music Now
Yes, music in nightlife has changed. A&R people don’t have to haunt smoky bars at 3 a.m. to find the next big thing when they can watch YouTube instead. Venues are less willing to take risks with unknown music when they are struggling to make a profit. You and I can get our music any time we want, anyplace we want, so we are less willing to take a chance on a new artist much less a new genre. An artist can make a song, distribute it online and shop it around the world with out leaving her house.

But none of that changes the basic facts. Nightlife is still where our singers, songwriters, rappers, DJ’s and moguls of the future get their start. Nightlife is where you can develop a special connection to your music whether you hear your favorite artist live or you throw yourself into his song on the dance floor. Nightlife is music. As a special tribute to the connection between New York nightlife and music, we are going to dedicate the month of July to the heartbeat of the city. When I’m done, you’ll know that nightlife is as important to music as music is to you…

Have fun.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ninth Ward, 192 Proof Vodka and Letting Go of Nightlife’s Past

The Nightlife Report for June 23, 2010
Compiled by Gamal Hennessy

...we hunt down the nightlife news so you don't have to...

Ninth Ward
(Urban Daddy)
A dark Creole inspired cocktail bar lands in the East Village, complete with an outdoor garden for the summer.

Villa Parci
(Urban Daddy)
This Meatpacking venue plans to fuse all the current nightlife trends into one five story structure. If you need an Italian restaurant, underground lounge, brunch club, cafĂ© and rooftop bar all in the same place, this is the spot you’ve been waiting for.

Stop Living in the Past
(Guest of a Guest)
Florent Morellet, restaurateur/ drag queen and unofficial mayor of the Meatpacking District, has a message for New York nightlife; stop living in the past and invent something new.

Tips for a Single Guy to Get Into a Club
(Club Planet)
With a brief homage to the Roy Den Hollander School of Misogyny, Humberto Guida offers a pathetic series of tactics that probably won’t get you into any club worth going to. He does have one decent tip though, if you act like you don’t belong then you probably won’t get in.

Return of the Club Kids
(New York Post)
The over the top fashion that was popular in the days of Limelight and Studio 54 is beginning to make a comeback on the heels of Lady Gaga and the big top party at Carnival. Maybe these kids are taking Morellet’s advice.

SLA Gets $2.4 Million Dollar Upgrade
Governor Paterson has approved funding for the State Liquor Authority to update its online licensing system. An improved system could speed up the licensing process and make it faster for operators to open new venues. That means more money for the state. More importantly, it means more places for us to go.

Spirytus Vodka
(Daily News)
The SLA has recently approved the sale of vodka that claims to be 192 proof. If you’re not clear on what that means, proof is the measure of alcohol in liquor. In the United States, proof is exactly twice the percentage of alcohol. So liquor with a proof of 192 is about 96% pure alcohol. By comparison, Grey Goose vodka is 80 proof. Before you rush out to add this to your Red Bull, consider this; the distributor claims that Spirytus is the brand of vodka that is consumed in Siberia and one drinker of the stuff says “Drinking it is like getting punched in the solar plexus.” I’ve been punch in the solar plexus before. It’s not really my idea of a good time.

Have fun

Monday, June 21, 2010

The NYN Guide to Pride

By Special Guest Contributor Sarah Hall

Pride is an amazing rainbow colored chose your-own-adventure that can make your grandma break out the glitter. This week long extravaganza is filled with parades, street fairs, bar parties and dancing on the pier. Pride offers something for everyone. It’s one of those great NYC events where millions of people turn out and everyone is welcome: boys, girls, families and even the straight people. That’s right straights, this one is for you too. Pride is a celebration of difference and the acceptance of those differences, yours included.

Successfully navigating pride can be difficult even for veterans, but is usually a daunting obstacle course for first time priders. One of the biggest challenges is that like NYC, there are just too many choices and “I want to have the most fun possible but don’t know where to go” hysteria can quickly set in. To help you combat this, we have surveyed several NYC Pride repeat offenders to find out the best spots for your to pride it up like a pro.


