So the city destroyed nightlife and now it wants to appoint someone who will build it up again? OK, we’re making progress. I’m talking about the fact that in June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he wants to hire a nightlife ambassador to act as a liaison between the city government and whatever hotspots are left in town, including music venues. In August, the New York City Council approved a bill to establish an Office of Nightlife, and de Blasio will be appointing someone within the next two months to head up the department. It's a rare case of New York following in the footsteps of other cosmopolitan cities, including London, Paris and Zurich, as the New York Times recently noted, though in New York this dignitary would be called a DON, or Director of Nightlife.
Supposedly, the person in this position will be dedicated to preserving the nightlife industry and helping it expand, while also dealing with community complaints about the fact that the nightlife is being preserved and expanded! That will be some very delicate dance.
I have doubts about the whole thing, since any kind of government interference in nightlife—even a seemingly well-meaning move like this—makes me uncomfortable. After all, New York government has notoriously bashed and demonized clubbing, particularly in the Rudy Giuliani ‘90s. Mayor Giuliani’s relentless raids and crackdowns conspired to diminish the nightlife landscape, as he pushed a “quality of life” campaign while refusing to realize that a thriving nightlife is a big part of New York’s quality of life.
For decades, clubs have not only pumped money into the city, they’ve engendered welcome escapism and fostered avant garde personalities filled with eccentric allure and talent. The clubs are where many trends in music, décor, and fashion happen to incubate, so they prove crucial to advances in international culture. But Rudy didn’t care about any of that—he wanted to win points for sanitizing the city and purging all the sin and mayhem, sort of like the righteous minister in Footloose tried to do. What’s more, community boards’ stinginess in granting licenses—along with the rise of the internet and apps, as well as the outrageous costs involved in running a club—haven’t helped nightlife in the least. So, if there has to be a nightlife ambassador, who should be?
Well, how about we start with someone who actually cares about clubs—like party promoter Susanne Bartsch. The Swiss Miss has led her conga line of fabulosities through many a crisis, including the Giuliani era, and she’s hyper aware of the importance of Brooklyn as a nightlife sanctuary, having thrown quite a few bashes there herself.
But there are some other viable choices. I asked various nocturnal notables for their take on this situation, and they had expectedly fascinating picks. “I think it’s a fabulous idea, and I’d love to see a drag queen throw her hat in the ring, although one runs the risk of a wig still being attached,” said Doorman/comic Markus Kelle.
Michael “Formika” Jones, a long running DJ/VJ/promoter/performer, said this scenario brings to mind a well known quote from Death Becomes Her: “Now, a warning?” Jones surprised me by adding that Giuliani should be given the job because, “He should be forced to voluntarily build back what he destroyed. And when he’s done with that, continue with the rest of New York!” That’s actually a very tantalizing proposition, one many surviving club kids will feel reeks of karmic justice.
At first, singer/promoter Kayvon Zand felt I could actually fill the dancing shoes for this job, though he then stopped short and reconsidered my viability. “In my perfect world, I would actually love to see someone like yourself, [promoter/photographer/wit] Kenny Kenny, or me appointed to a position like that," Zand said. "However, realistically, the ambassador needs to have the reach which comes with celebrity and be hip and involved enough to keep an organic New York feel. My pick would be Rosario Dawson, who is prominent and sociable, uptown and downtown, yet involved enough in New York nightlife to stay true to the city and expand nightlife without cheesing it up.” So in other words, I’m not a big enough star to do this????
Well, let me just say…all right, I could definitely go along with Dawson. She definitely has New York credibility and is already involved in even more liberal charities than Susan Sarandon.
But Kenny Kenny, it turns out, does want me-me-me for the job, and I didn’t even have to beg for the praise. “I am sure the mayor means well, though the past mayors have put a huge buzzkill in nightlife. With too many rules and high rents, it’s become stale and unimaginative. Nightlife no longer has mystery or glamour—it’s now about money and status. If nightlife is no longer exciting, then New York is not nearly as exciting, so they have to stop accommodating the mainstream takeover of what was once the nightlife," he explained, before adding, "To tell you the truth, you’re probably the only one I would feel good about doing the job.” [Blushes] “You understand the boundaries and encourage diversity and creativity. You have also been a voice to the underdog, and nightlife was always a refuge for outsiders. You won’t waver or bow down to the Man.”
OK, I'll do it! And I'll make sure to bring lots of great nightlife back to Manhattan, limit all those oppressive bottle-service lounges that take the creative element out of clubbing, and celebrate the fringe characters who make nightclubs great. I'll even tell the community boards complaining about nightclub noise to shut their pie holes because they're the ones making the noise—and this is New York, after all. Noise, hubbub, and other signs of life are why we live here.
Actually, wait. I'm exhausted just thinking about it—and I honestly don’t want to work for the government. I'll go with Formika's idea and let Rudy Giuliani do the job. It will be a delicious comeuppance as Rudy’s made to restore what he helped decimate—and I want him to wear that infamous drag outfit of his every moment he's on the job!
Watch: Chameleons of the Art World: The Humans of Frieze New York
Chameleons of the Art World: The Humans of Frieze New York