As the dance scene undergoes a matamorphisis, new clubs and new enclaves spring up in and around Manhattan.
BY JUSTIN OCEAN, OutTraveler.com
With more than 50 gay bars and a seven-night-a-week fun factor, New York remains the undisputed center of gay life in the United States. But its dance club scene is undergoing a major metamorphosis. Gone are the heady nights of the '90s when a rebellious energy parted the AIDS-crisis gloom and created the chiseled Chelsea boy archetype.
''As young gay guys get more integrated into society, they don't need to hang around in a bar to cement their identity,'' says Daniel Nardicio, party promoter and founder of DList.com, a social networking site for gay men. ``I meet kids nowadays who'd rather sit at home on their iPhones than go out to a bar.''
Factor in other websites such as Manhunt.net that are used strictly for hooking up (a reason many go to gay venues), soaring rents, the rise of bottle service clubs, archaic Cabaret License restrictions -- a prohibition-era law that makes dancing in bars illegal without difficult-to-get certification -- and the general Sex-in-the-City-ification of Gotham, and there simply hasn't been mass LGBT support for the weekly spectacle of big gay dance clubs.
Result: ''Gay nightlife has had to become more specific,'' says Benjamin Solomon, club listings editor at Next Magazine, a weekly NYC gay nightlife guide. ``It's become about the type of gay crowd you're looking for: fetish, alternative/indie, minority, etc.''
That's not to say there's nowhere left to boogie down. ''The best place to be right now is where people are who they are, regardless of sexual orientation,'' says New York City DJ Van Scott, who's co-producing an event at M.I.A. skate park in Miami this October. ``Gays are flocking to indie scenes that attract fashion-forward and music-savvy straight people. It's more about authenticity and originality.''
Case in point, his dance rock/Indie Tech Sunday night party DJs Are Not Rockstars at mr. Black that bridges the gay-heterosexual divide. The hugely popular dance den also pulls in mobs of gay men with a music-first mentality the rest of its nights. Fans of the sardine-like old location (which shuttered following a police raid, Labor Day 2007) will really groove at the now three times larger, two-floor new space near Madison Square Park. A reliably riotous time, its dark, shadowy nooks and basement dance floor sees all types behaving badly to electro and house music till 6 a.m. (the bar closes, as all in NYC do, at 4 a.m.). On Fridays and Saturdays, come before 11 p.m. or risk a line, and whatever you do don't cross Connie Girl at the door.
For a more relaxed entrée into a ''new gay'' scene, hop the L Train and head to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where much of the city's young talent incubates thanks to its über-hipster vibe (think skinny jeans, tattoos and irony for days) and relatively cheaper rents. Boasting a gritty industrial location, loft-like atmosphere, huge bar, occasional live acts, tiered lounge areas and a crammed smoking patio, Sugarland can downright heave -- or loom strangely quiet. Fridays or Saturdays are your best bets. Under the same management, nearby Metropolitan more consistently packs in gay guys and gals throughout the week and makes a good back-up plan -- sans dancing -- once you've made the cross-borough trek.
If you're after a more traditional scene (i.e. pop and hip-hop music), head to The Ritz in Hell's Kitchen, the latest gay neighborhood to supplant Chelsea and the East and West Villages. With a welcome everyman (and woman) vibe, a small back patio, and large cushy second-floor sitting area that feels like your nautical-loving uncle's living room, it's a relaxed place for happy hour and weekday nights. On weekend nights, it anchors the scene from its bustling Restaurant Row location. As the only ''Hellsea'' address in which to dance, the first floor backroom turns into a giddy mess that's equal parts sweaty humidity, smoke machines and flashing lights.
Sunday nights belong to the Cuckoo Club at Hiro Ballroom (locals just call the night ``Hiro''), in the massive basement of the Maritime Hotel. There's no cover charge and it's the closest thing NYC now has to a regular gay megaclub; it always packs in a good-looking crowd from voguing scenesters to downtown hipsters, muscle boys to nouveau club kids. It is impossible to get in on holiday weekends so plan an early evening accordingly. Hiro's opulent Asian décor is courtesy of the same design firm as the busy and long-running Beige on Tuesdays at B Bar.
No slouch in the go-go boy department, perennially popular and just as equally maligned Splash offers a different night for every taste: Got2B@Ocean Tuesdays (Latino), Campus Thursdays (college), Fridays and Saturdays (all muscle). Two floors, booming acoustics, all chrome and mirrors, it is the prototypical gay club in the heart of Chelsea. Prod enough locals and they will admit to going there, too, especially for Musical Mondays (7 p.m.-midnight) when off-duty chorus boys and musical nuts pack the place for jubilant sing-a-longs -- choreography included. (Trust us, it's good fun.) Lines form early for Saturday nights, too, with more than 1,000 men making the weekly pilgrimage for top name dance DJs such as Manny Lehman and David Knapp.
• mr. Black, 27 W. 24th St., www.mrblacknyc.com
• Sugarland, 221 N. 9th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-4044
• The Ritz Bar & Lounge, 369 W. 46th St., 212-333-2554
• Cuckoo Club, Sundays at Hiro Ballroom below the Maritime Hotel, 363 W. 16th St., 212-242-4300; http://hiroballroom.com
• Splash, 50 W. 17th St., 212-691-0073, www.splashbar.com
• Work, various venues, http://peterrauhofer.com
• Alegria, held 7 times a year, often on holiday weekends, www.alegriaevents.com
• Men Are From Mars (for gay men of color), monthly at Mars 2112, 1633 Broadway, 212-489-2112, www.menarefrommars.net
• Next Magazine, www.nextmagazine.com
• The Out Traveler: New York City by Dan Allen (Alyson Books, 2008)