Exclusive: Five Insider Views on the Near Future of Our Nighttime Lives
Above image courtesy of Kagency
Arguably, New York City’s hospitality business had already undergone radical shifts in the last fifteen years – especially as a new generation seemed decidedly disinterested in the very idea of the sort of literally-anything-goes clubbing that had once made Gotham nightlife so glorious and notorious (and let’s face it, sometimes exhilaratingly dangerous). Instead, the city shifted to hipster bars stocking 478 labels of craft beer and working ironic playlists (sorry, but it’s actually not cool to play Huey Lewis and Wang Chung), a few big, sweaty but not terribly imaginative Brooklyn nightclubs, and a raft of copycat cocktail bars with menus full of obscure ingredients, and (oooh) no sign on the door – which the existence of Yelp sort of makes irrelevant anyway.
But whatever your take on nightlife in New York or any other major city around the world, the only conversation to be having right now is the one about survival – as this insidious coronavirus crisis continues to threaten its very existence. Before March of 2020, a great deal of our lives revolved around where our next martini was coming from, what hotel opening party was on the schedule, and which new buzz bands we were going to see that week. Now talk is of how many of the bars, clubs, restaurants and other venues we regularly haunted will still actually be there when it’s finally safe to return to them.
And so realizing the level of speculation and uncertainty swirling around the chattering classes (mostly over boozy Zoom sessions and on social media, of course) we decided to consult several of the people who significantly helped Gotham’s social life go round over the last how many or so years. We hope everyone finds their insights as enlightening as did we.
Julie Reiner, Co-founder, Clover Club and Social Hour
By the time everyone with an ironic mustache and vintage suspenders had seen fit to brand themselves a “mixologist” (a word we never actually liked, to be honest), Julie Reiner had already achieved legendary status amongst the new guard cocktail culture. As a partner in the glorious but now defunct Pegu Club, she helped bring ideas and eras and different styles and divergent scenes together in a way that was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
She went on to found the Flatiron Lounge, and Brooklyn’s Leyenda and Clover Club, the latter firmly establishing its own legend amongst the tippling classes. And last year along with Tom Macy she founded Social Hour, a line of expertly made and brightly packaged canned cocktails, leading a trend and decisively meeting the pandemic head on.
“Nightlife in the first quarter of 2021 was a lot of the same…no indoor dining, even more places closing. But once the vaccine is really getting out there in a big way, I think that New York City’s restaurants and bars that were able to weather the Covid storm are going to be very busy. The public is going to want to make up for lost time, and will be celebrating in a major way. Celebrations that were put on hold during the pandemic, like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. are going to start taking place again, and I would think (and hope) that this will start in the summer of 2021.
It may take longer for Manhattan to bounce back [than Brooklyn] as it is more dependent on all of the people who normally commute into the city every day. I’m not sure that is going to return to the way it was pre-pandemic for a long time. Companies have learned that their employees can be very productive in the comfort of their homes, and that renting expensive office space in Midtown/Downtown Manhattan might be unnecessary. It makes me wonder whether we’ll start to see more tourism and less day to day workers. I’m hopeful for the fate of NYC nightlife in 2021, but expect it will look quite different than what we’re used to.”
David Rabin, Partner, The Lambs Club and JIMMY Soho
David Rabin is one of the great New York nightlife impresarios, responsible for such legendary celeb-magnet nightspots as Double Seven and Lotus – the latter which veritably helped to define the new post-Millennial NYC life-after-dark. He’s currently a partner in The Lambs Club, JIMMY Soho, The Skylark, American Bar…and a new modern Indian restaurant, Sona, is on the way. American Bar is currently open and very busy, though he reveals that The Skylark and The Lambs Club will be closed until the fall, with JIMMY likely reopening in May.
“I don’t think anyone can predict the future of nightlife in NYC. It had already changed dramatically pre-Covid, and I think now it’s probably in for a major shake up that could go in many directions.
