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And not even so safe. Following the case of 18-year-old Jennifer Moore this summerafter drinking at Guest House, she eventually staggered down the West Side Highway, and was found brutally murdered the next morninga backlash has begun that stretches beyond the downtown artists' community. Club Row is now infested with invasive police patrols and giant billboards warning against underage drinking. This summer, City Councilwoman Melinda Katz proposed legislation banning bottle service because it encourages binge drinking. And recent news reports suggest club owners on West 27th Street are looking to get off the block, indicating that there might be too much of an increasingly lousy thing.
Even bottle service club owners are bored of it. "We got so disgusted with the way nightlife was going, we opened Double Seven to bring back cocktails," says Jah, who also co-owns Lotus on West 14th Street. "Smaller alternative bars and clubs are gonna be popping up," he predicted in an interview this summer. "A lot of people are fed up with paying outrageous prices for bottles."
Justine D. recalls the first time she was spooked by bottle service: It was 1999, while she was DJ'ing at the long-since-closed Centro-Fly. "I couldn't put my finger on it: 'Why do I feel so isolated here?' " she says. "I realized everyone has a bottle at their table. They obviously don't like my music. I don't like this crowd. That was in the beginning of my career, in '99. It's nearly 2007. It's about time for a good, healthy backlash."
Simon Hammerstein comes from a rich arts legacy. "The grandson of Oscar (half of the Broadway duo Rodgers and Hammerstein), he has dark, wavy hair and a fashionable beard, and speaks with a slight British accent left over from his days in boarding school overseas. But despite his tony upbringing, Simon is more downtown and down-to-earth.
"I got frustrated with nightlife," says the 28-year-old in the balcony of his club the Box, which in November was still in various states of construction. "You go, you get a table, you get a bottle, and that's it? People-watch? And for $500 a bottle? It's not worth it. There's no place for people who've been in the scene since they were 13." (He should knowhe was throwing raves as a teenager.) "There are a lot of other people who want to go out who don't go out anymore27th Street? Forget about it. It's a nightmare."
The Box aims to change all that. Over two years in the making, it looks like a fusion of an opera house, a Western saloon, and a Parisian theater. Most of its co-owners have roots in the performing arts: Hammerstein ran the Flea Theatre, and Kimmel, in addition to directing, writing, and producing many plays, is an associate with the experimental theater company Wooster Group. They wanted to build a place nice enough to relax in for several hours, but loose enough to allow for some rowdiness during a performance. The ornate venue is decorated with details from multiple time periodssconces from the circa-1920 subway system hang over booths, a Victorian crib is situated upstairs on the mezzanine, and an assortment of Prohibition-era bottles line the walls. The wallpaper is a hodgepodge of quirky turn-of-the-century designs and oddball drawings.
The Box is also designed to have clear sight lines at all points, so that anywhere you are, you can see the show, which is the ultimate point of going there. The opera boxes overlooking the stage seem positively quaint in this see-and-be-seen era; while you can buy a bottle of wine, the Box will not offer bottle service.
Paul Sevigny, a co-owner of the Beatrice Inn, won't be serving bottles eitherunless you ask. "I think people still love it, but I'm not interested in it," he says. The nightlife fixture can afford to buck the trendhis club, decorated with paintings taken straight from his apartment, isn't weighed down with the burden of paying back millions and millions of dollars to multiple investors.
His venue has a storied past, and looks the part. A speakeasy in the 1920s (with an unmarked door for stealth exits), the Beatrice Inn was a well-regarded Italian restaurant until last year, when Sevigny bought it. Now, the two front rooms have low ceilings and low lightone is painted a dusky pink, with a fireplace and a reading chair, while the other has black leather couches, eccentric paintings, and wood floors. In the back, there's a small lounge with a DJ booth lined in red vinyl, black-and-white-tiled floor, and a disco ball demurely resting amid the wood planks of the ceiling.
Sevigny wants the Beatrice Inn to be a place to relax, where you can have conversations without screaming and hear interesting music played by people who aren't necessarily professional DJs. While he's hosted one all-star evening featuring DJs Beverly Bond, Sky Nellor, and Cassidy, he says he won't have weekly parties, and plans on playing around with the format. His Academy Awardnominated sister, Chlo had her birthday bash at the spot, and Steve Garbarino of BlackBookmagazine wants to host dinner parties there once a month. Sevigny relishes the chance to build up a venue slowlythe Beatrice Inn is his first after many years working for other peopleand was reluctant to speak to the press. "Most people in the business these days don't give something enough time to let it happen," he says. "You can do something cool. I don't know if most people have the fore sight. They are just interested in bottles and models," he adds, taking a drag off his cigarette. "If you want to blow it out, go to 27th Street and stand under the police lights."