Apparently, New York nightlife needs a babysitter, and city politicians and police think they’re up for the job. But I think they should all be fired.
These nightlife sitters want promoters to be licensed; they want to arrest kids who are using fake IDs.; they want the cabaret law (prohibiting dancing without a license) to remain intact; they want you to submit to mandatory video surveillance the entire time you are at a club; they want to ban bottle service (a dreamy idea, but they’re doing it for the wrong reasons); they want clubs to be only in certain neighborhoods, though of course they always seem to change their minds and push the clubs out; and they want you to be quiet. But mostly, it seems they just don’t want any nightlife to exist at all.
Note to cops, politicians, and everyone else who hates nightlife and thinks they’re doing us a favor: You’re fired. I don’t need a babysitter. None of us do. I am tired of this War on Fun, this puritanical prohibition running rampant against New York nightlife. Earlier this month, Crobar (soon to be called Studio) and Sol were shut down over allegations of drugs and violence, but in the face of this allegedly awful situation, they were allowed to more or less immediately reopen—no doubt to be shut down again, under the guise of being unsafe. My gut feeling that most of these busts are just publicity ploys is borne out by the press conference the NYPD held as the clubs were being closed—with two tipped-off reporters from the Daily News and the Post standing in front of Sol, news cameras at the ready, NYPD press releases in hand. One eyewitness told me of seeing a news cameraman get out of a police car. You don’t get advance notice—and hold a press conference—if a club is truly unsafe. I wonder why we’ve never heard of Club Phenomenon, a club whose liquor license was suspended in December for a fatal shooting, drug sales, and prostitution. Maybe because it was so dangerous the cops shut it down without stopping to brag about it.
Then there’s City Council Speaker Christine Quinn‘s proposal to have promoters get licensed—next thing you know, DJs will need a license, and we’ll be getting fingerprinted on our way in the door. (That’s not as far-fetched a possibility as you think.) In terms of cosmetic, futile gestures, this over-the-top demand is right up there with her other proposals: ID scanners (that don’t catch good fakes) and surveillance cameras (a violation of your privacy that nonetheless is already used in most clubs anyway). Then there’s the Bloomberg administration’s freshly minted “Two Strikes and You’re Out” proposal, which would shut a club down after two “serious” violations—murder and felony assault on the one hand, but much vaguer provisions of the state liquor law on the other.
Consider also City Councilwoman Melinda Katz‘s absurd proposal to ban bottle service and require waitresses to personally pour drinks for the stupid people who can’t seem to do it properly themselves—a weak attempt to foil binge drinkers who avoid the all-seeing eyes of bartenders. I might think bottle service is stupid, but it’s a free market. Next thing you know, the government will be demanding that we all wear bibs and sequined diapers and be spoon-fed by our mommy at dinner.
By the way, did you know that 106 kids have been arrested
for using fake IDs since August? While it’s fine to hold the kids, and not just the clubs, responsible for underage drinking, isn’t a stay in jail a little too harsh?
I go out five, six, sometimes seven nights a week. I go to the wildest places in the city. I go out alone. I am often wasted. I come home at four or five in the morning. I have been clubbing since I was 19 (yes, I drank illegally). And I am alive. I am well. There are millions of others just like me. We are the rule, not the exceptions to the rule.
High-profile 2006 murder victims Imette St. Guillen, Antonios Sasarakis, and Gustavo Cuadros were all killed by bouncers. Their deaths could have been prevented by the clubs themselves, by not hiring bouncers with criminal records—a situation that is now being addressed thanks to Quinn’s legislation. But this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to punish all of clubland. Other deaths have been unfairly attributed to the clubs themselves, most notably the July case of 19-year-old Jennifer Moore, who is being used as the Patron Saint of Underage Drinking Legislation when she should be used as the Patron Saint of Changing the Drinking Law. If Moore had been drinking legally that night, she might not have wandered off while her friend was being taken to the hospital, which she presumably did because she was afraid of being caught. Guest House, where she’d partied much earlier that night, is still being blamed for her murder, even though she wasn’t murdered there, wasn’t murdered by anyone she met there, and was actually murdered in another state many hours after leaving the club, even after she came in contact with police—who could have helped her and didn’t. Repeat after me: Guest House did not murder Jennifer Moore.
You’d think, when reading these hyperventilating reports in the media that parrot the politicians and police, that these clubs are craven, scary hellholes with girls on roofies getting raped en masse in bathrooms, Scarface piles of cocaine being snorted off every surface, and 16-year-old girls standing on the bar sucking beer bongs. You’d be wrong. Those would be frat parties, or Paris Hilton‘s hotel room. At licensed clubs run by responsible owners, you get kicked out for doing drugs, your fake ID is taken from you if you try to use it, and you get denied at the bar if you are deemed too drunk. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of these responsible clubs, run by thousands of responsible club owners. How come you never hear about any of them?
The New York Times recently ran an excellent story about Heathers, a joint on East 13th Street—specifically, the owner’s ongoing battle with upstairs neighbors and the community board. Residents, so infuriated by the bar’s existence, bought an expensive noise meter and obsessively monitor the place—they’ve called 311 more than 50 times. It’s an explicit abuse of the system, and it’s unfair to the honest bar owner who appears to be doing everything the neighbors ask, like installing soundproofing materials. She’s done everything except disappear.
New York City is a living, breathing, messy organism that is constantly changing. No manner of legislation or prohibition—which pushes things underground and makes them more unsafe—can change that. You can’t protect people from themselves. Nightlife is, in essence, hedonistic. It is not supposed to be church.
Christine Quinn told me back in the fall—when she was promoting her Nightlife Summit and proposing her useful (but woefully deficient) legislation regarding bouncer licenses—that she’d never even been to the West 27th Street strip. This was when the klieg lights and giant electronic billboards had first appeared on the block to make us feel safer. I bet Mayor Bloomberg has never been to any of the East Village bars that are being harassed out of existence by the “dance police” either.
So, I invite them both: Speaker Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg, I’ll take you on a tour of New York nightlife. We’ll go to Crobar, Sol, and Guest House, the place forever tied to Jennifer Moore’s murder. And while we’re at it, I’ll take you to Black and White, a neighborhood bar written up recently for violating the most asinine of all your nightlife laws—the cabaret law. Because it’s obvious that while you’ve both been having a good time standing on your untouchable soapboxes, neither one of you seems to know a thing about the industry you are affecting. Come and see for yourself.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 23, 2007