Certainly several nightlife stalwarts like the Tao guys and Richie Akiva had their spots rocking before the pandemic. But I didn’t see a lot of innovation in terms of big venues in Manhattan, and that was likely due to the tremendous cost to rent and build. Gospel was an exception for a niche audience. But most of the nightlife in Manhattan seemed to have moved more in the direction of what we did years ago with the original The Double Seven, which I call ‘nightlife for grown ups’ – cool, smaller spots with great music and great cocktails and a great scene, but not big clubs. Think of Butterfly, The Blond, The Fleur Room. I think we have a bit of that vibe at JIMMY as well.
For me, my favorite thing, when I can get to it, is a monthly rotating party by Stretch Armstong, Clark Kent and some other famous NYC DJs called The Originals. They play old school (and some new) music that I love to hear in a really fun, no bottle service, just ‘go dance and have fun’ environment. But who knows when that will come back? When will people 1) be allowed to congregate like that and 2) feel comfortable being indoors dancing and moving amongst each other. I do think that venues that have significant outdoor space, like we do at JIMMY and The Skylark, or like Magic Hour and others, will have an advantage in the near term. But they are far from ‘clubs.’
It also felt like Brooklyn had become the center of the innovation in nightlife. Bigger spaces. Fewer neighbors. More affordable venues. Newer music. Younger audiences. I kept hearing about amazing warehouse parties for thousands of people in Brooklyn.
But I think all nightlife in NYC has to reckon with other factors besides the pandemic. Tinder and Bumble and IG gave people a great way to meet online and then meet up for a glass of wine, rather than heading to a big club to hope to meet someone. And the proliferation of festivals also seemed to take some oomph out of New York nightlife. It felt like people were saving up their ‘let’s go crazy’ moments for Coachella or Burning Man or Art Basel or SXSW, or even just a wild weekend in Miami or Vegas. So many people I’d ask in NYC, ‘where are you going after dinner’ would tell me, ‘nowhere…I have yoga at 7am.’ It felt like people were actually being more conscious of their wellness and saving their naughtiness for a trip.
I think what may be reason for optimism is that rents are for sure going to come down and more spaces that have some infrastructure will be available, thus making it easier to open a spot. And, as many have predicted, I think once people feel safe, there will be so much pent up energy for going out and socializing and letting loose that perhaps we’ll be at the dawn of a new era of excitement, creativity and energy in New York nightlife. And perhaps the government will be more forgiving on licensing and enforcement, realizing that the city needs jobs and tourism to come back strong.”
Karrie Goldberg, CEO, Kagency
Karrie Goldberg’s Kagency is the company that you didn’t know was responsible for so much of your social life in New York City these last fifteen or so years. Superstars like Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Beyonce, fashion/style powerhouses like YSL and Cartier, champagne and spirits brands like Moët Hennessy and Ketel One, as well as American Express, Volkswagen, Audi, Vogue, Converse and Nike all come to her for Kagency’s exclusive portfolio of amazing venues in which to throw their most unforgettable parties, or stage their most buzzed about launches.
Kagency also manages an impressive roster of talent, especially extremely-in-demand DJs – including fashion faves Alex Merrell and Whitney Fierce, and new wave legends Thomas Dolby and Roger Taylor (of Duran Duran).
“To date, we have been doing some great consulting work, mainly with our real estate clients, and have had a few virtual/streaming type performances at locations like Le Poisson Rouge. And some of our DJs have had a very robust calendar of streaming DJ sets for amazing charities.
However, trying to predict what our business may look like for the rest of 2021 is like herding drunk kittens. That being said, while my optimism has waned a bit, I remain confident that our corporate events business will be back with a vengeance. We see our clients looking to contract for early summer already, albeit with new cancellation clauses focused on pandemic issues.
My idea of how the rest of 2021 will look…
- We will see clients booking in June/July, but the bulk in later summer and early fall.
