Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Please visit the New York Nights Blog

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for following Nightlife News.

Please note that as of January 1, 2010, Nightlife Media will be posting all of its new online content on the New York Nights site.


Nightlife News will be phased out during the coming year.

Please feel free to visit our primary site. If you would like to continue to follow New York Nights, we would be happy to keep you in our community.

Have fun.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chairman Rosen Improves the Liquor License Process

Gamal Hennessy

The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) has faced considerable problems in recent years. A new chairman was brought in over the summer to improve the organization on several different levels. Less than 6 months into his term and operators have seen a noticeable improvement in the license application process. It is a rare piece of good news coming from Albany.

The SLA provides licenses to businesses across the state sell alcohol. It is one of the main offices of government that nightlife venues have to interact with in order to stay in business. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain a license in a timely manner and operators have lost considerable amounts of money waiting for an SLA decision. The situation became so detrimental that some SLA employees were accused of taking bribes to process applications in a timely manner. The current backlog of outstanding applications is more than 1,200. This prevents businesses from opening, operators from working and patrons from enjoying venues that may never get to open.

Denis Rosen, a former NY State assistant attorney general, took over the SLA in August of this year with a mandate to root out corruption, eliminate waste and streamline the licensing process. A recent New York Times article found that Mr. Rosen is wasting no time making changes to the agency. By hiring more license examiners and creating a system where the attorneys for operators can verify key information in the license application, the SLA has been approving license applications in 2-4 weeks instead of 6-8 months. Attorney’s for nightlife operators confirm that while the new process puts more responsibility on the attorney filling out the application, it can literally shave months off a license application.

There are still many more steps that Mr. Rosen needs to take to improve the SLA. There is still a backlog of more than 1,000 applications that need to be reviewed with the new streamlined process. The Beverage Control Law itself hasn’t been overhauled since Prohibition and needs major revisions. Local community boards and
anti-nightlife politicians have already begun their assault on the agency. But the new process is a positive step. Hopefully, Mr. Rosen can continue to take actions that will support a vital aspect of business and culture in New York City.

Have fun.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Has Senator Squadron Started His Anti-Nightlife Campaign?

When Daniel Squadron ran for the New York State Senate last year, nightlife control was a pillar of his campaign. Now that the State Liquor Authority has new leadership, Mr. Squadron has initiated a dialogue aimed at "improving" that agency. Left unchecked Mr. Squadron’s "solutions" will prove detrimental to the nightlife industry and harmful to the entire city.

According the Senator Squadron’s website, he hosted a meeting last week that included
State Liquor Authority (SLA) Chairman Dennis Rosen, SLA CEO Trina Mead, SLA Deputy Commissioner of Licensing Kerri O’Brien, SLA Deputy CEO for New York City Michael Jones, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Margaret Chin, representatives from the offices of Assembly Members Silver, Kavanagh, and Glick, and leaders from district community boards. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss nightlife concerns and according to the press release "to start a dialogue to foster informed licensing decisions, intelligent enforcement actions, and safer communities."

While nightlife is certainly an issue that deserves discussion, a deeper look at the attendance of the meeting and the underlying agenda of the host is disconcerting. The major issue is who was not invited to the meeting. Based on the wording of the press release and inquiries that I have made, members of the nightlife community and members of the New York City Police Department were not invited to the participate. It is hard to imagine any discussion about nightlife concerns or safer communities being productive when the industry itself and the people charged with keeping the community safe aren’t involved in the discussion.

The situation becomes easier to understand when you look at the background of the players involved. Senator Squadron ran on an anti-nightlife platform in 2008. The former operator called for a stronger voice for community boards (CBs) when it comes to liquor licenses. He feels that the CBs role should shift from an advisory role in relation to the SLA to something more binding. Greater community participation in the democratic process is a lofty goal, but that does not mean that the CBs should have more control over New York liquor licenses. CBs don’t take needs of nightlife or economic impact of nightlife on the city into account when they make their determinations. A CB isn’t always representative of the actual community since a small minority of NIMBY (not in my backyard) elements often have stronger voice in the CBs than the silent majority that lives in the area. Giving a greater voice to the CBs while excluding operators from the discussion indicates the Senator might be taking an imbalanced approach to the issue.

