The Most Important Clubs of the Decade
The aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks left the city’s economy in shambles and redefined the psyche and habits of nightlife. Many clubs, lounges and restaurants could not withstand the loss of tourist dollars and general economic downturn. By mid-decade a new way of doing business and new problems changed everything again. The club world will never be the same. In the scheme of things, writing about the effects of the 9/11 attack on clubs is unbelievably trivial. Yet the business of clubs is ever changing, adjusting to the world at large and this event, and the events that resulted from it, defined the fading decade.
Bottle service, which had its birth in Korean bars and euro clubs like Club A and Au Bar, had been around forever. By the mid-nineties clubs like Chaos and Life had adopted the concept and soon VIP rooms were replaced by table service and dance floors shrunk to accommodate more seating.
After 9/11 people started to travel in packs, finding safety in numbers and comfort with larger groups of friends. The horseshoe banquet, with its physical limitations of seven or 10 people, gave way to bench like seating able to accommodate much larger groups. Cell phone and text messaging made it easier for people to communicate with friends at other clubs and large groups would get larger as the party was found at one spot and not another.
The first decade of the new century saw a massive rebound as the club world rode the rush to riches. The real estate boom forced most operators into the city and created “club ghettos” of the Meatpacking District (mepa) and West or outer Chelsea (ouch). The smoking ban and the impact of chatty patrons put neighbors desperate for sleep and increased property values in constant conflict with nightlife. This conflict led to an unprecedented bureaucracy for licensing and systematic and often unfair harassment of establishments. Community boards learned how to wield their power and enforcement agencies backed by politicians and the real estate industry fought in courts and in the press.
Out of all this adjusting and jockeying, a half dozen places thrived and left their mark. Here are the most important joints of the last 10 years, all of which started after 9/11, as what happened before seems like part of another age.
Marquee: Clearly the most important club of its time in terms of impact. Marquee was the big enchilada for at least five years. It took bottle service from a concept to an international way of life. Bungalow 8: Amy Sacco‘s joint was the final destination for the elite on any night. Everybody who was anybody showed up for a final drink or chance to score at this amazing place. The rest of the joints in town were places to park until Bungalow got good, which was very late. The Beatrice Inn: Although its short life span would normally preclude it from this list, the impact, the importance of the Bea is so obvious in its absence. As every hipster in town fled to the new world of Williamsburg, the Beatrice showed that it’s still much better in the big city. Butter: Seven years of the best night in town, Monday, make it undeniable. I went last night to the last Monday of this decade and it was still so hot that this story is late today. Richie Akiva, Scott Sartiano and crew have achieved great success at 1Oak but there’s is nothing better than Butter. Lit: Erik Foss has almost as bad a reputation as I do in many circles but he’s loved by many more, and few can be indifferent about either of us. Lit is perfect. Andy Warhol once told me, “No place that is too neat or too clean can be any fun.” Lit is not neat. It doesn’t look clean and it is unbelievably fun. Foss keeps it simple and real and you will find me at Lit after Times Square Thursday night. Pacha: There was a time when mega clubs were the only way. Palladium, Limelight. USA, Tunnel, The Saint, The Sound Factory, Redzone and so many more defined nightlife. Now only Pacha survives as a true mega club. Sure it could use a hipster element, but it’s the only true international club presence NYC has got. M2 is an uber-lounge, an adjustment to the table service era. Webster Hell is a great venue, but a terrible club and an embarrassingly bad operation.
Williamsburg: I’ll just lump it all together as one idea, but of course only space and time allow me that pass. Williamsburg is not one nightlife idea. It is thousands of them and a community so vibrant that it often makes Manhattan look passé. Originally a cheaper alternative to Manhattan rents, it is now in largely better than the Big Apple if you’re looking for a creative, youthful set that finds little in the city to excite them anymore. If I find myself the right girl, I’ m out of here and over there.