Clubbing in New York can drag like a Benny Hill skit, minus the questionable humor. Long lines, obnoxious door politics, and hefty cover charges plague the venues not shuttered by the anti-nightlife task force. New York City is no longer the “city that never sleeps.”
It’s hard enough for the cocktail set, but for queer college-age folks, many of whom just are coming out and who move to the city to search for a community—the situation has gone from mildly irritating to well-nigh dire.
The clubs that thrived in the early to mid ’90s—the Tunnel, the Roxy, Twilo, Limelight, the original Shelter (now Arc)—are gone or have been tamed beyond recognition. Gone are the days you could sashay inside with a dozen pills tucked into an amply padded bustier or hidden inside 10-inch platforms. Gone are the days of “raver bathrooms,” when the Tunnel had its own DJ, sound system, and comfy cushions to encourage dilly-dallying and stolen kisses (not to mention the naughty things that went on in the stalls).
“There was a big network; everyone knew each other,” says Vito Fun, a 23-year-old club DJ, photographer, and a devotee of the young gay nightclub scene. “It kind of sucks for the young crowd right now.” As Sean Gordon, a/k/a Starbrite, a queer 20-year-old club promoter and designer, says with fond regret, “Tunnel was trash, but it was the best trash ever.”
And since groans gave way to giggles on 42nd Street, it’s twice as hard to score a fake ID in the back of seedy porn shops, though rumors abound of a downtown-centric fake-ID cottage industry that’s sprung up in retaliation.
But queer youngsters can still find a gay ol’ time at several weekly and one-off parties. Pop Rocks, perhaps the queen of all the gay weekly parties, has Thursday nights on lockdown at Flamingo, for an 18-plus crowd open to kitsch and irony-free fun: Here Britney and boy bands reign supreme. *N Sync’s Joey Fatone was reportedly seen on the dancefloor one recent Thursday night. “I think Pop Rocks is retarded,” says Gordon, “but most people my age love it. There are some cute people there.”
When the Tunnel closed last year, Kurfew, once the only weekly gay college party in town, was forced to move to far smaller quarters. “I went to Kurfew every week when it was at the Tunnel,” says Gordon. “In smaller clubs, you have less space to dance—the Tunnel had a million different rooms where you met the craziest people all the time.” Vito Fun sums it up more succinctly: “Lots of young ones popped their cherries there.”
Now at True on Friday nights, cuties sip virgin daiquiris and watch drag shows unfold onstage. A recent Friday had a “Goldmember” theme with multiple Beyoncé look-alikes and a hotly contested make-out competition (the boys who dropped trou won the prize—a penis pump!). Naysayers dismiss Kurfew’s current incarnation as “korny as hell,” and although the music—mostly boy-band pop and mainstream hip-hop—can get a little stale, drag queens Britney Valentine and Peppermint Gummybear could match their elders inch for sultry inch at any 21-plus venue.
Gay College Party, held at Heaven, is hosted by Alan and Tony. The promoters run the door like boot camp—and say that candy ravers can look elsewhere for kicks. “We’re so anti-drug it’s scary,” says Tony.
But GCP provides three floors of booty-shaking jams—pop/hip-hop on the main floor, hard house and trancy techno on the second, and ’80s jams in “Hell” on the third floor. The dancefloor is packed all night with cute boys of all stripes and colors (and a few, mostly straight, women). GCP, which has two sister nights on Long Island and in Westchester, is starting a weekly 18-plus gay roller-skating party at the Roxy in September, and is throwing its first gay foam party sometime in late summer. More importantly, says Alan, “We provide an atmosphere where you can be yourself. You shouldn’t have to feel like an alien in a straight club.” Fun, who has DJed the “Hell” room for over a year, says, “I get a good feeling of community here, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
While these parties are open to everybody, women may find them a tad heavy on the XY. “We reach out to the lesbian market” explains Alan, “but I feel they keep more to themselves.”
“The party scene for gay men is more established in New York,” offers Carol, 19, a queer performance artist and Columbia University undergrad, “and it can be really frustrating. When you first come to New York, you want to find a community, you’ll find the gathering places for lesbians are places you can’t get into.” Throb, an s/m grrrl/transgender party, offers a solution to young lesbians with a taste for the whip. Held the first Thursday of every month and hosted by Voice columnist Tristan Taormino, the party attracts a tougher crowd looking for kicks in an alcohol-free venue.
Taormino, who sported mini pigtails and a “Boy Beater” T-shirt for the most recent event, explains why 18-and-uppers are welcome and public whipping “scenes” are de rigueur, even though the dyke bar down the street is off-limits. “It’s technically a members-only club,” she says, though in reality Throb is open to all 18-plus women/transgenders who fork over a $15 to $20 cover charge.
Grover, a 20-year-old Throb patron and performance artist, says that despite the age barrier, dyke clubs are usually more lax about checking IDs because they’re aware of the social implications. “Straight bars card more,” he says. “I used to go to the Clit Club [a classic lesbian 21-and-over party] all the time, until it moved to a straight bar, where I got rejected.”
Rowen Filey, a 22 year-old Throb attendee, big ups Lusty Loft in DUMBO. “It’s great,” she says, “they host mixed parties for everyone, and a lot of younger people go.”
But to quote Fun, “Not all gay people just want to party.” For those who prefer a mellower dynamic, Bluestockings Bookstore hosts readings, film nights, dyke knitting circles, and most importantly, offers an uncompetitive and instructive place for women of all orientations. And WOW Café throws all-ages parties as well, like queer proms and dyke-oriented performances. “In NYC, kids come out early—I never met so many young queers!” says Carol.
Adds Grover, “Really, all you need in New York City is to make a space your space.”
Research: Jessie Nelson