Every year GaySocialites.com does an evaluation of New York’s nightlife industry, and in the past we have asked one person to respond to our Editorial Board’s synopsis. We call it New York’s State of Gay Nightlife address.
It is always delivered at the end of January as Governors are presenting their State of the State addresses and around the same time that President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union.
This year, we are doing something a little different. New York’s nightlife scene is in one of its worst states in decades, but it could be on the brink of massive change. That’s why we have asked six different people for their response on New York’s State of Gay Nightlife address, and you’ll be able to read them here at GaySocialites.com over the next six days. We have invited one club owner, promoter, DJ, performer and patron to weigh in. And since today the State of Gay Nightlife address reflects my opinion, on Tuesday the Editor-in-Chief here at GaySocialites.com, Thomas Bistritz, will present the media response.
THEN VS. NOW
Over the past 10 years I’ve transformed from a patron to a door person to a performer to a manager to a partner and then to a reporter and patron again.
When I moved to New York in 2001, working in gay nightlife was part of my dream. The industry at that time was everything I dreamed it to be. It had the star power, the glitz, the glamor and the massive crowds that rivaled my fantasies.
I’ve watch the State of Gay Nightlife go from an impressive field of venues ranging from tiny hole-in-the-wall bars to larger-than-life dance clubs to what it is today. Now, we see a nightclub industry with few choices mainly made up of niche venues that appeal to a few rather than the majority. However, that might be what it takes to revive a dying scene.
WHAT IT WAS
During the early to mid 2000′s, on any given night, you could line up outside any venue across town for an instant good time. Whether you wanted to grab a quick drink or dance the night away, the options were there. You might not be able to get into your top pick, but if not – there were plenty of choices.
For example, a typical week for many might include a Friday night at Formika’s Area party, Saturday at Roxy followed by a Junior Vasquez party that kept them going ’til noon with just a few hours of rest before joining John Blair and Beto Sutter for church, as we knew it, over at Limelight, a nightlife icon that is now a mini-mall.
Even the twinks who weren’t old enough to drink had a few options–Kurfew at the Tunnel, Heaven Saturdays or Detention at Stonewall.
Those days are history.
THE DOWNFALL OF NY NIGHTLIFE
Over the past 10 years, I have witnessed many factors change this industry all the way down to its core.
It started in the late 90′s and early 2000′s when Rudy Giuliani went on a modern day witch-hunt to take down Peter Gatien and villainize those who wanted to create an environment that was safe and fun for the gay community, keeping us out of trouble and off the streets. Really all he did was create fear among club owners and promoters as well as anxiety among patrons.
Who wants to pay $20 admission, in addition to what you wanted to drop on drugs and alcohol, when you were uncertain if the cops might shut your party down and leave you in a drunken stupor or cracked out walking the streets.
At the same time, the rise of internet technology happened more quickly than any other industry. Websites like Adam4Adam and Manhunt made it possible to find a hook-up without leaving home.
Meanwhile, drug use made a significant shift from ecstasy and special K to crystal meth and cocaine. And anyone can get drunk at home.
Almost instantly, patrons no longer needed the nightlife scene as a place to do their drugs or get laid.
As these three things occurred, those working in nightlife found themselves shuffling to figure it all out. While our patons became more comfortable meeting people online and getting buzzed at home, we realized that old-school promotions weren’t working any more. How do you hand a flyer promoting your event to someone who doesn’t leave home?
Now, I’m not going to take the easy way out by blaming cops, crystal meth and Manhunt for the fall of New York nightlife.
As club queens became party-and-play web whizzes, the nightlife crowds noticeably grew smaller. The majority of what remained were tourists and locals seeking local fame. Suddenly everyone wanted to be a promoter. What was once the hardest job in the business seemed like an easy buck. Pounding the pavement had taken on a new meaning and reaching your audience was as easy as sending an e-mail or a text, and securing your venue simply required a good pitch and long distribution list.
Those who didn’t have a list of email addresses and phone numbers helped create the “host” position which, for most, has turned into soaking up free booze and drawing attention to yourself for a small pay check.
Many DJs and performers went rogue and seemingly stopped caring. It ruined the vibe of the party as they did whatever they wanted to do. If they liked a song, they played that song. If the crowd showed any disdain, it was dealt with by another unwanted set or number. The DJs and performers who really enjoyed the business did whatever they could to maintain their small piece of the spotlight. Many of them lost their uniqueness by taking booking every night of the week. The music suffered and the late night drag show became a quick lip-synch-and-run.
A good team of people who could really throw a party became few-and-far between. This left club owners in a serious struggle to sift through resumes, pitches and proposals, hoping to find a diamond in the rough. The old school promoters started looking outdated and the new guys quickly became nothing more than invoices. Many failed to even show up at their own parties.
This left many owners with no choice but to adopt their own shady tactics. They realized that anyone can hit play on a CD player, boys in wigs were cheaper than real drag and everyone thought they were popular enough to pack a room.
