Put a Cork in It

Bottle service corrupts the soul of New York City nightlife.

Unlike many of the posh places on Club Row, these venues are run or owned by people who have roots in the local music and arts scenes, not Johnny-come-latelies out to make a quick buck. They are DJs or promoters or artists in their own right, putting the emphasis on art over commerce, but not at the total expense of the latter. "We're all doing it because we love it. Not because there's some big payoff at the end," says 3rd Ward's Goodman.

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Aaron Bondoroff at 205 Club
photo: Nikola Tamindzic/ ambrel.net

These places even have—gasp—dancefloors, a nightclub feature seemingly facing extinction in the age of the bottle service booth. At Home or Guest House, there are depressing lines of booths, one after the other, like little ducks in a row. Conversely, at the 205 Club, the view is wide open, and there is ample room to dance. "These venues are for the community," says Bondaroff, a co-owner. And he doesn't just mean his own spot. He has high praise for Kristin Vincent, Nadia Koch, and Sandy Cisco—the team running Home Sweet Home—as well: "Those girls have been running 'round the street for a while."

Home Sweet Home has a top-notch DJ booth and sound system—the by-product, no doubt, of having Vincent, a DJ, running the place—which helps attract some of the city's best DJs and live talent. There's a DFA night every other Thursday, skaters hang their hats on Tuesdays, and the venue's location near the Bowery Ballroom adds to the allure: "There's no place to go before and after shows and sit and have a beer and be sort of mellow," Vincent says. "We do a lot of after-parties for bands that play there. They come here and DJ for us, and bring a crowd. It ends up being a really good combination." The tactic's worked well already: Grizzly Bear and the Silversun Pickups brought their entourages to the bar after Bowery shows, and during CMJ week Hot Chip played a spur-of-the-moment set.


A similar tactic is utilized by her neighbors at the 205 Club. The space's light, airy facelift by Serge Becker is simple but effective. But more impressive is the club's cabaret license, a rare breed downtown. Open since October, the club has already pulled in key DJs drawn to a venue with a good sound system and a cabaret license like drawing bees to honey. 2 Many DJs played an impromptu set in the basement now decorated with geometric shapes and words culled from Craigslist's "Casual Encounters" ads. Upstairs, trendsetting types like MisShapes and Kid America spin to a more laid-back crowd disinclined to buy bottles. "If you want to buy a bottle, I'll hook you up," Bondaroff says. "I don't promote it. If the bar's really crowded, it's a nice thing to have a bottle if you are with your friends. But you can't make a reservation."

Like many other bar operators, creative director Bondaroff doesn't use the word "promoter" to describe what he does, and marvels at his good fortune. "That I get a venue to dictate, it's pretty crazy," the longtime downtown fixture says. His store on Hester Street—aNYthing, a/k/a A New York Thing—has been a hangout for artists and skateboarders since 2005. That vibe is now reflected in the 205 Club, which he describes as "pretty much my clubhouse for me and the community. I don't have too much experience booking events. But I do have a lot of creative friends." He wants 205 to be a freewheeling place open for anything, from the talk show they're filming on-site to surprise DJ sets. "A DJ or group can call me on Thursday night and want to DJ, and I can put them on right away," he says. "I don't have to follow rules. I want it to be where every night you have to be there, because you never know what's going to happen."

Over at Brooklyn's Studio B, Justine D. (a/k/a Delaney) shares similar sentiments. Along with Joady Thornton-Richholt, she's been booking everything from the Warriors Halloween party with Afrika Bambaataa and Rub 'n' Tug to a Todd P event with Oneida. "I don't see it as booking. I see it as curating," Delaney says. "It's like an art project for me. It's cool. I don't know if too many club owners care so much about New York nightlife in the sense of focusing on creative, artistic people. The smart thing that club owners have been doing is choosing to work with people like myself who are tapped into the artistic community. For us, it's such an exciting thing." Studio B used to be a Polish nightspot called Club Ice; taken over by Robert Nowack, who owns the Delancey here and Studio A in Miami, the venue re-emerged as a premier nightclub after three months of renovations, including a redesigned DJ booth, an amped-up sound system, and a second stage for live acts. The final product, which has one main dancefloor and two side areas, can hold up to 1,200 people. Delaney's not kidding when she says, "This type of space doesn't exist in Manhattan." It probably couldn't, either.

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