It turns out that participating in nightlife is like riding a bike. You can put down your Schwinn and lay down for over a year, but when the floodgates reopen, the skill comes right back and you’re whirling on wheels again!
As a result of lockdown, New Yorkers had become woefully out of practice at face-to-face socializing, cocktail procuring, and carrying on, but as the restrictions have evaporated in stages, the party has re-ignited like wildfire. The need for social interaction is understandably intense, as well as the desire to move forward from a horrible time of grief, fear, isolation, and unemployment, not to mention an attempted coup. And New Yorkers are generally adaptable and willing to keep going and raise another glass while shimmying to the beat and burying the subtext.
In Manhattan—which has seen so much nightlife move over the bridge to Brooklyn because of real estate concerns and other issues—things might even get better than before, to the point where I’ve been predicting a “Roaring 20s” return of frantic good times. It helps that Biden/Harris are trying to repair the country and the blue-state mood has been elevating while masks are descending.
People simply don’t want to watch anything on Zoom ever again if they can help it. Online performance is now officially an option for entertainers, but for onlookers, Zoom reminds us of how we were glued to it out of dire necessity. We were literally a captive audience!
Since May, I’ve been to a plethora of in-person events, dinners, and hangouts, and though they’ve all had different (and evolving) rules—some demand vaccination proof, others check your temperature, some have no rules at all—they are shamelessly open and well attended.
A few boîtes have shuttered for good, like HK gay bars Posh, Barrage, and Ninth Avenue Saloon. But after another such place, Therapy, closed, it was picked up by a new owner; plus, long-running gay promoter John Blair is opening a space called the Spot on 43rd and 10th, hoping for this coming week for the unveiling.
Popular promoter Ladyfag restarted her monthly Sunday night Battle Hymn party at Rumi event space in Chelsea on May 30, and it sold out so quickly that she quickly added a bunch more dates—weekly, not monthly. The first one drew a packed assemblage of T-shirted (or shirtless) guys—shades of the old Roxy Saturdays—who pumped to the house music as if nothing had changed since February 2020. I was inspired by the enthusiastic abandon, but stood off to the side, not totally adjusted to the new-old way of life just yet.
Meanwhile, the more-than-25-year-old Chelsea gay bar Barracuda refurbished during lockdown and reopened on June 11, sparking a weekend of crowded exhilaration. By this point, Barracuda owner Bob Pontarelli had opened a mixed-crowd Chelsea place called the Coby Club, a floor below his Elmo restaurant, where the San Francisco strip-club ambience crossed with a Chinese opium-den feeling is lushly atmospheric, and a witty chanteuse and some bar bites have added to the experience.
For me, the return to celebratory sanity started with a May 8 dinner at Veronika restaurant at Fotografiska, the Swedish photo museum, where they were toasting an exhibit of Tom of Finland nudes.
About 100 people sat closely together at different tables—including Paulina Porizkova, with whom I commiserated about how insufferable the Oscars were—and took in the family-style food items like organic chicken complete with toes and fingernails. Eccentricity was back! Schmoozing was back! People were smiling!
After the dinner, everyone moved next door to Chapel Bar. It all felt shockingly like the old days, the crowd sliding back into society with an extraordinary ease, effortlessly invoking old conversational tropes, along with all new banalities like, “How was your lockdown?”
Since then, I’ve been to the West Village piano bar Marie’s Crisis (we sat at a partitioned table upstairs and watched the downstairs pianist on a video screen), a twinkly Broadway night at Tavern on the Green, various Tribeca Film Festival receptions (including one at the Press Lounge rooftop space), and dinners at Standard Hotel, East Village and Lips drag restaurant (where bachelorettes and birthday girls squealed to the lip syncs and banter).
For even lustier low-jinks, gays will head to the reopening of the Cock, the testosterone-fueled gay bar, on June 24. The bar had considered moving to a larger location on the Lower East Side, but the community board intervened, so it’s back at the old Second Avenue space, where they’ll add a new “Celebration Room” in the fall.
The community board kibosh is a reminder that, though Manhattan is littered with empty storefronts and the populace is itching to fill them with music and mayhem, there will always be uptight authority figures hoping to return this to the dance-free town in Footloose.
Another sign of upcoming roadblocks is the fact that, for months, Washington Square Park has been the site of music, skateboarding, BLM rallies, memorials, and all sorts of activities that helped a lot of us connect (within limits) and stay vibrant when indoor establishments were in lockdown.
But earlier this month, the cops cracked down on a new 10 p.m. weekend curfew, using riot gear and overblown tactics, though the spirit that surfaced in that park all year will be very difficult to quell. And the midnight curfew was promptly reinstated.
New HK queer clubs are coming this fall, like Red Eye, “a cute coffee bar by day, buzzy club at night,” run by promoter Daniel Nardicio and company. (Nardicio’s also been doing well with his Fire Island underwear parties. Guys who got the jab can apparently strip and grab.) There will also be the Q, a “four floor/five experience” speakeasy/dance club with celebrity investors like Billy Porter and Jake Shears, and Stage 48 is turning into the spiffy event space HK Hall.
Flamboyant party queen Susanne Bartsch is certainly expanding her conga line. Fridays at Sony Hall (at the Paramount), Bartsch has been promoting “New York, New York” cabaret revues, followed by a dance party, which now goes till 4 a.m. She will bring her carnivalesque, indoor/outdoor On Top party back to the Standard, High Line on June 26 for Pride and then it will become a Tuesday weekly again starting July 6. And she’s reviving her old Kunst dance party in Brooklyn on July 31.
“We’re back, baby!” she exulted to me. “People are pent up and they want to go out and dance. We started realizing, ‘Who wants to Zoom if you can go out and have a coffee with a friend?’ I’m not a technical person, and I’d be screaming and talking at the screen, acting like a lunatic in my apartment, and they can’t hear you. Then we fixed it and I’d say ‘Shake your booty’ and you’d see 800 people shaking their booty. They all did it!
“In hindsight, the online parties saved my sanity. It gave me a reason to dress up, a platform for people to do looks, and a way to support my community because I could pay the performers and also do benefits. But it’s exciting and surreal to be back and have people see live entertainment.”
Bartsch admits that she would have liked a little more time for this re-transitioning, however. “I thought things were opening in September,” she said, “but we did ‘New York, New York’ starting May 25, even though the Paramount is closed till September. Because of the new processes, people had to line up and wait, and they said ‘I don’t mind. It’s better than sitting home’. I’d never heard that before!”
We’ll see how long that agreeable new attitude lasts, but if it doesn’t, it’s only another reminder of the new party fever.
The best example of that passion came when a Facebook posting about a supposed June 24 Limelight reopening bash prompted a frenzy, only to have the organizers cancel the event. They hadn’t secured the proper clearances and the publicist had overhyped the smallish to-do as way more than it was. But people were anxious for it, even if a lot of them were aging hipsters who were only fantasizing about leaving the house.
As one of those aging hipsters, I am totally ready for the new New York—though this time, I’ll be using my drink tickets for diet soda.