Put a Cork in It

Bottle service corrupts the soul of New York City nightlife.

On a recent Tuesday night, the downtown nightspot formerly known as 6's and 8's looked like a casting director's dream. Now called the 205 Club after its Chrystie Street address, the venue's red-and-black interior has been painted entirely silver, in a redesign overseen by nightlife impresario Serge Becker. Everything gleams, from the tin ceiling to the aluminum- coated walls to the silver file cabinets holding up the bar, casting everyone in a faint star-like glow. A Warholian montage of Paris Hilton photos fittingly covers one wall. "It's meant to look like an old loft," Becker says. "Like what the Factory was."

Down the street, a different but equally hip crowd gathers every night at Home Sweet Home. Located just south of Delancey near the Bowery Ballroom and the 205 Club, it has the cozy feel you'd expect from a venue owned by three women. Dark and moody—with antique oddball items and taxidermy victims decorating the cabinets underneath the bar, and strange cowboy-statue lamps lighting the corners—the three-month-old venue, which has no sign and is located underground, has a secretive air.

This time last year, so did Chrystie Street. It was as close to a quiet, residential enclave as you can get in New York, not much of a destination unless you wanted to buy glass or kitchen supplies. But on recent weekends, the streets have overflowed with revelers checking out these new spots. With this winter's imminent grand opening of the Box—a dinner theater run by Becker, Richard Kimmel, Simon Hammerstein, Michael Bennett, and Randy Weiner—Chrystie Street is poised to overtake Ludlow Street as downtown's premier strip.

Over in Brooklyn, Greenpoint, already home to established live venue Warsaw, is steadily stealing thunder from the East Village music scene. Studio B arrived in September, booked by Motherfucker's Justine D. and featuring blockbuster nights with acts like Soulwax, DFA, and Justice. Another Polish disco, Europa, has similar- minded new promoters in Scenic Presents, a/k/a Robert Johnson and Scott Long, both Knitting Factory vets who are also formerly of Manhattan's Avenue B club Scenic. And this summer, McCarren

Park Pool emerged as the most buzzed-about new venue during the hottest months. A few minutes away in Williamsburg, the brand-new, built-from-scratch venue Brooklyn Sugar gingerly opened its doors in October; deeper in Brooklyn, 3rd Ward is an all-encompassing work studio and art space hosting events with top-notch DJs like Matthew Dear and Wolf + Lamb, as well as numerous shows thrown by DIY fixture Todd P.

There are rumors of still more to come: Brooklyn mainstay Northsix is being taken over by big-shot owners Bowery Presents to yield a bigger musical behemoth for the borough, with a name change—the Music Hall of Williamsburg—and a mid-spring reopening. Back in Manhattan, the Beatrice Inn, Paul Sevigny's small restaurant-lounge on West 12th Street, is already becoming a favorite of New York's art and music elite. Jolie, a dance-music-centric club run by Timmy Regisford and designed by nightlife veteran Steven Lewis, is also slated for spring. And then there's the long-awaited late-spring opening of a dual-level music venue at Lafayette Street, run by Spencer Sweeney, Andrew W.K., Larry Golden, and Ron Castellano.

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Studio B party scene
photo: Cary Conover

Nightclubs are always opening (and closing) in New York, but this mini-surge of fresh venues is built on music and art, not the bling of bottle service, signaling the beginning of a hopeful new era in New York nightlife, one where the artists, musicians, and DJs—tired of the bottle service boom bullying clubs into a world of materialism and monotony—take back the night.

Perhaps we are just experiencing a time-honored cycle in New York nightlife. In 1990, venerable downtown club matron Chi Chi Valenti wrote a poem called, appropriately enough, "Take Back the Night," mourning the end of the seedy, exciting underbelly of clubland that gave the world cultural icons like Madonna, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Nightlife, then as now, was losing out to bankers and millionaires and bottles:

Take it back from mere attitude and return it to grand gesture. Take it back from every futures trader yearning for a new life. Take it back from sweater consultants and out of town investors. Return it to ruined men with no feeling for the masses, and no stomach for the shameless sell.

Aaron Bondaroff (a/k/a A-Ron the Downtown Don), who serves as creative director of the 205 Club, agrees that it's time the tables were turned. "Bottle service has been running nightlife in New York for a long time," he says. "It's ruined the community."

Could it be that we are all asking, as Chi Chi Valenti did, "Where is the magic city I have dreamed of?"


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Bottle Service at Guesthouse
hoto: Nikola Tamindzic/ ambrel.net

The scene on Chrystie couldn't be more dif- ferent than the one that happens every weekend on the stretch of West 27th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Club Row, as it's called, resembles a better-dressed version of Mardi Gras. Girls with flat-ironed flaxen hair, wearing glittery tops and tight jeans, totter on their high heels from one velvet rope to another. The clubs all have exotic, glamorous names—Cain, Marquee, Bungalow 8, Pink Elephant—and offer the promise of opulence and intrigue once inside. The reality is far less interesting. Inside, the clone-like crowds come to party the only way they know how—the way they learned from watching hip-hop videos. They stand on the little booths and shake and shimmy, hoisting bottles of vodka—priced 1,000 percent over what you'd pay in a store—over their heads. As some Jay-Z song plays over the speakers, for a minute, they are Bling. They feel fabulous. And then they order another $300 round.

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