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The Birthday Party

Angie Pontani channels "Gold Digger" for the guest of honor
photo: Miles Ladin

Five years. That's long enough to get one college degree and start on a second one. Long enough to fall in love, get married, have a couple kids, and get a divorce. Long enough to buy a house, remodel it, and sell it for a lot of money. Long enough to start a business, become a Buddhist, travel the world. I've been doing this column for five years and I've done none of those things. Sometimes it seems like all I've done is gone to a lot of parties, drank too many cocktails, and dispensed with a lot of air kisses. But there was more to it than that.

Five years ago, I had a co-writer, Jose Germosen—or rather, we had co-columns. My first one only appeared online: A roundup of Miami's Winter Music Conference, featuring Felix Da House cat, who was having a banner year and was king of the beach and the beats. Also, 2002 was the year of "electroclash," and its supposed practitioners—including Adult. and Miss Kittin—were everywhere. My first column in the paper featured Chlo Sevigny sightings, mentions of long-gone club mag Flyer, a recap of a kiss-and-make-up session between everlasting rivals Danny Tenaglia and Junior Vasquez, and a night out with Richie Hawtin back when he lived here, drinking bubbly at APT. And that was just one week.

I didn't know what I was doing, and I made some mistakes I regret. Reaching for wit, I found cattiness instead, sniping at Christina Ricci after a Tribeca Grand party when I neither meant it nor cared. And all apologies for similarly empty barbs aimed at JD Samson of Le Tigre; no regrets for calling out the mayor and other public officials for their mishandling of nightlife.

At first, I thought all I needed was bold. Lots and lots of bold. Friend, writer, and (more recently) producer and director Nelson George calls it "the black type." (He's been in it quite a few times.) After a while I realized how empty that could be if there was nothing but black type, so I tried to show what it was really like to be there, to see the characters who inhabited New York nightlife in their natural habitat. After all, there is only one World FamousBOB*.

In five years, artists, clubs, and entire scenes have come and gone. When I first started, Crobar was just pitching to the community board and wasn't even built. I said goodbye to Centro-Fly in 2004 when Fatboy Slim DJed the closing party. Speeed was renamed Shelter, but was still sort of called Speeed sometimes (they've moved again, downtown). Baktun on West 14th survived the cabaret enforcement and got a license, but the owner then sold the venue to his neighbor across the street, David Rabin, co-owner of upscale lounge Lotus and president of the New York Nightlife Association, which believes that the cabaret law is necessary for nightlife. Baktun's replacement, a posh cocktail lounge called Double Seven, is now on its own way out. Around the corner at Filter 14 (once Mother), Matthew Dear's live set in 2003 left me drenched in sweat and happier than I'd been in years.

In 2002, Larry Tee was king, and Luxx was still a club favorite in Williamsburg. The MisShapes didn't yet exist, and West 27th Street's Club Row—predicted by Matt E. Silver and Steve Lewis —was home only to the recently shuttered Twilo and the newly opened Bungalow 8.

And in the face of rising rents and the richer residents who came with it, bottle service, once confined to certain bars I didn't have to frequent, became the de facto mode of operation for New York nightlife. It was annoying and depressing.

More depressing still was the murder of a bouncer, Shazam, at Guernica in 2003, just after the smoking ban went into effect. He'd told someone to put out his cigarette.

Other things I want to forget: trucker hats, fauxhawks, and hipster mullets. Mike Stuto's mean message when I found out Brownie's was closing and becoming Hi-Fi—he hadn't yet told his staff. The cabaret law. Heroin and cocaine overdoses in the club community.

Things I never wish to forget: Plant Bar. Chronicling the parties that sprouted during the blackout of summer 2003. Piano's is the new Pianos T-shirts. CBGB's closing. "Losing My Edge." Fischerspooner getting sent up at Luxx by Fishyspoon. Burlesque's boom. The time I met Michael Stipe when he was wearing a "Bush Is Over" T-shirt. Mylo's set at the Tribeca Grand a few summers ago. Conversations with Centro-fly owner Tom Sisk. The greatest piece of hate mail I ever received, from A.R.E. Weapons' Matt McAuley, handwritten in all caps, starting with the greeting, "Lady, you're fucked." Stacey Pullen at Twilo. Honey Dijon dancing to Derrick Carter's set at Tronic Treatment, held at Baktun. Bouncers pulling Kim Aviance by her Rapunzel locks from the speakers at Element. Kevin Aviance, always. Julie Atlas Muz's jailbird routine to Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law," and her pussy ventriloquism. P.S. 1 Warm Ups. Interviewing the Ass at Mr. Black. Duran Duran reuniting (and it felt so good) down in Jersey. Trying to hug Puff Daddy raver style at the Winter Music Conference while under the influence. My impromptu DJ set with Slash at the Soho Grand, and thinking how nice he was; shortly thereafter, he almost got in a fistfight with drunken bankers. Meeting Axl Rose and thinking how nice he was; shortly thereafter, he made the news for getting in a fistfight with Tommy Hilfiger.

I had a party last week at the Box to celebrate the memories, and as our host Murray Hill put it, "having a job for five years." Beat. "Hope your editor doesn't fire you now." Me neither. The lovely and talented Pierces headlined (it was also their record release party), wearing cute '20s flapper outfits and doing little synchronized dances as they sang. Larry Tee and Tommie Sunshine DJed. Afterward, Julie Atlas Muz performed her moon dance to David Bowie's "Five Years," climbing inside a giant inflatable balloon and popping it—coming out naked, of course. Mike Albo performed his unbelievably funny skit, "Amanda," in which he plays a demented Hollywood celebrity socialite who relays every moment of her life to her friend Amanda over the phone. Angie Pontani did a classic boa striptease to "Gold Digger," and the Wau Wau Sisters did a literal interpretation of "Sister Christian," crucifix and all.

In the audience were a couple of Strokes (Albert Hammond Jr. and Nikolai Fraiture), Zelda Kaplan, and Aunt Irma, a new club kid on the scene. Steven Lewis— the feared club honcho during Limelight's and Life's heyday in the '80s and '90s—came out and did the door, gratis, inspiring current doorman of the moment Thomas Onorato and his PR partner Max Wixom to remark, "Let's be honest, we totally gagged when we got there. It was fierce. Steven Lewis is a legend!" The party was a blast. Thanks for the memories of that night, those over the past five years, and those to come. It's been a fly life.

flylife@villagevoice.com


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