Undiscovered New York: Getting Your Dance On

For a town that has a reputation as “the city that never sleeps,” it’s not surprising to discover New York has an astounding array of nightlife options. From swanky cocktail lounges like Angel’s Share, to cutting edge indie rock clubs like the Bowery Ballroom, to legendary performance spaces like the Apollo Theater, New York has nightlife pretty much down to a science.

But like just about everything else in New York, nightlife hot spots fade in and out of fashion faster than you can drink that $12 cocktail. For every place that’s “in” today there are dozens of famous spots that had their moment in the sun (or dark?) and have long since faded into obscurity. Ever wanted to know about the sweaty Jazz dens where legends like Charlie Parker first cut their teeth? What ever happened to that lighted dancefloor where John Travolta strutted his stuff in Saturday Night Fever? And what’s this you always hear about CBGB and The Ramones?

Click the link below to learn the history of NYC nightlife and see where you can go today to get a taste of the city’s many bygone nightlife eras…The “Jazz Age”
A new form of music began sweeping the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century. Characterized by its emphasis on improvisation and drawing its origins from the American South and African and European music traditions, Jazz took New York nightlife by storm beginning the 1920’s.

Starting in the bars and cafes of Harlem, Jazz began to migrate further south into Manhattan, eventually congregating along a strip of 52nd Street known as “Swing Alley.” Everyone from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker played gigs in the narrow, crowded basement clubs that lined this famous street. Though many of the hotspots along 52nd have long since shuttered their doors, Jazz is alive and well in 2008 at venues like the nearby Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as downtown institutions like Blue Note and the Village Vanguard.

The Disco Revolution
Arguably no image defined a night out in 1970’s New York quite like John Travolta and his white polyester suit. But Travolta’s rise to fame was just one small part of the emergence of Disco, a New York musical movement whose influence is still felt today. Before Travolta, the first stirrings of Disco arguably occurred at the The Loft, a series of alcohol-free, non-commercial parties hosted by nightlife legend David Mancuso. Mancuso’s technique of blending one song into the next on his high-end audio system arguably kicked off the trend of DJing and beatmatching as it is still practiced today. Soon The Loft had spawned a whole series of more decadent imitators, including the disco-debauchery of Studio 54 and Disco’s musical successor, House music, at the Paradise Garage.

So what happened to the disco history of New York? The famous club featured in Saturday Night Fever was known as the 2001 Odyssey, and was located in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn at 802 64th Street, until it was torn down in 2005. The famous lighted floor was put up for auction shortly thereafter. The Studio 54 building is still around in the guise of the Roundabout Theater, while the famous Paradise Garage at 88 King Street is now parking for Verizon trucks. And David Mancuso? He’s still throwing occasional Loft parties today! Ask a local and cross your fingers, this is one tough invite to get your hands on.

NYC Punk Bares its Teeth
By the mid 1970’s, the beginnings of a new underground rock movement were stirring in New York. Along a rough stretch of the Bowery, a rock club called CBGB’s was opened in 1973 by owner Hilly Kristal. The club’s acronym, standing for “Country, Bluegrass, Blues,” was intended to signify the type of music Kristal hoped to host at the club. But soon the club was taken over by bands like Ramones, Television and Blondie, who didn’t exactly fit this criteria, playing an aggressive, fast new style of rock called Punk.

So can Punk fans still head down to CBGB to check it out today? Sadly the answer is no. Due to a dispute with their landlord, the club was forced to close for good in 2006. Today it has been replaced by a rock-themed John Varvatos clothing boutique which has generally been met by New Yorkers with a mixture of either indifference or disdain. But don’t despair, other second wave Punk landmarks like ABC No Rio are still very much open for business. If you’re really looking to get a little taste of that old Punk attitude, visitors can also head to the strip of shops that line St. Mark’s Place, in Manhattan’s East Village, the unofficial hangout of modern day punks and the place to buy that Ramones t-shirt and maybe an impromptu nose ring.