The Senator’s path to a weaker nightlife industry goes directly through the SLA. Dennis Rosen was brought in to clean up an agency rife with problems including lack of staff, waste, and possible corruption. Based on the press release, Squadron made it clear that he would push for more community involvement in liquor licensing when he voted for Rosen’s appointment. To Mr. Rosen’s credit, he appears to be tackling problems quickly, adding staff to deal with the licensing backlog and corruption issues. But SLA Chairman is a political appointment. Mr. Rosen has to work within the framework of state politics and that means dealing with the politicians who can vote him in or out. The meeting could be the first step Squadron takes to make his nightlife agenda a reality.

Again, the problem is not that a meeting was held between politicians, CBs and the SLA about nightlife. The problem is that a constructive dialogue would have included more voices at the table. If the police and nightlife are not part of the discussion from the beginning, realistic solutions outcomes are unlikely. Operators are the ones who get the liquor licenses and have to work with the community boards. They can address concerns about their industry and offer solutions if they are invited to the meeting. The police are the only ones that can regulate noise, pollution and other quality of life issues on the streets. Operators have little or no legal control outside the four walls of their venue. If they are not part of the discussion, then the problem can’t be solved. It’s not as if nightlife doesn’t have representatives that could have attended the meeting. Operators have the New York Nightlife Association. Patrons have the Nightlife Preservation Community. There are also think tanks including the Responsible Hospitality Institute. Each one could have brought a unique perspective to a meeting about nightlife concerns if they were actually invited to the meeting.

If Senator Squadron plans to meet with operators and police separately, the question is why not have everyone meet at once, and on an ongoing basis, until a framework for understanding is developed? If Squadron simply plans to continue SLA policies and stifle nightlife growth in New York City, all he needs to do is give more power to the CBs and leave nightlife out of the discussion, which is what it appears he is doing.

If patrons and operators want to see the further decline of nightlife in New York, then they should ignore Squadron’s actions and see how far it goes. If they want to enhance and enjoy an important part of New York living, then we need to get more involved in the community board process to ensure that Squadron can’t use them as a weapon against clubs when he gives the CBs more power over the licensing process.

Have fun

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How New York Nightlife Impacts New York Politics

Gamal Hennessy

Primaries in New York are almost a non issue because voter turnout is always obscenely low. Political groups that attempt to influence elections on this level understand that it only takes a few votes to make a substantial difference. This year, a new political group focused specifically on nightlife got involved in the primary race. Paul Seres, a community activist, nightlife operator and one of the founders of the Nightlife Preservation Community (NPC) sat down with me to discuss the results of this year’s election.

NYN: What was the NPC goal for this year’s primary? How close did you come to meeting that goal?

PS: The main goals were establishing the organization and using that organization to make nightlife a politically active industry. Establishing the NPC was a success. We got a lot of participation from NYNA members, promoters and the politicians themselves. We were able to reach out to about 700,000 registered New York voters via our
website and email lists. By the time the election was over, the NPC was recognized as a legitimate vehicle for political discourse on nightlife.

NYN: How much impact do you think the NPC had during the election?

PS: The number of people who actually vote during primaries has always been terrible and this year was no different. The current estimates show that only 4% of registered Democrats turned out for this election. I’m not sure how many of our people actually voted and considered nightlife when they did vote, but it is clear that primaries are decided by a very small number of voters. If NPC can get more people out to vote in subsequent elections, the overall impact could be huge.

NYN: What is the NPC planning to do to impact the general election in November?