Sunday, June 27, 12pm
Fifth Ave & 36th St to the West Village
This one is obvious; it’s the grand finale and the showstopper. But while going to the parade is easy, the trick is finding the right place to watch it. The first criteria for picking your spot should be one that’s near a public bathroom since finding a place to go will be one of the biggest challenges you will face on Sunday. The second thing to keep in mind is who you and your friends want to be around when the party starts. I’ve always found that the most fun crowds are in the West Village with the most coveted viewing spots centered around the cabaret bar Duplex.

Girl Party Picks

Sunday, June 27th, 2pm-12am
17th St & 9th Ave
Cover: $15 before 6 pm $20 after
This party is a staple in the NYC scene but on holidays like Pride, the promoter Maggie C really brings out the big guns. This year Stiletto will have a circus theme complete with cotton candy machines, dunk tanks fortune tellers and a very pretty crowd. The only draw back is that the venue has small bathrooms so be sure to “go” before you go.

Saturday, June 26th, 10pm-4am
Cover: $20 before 11pm, $25 after, $20 Guests w/Rapture party wristbands
Proposition is the newest NYC girl party and it draws a great crowd every week. For Pride, Prop is teaming up with the legendary girl party from LA. Truckstop for its first east coast appearance. Truckstop is known for drawing a diverse crowd, so expect to check your inhibitions at the door and step into a little girl on girl spring break paradise where there is something for everyone.

Boy Party Picks

Governor's Island
Saturday June 26th
Pride will spread beyond Manhattan at this over the top event. Touted as "Europe's Biggest Party", Matinee New York comes to us directly from Ibiza, and "dancing is only the beginning...". If you're into pyrotechnics, cirque-du-soleil-esque aerial acts, latex-clad go-go persons, and large snakes, well, then...we'll know where to find you.

18 Little West 12th Street
Cover: $25
Veteran DJ’s Gustavo and Rick King will move their monthly party for the “fun, friendly, furry, foxy" from the cozy Westside Tavern to the iconic club Cielo for a post-Pride-dance-on-the-pier party. So just in case nearly 48 hours of non-stop dancing leaves you feeling MORE PROUD THAN EVER, stumble northwards to this haven for the hairy and their not-so-hairy-friends.

Have fun.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rabbit in the Moon, Sky Room and the Standard Hotel Rooftop

The Nightlife Report for June 17, 2010
Compiled by Gamal Hennessy

…I hunt down the nightlife news so you don’t have to…
Rabbit in the Moon
A new gastropub has hopped into the Village (sorry, I had to throw in that pun). Sample the foie gras with strawberry gastrique before the NYU kids come back for the fall semester and discover this place.

Standard Rooftop
(Urban Daddy)
Boom Boom Room, the club of the moment nestled inside the Standard Hotel, is opening up its rooftop this week. If you consider that Boom Boom is one of the hardest doors in the city right now and rooftop bars are typically hard to get into during the summer anyway, then you should be very proud of yourself if you get to enjoy a summer sunset here.

Sky Room
(Urban Daddy)
If you can’t get into the Standard rooftop, and you’ve had enough of Hudson Terrace or the Empire rooftop, head over to Times Square. Go into the Marriott Marquis before the park in the middle of Broadway and the tourists throngs piss you off too much, skip the revolving bar and visit this new rooftop lounge that will give you great views of everything in the city, except those people down below sitting in the middle of the street.

NYC Sets Up Community Tools for Self Organizing
(Business Wire)
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is introducing a new online system that will help community boards and other citizens get access to and get involved with local government. This could make it even easier for “block associations” and community boards to band together to put pressure on local operators, but it can also be a way for nightlife supporters to get together and prove that not everyone in New York wants all the clubs closed.

