Times They Are A Changin'...

by Alan Philips
01.28.2010

 

“It's funny how money changes situation
Miscommunication leads to complication
My emancipation don't fit your equation
I was on the humble, you - on every station”
-Lauryn Hill

 

 

 As the world evolves so does nightlife and hospitality, so in the immortal words of Bob Dylan “times they are a changin’.” The backlash that appeared one year ago with calls for the death of bottle service and pay-for-play celebrities continues. I believe we are now in the heart of the transition; from the era of excess for the sake of excess has come a counterattack made by creativity, authenticity, and meaningful consumption. In nightlife, it began with products like the Beatrice Inn, where counter-culture is celebrated by the cool kids over whiskey and cigarette butts. These evolutions manifest in downtown New York and spread like wildfire to Miami, Los Angeles and other secondary cities. I believe this because it is not something that hasn’t happened before. As I understand it, because it was way before my time, the Mudd Club was counter-culture’s reaction to Studio 54. Similarly, Beatrice Inn was this generation’s response to the Tenjunes and Marquees of the world. Mudd Club happened during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when New York was nearly bankrupt and people where tired of the excesses of Disco music and lifestyle; while today the same thing is happening with hip hop’s message, style, and culture. 

Our ongoing economic shift has created fear. Fear leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to the changing of habits. Last year’s economic hangover has not left us, and won’t until the collective conscious feels confident enough to spend again. If anything, with Stuy Town’s recent foreclosure, it seems we are at the apex of an ongoing fear that there are still underlying problems with the economy and the overall American way. No longer do you hear the words “luxury” or “opulence” from Madison Avenue, or as translated into the words of club owners “we need more tables” or “I am building the next Bungalow 8.” Now you hear the words “value” and “meaningful consumption” and see more piano bars, more rock ‘n roll bars – less attitude, more fun. Yes, luxury will live on for a small group of people within this great mecca, but power lies with numbers and the “have-nots” will greatly exceed the “haves” in 2010. 

Side note: if anyone ever mentions that they are building the next Bungalow 8, this is a sign that they are naïve incompetents and know nothing about the business. Bungalow 8 was a moment created by Amy Sacco based on skill, luck, and circumstance. Don’t try and recreate that moment. Just “do you” and create your own moment.

Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva, who I have yet to mention, are masters of creating authentic “moments.” They did it at Butter on Mondays and have also succeeded over the past two years in doing it at 1 Oak. One of a kind, yes I would definitely say so.     

How does all of this mumbo jumbo affect nightlife you may ask? Well here are my thoughts…

1. Creativity – Nightlife is a hotbed for creative types whether in the industry or surrounding it.  After Mudd Club came the Limelight (1983), Area (1983) & Palladium (1985), three of the most creative venues in the history of nightlife from luminaries Peter Gatien, Eric Goode and Steve Rubell/Ian Schrager.  There were also many other contributors to the art, music and management such as Keith Haring, Madonna, Steve Lewis (gratuitous). If this is any sign of what’s to come then we should be expecting a nightlife renaissance.

2. Opportunity – As with any business, chaos and change create opportunity. As music, art and other creative cultures evolve, the next players will bubble to the surface and others will fade into the darkness. Our business runs on youth, so watch out, here they come.

3. Less Attitude – Clubs, restaurants, bars, hotels – they all need business. When you have fewer customers demanding your product, and the consumer is spending less, there is far less tolerance for ‘TUDE.  If I am going to spend $18 on a Grey Goose martini in February you best be sucking my _ _ _ _.  Thank you sir, may I have another.

4. Authenticity – This is what I believe is the most important aspect to this coming cycle: in unstable times, people return to comfort. No more mega-Asian palaces or Kobe Clubs; people want something that feels real and shows thought. An extra “hello” from a bartender, a “thank you” from a server, a “welcome” from a door person – you will go where you are taken care of, where your business is valued.  This will be the biggest challenge in 2010 for multi-unit operators. How do you maintain this personal attention in multiple locations and in multiple cities? I was wondering why Danny Meyer did not go to Vegas, but the truth is he is one of the only operators to maintain this personal touch and for that he is flourishing in challenging times.

5. Musical Change – Remember when you experienced (or watched on VH1’s “Behind the Music”) a phenomenon whereby the ‘80s ended and George Michael’s “Faith” faded into Nirvana’s “Nevermind?” Well, I believe we are definitely moving away from hip hop’s days of excess and into an enlightened period of collaboration between genres. There are new styles emerging such as Electro & Dub Step, Indy Rock is flourishing, and no one has had a better year than David Guetta in the house music world.  There is also a burgeoning movement towards live music and alternative entertainment at venues such as Ella, The Box and Brooklyn Bowl.  

6. Multi Purpose Venues – Hotels with bars and restaurants, restaurants with clubs below, event spaces that are flower stores during the day, restaurants with all-day take-out windows: these multi-purpose venues are the rule not the exception in modern hospitality. Operators need to make money the whole time they are paying rent, 24-hours a day. Additionally, customers don’t want to make multiple stops because it costs more. Imagine being a tourist and staying at the Standard Hotel. Go downstairs you have Biergarten, go upstairs you have an incredible lounge (if you can get in), or walk within a one block radius and you have 20 other options. What could be better? There are very few places other than Las Vegas where you can have that type of experience right at your fingertips. At least it is real in New York and not some fabricated Disneyland. Maybe after the City Center debacle, the boys in Vegas will open a casino called “Meatpacking District.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on what you see coming in the next couple of years in nightlife and hospitality.  Please post in the comment section, as no one will have a better perspective than the many people who work, eat, and drink in this industry.  Collaboration is a key to the creation of new ideas.  

See you next week at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.

-AP


 

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