PS: We’re getting together soon to discuss our next steps, but New York is so heavily Democratic that many of the races are decided in the primaries. Three out of the four candidates that we backed won their primary races, so they shouldn’t have a problem winning their races next month. Our main goal now is looking past the general election to political action in 2010.

NYN: What issues is the NPC planning to take up with elected officials in 2010?

PS: As a small business organization, there are several issues that the NPC needs to take up with the City Council and other elements of government. We need a better method of coordinating with the various agencies that operators need to deal with in terms of permits and licensing. We need to continue to build the relationship between the industry and the NYPD. And we have to develop and maintain a dialogue between operators and local community boards to deal with issues before things get out of hand and angry neighbors are demanding for a venue to close down.

NYN: What is the best way for operators and patrons to get involved in the NPC now that the primaries are over?

Our long term success is going to revolve around educating more people about the positive impact of nightlife on the city and how it affects them. Operators and patrons can get involved with the NPC and get the information they need on our
website. Then they can join in our upcoming voter registration events, information forums and other activities. Nightlife is an issue that has ramifications for city, state and national politics. Joining the NPC now gives people a chance to get involved on the ground floor and have an impact on a vital part of life in New York City.

Have fun

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boom Boom Room, Smyth Hotel Bar and Real Estate Recovery

The New York Nights Club Report for September 17, 2009
Boom Boom Room in the Standard Hotel
(Urban Daddy)
The natural marriage of luxury hotel and high end lounge manifest once in the Meatpacking District…

(New York)
…and again in the East Village. Can venues like this placate the neighbors?

Real Estate
(New York Times)
As condo development stalls across the city, nightlife continues to bring revenue into many districts…

Have fun

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Power of New York’s Nightlife Reputation

By Gamal Hennessy

Time Out Publishing is releasing a book this week entitled “
World’s Greatest Cities”. In the book, New York was singled out as the best city in the world when it comes to things like architecture, arts and quality of life. While most New Yorkers might feel nonchalant about this title, nightlife natives should take note of the impact our nightlife has on the city’s reputation and the impact of that reputation on our lives. The writers of this book singled out New York above all others because of our 24 hour culture. It is nightlife that gives New York its unique culture. Any moves to suppress that culture will have a direct effect on the economy and prosperity of the entire city.

Reputation for tourists

New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps’. That reputation draws millions of tourists to the city every year. But when visitors think of a metropolis opened around the clock, what do you think pops into their minds? Do you think they are dreaming about a 24 hour Duane Reade? I don’t think so. Is it possible that people fly into New York from Sydney and Bali and Johannesburg to visit the all night bodega? Probably not. The concept that draws people to the city that never sleeps is the idea that we work all day and we party all night. Where do we party? If you have to ask that question, please close this page and visit a different site.

In 2004 a research organization called ARA conducted a
study on the impact of nightlife on the New York’s economy. ARA found that 77% of all New York visitors identified visiting a nightclub or bar as one of their primary reasons for visiting the city. This means that almost three quarters of all our tourists came to New York to experience our nightlife. How much money would be lost from incoming tour groups, business conventions like the New York Auto Show, award ceremonies like the MTV music awards, and artistic events like Fashion Week if people decided that New York was no better than any other city when it comes to nightlife? It is hard to imagine how the reputation of New York would remain the same if people came to the conclusion that nightlife in New York, Cleveland, and Spokane were substantially similar.

Reputation for talent

It’s not just temporary occupants of the city that are lured by our nightlife. Every year job recruiters go around the country and around the world to find the top people from the top schools and try to lure them to New York. Recruits are seduced with money and the chance to work in the beating heart of their industry. They are also drawn in with images of high class bars, private parties and mega clubs. TV shows filmed in New York like Sex and the City, and Gossip Girl often have young workers hooked before the recruiter even shows up. People want to work in New York to get access to the nightlife.

