Six lessons from New York’s first nightlife mayor

When Ariel Palitz tells people she’s New York City’s first nightlife mayor, they usually say, “That’s cool. And then: “What does this mean?”

Some imagine the role involves bar-hopping and staying out until dawn. But it really is a day job, and Ms. Palitz acts as a liaison, peacekeeper, educator and more.

The Office of Nightlife was created by Mayor Bill de Blasio to ease strained relations between bar and club owners and the city. After all, not so long ago it was illegal to dance in a bar in New York. Ms. Palitz, a former bar owner herself, helped usher in new thinking when she arrived in 2018. Her team created programs and initiatives to support business development and promote safety and harm reduction, and mediated disputes between businesses and residents.

Ms Palitz recently announced she would quit her job, from where she had a unique perch to watch the city beleaguered by the coronavirus pandemic, and as she came back to life.

In a pink velvet booth at a hotel bar seven stories above Manhattan’s Lower East Side, New York native Ms. Palitz recently described what she discovered about the city — and herself. .

Ms. Palitz, who often meditates and wears a bracelet adorned with the Lion of Judah, has developed a philosophical ideology bordering on evangelistic nightlife: for her, it fosters creativity, cultivates identity and strengthens social bonds .

Yes, New York nightlife is a $35.1 billion industry that supports 300,000 jobs and creates $700 million a year in local tax revenue. But, she stressed, it is not just an economic driver.

“It’s deeper than that,” she said, pointing to the community-building and cultural innovation involved, from jazz clubs to hip-hop dance parties and beyond.

“That’s the beauty of New York – there will always be a place for you and you can always find yours,” she said. The love of nightlife isn’t just about going out. “It’s about a love of life,” she says.

His office created manuals and checklists to help businesses navigate new rules during the pandemic and advocated for new policies to streamline the process of opening a bar or nightclub. He launched the Narcan Behind Every Bar campaign to promote awareness of the opioid overdose crisis. And she tried to redirect the gaze of the city on those who come alive at night.

Previously, she said, “the whole approach was a reactive application – restrictive without any gratitude or acknowledgment for what this industry contributes to the economy, identity and culture”.

When she was named to her post in 2018, Ms Palitz said “you can’t crush the culture – or the subculture – in New York”. She was right: Covid suspended some parties, but not all. “One of the biggest challenges we had was communicating with all the people who were still socializing underground,” she said last week. “And especially when you’re in pain, people want to be together.”

New York City has lost about 4% of its restaurant and arts and entertainment businesses as a result of the pandemic, and jobs in those industries are still down about 6% from their pre-pandemic peak. according to figures from the New York State Department of Labor. Some venues that were previously open late are now closing earlier.

Ms Palitz thinks the recovery is continuing: “I think we’re still accelerating,” she said. “We are still healing.”

New York’s approach to the nightlife industry, as the most populous city in the United States and a magnet for people from all walks of life, inspires curiosity among officials in other cities.

“We were at the Danish consulate two days ago,” Ms Palitz said. “Next month I’m going to Sydney. I have just returned from London. She noted that New York’s Office of Nightlife was created as part of a global movement, “and that movement is rapidly escalating.”

Local officials and law enforcement often have an adversarial relationship with bar and club owners. In New York, examples include the Cabaret Law, which prohibited dancing in public spaces without a cabaret license; it was enacted in 1926 and revived and enforced by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in the 1990s before finally being repealed in 2017.

“I think we’re at a very pivotal time,” Ms. Palitz said, “where it’s about re-education, reframing and a new approach.” His technique aims to treat the sites and the government as partners, “not as adversaries, because that’s the only way we can really evolve”.

After the first licensed cannabis store opened in Manhattan in December, the cannabis scene in New York continues to shift, change, and grow. “Social consumption, social lounges – it’s going to be a new frontier in nightlife,” Ms Palitz said.

Of course, she says, “these are things that people have been doing for years underground.” But legalization will change the landscape.

That said, alcohol will remain in the fabric of nightlife. Ms Palitz said, based on conversations with the State Liquor Authority, the number of new liquor license applications was on the rise. And, she mused, during the pandemic, would-be bar owners had time to dream, “Well, if I owned a bar, what I TO DO?”

Before she started working for the mayor’s office, Ms. Palitz’s daily life was pretty hyperlocal: She lived just upstairs from the Lower East Side bar she owned. “Weddings and funerals were the only thing that would get me off the block,” she joked.

But during her travels as mayor of nightlife, she made a discovery: “I learned that I love the five boroughs,” she said. And more specifically: “I love Staten Island. The views!” she gushed. “They have good pizza. You take a ferry and pass the Statue of Liberty. What an amazing experience — and what a way to live!

Ms Palitz, 52, was coy about what was next. A self-proclaimed Jewish-Rasta-Buddhist, whose childhood memories include watching her parents throw big dinner parties before heading to Studio 54, Ms. Palitz intends to stick around as a resource and industry consultant. But first, after her last day of work in April, “you can meet me in Bali for a few weeks,” she says. Then, on the work side? Nothing is official yet. “The sky’s the limit,” she said.

However, it is obvious that she remains both an entrepreneur and a good living. Her eyes lit up when she mentioned a club she wished she could have been to: Paradise Garage, which opened in 1977, less than 10 years after the Stonewall Rebellion, and closed in 1987. It was operating then. that sodomy laws were still enforced in New York. York.

The space was a magnet for LGBTQ New Yorkers, who found freedom by getting lost on the dance floor. “It also showed people’s determination and tenacity to be themselves – and to risk being seen as illegal,” Ms Palitz said. She would have loved to be there, to see “the magic in the room that they must have created”.

Because even after a stint in government, the dance floor still attracts. A club with a good sound system and a great DJ? “This is my church. This is my synagogue. This is my spiritual place,” she says. “It’s my perfect night.”

“When you become one with everyone in this room and move in unison, it uplifts your soul,” she added. “You walk out feeling better than you came in.”


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