By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
It's 1 a.m. on a Tuesday night and a disco ball in the shape of a female torso is spinning slices of light over the crowd. Zebra Katz's vicious underground hit "Ima Read" comes through the speakers at a deep, groin-vibrating decibel. A neon "WestGay" sign casts a pink glow through the smoke. The space is filling up with cute guys in Brooklyn beards, women in aerodynamic Tilda Swinton outfits, transgendered beings, fashion-industry snobs and club trash—the kind of carefully calibrated mix that can make a night in the city feel legendary. Writhing in the center of the room on a runway are five go-go boys whose bodies offer something for everyone, from jaguar-skinny to lumberjack-stacked. Two are boyfriends who go by the name the Meatballs. This is the hottest night in town.
Over the past year, WestGay, held at the club Westway over by the West Side Highway in the lower West Village, has become the "It" event in clubland. Frankie Sharp, a 32-year-old transplant from Southern California, is the weekly party's creator, and he has become the go-to guy for clubs that want to juice their profiles, credited with bringing a much-needed hit of licentiousness back downtown. Sharp—yes, that's his real name—favors tracksuits worn with leather harnesses, but has a classic Old Hollywood–handsome face like a young Orson Welles. Just two years ago, he was hosting a party at the small East Village gay bar Bedlam. Now he has three parties: WestGay; a regular Wednesday night at the Cock, the longtime gay bar in the East Village; and, as of last month, a new night on Fridays at Santos Party House—the much bigger, straighter club south of Canal Street. "WestGay is my main thing," says Sharp. "The Cock is my more casual night—where you go when you're hung over from WestGay but still want to go out. And Santos," he says with a grin, "is WestGay times a million."
It's been a breathless rise, even in the speedy, trendy world of nightlife, and some in the industry suggest he may be taking on more than he's ready for. Others whisper that he doesn't pay properly, poaches talent, and rips off other people's ideas. Of course, that kind of talk is inevitable when you're the current hot commodity. Many think he just may turn out to be the next Susanne Bartsch, ruling over clubland for a decade or more. "It's about having a party in the right place at the right time," says Linda Simpson, the drag performer and playwright, who has seen downtown's nightlife through at least two decades of change. "A party like Frankie's was lacking after Beige [Eric Conrad's long-running Tuesday night at the Bowery Bar] closed. Frankie's parties are sexy, with those go-go boys and hot people. And Frankie has charisma," she says. "He's a Pied Piper."
Sharp was born in the Philippines, where his American father was in the Navy and met his mother. "The story of how they met was always changing when we were growing up," he says, "but then I found out that my mom was a dancer, and met my dad at a club." The family moved often: Germany, Japan, Key West, Georgia, and, from eighth grade on, San Diego. Like many military kids, he learned that being friendly was a survival skill. "I would come to a new school," he says, "and become friends with the girls." After high school, he moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University and study film. He dropped out, got a job at Diesel, and then worked at a design firm answering phones. In 2007, he organized a weekly party called "Work Me, Goddammit" at the Gangway, an old gay bar in the Tenderloin.
Meanwhile, in New York City, nightlife was in a lull. The scene was beginning to fracture between exclusive Boom Boom Room–style clubs—pissy door people, an overload of celebrities, $200 bottle service—and highly sexualized gay nights, where women weren't as welcome. The last big must-attend party in New York was Clubber Down Disco in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel, hosted by Ladyfag. It fell victim to the new ownership of the building last year. Before that, the most talked-about night was Mr. Black, which was busted for drugs in 2006.
A promo for Sharp's Friday night gig at Santos Party House: It's a fine line between party and orgy. [Video by Ursula Mann]
Sharp moved to New York in 2009. He got a job at a fashion showroom and lived in Astoria. "I didn't want to do nightlife again," says Sharp. Then he got laid off. "I went into Bedlam for a celebratory 'funemployment' drink. I spoke to the manager, Sam Chiera, who is also my ex-boyfriend from San Francisco. He said that they were looking for new things to add to the roster and that I should think about it. So I just did it. I had guests like Andy Cohen come in to DJ, and comedians like Drew Droege, and the RuPaul's DragRace star Manila Luzon, who no one knew yet. House of Ladosha, Sion, Maluca,Cazwell—they all performed there in that small bar. It was surprisingly successful."