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If you're like me, after a cocktail or two you start feeling like a cornrowed Julia Stiles anda slurring Charles Bukowski. But if you too have noted that knocking back a kamikaze while shaking that ass on a packed dancefloor requires way too much hand-eye coordination, then maybe it's time you parked it at one of the many lounges downtown. These bar-club hybrids sometimes enjoy top-notch DJs, little or no covers, and pricey, if not strong, drinks. The only hitch: These boîtes sometimes suffer from severe identity crises. Are they all about the music if they have no cabaret permit? Conversely, are they all about the drinking if they mix shoddy toddys? For those looking to unleash their inner flashdancer, I suggest tiny bare-bones BAKTUN (418 West 14th Street, 206-1590, www.baktun.com), where, as one friend says, "They'd be fucked without a cabaret license." So thank your stars that Giuliani's peeps finally came through.

According to their business cards, JA LOUNGE (84 Seventh Avenue South, 243-7888) is "the lounge that house built." And, true to their slogan, a recent weekend night found resident DJ John Ferrari—the poor man's Danny Tenaglia—dishing up pounding tribal, trance, and deep varieties. With its glass porch and slate floors, JA Lounge is more like Mel's Diner with a nightly Twilo makeover. Which is kinda cool, and kinda frustrating, considering that the doorman seems to selectively charge a $5 entrance fee. There isn't even a dancefloor that you're not allowed to dance on! And don't the $10 top-shelf Mind Eraser shots (layered Kahlua, Grey Goose vodka, Amaretto di Saronno, and club soda) pay the bills? Far less mind-erasing: (1) an accommodating cocktail waitress who dragged over a plush stool—unsolicited—for my standing friend, and (2) the excellent house music draws the usual unpretentious multiculti mix.

Futuristic supperclub LIQUIDS (266 East 10th Street, 677-1717) can't decide on a look, either: The mahogany bar and Tiffany lamps are very "ye olde New York," but the cyborg-mannequin panels scream Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fortunately, there's plenty of velvety couches for you and your comrades to debate whether the scheme actually "works." Six-dollar top-shelf cocktails and a patient bartender, who poured an indecisive friend generous tastings of wine, earns this cavern alcoholic bonus points. And there's actually a sizable dancefloor: Resident DJ Oriza throws down some crowd-pleasing "vintage Latin classics" for the lesbian hipsters and their friends who populate the no-cover Monday nights. And how can you go wrong with that? I mean, have you ever heard anyoneyou associate with complain about salsa?

The APARTMENT (419 West 13th Street, 414-4245) is one of those "exclusive" enclaves that's quickly losing exclusivity. Which is probably a good thing. You need a reservation to score a table in the actual "apartment," and, yes, it's like being at a really rich friend's pad, complete with hallway, bathroom, living room, and window sills lined with Man Ray and Annie Leibowitz books ("Nothing you can read," quips one friend, and that probably suits the habitués just fine). But almost any well-heeled schmo can make his way to the downstairs bar, which is like some trust funder's "media room": Nubuck stools, ultramodern blond wood walls, and the fluorescent lucite bar shelf polish off the already polished look. The electro breaks and IDM that got DJs Rachel and Young bobbing their heads on a recent Tuesday fit the white-bread bill, and at least the $8 vodka concoctions are properly mixed. But can't a lounge be too stylish for its own good?

 
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