Trends in Successful Nightlife Operations
(Good Night Mr. Lewis)
I’ve already pointed out that various economic and political pressures on nightlife operators are forcing them to alter their business models and adapt to the changing times. Steve Lewis touches on a few of the major trends that have taken hold in the past few years including increased food service, nightlife/ hotel alliances, all digital DJ booths and guest list only events. The movement toward smaller multi purpose venues could be another sign of the end of big Pacha/ Santos type clubs in New York until someone can come up with a business model that can support it.

Have fun

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Blind Barber, The Imperial, Loreley, NIMBY and More World Cup

The Nightlife Report for June 11, 2010
Compiled by Gamal Hennessy

…we hunt down the nightlife news so you don’t have to…

World Cup
(Martini Boys)
If you don’t have a favorite spot to drink beer and cheer for your favorite team at 8 in the morning, check out these World Cup Headquarters locations.

The Blind Barber
(Urban Daddy)
The East Village may not need another barbershop, but this one has a cocktail lounge attached, so we’ll let it slide this time…

Lorely Williamsburg
Williamsburg may not need another beer hall, but this one used to be a gas station, so we’ll let it slide this time…

(Club Planet)
The hotspot makes an early exit out of Flatiron.

Nightlife Media
Gamal Hennessy

(U.S. Politics Today)
Earlier this week I spoke to a group of politicians and regulators about the importance of nightlife to a city’s economic future.

Not In My Backyard (NIMBY)
New York Burger
(Chelsea Now)
The residents of West Chelsea are trying to close this Burger shop before it even opens, fearing another Pop Burger, because we all know a place that serves burgers and wine is really just a crack house in disguise.

West Chelsea
(Good Night Mr. Lewis)
Eight of the main venues in this area have shut down. A neighborhood that was once abandoned has been replaced by condos and skyscrapers. I wonder how that area got so popular? The answer of course is the very nightclubs that are now being pushed out.

Underage Drinking
(New York Post)
Mainstream media makes money building up the image of nightlife as a detriment to the city. Last week, the Post had an intern try and get drinks at various establishments and found that more than 50% of them were willing to severe at 20 year old liquor. Even if you ignore the fact that only 5 of the 17 places were actually nightlife venues (the others were bodegas and delis) the message to operators is clear: We are looking for reasons to attack you. This will most certainly be used as NIMBY ammunition when these venues come up for liquor license renewal.

Miss Lily
(Daily News)
Anna Wintour, the Queen of Vogue Magazine, rallied the NIMBYs against a new Jamaican themed venue from the operators who brought you The Box. It seems odd that the icon of cosmopolitan living would come out against the very thing that gives the city its energy. Where are all the pro nightlife celebrities out there?

Have fun.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Victims of Their Own Success: Nightlife as the Unwitting Agent of Gentrification

By Gamal Hennessy

West Chelsea used to be an isolated pocket of Manhattan with nothing but housing projects, warehouses and a post office processing plant. Now it has some of the most expensive condos in the city. This didn’t happen overnight. The area became desirable partially because the nightlife industry injected new life into it. But if nightlife can have such a positive effect on an area, why do the clubs in that area get shut down? More importantly, why would operators want to run a business in a city where they are punished for their success?

In the fields of urban planning and sociology, the nightlife industry in New York suffers from a concept called gentrification. This concept attempts to explain the changing demographic patterns of people who live in a certain area. Under this theory, middle class residents of an urban area begin to relocate to another part of the city or the suburbs. As people move and the price of real estate drops with decreased demand, immigrant and low income groups move into that area. They are followed by students, artists and other young people who want to live in the city, but can’t afford the higher rent districts.

The mixture of cultures and artistic energy sparks a period of creativity. Operators move into the area to capitalize on both the energy of the space and the lack of residential density, which provides opportunities to create environments that might not be attractive to the wider population.

When enough creative and nightlife people establish themselves in an area, it is “discovered” and changes from an unknown art district to “the next big thing.” The area is now ordained a desirable place to go. Using the vocabulary of Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Tipping Point, the area “tips” or, in more basic terms, the area is now “cool”. Younger professionals are drawn there to be close to their artistic peers and the venues they have created. Property values begin to rise. Real estate developers push to build new residences for people to buy and urge changes in the zoning laws to allow for more residences. More affluent groups move in and start families.

