Is there anything more transient than the self-congratulatory hot spot? More importantly, is going out at night a lost art? Long gone are places of legend like the Mudd Club and Palladium. Besides, was it ever an art? Bianca Jagger entering Studio 54 atop a white horse for her Halston-hosted 30th birthday party elevated after-dark fraternizing to levels of performance art. Then again, it never happened. Last year, Jagger wrote a letter to the Financial Times setting the record that she merely walked into the club and hopped on the regal creature during the party for a quick jaunt. That’s kind of a metaphor for nightlife itself: Like most things considered glamorous, it’s but a mirage. Fantasy trumps reality. While bars are relaxed, often welcoming, there’s nothing categorically easy about clubs and lounges. They’re designed that way: to induce anxiety, raise your pulse and simultaneously make you feel very important and terribly inconsequential. They’re where people go to show off, which is why so many write them off entirely. Clubs are for assholes! But where else do you get the opportunity to revel in such sparkle and shallowness?
These days, the word nightclub has connotations so associated with the early 2000s. It brings to mind Lindsay Lohan swiping a rich Russian’s fur coat at 1 Oak. Bottle service was always kind of douchey, but now it’s passé, too. It’s eons ago when I would stumble into Marquee every Wednesday to sidle up to tables and help myself to vodka sodas from virtual strangers or spot the Olsen twins perched on faux-antique couches at the Jane Hotel. Remember Kenmare, that cavernous, model-laden, below-ground lair with its floor-to-ceiling mirrored bathrooms seemingly made for snorting substances and talking shit? What about the Beatrice Inn, the low-ceilinged townhouse tucked away on a cobblestone street in the West Village, with its back-room mini-disco (think “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates seemingly on repeat), where Angelo the door guy would give it his all to make potential patrons feel unworthy?
The archetypal door person’s reign of terror is over. Things just aren’t the same, and for reasonably sensible New Yorkers, the appeal of contending with crowds, tedious bathroom lines and stringent dress codes, at least for certain dudes, has worn thin. But nightlife will never die in the city that never sleeps. Now with Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Gowanus and Sunset Park determined to take top after-dark honors, heavily conceptualized new spots are taking a stand to assert Manhattan as the ultimate nightlife arena once again. So which places can actually make good on their promises of champagne wishes and model-and-bottle dreams?
1. The Blond
Lush and swanky, much like the clientele’s wardrobes, at least that’s what they want you to think, The Blond has been getting a lot of attention since opening in March. The second-floor club at 11 Howard, the hotel hot spot from Aby Rosen, a real estate mogul who owns the Gramercy Park Hotel, is supervised by Angelo Bianchi and Julio Montero of iconic spots Le Baron and the Beatrice Inn. Voluptuous velvet banquets and a mixed-media sculpture entitled Complicated Animals by Dan Attoe make for a lounge-like atmosphere more conducive to frivolous discourse than sweaty thrashing. If the no-nonsense doorman is going to assert himself and turn you down anywhere, it’s going to be at The Blond, so wear your most pristine Aquazzura pumps and bring your hottest friends. Also, make sure you don’t go on a night when there’s a private event, which isn’t often, unless, of course, you’ve scored an invite. Bonus: If you stay at the hotel, they lend you a skateboard.
11 Howard Street, at Lafayette Street
Images (left to right): The Blond, Flash Factory, Vandal and The Lively.
Checking in at 10,000 square feet, this Chelsea mega-club will bring back memories of the Limelight for those too old to classify themselves as millennials, thanks to plenty of décor details reclaimed from churches, like stained-glass accents and ornate archways. Flash Factory opened in January, and it’s surprisingly the project of Michael Satsky, owner of Meatpacking District-favorite Provocateur. (Contrary to what you might believe, people still go to Provocateur, the boudoir-inspired haven for rich dudes and body-con dress-wearing women who enjoy the perks that come with hanging around rich dudes.) EDM is king here, with superstar DJs like Chromeo and Sven Vath having made appearances, and it’s the closest you’ll come to recreating the festival-meets-rave scene in the middle of Manhattan.
229 West 28th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Remember the Tao Group, who brought us Marquee, Tao and Lavo? They’re not backing down. They’re just heading downtown. More specifically to the Bowery, with Vandal, a restaurant and basement lounge with a mediocre menu of Asian-inspired seafood and street pizzas. The name is purposely designed to connote visual hijinks and lighthearted peril, and it’s got its very own “art program,” curated by British street artist Hush. He amassed seven famed “vandals,” a.k.a. street-oriented artists, to create custom installations for the space. Look for murals courtesy of Shepard Fairey, an 11-foot statue depicting a breakdancing rabbit, a winding bar and a drink list conveniently divided into the three categories of Sweet, Spiced and Barrel-Aged. The venue’s partners are going for grittiness, without any actual grit (because, like, ew, gross).
199 Bowery, between Rivington and Delancey Streets
4. The Lively
Oh, the Meatpacking District after sundown: Over the years, it’s been home to countless bloodied carcasses; hordes of transgender prostitutes and their double life-leading johns in suits; more annoying, hordes of bridge-and-tunnel crews in Christian Louboutin knockoffs and square-toed Kenneth Cole shoes, the quintessential bros’ “going out” shoe of choice); and now The Lively, a retro ʼ70s-inspired underground version of the neighborhood night spot. “We were thinking of a new idea, different from the ultra-V.I.P. clubs,” general manager Inigo Salazar says of their goal. “It’s not the velvet ropes or the booths with reservations.” It is, however, 3,000 square feet of arched brick ceilings, checkerboard floors, a performance stage complete with stadium seating (it’s live music until 10 p.m.), alcoholic snow cones, yet another art installation (sensing a trend here?), this time by Futura 2000, and an eclectic mélange of after-work types and genuine club kids.
26 Ninth Avenue, between West 13th and 14th Streets.