Brazilian Ric Sena gives us the lowdown on how his holiday weekend Alegria parties have become a highlight of New York nightlife.
by Matt Kalkhoff
Photo: David Kniazuk

As the new millennium dawned, New York was a city under siege, its world-famous bars and nightclubs unwitting combatants in Giuliani's notorious war on nightlife. This misguided moral crusade severely crippled one of the city's most lucrative industries, leaving countless casualties and little hope in its wake. Yet amid the senseless chaos, an intrepid young entrepreneur named Ric Sena emerged out of nowhere to launch an epic series of provocative dance parties that not only defied the fascist regime, but ultimately helped define an era of gay nightlife as well. Now, after a spectacular three-year run at Sound Factory, Sena's renowned Alegria party will take up residence in its lavish new digs at Crobar on Sunday, Jan 18th, during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

"I'm excited, because everyone else is so excited," says Sena, a Brazilian-born theater producer who splits his time between Manhattan and Miami. "I've been receiving a lot of emails from people saying they're waiting for my party to see the new club. And even though MLK is not a major traveling holiday, my online sales show a lot of people coming from out of town for the party." So what prompted the venue change?

"The past three years at Sound Factory have been great for me, and I'm really grateful for everything [owner] Richard Grant did," Sena ex-plains. "It's a great space, but I think I explored it to the limit-my limit. Also, Richard decided to turn SF gay on Saturday nights. He made a change that was good for him. But what he did for his business was not so good for my business, and he understands that. The offer from Crobar came at the same/right time. So I decided to move the party to Crobar."

Not surprisingly, the nightlife rumor mill has churned out every imaginable fantasy-fueled scenario since news of the move first broke. While it might be tempting to believe the speculative drama du jour, the decision could make perfect business sense-both from an evolutionary and endurance standpoint. But the transition could prove tricky in other ways.

Crobar's imposing interior and grandiose design will require a radically different approach to logistics and decor, yet Sena intends to capitalize on the creative opportunities such new challenges present. How well he'll fare in convincing the club's management that $7 is too much for bottled water, however, remains to be seen. It's also uncertain how late the party will be allowed to go Monday morning. But one of the many areas in which Sena consistently excels is taking care of his customers, so it seems likely that these and other issues will be resolved well in advance. (Perhaps his fastidious, hands-on management style will even inspire the Crobar people to iron out some of their own organizational wrinkles.)

The Secret of His Success

Surely not even Sena himself could have predicted the level of success he'd eventually achieve in such a relatively short amount of time. After all, America may be the "land of opportunity," and New York City the "center of the universe," but even the most talented and ambitious nightlife players often find their hopes dashed and dreams shattered. But as Orlando, Florida's uber-party producer Mark Baker has so aptly demonstrated, a solid background in theatrical production can indeed translate into Circuit gold.

Armed with more than 12 years of theatrical production experience in Brazil, not to mention the three successful White Parties he helped organize in Rio, Sena threw the first Alegria in Washington, DC during the Millennium March weekend in April 2000. When he learned during a subsequent trip to New York City that the Sunday night party at Octagon over Pride weekend had been canceled, Sena jumped at the opportunity to fill the void.

After scouring the city for a suitable venue, he ended up renting Sound Factory for the night and brought in local DJ legend Susan Morabito to play the event. The first Alegria drew 400 people and the dance floor was full, and the subsequent "Sunrise" morning parties which followed on the club's 4th Level started drawing 900 and upwards of the city's hottest males. By February 2001 Sena introduced Miami-based Abel Aguilera as Alegria's official resident DJ, and come year's end the parties were drawing over 2,000 party people. By 2002, the Alegria events were proven hits on holiday weekends.

Almost 30 events later, Sena credits his close personal and professional relationship with Abel as a driving force behind Alegria's astonishing success. In fact, he enjoys close relationships with many of his business associates, like DJs Tony Moran and Roland Belmares and lighting gurus Steve Revlon and Ross Berger. He also acknowledges the essential support and contributions of Michael Medeiros, David Kniazuk and Tim Cass in launching and sustaining the Alegria phenomenon. "It's like a family, a team thing," Sena points out. "We like what we do and we get along. When you put all these people together who care about the party and each other, it makes a big difference."

Sena dismisses the notion that he's discovered any sort of magic formula, but he clearly recognizes the importance of a personal touch and attention to detail. "I try to be very attentive to the small things," he says. "I focus on throwing the best party possible, always. I do everything I can for a party to be what I think a party is supposed to be. I also respond to all the emails I receive. If you respect every aspect of the party even before it starts, then when people get there they bring a good energy with them. I have a lot of people who support me, and I take good care of them." And it doesn't hurt that the crowd looks good, too-natch. "When they get there and see the production, the décor, the shows, the music is good, the club is clean, all that together-and the beautiful people-I'm lucky that I have a very good looking crowd. It helps a lot. And I try to make all the different factors of the party important. People appreciate being taken care of."

The Non-Formula-that works!

So let's recap: Start with superb production values, elaborate decor and impossibly beautiful crowd. Blend in heavy tribal beats and diva house anthems with just a splash of retooled classics. Add water, soda or alcohol liberally. Season to taste. Stir vigorously while simmering over a low heat for 10+ hours, garnish with courtesy and cleanliness, and voila-instant Alegria.

© 2004 Matt Kalkhoff
Jan 9, 2004 issue of Next magazine