If New York didn’t have the reputation for nightlife, how many young, bright people would choose to move to here to pursue careers? Other cities have cheaper rents, more space and other advantages. If New York isn’t unique when it comes to bars and clubs, what is the point of suffering thru all the difficulties of making it here? Other cities like Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are trying to use a vibrant nightlife to attract the best and brightest. Can we afford to lose this pool of talent and still be the center of the universe?

It is not coincidental that financial
networks like CNBC are focusing on the Time Out book. A city’s reputation can directly influence the economic power of an area. New York City is central to several different industries. We are not dependent on nightlife or any other single business the way Detroit, Orlando or Las Vegas are. But nightlife is still a vital part of the overall dynamic. NIMBY community groups, opportunistic politicians and other anti-nightlife advocates can willfully ignore the contribution that nightlife makes to New York. If we follow their lead or allow them to make decisions for us, we are going to lose more than the title of the best city in the world. We will lose the reputation that drives our economy.

Have fun.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taz Pagan and Nightlife Violence

By Gamal Hennessy

Elements of the nightlife community found out about the death of one of their own last Sunday morning. By all accounts, Eric “Taz” Pagan was a good bouncer who put in extra effort to support the venue he worked for and keep the establishment in the good graces of the community. Those might have also been the same traits that got him killed. Mr. Pagan’s death goes beyond the issues of security and violence in nightlife. The incident highlights the need for a basic change in the mentality of some of our patrons.

Uncommon Circumstances

In spite of the media sensationalism surrounding nightlife violence, the fact is that
nightlife fatalities are very rare. When you eliminate the extraordinary case of the Happy Land fire, there are specific patterns that have emerged over the past twenty years.

Evidence suggests that fatal violence is more likely to occur in the immediate area outside a venue as opposed to inside the venue itself. The logic behind this isn’t hard to figure out. There is a higher chance that the ego and self esteem of fanatics will be bruised outside a venue, either because they can’t get into the club or they just got kicked out. Authority or force has been used on them and lashing out at either the operators or at random passers by is a way for them to regain his sense of power and control. There have been a few fatal encounters between bouncers and patrons in recent memory. David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo shot bouncer Marcus Peterson outside of Palladium in 1990 . In 2003, a bouncer named Dana Blake was stabbed to death outside of Guernica by Isaias Umali. And in 2006, bouncer Stephen Sakai shot Gustavo Cuadros outside of Opus 22.

Pagan’s death differed from the others in significant ways. The shooting took place outside of Forbidden City, but by all accounts it wasn’t the result of fanatics trying to get into the lounge, because the place was already closed. Pagan often worked as a bouncer at the venue, but he was off that night. He only stopped by to check in on his friends. He wasn’t part of the fight that took place outside the lounge. He simply tried to break it up. Pagan’s death had very little to do with being a bouncer or being at a club. At the time of his death, he was just a man who tried to calm a violent situation.

Larger Solutions

In previous articles, I have argued that the presence of
police officers outside of specific venues would help reduce the levels of violence. But in this case that solution wouldn’t be a viable answer. Even if police walked a beat outside Forbidden City, they still wouldn’t be around after the venue closed. Even if security inside the club was in contact with the local precinct, Taz wasn’t part of the security team that night. Louis Rodriguez, the man accused of the shooting, might not have even been inside the club, so neither the police nor security would have any clue the man would be a problem. Police officers can’t be stationed near venues on a constant basis. At a certain point it’s about the patrons, not the operators or the cops.

Fanatics go out with the goal, expressed or implied, to cause as much mayhem as they can get away with. For them, nightlife is a sandbox for them to destroy. To put it quite simply, if we want to reduce the number of problems associated with nightlife, the most effective plan is to convert as many fanatics as possible into nightlife natives. The fewer fanatics we have, the fewer issues we have. This is not a straight forward process. It requires altering the values and thought patterns of people rather than simply throwing more money or manpower at the problem. But until we reach a point where disputes aren’t resolved with a bullet in the forehead, the nightlife community and the city as a whole will continue to lose people like Taz Pagan.

Have fun.