New York at Night (Unpublished '95)

“So, what’s the deal with people dancing in their chairs?” asked Louise Tornehave of Stockholm, my current houseguest and nocturnal companion, on a recent evening at System, the latest Manhattan nightclub we had come to check out. Techno reverberated through the smoky, twin bar-cum-lounge atrium, as several hundred Thursday night partiers of all ages, sects, and creeds boogied on the nearby dance floor. And at the next chair, indeed, a young, blond-topped, Harlow-type was contentedly dancing atop her upholstered chair.

Clearly, we had spotted a nocturnal trend. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but more and more nightclub patrons in New York have taken to dancing in their chairs. Why, just the night before another guy had been jumping atop an Ottoman at the fashiony Spy club — a large, plush, lounge-type affair which lacks a dance floor but boasts great music — as other patrons calmly sipped their cocktails and conversed nearby. It’s the rage, dear boy.

“Look,” Louise suddenly said, as a somewhat incongruous and vaguely familiar apparition dressed in plaid sauntered by. “The old man.” Call him the old man or the Plaid Man, he’s a slightly maniacal looking chap in his 70s, festooned in a plaid blazer covered with buttons of various sorts. Stewart is his name, I later learn, and he’s become a regular on the club scene, one of a small, elite group of bizarre characters whom party promoters employ for comic relief (a motley crew which also includes a man wearing a saddle who hired himself out as a human pony). Stewart, so it happens, is an excellent dancer. A few nights before we had seen him frugging it up with a model type fifty years his junior uptown at Au Bar, and very much holding his own. Alas, he didn’t recognize us…

Louise and I sighed. Perhaps we had been clubbing a bit too much. But it sure was fun while it lasted. For three solid weeks this past spring, my vacationing Nordic friend and I had methodically cruised through Manhattan’s clubland on behalf of Image, and, we are happy to report, New York’s nightlife is booming.

The club section of Time Out, the popular new listings guide that is a favorite with nighthawks, tells the story. Over sixty clubs of various sizes, shapes, and vintages with active scenes or “nights” are noted here, and that’s only a partial listing. Not long ago, it would have been difficult to come up with a list of a dozen decent places to dance and/or hang out the night away. Add to this the dozens of upscale bars, cafes, and live music venues which have sprouted up over the past year or so, and you have a veritable renaissance. Once again, it seems, New York City has become the nightlife capital of the world.

There are a number of reasons for this new noctural epoch. The AIDS scare, with its corollary fear of foreign bathrooms — and foreign partiers — is dying down (even though the disease seems to still be very much with us). With the city’s crime rate going down, fear of crime is also dropping; while still dangerous by Helsinki standards — do make sure your cab door is locked after you pile in (you never know who’s going to pile in with you), and do make sure that cab stops directly in front of your door — the city’s streets feel palpably safer than they did say, seven or eight years ago, when we were in the midst of a crack epidemic and there was a good chance of being accosted by a flying drug addict in the night.

Thus, in three weeks of nearly non-stop clubbing, we are happy to report, neither Louise nor I had a “bad experience” — unless you count the obnoxious guy at the Velvet Room, a new uptown haunt, who asked a few too many questions about my svelte companion’s jacket, and a perpetual hangover.

On top of this, tourism from abroad is up, and many of the new visitors — like my friend Louise — are anxious and ready to boogie.

In short, people are going out again. And New York’s club world is fast expanding to accommodate their Dionysian needs. Or, as Time Out breathlessly reported in April in an issue devoted to the new nocturnal explosion: “This year looks to be a great one for New York nightlife. After months of club closures and nights spent at home, openings and renovations in 1996 will raise the city’s dance floor capacity to new highs. Add to this the explosion of rock-based dance nights such as Squeezebox [a roving, gender-bending downtown party], the increase in smaller venues and specialized nights, and the bars and even restaurants that promote DJ-led music nights in spite of their lack of cabaret licenses, and you have a city that definitely wants to dance.”

That doesn’t neccessarily mean that you have to dance to enjoy the new club boom. Indeed, many of the more interesting new clubs, like Spy and Wax in Soho, boast super DJs and sound systems, but no dance floors — which may help explain the new trend towards dancing in seats.

And of course, New York’s clubs, like clubs anywhere, are great places to people watch. As the prologue to a famous 1950s TV show about New York averred, “…There are eight million stories in the naked city,” and at night, within the portals of Manhattan’s diverse discos, dance halls, and lounges, the observant visitor may espy many of them in progress: new, sometimes unlikely couples forming; old couples making up or breaking up; deals being done; stars of stage and screen celebrating their celebrityhood or publicly flaming out; as well as unclassifiable, only in New York stories like Stewart, the aging hipster in plaid. What on earth is his story? Louise and I wondered, as we watched him dance it up, with his beauteous friend, from the sidelines at Au Bar. And what does that woman see in him? And hey, isn’t that Charlie Sheen’s wife seated at the next table? And hey, where’s Charlie?

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