N.Y. Confidential: Club closings exposed!
by Matt Kalkhoff

When I decided to take a trip to Toronto over President's Day Weekend, I didn't think I'd miss much beyond the annual Saint-At-Large White Party. Then all these incredible parties started popping up around town.

In addition to Peter Rauhofer at Roxy and Roland Belmares spinning Alegria at Sound Factory, Junior Vasquez shrewdly added Tom Stephan (a/k/a Superchumbo) and '80s dance diva Jody Watley to the Red Party line-up at Earth, Frankie Knuckles' name graced two intriguing invitations, and one of the hottest up-and-coming DJs, Chad Jack, snagged the coveted Sunday night Limelight slot.

Then I heard that our misguided city officials decided once again that they needed to save us from ourselves.

As you've probably heard by now, the NYPD's Civil Enforcement Unit, along with its Narcotics Division and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, shut down Exit (610 W. 56th St., home to Vasquez's Earth after-hours party) and Sound Factory (616-620 W. 46th St.) -- on Friday, Feb. 7. At 8 that evening, authorities padlocked Exit's main entrance while ceremoniously slapping bright orange-and-yellow stickers that read "Closed by Court Order and Restraining Order" across the front doors.

This dramatic display of self-righteous arrogance was clearly orchestrated to ensure maximum exposure from members of the press who were invited to document yet another nail being driven into the coffin of New York nightlife. The nuisance abatement orders reference ongoing illegal drug activities allegedly discovered during a 22-month undercover investigation of the clubs that reportedly netted 151 arrests.

Whether these closures are warranted is for the courts to decide. But I do question the timing. In addition to the upcoming holiday weekend, Friday also marked the beginning of Fashion Week, one of the New York's most publicized festivals that lures thousands from around the world to drink, dance and spend loads of money in the (former?) "Nightlife Capital of the World." Hello?

Nightlife in New York City is a $2.9 billion industry that yields $800 million in salaries and wages, employs over 27,000 people, and generates almost $220 million annually in tax revenue. Did this just slip the minds of city officials? Does the $10 billion deficit we're facing honestly not register with these people?

As of press time, both Exit and Sound Factory remain closed, both unsuccessful in obtaining a stay during their respective court appearances on Thursday, February 13. I managed to contact few relevant officials, but none volunteered much information.

Anthony Borelli, district manager of Community Board 4 (encompassing Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen) admitted "nightlife is an important industry," but insisted that "all industries have a larger responsibility to the New York City community to run their businesses appropriately."

I got the same spiel from the Community Affairs and Public Information Offices. Even Robert Bookman, attorney for the New York Nightlife Association (NYNA), a 120-member trade group formed in 1997 to defend local bar and club owners against Giuliani's reign of terror, offered only a sliver of hope: "Drugs are a societal problem, not a nightclub problem, per se."

Hopefully our government will figure that out someday. Then again, why would they bother tackling such a large, complicated issue when press ops have worked so well? Bookman says the NYNA has already met with the current administration a couple times, and is hoping to work on several positive programs in a cooperative effort with the city and police department. Good luck!

For now, the city is urging the court to keep both clubs closed for at least a year, but I'm willing to bet that Jonathan Peters will be back in Sound Factory's DJ booth within a few weeks. I'm not so sure about Exit, though, especially in light of a posting from Junior's manager, Jerome Farley on the JuniorVasquezMusic.com message boards Feb. 9.

"Junior and I consider this an opportunity to evaluate whether Exit provides uncompromised [sic] safety and comfort to its patrons. We could not say what the future holds for Exit, but we wish to assure Junior's supporters that we are examining seriously several options which were presented to us today."

I'll also bet that most people wouldn't miss Exit, especially anyone who's been violated and humiliated by its Gestapo security. Where else would entry into a nightclub entail a security guard donning a rubber glove, sticking his (or her) hand down your pants, and probing your ass in an apparently ineffective hunt for contraband?

So maybe I didn't miss much during President's Day Weekend after all, right? Well, I'm happy to report that despite the city's best efforts, all indications are that the holiday weekend's remaining parties were each a huge success.

The White Party's relocation to the East Village's elegant El Capital was a brilliant move by the Saint At Large. I've heard mixed reviews on Thunderpuss, although one astute friend did say he was impressed that they "got it" (i.e., they understood how to play the event differently from a regular club gig).

Warren Gluck apparently nailed his performance perfectly, beginning the transition with a harder, trance-like set before easing the crowd into a morning music groove with White Party standards like "Knights In White Satin," "If You Could Read My Mind," and some playful remixes inspired by the "Alex In Wonderland" theme towards the end. I'm truly sorry I missed it, but there's always next year — and Black Party is just a month away. Check out SaintAtLarge.com for more info on that.

Blast From The Past

The seductively soulful British chanteuse Lisa Stansfield is back in the spotlight with her first ever greatest hits collection, "Lisa Stansfield: Biography." Released on Feb. 18 by Arista/BMG Heritage, the CD features 17 tracks spanning Stansfield's remarkable career, including her breakout hit "All Around The World," and #1 R&B hits "Change," "You Can't Deny It," and "All Woman."

The chart-topping dance singles "People Hold On," "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up," and "Never Gonna Fall" definitely spice things up a bit. But most of the tracks are ballads, so this CD is probably better suited for winding down or romantic interludes than a pre-party pump.

In the first of what I hope will be many giveaways, enter to win one of two promotional copies of the CD by sending an e-mail to contest@mattunleashed with "Lisa Stansfield" in the subject line. Winners will be chosen randomly on Friday, Feb. 28.

Until next month -- Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Yourself.

© 2003 Matt Kalkhoff

These articles appeared in NY Blade on February 21, 2003