The Recession, Conspicuous Consumption, Nightlife, and [Presumably Not] You

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09/19/2008 3:46 PM |

First they came for the hedge fund managers, and I was not a hedge fund manager, so I said nothing. Then they came for the i-bankers, and I was not an i-banker, so I said nothing. But Andrea Rosen, who doesn’t work for the L but does work in our office (it’s complicated), said something, specifically about what the shitty economy means for bars that serve alcohol other than PBR.

Lately, I can’t seem to throw a Vitamin Water without hitting a blogger recounting the latest episode of Gossip Girl or The Hills (including those on the other side of my office). The Monday night parade of excesses has become escapism central for New York’s creative underclass. In depressing times, it’s comforting to know that somewhere out there, boys and girls with whimsical surnames like “Van Der Woodsen” and “Patridge” are frequenting nightclubs with whimsical names like "Pink Elephant" or "Opera," enjoying most expensive liquors and raddest Bruce Jenner spawn our great country has to offer.

In reality, conspicuous consumption in New York nightlife has been sidelined for the bulk of this decade’s countrywide recession.

The city’s seen the openings of more modest hotspots that serve up gimmicks like Milk & Honey’s “no name-dropping” rule, Rusty Knot‘s 99-cent beers and the Beatrice Inn’s dank-basement aesthetic.

But does the pricey, show-offy partying bloggers parse each week really still thrive in contemporary Manhattan? Sure, but the stars aren’t paying for it (they get paid to show up and drink). It’s the finance fellows shelling out for the lifeblood of the nightclub industry, bottle service. The going-out-shirt-clad guys and the models that stand next to them enjoy vodkas that retail for $25 at a markup of hundreds more. At Chelsea club Marquee, a "multiple-bottle minimum" forces these men to run up several thousand dollar tabs. [I was about to say, hey there Andrea watch your gender binary, it’s not necessarily always men paying for bottle service. But then I remembered that clubs with bottle service are pretty much the place in this city where the gender binary holds true most steadfastly, like the Alamo but with more hair product. -Ed.] This week’s great i-banker purge has velvet rope-happy club owners and doormen in a panic over the loss of their best customers, and possibly the service they once helped sustain.

Poor timing indeed for the openings of weirdly-exclusive spots The Eldridge and El Bano [Per their website: “New Yorks [sic] Most Exclusive New Nightlife Experience.” -Ed.], which require a laser-engraved card and a specially cut key to gain entry, respectively. The bankers who might’ve once clamored for these coveted props are likely tightening their man-purse strings. Business reporters have found Lehman Brothers’ file box-carrying roadkill relegated to drinking at (gasp!) the bar of a Bobby Van’s. Only time will tell how the Marquees and Eldridges will survive this weekend and beyond, but my guess is it involves Europeans. Lots and lots of Europeans.