At this point, the newest residents who are paying top dollar for their condos, co-ops and brownstones, are unwilling to accept the conditions that artists accepted for the sake of expediency. They are unwilling to trade the quiet or space of living in the suburbs for the convenience of living in the city the way B&T commuters do. They want both. They take steps to change the area by removing the elements that made it desirable in the first place with community boards and other forms of political influence. Prices continue to rise. The low income, artistic and nightlife elements are forced out. The area becomes what some advocates refer to as a "bedroom community,” where little transpires beyond residents going to work and coming back home. The area stagnates. Living there becomes less desirable. The residents of the area begin to migrate and the cycle begins to repeat itself.

Keep in mind that the process of gentrification is not necessarily rapid nor does it apply to everyone who lives in a particular area or every neighborhood in a particular city. It might take decades for a particular neighborhood to gentrify and revert, but the process of gentrification has manifested itself - to one extent or another - in Greenwich Village, the Meatpacking District, and West Chelsea. It has even started in Williamsburg with the announcement of a new luxury condo building. Gentrification causes the “cool” neighborhoods to shift, which has a direct impact on nightlife in that area.

I’m not trying to imply that the process of gentrification is purely negative in relation to nightlife. A certain level of gentrification is desirable, and even required, for nightlife to grow since some operators and natives need a certain comfort level in an area before they move in. But using nightlife to build up and area and then re-zoning it to force the operators out is short sighted and detrimental to the city as a whole. New York City needs to have a healthy mixture of nightlife and residential buildings and both groups need to exist together. Operators won’t continue to dump millions into a blighted area if the reward for their efforts is constructive eviction. And if one group is sacrificed for the sake of another, the area will stagnate again and the cycle of loss will repeat itself.

Have fun.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Double Seven, Richie Rich and the World Cup

The Nightlife Report for June 3, 2010

…I hunt down the nightlife news so you don’t have to…

Coming Soon
Double Seven
A former pillar of Meatpacking nightlife is set to make its return this season. Can it reclaim its niche from all the other venues that have popped up in its absence?

Play Beautiful
(Urban Daddy)
Whether you are an avid fan of international football or you’re American who only thinks soccer is something that suburban moms drive their kids to, it is time for the World Cup to take over your water cooler conversation. Now you can experience the game at Play Beautiful, a temporary space set up specifically for fans to watch every 2010 World Cup game. The good news is that seats at this TV arena are free. That bad news is that you can’t get it without a reservation…so call now.

Richie Rich
(NBC Nitetalk)
A personality from nightlife’s previous era offers lucid thoughts about partying with Madonna, the rise of bottle service and the transformation of Limelight from a club to a shopping mall.

Product Launch
Hennessy Black*
Hennessy is already the best selling cognac in the world. It’s already constantly mentioned in rap lyrics. It’s already part of a luxury brand conglomerate that includes Moet and Louis Vuitton. Now it’s jumping into the cocktail market with Hennessy Black, a less expensive and lighter tasting alternative to its VSOP and XO brands. Considering how much marketing pull the company already has, I wouldn’t be surprised if Black cocktails started to turn up in several of New York’s cocktail speakeasies.

SLA Keeps Fast Track Licensing
(New York Times)
A few weeks ago, I
reported on the success of the recent SLA self certification initiative to process liquor license applications in weeks instead of months. That program was supposed to be temporary, but budget cuts and reduced staff levels in all levels of state governments has prompted the SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen to keep the fast track process in place. This will allow the organization to deal with budget cuts without causing the backlog to build up again. While this is probably not good news to local community boards who were eager to see the plan go, it could be one of the few instances when budget cuts and a week economy actually benefit the nightlife industry.

Have fun.

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* No. In spite of my last name, I don’t know of any connection between me and the Hennessy family connected to the Hennessy brand. If I did, I wouldn’t have to work for a living. ;)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Has City Hall Turned its Back on the City That Never Sleeps?

