"Are you on the list?"
The question strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned clubgoers. Getting past the velvet rope may be an art form to some experts, but the rest of us just want to saunter in and have a good time. The club scene in New York City is long and storied—Studio 54, the Loft and Shelter all offered legendary times and groundbreaking music—and that dedication to dancing and celebration lives on today. But the hottest spots and coolest clubs are no longer slaves to boldfaced names, bottle service and $40 cover charges. In today's nightclubs, the primary goal isn't flamboyance but rather sheer fun.
In the spirit of the traditional all-out rave-ups—the dark room, the spinning mirrored ball, the undulating dance floor—two downtown dance halls cater to the hard-core clubbers. Love is perhaps most distinguished for its lounge room, whose walls and seating are covered in fake fur: relaxing here is like sitting on Disco Elmo. The subterranean vibe keeps the music going until 4am, and DJs and techno-nerds regard its sound system as one of the best in New York. (As with many clubs, the music and crowds at Love vary from night to night; always check the club listings ahead of time to gauge the DJ and the scene.)
Another straight-up dance club, the bi-level Santos Party House (co-owned by party rocker Andrew W.K.), offers wildly different experiences each night of the week. Thursdays are devoted to a gay-friendly party called Counterfit; hip-hop is held down by the mighty Q-Tip on Friday nights. And then there's Mister Saturday Night, an eclectic evening curated by DJs-about-town Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin. "The idea of the party is to make it accessible while still keeping the quality really high," says Carter. "We're doing that by booking different styles of DJs on each floor as well as making sure that there's a live component to the night. It's a good vibe, not a lot of nonsense."
Williamsburg's recently opened Public Assembly, an expansive space formerly known as Galapagos, boasts an equally diverse calendar. Once a month, the club hosts The Bunker, a long-running techno party featuring DJs from down the block and around the world, catering to the dancers and fans passionate about electronic music's hottest beats, skips and skitters.
(Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village is a new venue whose music programming is far-reaching and always fascinating. Late at night, staffers clear the tables and chairs for DJs and boogie-friendly bands. "Our mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between arts and revelry," says co-owner David Handler. To that end, the club has hired DJ/promoter Justine D. to helm programming after 11pm, when DJ sets from Optimo and Afrika Bambaataa might share a bill with bands like post-punk/funksters ESG.
Anyone looking for a little NYC glamour and gloss—hoping, even just a tiny bit, to get into Page Six (or catch a glimpse of a Gossip Girl cast member)—will want to dress up and venture out to any of three hot new lounges located below popular restaurants: BEast (beneath slick Pan-Asian vegetarian Broadway East), Chloe 81 (at Ludlow Street's French bistro Casanis) and Kingswood (underneath the Australian restaurant of the same name). These semisecret underground lairs for drinking and flirting are among New York's most stylish (and most buzzed-about) spaces, with reliable party music and the occasional celebrity DJ to spin it. Expect to witness, or to engage in, dancing on tables.
Two laid-back Brooklyn spots even cater to clubbers who'd rather be hanging out in a bar. In South Williamsburg, Trophy is beloved for raucous parties, eclectic music and a charming outdoor sculpture garden. James F!@#$%^ Friedman, a party promoter and DJ who has played to enthusiastic crowds here, praises Trophy for its classy decor, its dance floor and its local clientele: "It's a reliable place to stop in and spot someone from a hot Brooklyn band," he says. And in Park Slope, Saturday nights at the low-key, divey Royale promise a good time, with a friendly crowd mixing to soul, disco, house and hip-hop from DJ Chris Annibell and his Afrokinetic crew.