It’s just past midnight on a late-summer Saturday in far east Brooklyn, and no one at this party has turned into a pumpkin yet, though there is a tiger-striped T. rex holding court at the door, a girl in rainbow ram horns swaying in the corner, and a flock of what look like intergalactic flamingos clustered by the bar. In the cavernous main room, a pink-wigged aerialist in a watermelon bikini is suspended from a spinning Lucite bowl, raining handfuls of fluttery silver confetti onto the revelers below. Welcome to another evening at House of Yes, the kind of hedonistic free-for-all you could call emblematic of New York nightlife in 2017—if, of course, this were the kind of town whose extracurriculars could ever be defined by a single spot.
Countless other venues that once carried the neon torch of New York revelry have long since disappeared into myth: the Stork Club, with its heady mix of midcentury movie stars, gangsters, and aristocrats; Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, in all their disco-era decadence; Danceteria and Area, where a young, broke Madonna once twirled in torn fishnets; Limelight and Tunnel, dens of ’90s club-kid depravity; Bungalow 8 and the Beatrice Inn at the turn of the millennium, peddling swank, members-only hauteur. And some will always insist that the true glory days are long gone, as irrevocably past as unprotected sex, smoking in bars, and the beloved 24-hour diner unceremoniously erased by a barre studio.
But reports of the death of fun have been greatly exaggerated. “People get old and nostalgic and turn the nightlife of their youth into a mythical place,” says Sophia Lamar, the actress and trans icon who’s been a downtown fixture for more than 25 years. Though shifting demographics and the Godzilla footprint of social media have indisputably changed how and where the wild things go, they do still go—a glittering id undimmed by zoning laws, relentless gentrification, or even the rose-colored scourge of memory.
Today, the best party of the night can be as far away as a Bushwick loft or as close as your junior-suite key card. Hotels have become an unlikely nexus of the city’s social calendar for natives and visitors alike. Consider hotelier Ian Schrager, whose taste-making legacy stretches from current London hot spot Edition to Miami’s Delano to L.A.’s Mondrian and all the way back to Studio 54. When he opened the luxury-for-less Public on the Lower East Side in April, Patti Smith dropped by to perform. Now its Barbarella-mod common areas draw camera-ready crowds nightly, particularly for Thursday’s Linda party, which regularly spills out onto the rooftop terrace.
“Hotels are comfortable and feel secret in some ways,” says Lyz Olko, a former gatekeeper at the West Village’s shabby-swank Jane Hotel and current consultant at Public. “You have the option of having a calm drink or partying in the club area.” A single destination often does contain multitudes: A few blocks uptown, at the Bowery Hotel, actors straight off the L.A. red-eye take meetings in the dusky confines of the British-hunting-lodge-style lobby while willowy models sip gin fizzes on the ground-floor patio and denim-clad locals wander up to the verdant private party space upstairs.
The nouveau-classic Gramercy Park Hotel features live performers and DJs almost nightly in the glow of its tastefully patinaed Rose Bar, and the tiny Jade Bar, just off the lobby, offers a (relatively) less exclusive respite for passersby. The Standard Highline hotel still draws lines for Le Bain, the penthouse discotheque where hopefuls who pass the doorman’s inscrutable test can dance, take a dip in the wading pool, and, for those who deign to let refined carbohydrates pass their lips, grab a Nutella-slathered crepe. Or they might walk up a few steps and take a chance at the more sophisticated (and notoriously choosy) Boom Boom Room, with its Gatsbyesque interiors and million-dollar views. The velvet rope now stretches across the East River too, to spacious rooftop spots like the ones at the Wythe and William Vale hotels in Williamsburg and the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge—though their door policies are usually more about available space than status.
Any hotel worth its TripAdvisor stars will offer a decent side-car or dry martini, but there’s a whole craft-cocktail-based scene—birthed in the early 2000s in now extinct spots like Milk & Honey—that still flourishes below 23rd Street in Manhattan. Former DJ and celebrity brother Paul Sevigny has built a rarefied brand on intimate, exclusive spaces like the riotously colorful Paul’s Cocktail Lounge in Tribeca and the relatively muted Paul’s Casablanca in SoHo—a curvy, Moroccan-themed cave that still packs in incurable New Romantics for Sunday’s long-running Smiths night. It also regularly hosts one-offs, like a recent record-release party for the eternally chic French band Phoenix, which brought its own gelato cart.
You’ll have to work a little harder just to find the entrance to Fig.19 on Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side, but the second-floor, speakeasy-style bar, with its white subway tiles and worn wooden floors, is worth seeking out, especially after midnight. To get into Attaboy, a justifiably praised cocktail haven located nearby in the old Milk & Honey space, ring the doorbell and cross your fingers. If you get in, don’t ask for a drinks menu; they don’t have one. If luck isn’t with you, find consolation around the corner at Kind Regards, which serves woozy inventions like the Cinnamon Girl (aged rum, banana, and something called tiki bitters) in the poured-concrete space at street level; afterward, head to the basement for a rowdy dance party.
In the era of “Instagram or it didn’t happen,” nightlife promoters’ hope is that guests will be too busy enjoying the moment to stop and capture it. “Social media has anthropologically damaged humans,” Lamar says. “It creates this insecurity and FOMO [fear of missing out] where people are constantly moving from one place to another, looking for that fun they thought they were missing, and end up empty.” Olko echoes the sentiment. “It’s so constant,” she says. “There are definitely pros and cons. It connects people in a lot of ways, but it’s also like there are no secrets.”
Output’s stance on that subject is nonnegotiable; the Williamsburg club’s sparse decor and strict no-photos policy telegraph exactly what it’s about: the music. A packed calendar of big-name and bleeding-edge DJs from around the world lures a joyful, genre-agnostic crowd that comes to sweat it all out on the floor from early afternoon to sunrise, five or six nights a week. If anyone earns selfie privileges, though, it’s the dazzling regulars at Battle Hymn, the Sunday-night residency at Flash Factory in north Chelsea. The sound is classic disco and house, but the look is pure performance art—part Fellini, part Cirque du Soleil, and defiantly, spectacularly pansexual. “There’s a Studio 54 glamour, with celebrities and models and leather daddies and twinks and voguers in the back,” says the night’s impresario and hostess, Ladyfag. “But it’s so diverse with age and race and gender too, so it really is a nice mirror for what New York nightlife is and should be, all in one room.”
Don’t have a Ph.D. in sequin application? At the House of Yes, there’s a trailer parked out front where, for a nominal fee, you can choose your own costume-closet adventure or surrender to the friendly assistants on-site. The motif changes with the evening—themes range from Zombie Beach Party to Pole Play Wednesdays; it also does brunch—but the vibe never strays too far from its two young female founders’ aesthetic: Moulin Rouge meets Burning Man, with a heavy dose of inclusivity. “On top of it being more fun for everyone, dressing up disarms people who come in with some sort of an attitude,” says co-owner Anya Sapozhnikova. (That was her spinning upside down in the watermelon bikini.) “You can still be a bro, but it’s like, ‘Now you’re a bro with a cape and glitter all over your face!’ It strips you of your identity and your ego.” At the end of the night, you’re welcome to return your new look to the trailer or take it with you; just remember to enjoy the New York moment while you’re in it. “It would be nice if people put their phones down a little bit and connected to other people while they’re here,” Ladyfag says. “But either way,” she adds with a laugh, “I always say, ‘Good or bad, no photos allowed after 3 a.m.’”