It was 4:00 a.m. the Sunday night before the Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ holiday. A crowd of about 600 was cavorting to techno/house music from legendary DJ Jonathan Peters at Analog, a no-frills Brooklyn club with a great sound system.
For 15 years, Jonathan Peters deejayed on average four gigs a week and had a seven-year residency at Sound Factory. “It was not unusual for me to play a six- or 12-hour set,” Peters says. “I sometimes did 20.”
At that point Manhattan nightlife was teeming with huge nightclubs. As evenings went on, crowds would empty into large late-night spots. We were the city that never slept.
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These days, Peters deejays around 10 times a year. The clubs are gone. There are virtually no places to dance in Manhattan. The world has changed and many long for it to change back.
I left Analog and got into my car thinking about our brave new world. I was parked amidst warehouses and building supply stores where I buy lumber and moldings and such for my day job. The bass followed me to my car.
During the past 15 years, an unprecedented real estate boom encroached on the territory once reserved for partying in New York City. Deep-pocketed residents, the types who could afford mortgage payments, demanded the noise stop and so it did. The west Chelsea neighborhood, designated by former mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a club area, was home to dozens of dance spots, including such mega-clubs as Crobar and Spirit, and bottle-service spots like Pink Elephant, Bungalow 8 and Cain.
These places and others (Home, Guesthouse, Quo, Bed, I could go on) were harassed into closing by police on horseback, blinding klieg lights, and random searches. Revelers didn’t like that the streets were closed to taxis. The well-heeled newcomers took their business elsewhere. One by one the clubs faltered, and a seamless parade of giant condominium complexes appeared in their places. Only Marquee survived.
The coexistence of nightclubs and residents is a problem that must be solved. Residents need to sleep, but without nightlife the city will lose its character. For now the large spaces have moved to the warehouse districts of Brooklyn. Manhattan has lost its large clubs and many believe its edge.
Back in the day, club owner Peter Gatien operated over 200,000 square feet of dance floor in Manhattan. Sometimes 35,000 souls would party over a weekend at his wonderful and diverse clubs. Palladium, founded in the 1980s by Studio 54 alums Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, occupied 100,000 square feet alone.
Gatien’s empire was targeted for drug sales and use, but many of us believe the fun (and all the noise and litter that comes with it) was hurting the price of the neighborhood’s new fleet of luxe one-bedroom apartments. It was fun that was put on trial. Palladium is gone now, along with Tunnel, Limelight, USA, Studio 54, Roxy, Paradise Garage, Pacha, Webster Hall and a slew of other mega-clubs.
These enormous entities were forces of nature. They brought traffic to once-desolate, warehouse districts. A few brave galleries set up shop when the streets literally ran with blood. Within a few years, however, those same people putting places like West Chelsea and the Meatpacking District on the map became “undesirables.” Boutiques started opening and city blocks were developed. Pretty soon, luxury high rises were the only things getting high anymore.
The same scenario played out in Williamsburg, where the prices of apartment rentals now are on par with much of Manhattan, and in large part to Greenpoint. Now Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant and Ridgewood are on similar paths. Except for Mirage, a seasonal joint, even Brooklyn lacks mega clubs. Smaller outlets like Cielo and Marquee persist, but western Manhattan’s mega-clubs are all but extinct.
They were dinosaurs, and we can’t imagine how they ever fed themselves. Their bones have been made into dormitories for the slaves who now live where the fabulous celebrated. There are no more long lines to get into epic parties. Just Whole Foods with long lines to get out.
The question must be asked: When will Brooklyn’s House Of Yes, Good Room, and even Mirage be harassed and replaced? Will a sanitized NYC still be a viable place to live for those who don’t go to bed at 10:00 p.m.?
Amid all the gloom comes a glint of promise. A mega-club, all 20,000 square feet of it, will debut sometime in the coming months. I’m told officially by December but maybe sooner. It will be in the old Space Ibiza lot and is being called Freq (pronounced “freak”).
Antonio Piacquadio (and no I don’t know how to pronounce that) is at the helm. Piacquadio, who is also a deejay, has seen club culture shift. Patrons have gotten used to traveling distances via subway or Uber for the chance to hear top deejays who command $50,000 fees and fill rooms — as long as spaces exist to host them. Freq will be the only place in town with capacity for these crowds and will be competing with Brooklyn venues for talent.
Manhattan has about 1.6 million people living on it. Another million tourists a week visit. The suburbs house millions more and still there is no big club experience to be had. The aforementioned real estate boom and culturally challenged community boards have chased them to the fringes and now the fringes are losing their edge. A nightlife czar may help but I worry it’s too little too late.
Freq will have a pre-opening party this Saturday, October 28 for Halloween. Jonathan Peters will DJ. And there are rumors Peter Gatien is up to something.
For many of us in NYC, Freq is more than an opening. It’s a glimmer of hope.