That’s when they began a practice that continues today. All club owners had to do was hire anyone who wanted to work. The clubs collected email addresses and phone numbers of everyone who entered. When the faces became too familiar, they kicked the hired help to the curb replacing them with the next batch of fame seekers already waiting in the wings to take over. Then lather, rinse, repeat…
From a media perspective, covering this type of turnover was exciting at first, but all novelties wear thin and it quickly became a cycle that bored everyone to tears.
Take a moment to think of all the clubs and bars that have come and gone over the years: Roxy, the Tunnel, Limelight, Boys Room, Sound Factory, Heaven, Twilo, the Works, Elevate, Trip, HK Lounge, Speed, Mr. Black, Downtime, the Gaiety, Wonder Bar, Oscar Wilde, Don Hills, Exit… This list goes on and on.
Or what about the parties that no longer exist–Kurfew, GayCollegeParty, John Blair’s Drama, Formika’s Area Party (in a variety of different zip codes), Boys Gone Wild, Pop Rocks, Wig Stock, Coo Coo Lounge, Hot Mess, Detention, Bank, Beige, Earth, 1984… If you remember it, it probably isn’t around anymore.
Now let’s attempt to compare that vast variety with what little we have to choose from today. It isn’t easy.
The city’s only major dance club debuted this weekend on 42nd Street when XL Nightclub opened at the OutNYC Urban Resort. This could be the last chance to save New York City’s gay nightlife as we have known it. And if anyone can do it, it’s John Blair, Beto Sutter, Tony Fornabio and Brandon Voss. Support them! They’ve put a lot of money into this project and spent valuable time coming up with an impressive rundown that includes just about everyone.
Venues such as Boxers, Pieces, the Ritz, the Cock, Phoenix, the Web, Boots & Saddles and Vlada, as well as promoters like Daniel Nardicio, Josh Wood, Susanne Bartsch, Kenny Kenny, Brian Rafferty and Shawn Paul Mazur are a few of those who have continued to reinvent themselves or stay true to their niche crowd to stay afloat. Maybe these aren’t the folks who pay your friends to sit around and look pretty, but we need to show our support to these venues and events as well. Their persistence and dedication will take its spot in history and hopefully help save the gay nightlife scene in the city that made it famous.
I encourage those who have worked hard and been successful at what they’ve done over the past few years to pat themselves on the back and keep it up. These last few years have been the toughest this business has ever seen, so the fact that you’re still working says a lot! For those of you facing failure, take a risk and plan better. As always, you have to spend money to make money.
To those who call yourselves promoters, cut the crap! No one deserves a free ride. That’s why I find the idea of paying a promoter one flat fee for their contribution to any event ridiculous. Put your money where your mouth is. At least part of your pay check should be based on your performance. Put a list of your guests at the door, and let the club owners pay you for each person you bring to the party. Anyone can serve cocktails, copy the competition and jump from venue-to-venue. Good promoters are the ones who generate innovative ideas, seek out new crowds and bring in a variety that warrants repeating.
Performers, hosts, drag queens and dancers need to step up to the plate too. At least get up off your ass and do something! It is your job to make the party happen. If you’re not having fun, then the patrons aren’t having fun either. It’s your job to fix it, and if a party is no fun – blame yourselves. No one comes to a club to see you, because you aren’t as famous as you think you are! Every other homo in the house thinks they’re just as fabulous! If you can’t put on a show, then you aren’t really an entertainer. Maybe you should consider another career.
The DJs could also stand to make some improvements as well. Anyone can put together a playlist on a computer or press play on an iPod. How do you think most of you ended up where you are? It is your job to put together a set that builds us up, let’s us ride high and then brings us back down to reality as the fantasy ends. If you don’t know how to build a set then Google it or, God forbid, go to a club that has a successful DJ. Check out what they are doing and educate yourself. That’s how one gets better.
The gay media also holds a major role in nightlife’s success. We have to put an emphasis on nightlife as a part of our coverage because it is a major factor in our movement. How can we expect the party to stay alive if patrons don’t even know where to go? Offer a place for nightlife listings and go out to cover these events. Besides, most of us could afford to let loose a little more.
And finally to the patrons, give the nightlife industry another chance. I hope the guys who are getting stale will be motivated by my call to action. Meanwhile, please continue to support those who have stayed on track and continue to work hard. You should even offer your feedback, and continue to help them improve. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for new happenings. It is really all up to you. Without someone to attend, a party is nothing more than a loud empty room.
If you care about New York’s gay nightlife scene (and I say that simply because I’m not sure that even I still do), then do something about it. Otherwise, the party will soon be a thing of the past.
That’s the State of Gay Nightlife in New York as I see it. Feel free to leave your thoughts below, and please look for the responses from those in the industry over the next week here at GaySocialites.com.
God bless you and God Bless New York Nightlife, or what’s left of it. Good night.
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Charles Winters is the Chief Executive Officer and Editorial Director our parent company (his namesake, Charles Winters Information Management) where he oversees such media outlets as GaySocialites.com, queerplanet.net, CouponAngel.us and FiDiNYC.info. He founded GaySocialites.com in 2005 and served as Editor-in-Chief until 2011. He still contributes to GaySocialites.com by regularly reporting news, penning a weekly op-ed piece and hosting our original television/ radio programs titled “GaySocialites.com presents…”