The Sober Bunch

Life's a Party for New York Nightlife's Sober Hipsters

If drug addicts want to suspend time, as Leland purports, sober hipsters want to make as much use of it as possible. They are making up for lost time. Once they quit, their careers take off: "Opportunities have opened up for me that I couldn't have imagined before I got sober," saysBOB*. "I went from being a nightclub personality to a performer. I used to go to Squeezebox and go-go dance and be drunk out of my mind and have so much fun. But in the middle of the night, when the drag queens got up and sang with the band, I was sitting there thinking, 'I wish I could do that.' But I could never remember a song. I could never sing with a band. I could never practice. It was too much of a commitment. I'd be too hungover. I'd be too scared."

The best part of clean living is the next day. Promoter Patrick Rood, 25, who's never drank in his life and goes out as many as five nights a week, says, "I don't know what a hangover feels like." Like Rood, promoter Mike Nouveau never drank and has no regrets. "If I see someone passed out on a cold sidewalk in their own vomit," he says, "I'll be like, 'And people ask me why I don't drink'—or when my female friends end up naked on Last Night's Party."

While their partying counterparts are nursing hangovers by sleeping in all day, taking more pills, resorting to hair-of-the-dog strategies, and downing greasy burgers, sober hipsters wake up—if not exactly bright eyed—clear minded. "I go out so much for work, and I see the same people every time I go out, and they are all drinking and doing drugs," says Yavari. "How do they do it every night? I come to work so tired and exhausted and feeling like crap, and I didn't even do anything."

From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee
photo: Josh Gosfield
From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee

Murray Hill cautions, "There are kids, who shall remain nameless, that haven't got off the express train and they don't look so good after six years. You notice that. The kids that are doing the coke—there are a few more wrinkles than I remembered."

Patrick “the Captain” and Michael Cohn
photo: Tricia Romano
The first time I met Michael Nouveau, he was holding a tray of Jell-O shots. He was at the Lower East Side bar Fat Baby for one of his parties, called Nouveau, where Larry Tee was DJ'ing. Nouveau works in advertising at Rolling Stone and has to be at his desk by 9 a.m. He's like the younger version of Steven Lewis, the nightlife veteran who designed clubs like Marquee and ran Limelight in the '90s, who says, "I think it's important to be sober. Many people disagree, and if many people didn't disagree with me, I would never have made any money. So I'm glad that nobody agrees with me." Ironically, Lewis served nine months for conspiracy to traffic narcotics (he maintains his innocence).

Like Nouveau, addVice's Elhaam Yavari, who is of Persian descent, never tried drugs. When she was a teen, her semi-strict parents grilled her after she came home from parties. Today, she goes out an average of three nights a week—including her DJ gigs at East Village Radio and the Dark Room. A teetotaler surrounded by people who partake, she says, "I have so many really good friends and they just equate coke with a good night. I think doing coke is like admitting defeat. It's like a drug to keep you awake. Like, are you that old?"

When she first started her job at addVice, bands would ask her to find drugs, but she was useless: "Dammit," she remembers thinking, "I'm going to lose a client because I can't get them high?" It never happened, but she quickly learned what 53-year-old Steven Lewis has known for years—that being the only sober person in a roomful of drunks has its advantages. "It's a business," he explains. "And if you're a business person, no matter what the job is, if you're selling doughnuts or tropical fish, if you're drunk and on the job you're not going to do such a good job."

Justine D. got her start working for Lewis at the club Life in the '90s. After getting sick for several weeks, she decided she wasn't going to drink anymore. "If I wanted to be taken seriously I had to be sober," she says. "I was coming across so many casualties, nightlife casualties, fucked-up party dolls." She imbibes a couple of times a year, usually on vacation, but never on the job. "I'm not falling off a wagon," she says. "I mean, I don't even own a fucking wagon. Some people don't even have that luxury."

At the end of a Motherfucker event, Justine D.'s sober state of mind allows her to take over the most sobering of duties: counting the money. Her partners in Motherfucker are all partiers. Michael T., the embodiment of glam-rock decadence, has been quoted in the Voice half-joking about his own habits, usually involving boots, boys, and bathroom lines.

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