My Top 11 Clubs of the Moment

In his decades-old column in last Wednesday’s Village Voice, Michael Musto, the greatest nightlife writer ever, listed his “10 Best NYC Clubs of All Time.” His list was Studio 54, Mudd Club, Area, Danceteria, Jackie 60, Happy Valley, CBGB, The Roxy, The Palladium, and Limelight. He is as right as anybody, as each of us has our own perspective. The list doesn’t go back to joints pre-Michael’s viewpoint, like El Morocco or The Cotton Club, and it discounts anything recent with the exception of Happy Valley, which maybe had a moment 5 years ago. My list is pretty close. I would swap out Happy Valley (which was mostly awful), CBGB, and The Roxy in favor of The World, Max’s Kansas City, and Paradise Garage. The others I heartily agree with.

The Roxy would certainly make honorable mention, but it was a bit one dimensional. Then again, so was Paradise. The Paradise Garage was a temple to a generation that was previously dismissed. This crowd, and those who passed through to worship, luxuriated in their newly realized numbers of like-minded souls. It also had a god in DJ Larry Levan. I believe you can’t talk House Music without Larry as the leader. It can be argued that the Chelsea boys found a home, each other, and a lot more pride in their Mecca, the Roxy. Although it was never really more than a Saturday night, it was always quite a night. Lets just say, since it’s 2011, it’s the top 11 list.

A list of the 10 (11) best NYC clubs of today is even harder, as the jury is still out on so many, and the term “club” has a different meaning in this era. There’s no easy way to do this, but as the great Carmello Anthony said after being booed in his own arena, the boos don’t bother him or effect his game — he’ll always have his haters one way or the other. Some will always hate on me and my opinions, but I can take it. I welcome feedback.

My list is only Manhattan. My list includes lounges and bars, and even the Darby, which takes great pains to call itself a restaurant—which it is, but when you throw parties for Beyonce, Andre Harrell, and Prince, and I can walk by and see Leonardo DiCaprio hanging outside with Lucas Haas, like I did last night, it’s a little more than a restaurant, and it makes my list. I looked at this list as if friends from out of town had asked me where to go at night. Where would I send them? I would ask what they are in to and send them to the relevant places. Some people will find the Boom Boom Room a dud, while others will think Pacha is music to their ears—it depends on the individual. Here are the 10 (11) most relevant joints in Manhattan today, in no particular order.

Provocateur: Although I spend 40 minutes or less each time I go, it isn’t a criticism of this beautiful space with a crowd to match. They said it couldn’t be done, but Mike and Brian did it. Undeniable Nirvana for those who like this sort of thing.

Kenmare: “It’s not Beatrice, it’s Kenmare,” a witty beauty said yesterday when chatting about her nightly visitation of the place. She possibly unwittingly quoted Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot: “And always the same 500.” That crowd goes there, and nothing else quite scratches their itch.

The Boom Boom Room: Or whatever they call it. I dress for it. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful, it’s fabulous, and it’s becoming more fun. Andy Warhol once told me that any place that’s too neat or too clean can’t be any fun. Maybe Boom Boom was/is a little too clean and neat to reach its potential. Time will cure that. The whole Standard complex is finding its feet. It’s amazing.

Avenue: This model/bottle monument turns off so many, but it’s the epicenter of the jetset culture it continues to define. Beaucoup bucks makes it relevant, and its celebrity clientele are unparalleled. Even the hipsters can come a couple of nights a week.

1OAK: The hipper, more street version of its neighbor Avenue still brings all the girls to the bar, and they have to charge (large) all the boys that follow. The music is always good for the mash-up crews

Pacha: Nobody does big DJs better. To the outside world Pacha is the only game in town. I have to admit that I am there more than once in a while for the monster trucks (international circuit DJs). Sometimes at 6AM it feels like nothing has changed.

Darby: A restaurant with a stage and live acts, the Darby, as I mentioned above, is not a club but a little bit more than an eatery. It’s certainly a place that scenesters includes in nightlife plans, and therefore makes this list. The downstairs lounge will open soon enough, propelling this space to a different level. I must repeat their mantra: Its a restaurant.

Lavo: Word on the street is “Lavo is killing it.” The euros and uptowners are people too. Grace Jones once said, “I’m not perfect but I’m perfect for you.” Lavo is perfect for the perfect people it caters too. With big DJs routing on their way to Vegas, food, tables, bottles, and a dressed up crowd, Lavo overflows its niche and makes the list. More napkins thrown in the air and bottles popped than anywhere. Somebody told me that Noah, just after investing in Artichoke Pizza, is now considering buying a sparkler factory. Smart guy.

St Jerome: I’ll put it here to represent all the dive bars and hole-in-the-walls that cater to a crowd too hip and cool to even think about the list above. I could of said Lit, which still has its moments, or even Max Fish with its new lease on life, but St Jerome, with its Gaga moments, crosses it over to top 10 (11) territory.

