A couple weekends ago, I went out to various clubs and lounges in New York City, that ended in an awkward moment where my houseguest put her hands down the pants of a gentleman I was kinda-sorta dating. However there’s one element to that story I didn’t really get the chance to write about: The city was DEAD. And I mean empty streets, clubs and bars at 1am dead. Men dressed in khaki shorts and polo shirts at some of the city’s once most exclusive nightclubs, dead. This should come as no surprise for anyone who has been keeping up with what is going in in NYC.
As the city becomes whiter and more gentrified, the nightlife has drastically changed as well. These changes have been captured by newspaper and magazine headlines highlighting that Millennials are the generation that prefer to stay in alone rather than socialize on the weekend.
The New York Times declared it: “The Death of the Party”. The Guardian wrote: “I’d rather chill in and relax’: Why Millenials Don’t Go Clubbing.
While some blame this decline on money woes, technology, “Netflix and Chill”, strenuous work lives and a need for alone time, among a ton of other reasons, there is one unexplored reason that really sticks out to me: changing demographics. White American culture’s definition of socializing is both vacuous and boring, so it’s no surprise that young people aren’t trying to come out of their pocket to participate in it now that it has completely taken over the city. How White America defines social “fun” is explained in this Vice article where the writer says:
“For most of human history, young people have spent a good chunk of their lives going “out,” which mainly meant getting fucked up on mead or some mildly poisonous herb, then having sex with a stranger, waking up in a field, or both.”
While this writer makes the claim that alcohol or herbs have centered the human social experience, that could not be any further from the truth. If we examine the social life of humans across the world, we will find that the most unifying factor has always been and remains culture. Human beings are unified by singing, dancing, food, religion and self expression. We have long come together to participate in these specific activities together, not merely get recklessly “fucked up” and pass out. One of the biggest problems with New York City nightlife is that it has come to be dominated by empty White American culture and there really is little to no motivation to participate in it, not even for White folk.
No area better captures the overall death of culture than the West Village. Once dedicated to comedy clubs, jazz clubs and especially the LGBT community, the area is now a shell of what it once was. Only 10 years ago, on any given night there would be large groups of LGBT young people hanging around in all manner of dress. That has largely been replaced by empty bars filled with frat bro-esque attired individuals playing beer pong, while the open-mic, jazz and comedy spots struggle to continue on. The area is sanitized, to say the least. And whatever “grit” remains there is covered in signs that say “for sale” on buildings that once housed the biggest names in nightlife.
This isn’t just a problem unique to the village, either. 27th street once teemed with life, bustling from 11pm until 4-5pm with club goers bouncing between 5-10 venues. From upscale clubs that only played EDM and Top 20, to the smaller spots dedicated to hip-hop or latin, there was no such thing as a quiet weekend in the area. Now you can struggle to find a party on a Saturday night. The Lower East Side, once known for it’s grunge, art and anti-establishment culture is now lined with sports bars.
Establishments change when demographics change. When people of color and members of the art or LGBT community can no longer afford to live in or near these areas and have an impact on them with their presence. The city is indeed getting “Whiter”. And as it does, it is becoming more culturally “white” and boring.
If New York City’s current nightlife culture could be compared to a sport’s, it would be golf to the tee. It is uptight, self-contained and the dress code is preppy. You show up expecting to have fun, but struggle just to stay engaged. And of course, for most young Millenials who made their way to NYC to escape the burbs (arguably some of the culturally vapid spaces on Earth), they just aren’t sold on what they are walking into. So, like myself, they stay home and pretend they aren’t bothered by the reality that there is nothing else to do to feed the hunger we have for culture. This is not something to celebrate. This is a generation of young people who are unable to enjoy their youth amongst one another.
So while some may be congratulating Millennials for setting their sights on priorities that don’t include hanging out and socializing, I for one, would much prefer actually having the option to go out and participate in the cultures that made New York City what it was. The underground hip-hop parties that drew crowds of thousands. The Latin parties where you danced all night until you dripped in sweat. The gay clubs where men grinded on one another to the pulse of the bassline of dance music. The cultures that drew all of these very boring young White folk from the burbs to the city, in the first place.
Sadly, the only way those types of scenes will remain viable is if the people who kept them alive have access to them. And gentrification is making that pretty much impossible.