- Venues will update their agreements to specifically reflect cancellations due to pandemic issues. Most of our clients have put in full refund clauses if events are affected by 50% or more, as far as capacity goes.
- Clients will host in-person events, likely smaller groups, with timed entry and spread out over more days.
- Virtual/streaming will continue to offer access to people not attending in person.
- Once the government and then the people feel confident about the vaccine, we will see an explosion of events. People will be so hungry to interact, see, feel, experience – our clients will be very busy finding ways to re-engage or reinforce brand loyalty.
- Venue calendars will fill up quickly with both corporate and private/social events – so people will have to seriously plan ahead.”
Mad Marj, DJ
Fashion and society’s arguably favorite DJ, Mad Marj (Marjorie Gubelmann to her family) has an enviable client list that includes such glittering names as Bulgari, Baccarat, Tiffany, Dolce & Gabbana, Google and Kiehl’s. She’s also opened for the likes of Cardi B, Katy Perry, Rita Ora, Skrillex and even New Order – and notably appeared on TV with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. When lockdown hit last spring, she quickly shifted to live streaming.
“I can get anyone to dance,” she boasts. “I promise you, I’ve seen it, the most unlikely people. I really can. I’ve never had so much fun doing anything.”
“The pivot to live streaming that I did in April of 2020 has carried over into 2021, as everyone has grown accustomed to the new norm of safe gatherings from the comfort of their own homes. This platform will be essential as the world continues to navigate these unprecedented times.
As a DJ, it is wonderful that I can actually feel the energy of the guests/audience (from all over the world) through the feed and chat of the stream.
Music has become the great connector – bringing joy to people in these uncertain days. And virtual events are on the increase for everyone as the world wants to dance and mingle together safely.”
Jonathan Weizman, Founder, Gastronome
Jonathan Weizman has been involved in the New York hospitality / food industry for more than 20 years, first cutting his teeth with the likes of David Bouley and the Four Seasons hotel. He went on to found POP Burger which, with its three wildly popular Manhattan locations, helped to define a new kind of post-Millennial casual cool.
He now runs Gastronome, one of Gotham’s hippest and most venerable catering companies, with an impressive client list that includes Refinery29, LVMH, Facebook, A&E, Alice & Olivia, and the Tribeca Film Festival. Weizman recently launched Gastronome Bakery, and their hamantaschen cookies – baked by Claudio Miolin and Boulud alum Mark Fiorentino – are already getting good ink in the New York Times.
“The pandemic hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sitting in a course at Columbia Business School and the phone calls started coming in, almost like being held under a wave and the feeling of when will I hit the bottom, or when could I break the surface and gasp for air where both instances would give me a sense of the end and a conclusion to this fear? It was a moment of an unknown panic and realizing that this is happening and every booked event was getting cancelled.
There were no options, this was it and what could I do? The future was grim as my business model was singular – I was in the hospitality industry, which is based upon human social interaction. We were no longer out, we could no longer mingle, we could no longer have people over for drinks and dinner; we could not even prepare meals, all was eliminated.
Yet this was temporary. It did not feel this way initially, but as time wore on there was a feeling that yes ‘we are going through this together, we will make it to the other side.’ There was a strong sense of unity and community. There was amazing innovation and creativity in the hospitality business. The creation of meal boxes, the partnership between brands, the rise of event apps, the development of new event platforms, and the success of the virtual events.
The future is bright, events will come back and we will all be back together. I do feel that the strong sense of wanting to be with others will prevail. We function in a world of three dimensions. We taste with all our senses and we are emotional beings and we will want to feel things together.
The industry will be streamlined and there will be an attrition of food vendors, restaurants, caterers, shared kitchens and event planners, etc. – but the sense of community and camaraderie amongst us all will create a new dimension to hospitality and a greater drive to succeed. Teams will be stronger, driven and creative and we will develop amazing new ideas for events. This is only the beginning of where the new hospitality industry will take us.”