Webster Hall: Webster has never made any list I have ever made. However, solid bookings on its main stage, coupled with those in the newish Studio, have made it a contender. Its door policies are too democratic for my palate, but to the thousands upon thousands that visit it each week, it is home. The room has over a hundred years under its belt, and is the best room in town. I gave it a makeover a while back. When I visited it the other day I felt proud.

Other venues that are easily recommendable are Rose Bar, The Bowery Poetry Club, The Box, SubMercer, and your own fill in the blank. These are all 11’s or higher, depending on what YOU like. All are worthy. This list doesn’t include a gay venue, and therefore is completely irrelevant to me and so many of my friends. I’ll go there another day. It doesn’t consider White Noise, which might make a big noise, Hotel Chantelle, which is gearing up for it’s future, The Bunker, which may prove to be the real deal, or Goldbar, which still has its moments. There are some goings on at the Mondrian, and Stuart Braunstein may awaken the collective conscience in the bowels of Greenhouse. Rumors say that the turmoil within that organization will see a new beginning, or a new ending. I’m sure I forgot someplace fabulous, and I implore you to tell me.

Last night, club entrepreneur Matt Isaacs was subjected to a surprise party over at his Snap. The saying is nice guys finish last. When I left at 4am, nice guy Matt was the last guy standing, and I can’t quite figure out how he was doing that. Don’t call him today.

Where Have All the Creatives Gone?

Amy Gunther’s birthday bash got me down to the still-purring-like-a-classic-car Motor City. Amy is the proprietor of Williamsburg’s KCDC Skateshop. She is a reverse cross-commuter living in the L.E.S. and working in BBURG. As Manhattan slowly loses its luster, and chains like Starbucks, Duane Reade, and other stores cater to the needs of its yuppie/NYU/condo set, more and more people have migrated to the hipster ghettos of Brooklyn. It’s the only place to be for creatives. Still, L Train Brooklyn and its other enclaves no longer define it as the second city—that happened at the start of the decade. When I went apartment hunting in September, I found the rents in the East Village and Brooklyn comparable. Amy will soon be joined by many artistic/creative types who can’t – or don’t want – to work in the increasingly gentrified Manhattan, but find sleeping in rent-controlled or long-leased apartments in hipster oases like Chinatown and L.E.S. affordable. Amy, still stunningly beautiful after yet another birthday, had Shawn Regruto DJing and it was grand time for all.

I walked these same streets on New Years Eve, popping by Max Fish, now squarely into its death throes. It was poignant seeing the crowd at the 20-plus-year-old dive Mecca try to celebrate. The atmosphere was laced with the sad and desperate, despite the NYE requirement to have fun. Everyone was giving each other hearty hugs and handshakes, and saying brilliant things like, “I know, it sucks.” $20,000 dollars a month is a reality that can’t be staved off selling PBR at a reasonable rate. There is a mindless mindset to NYE, and there’s still a few weeks left for the Fish. I’ll wait for the end of the month closing soiree to say things like, “I know, it sucks.”

Just a few blocks away, I was told Gaga, her boyfriend, and special friends brought in the new decade at Saint Jerome’s. The defining icon of the last half of the 2000’s was dressed in black and uber-friendly, my source said. It was strictly a friends and family affair and super hush-hush. She was where she began, surrounded by those who supported her before the world wanted to feed at her tit. The new album come springtime will tell the tale. Already the focus of all our attention, a monster record will hurl her into a stratosphere reserved for Madonnas and Michael Jackson. Let’s face it: she has come far, but it’s really just a handful of tracks compared to the legends. It’s refreshing to hear that she wasn’t headlining some Vegas casino or popping the cherry of the new decade in Times Square. She could have done anything, made mega millions, but instead was in a dive bar with her beau and pals. She is more human than the rest of the queens. She is absolutely wonderful, just for that.

Yet, in that image I have of her at Saint Jerome’s is the sadness of the loss of the cauldron of ideas that was downtown Manhattan. A girl at a yogurt counter overheard my conversation with my friend lamenting the end of Max Fish. She chimed in that they were “really, truly going to open real soon and nearby.” Alas, rents aren’t getting any cheaper, and the crowds attracted by the new joints geared for the higher rents will be different. It will be uptown girls slumming with handbags more expensive than the old rents. It will be frat boys and dressed-down investment banker-types seeking the edge. If there is anything those huddled in Saint Jerome’s and Max Fish knew that night, it was that the edge was long gone. Telling people to keep quiet about Gaga’s hanging won’t hide her or preserve the areas relevance. Max Fish may somehow find a way to remain close, but the edge has edged itself someplace else. In an internet/cellphone/twitter/tumblr world, edges will be discovered and dissected and will dissipate even faster. A door policy at a dive bar to keep out the tourists and gawkers isn’t going to work.