New York City has, if not the world’s best nightlife, at least its most comprehensive. There are dive bars, warehouse raves, jazz lounges, rooftop parties, and sex clubs, all with numerous options for each setting. One would assume that with all the competition for your hard-earned party bucks, NYC liquor license holders would be bending over backward to get you in their spot and show you a good time.
Sadly, it seems the opposite is true.
Some bar and club owners do everything they can to add to their air of exclusivity. They allow artificially long lines to form outside their door, letting those who are “on the list” cut the rest. They guard the place with stone-faced security guards who don’t answer questions. Then, what is in my estimation the gravest insult, they criticize your clothes and charge you a toll to pass their goons. I’ve had enough. I will no longer suffer these degradations just to enjoy myself.
First of all, we must recognize the real purpose of dress codes. In the nightlife business there are many euphemistic explanations for them. “We want a classy environment” or “We want the right crowd” are statements you will hear from managers when defending these practices in a politically correct tone. Allow them to get more comfortable and you will get more candid reasons. Keeping out “riff raff,” “thugs,” or (as I have heard explicitly) “too many blacks” is the real agenda. Oh, dear reader, you don’t believe that there is a racist component to this? Well then, I have a bridge to sell you, under which we can all live in peace and harmony. Back in reality, take notice of the line in front of a club. Enforcement of injunctions against sneakers and “saggy pants” are particularly rigorous if you’re black. In my professional experience in the industry (once working as a bartender and inventory manager), I’ve seen it firsthand.
Besides for the inherent bigotry of a dress code, does no one else find it wildly offensive to be told what to wear? You wouldn’t explain your wardrobe to a cop, and most of you wouldn’t even justify your appearance to your loving parents. Why then should we feel the need to do so to some greasy club promoter or manager? Is there any other industry in the world where customers can be so thoroughly degraded by the businesses they patronize (aside from those who pay for the company of a dominatrix)? If any random person told you that your clothes were unacceptable you would probably, and reasonably, tell them to go fuck themselves. Let’s have the courage to do the same to the awful people who do this to us while we’re out on the town.
When it comes to cover charges, my reaction is less moral outrage and more bewilderment. You mean to tell me I get to pay you for the privilege to walk inside and buy overpriced drinks? What a deal! How have we been so stupid as to allow this absurd practice to become an industry standard? Whether the cover is five bucks or 50, paying for the opportunity to stand in a loud room and give the establishment more of my money strikes me as infuriatingly senseless. It’s even more loathsome when a place that usually doesn’t charge for entry takes advantage of a busy night to nickel and dime you at the door (looking at you, Bar None).
I understand that cover charges are often used to pay live performers. I also understand the impulse to support the arts. I’ll happily fling a few dollars at an enjoyable street performer or buy tickets to a show. But why in the hell is it my job to subsidize a bar’s business expenses? Bar owners don’t invite random bands to perform out of the goodness of their heart; they know live music is a good draw. If your business is not specifically a music or performance venue, don’t expect me to pay to see someone I’ve never heard of.
It’s time we collectively repudiate the presumptuous prejudices of this industry. We don’t deserve any further humiliation when pursuing intoxication and sex with strangers. Besides, in this town, it’s not necessary. There are plenty of watering holes happy to both accept your patronage and treat you with respect. We should reward these enlightened good time facilitators with our cash, and reward the shameful establishments with some shameful practices of our own. Throwing up on the bar or smashing a few glasses is a great way to recoup a cover charge and lost dignity.