By Gamal Hennessy

National think tanks like the
Responsible Hospitality Institute and local trade organizations like the New York Nightlife Association agree that the most successful relationship between local government and the nightlife industry is a balanced combination of planning, managing and policing. If one element is over emphasized to the detriment of the others, then the industry and the surrounding community suffers. Unfortunately, the recent relationship between New York nightlife and local government focuses on policing to the detriment of the industry and the overall community.

Attacks or Neglect?
City Hall’s position on nightlife can be inferred by the laws that it chooses to enforce and the way it decides to enforce them. There are four major policies that have a stated objective but wind up hurting the industry far more than they benefit society. While a more beneficial policy exists, for one reason or another, the City has decided to act against our industry.

The Cabaret Law: This anti integration law was allegedly revived to prevent overcrowding and conditions that led to situations like the Happy Land Social Club Fire in 1990. In reality, it became a tool of the Giuliani Administration to close venues that didn’t conform to his quality of life plan. The law forced operators to choose between spending considerable dollars acquiring a license, breaking the law or prohibiting a basic form of social expression without actually increasing the safety of patrons. If patron safety is actually the goal, then an increased emphasis on building safety codes and rolling back the law to avoid uneven benefit to venues that ignored the law can go along way in protecting us and recognizing dance as a form of free speech.

The Smoking Ban: A ban on indoor smoking was put in place with the stated goal of reducing the levels of second hand smoke that operators and patrons were being exposed to. While smoke free bars are a worthy goal, the way that the law is enforced increases tensions between neighbors and venues because compliance with the ban leads to an exponential increase in noise complaints. Public health can be protected without animosity between patrons and neighbors by separating smokers from non smokers with physical barrier inside the venue and requiring hospital grade air filtration systems in bars instead of just forcing everyone outside.

Zoning Policies In an effort to increase the amount of housing available for New York City’s growing population, the City has been re-zoing certain areas to allow for more residential buildings. The effect of this plan on nightlife is significant. Operators have set up in areas that were formerly isolated commercial zones like the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea. Their presence helped transform these areas into viable and attractive locations. Then the City changed the zoning law to allow for residences to be built in these areas. This places residential buildings adjacent to venues and increases friction between new residents and established clubs. Added to this is the fact that many new high rises are built without regards to the potential noise, traffic and pollution issues associated with the venues. If the City includes nightlife venues as a part of its long term zoning plans and required new and existing buildings to be built with this consideration in mind, it would go a long way in reducing the tensions between the groups and bolstering an industry that is vital to the city.

Nuisance Abatement Law: The City has always been interested in reducing illegal activity like drug sales, tax issues and violence found in certain venues. Like the smoking ban, the problem isn’t the goal of the policy, it is in the implementation. Venues have regularly been closed on Friday afternoon under the Nuisance Abatement Law. This means that by the time the case goes before a judge, the venue has lost several major days of revenue since the courts are not open on the weekends and it is the weekend where the club makes most of its money for the week. A simple choice to enforce the law in such a way that does not impose additional economic penalties on the operators can serve the public interest without imposing additional punishments on the operators.

The Basic Problem
The underlying issue here is the perception that officials have of the industry. Nightlife is often characterized as a detriment to the city or a necessary evil. It is natural for politicians to focus on policing if clubs are seen in this light. When politicians and officials see the benefits of the industry to New York, then it will be more natural to create policies that focus on planning and management rather than isolation and aggression. When they understand that nightlife is a necessary element of the city, they can plan for a future of the city that includes a strong nightlife industry.

The best way to change the perception of elected officials is to change the perception of the people who vote for them. Nightlife needs to become a political issue for the millions of eligible voters who can sway an election. There are individual elements of the industry that have the ability to have a wide reach through a combination of events, promotions and celebrity endorsements. Harnessing those elements with the goal of changing the perception of the industry and influencing its politics is the most viable way to change the relationship between local government and the industry.

Have fun.

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