[UPDATE: You’ll probably want to view the below video with the sound off. My lil digicam can’t handle nightclub subwoofers. I shot the clip before much of the crowd arrived.]
As I made my preparations for the Saint-At-Large’s New Year’s Eve party in Times Square late Monday night, I repeatedly reminded myself of my New Year’s resolution to banish any conceit that for it to be considered a success or “good”, a party should have to conform to my narrowly-defined and archaic checklist of acceptable gay dance party benchmarks.
I have no right, I repeated to myself in the shower, at age 48, to expect that the massive gay dance parties of today should cater to my musical tastes, my preferences for venues, my ideals regarding sound systems, light shows, DJs, or live performers. And more importantly, I have no right to pass judgment on the attendees. They’re not there for me, they’re there for each other. The vast majority of gay men that attend these spectacles are now 15, 20, 25 years younger than I am. It’s their party, far more than mine, and for me to drip acidic attitude into the party’s punch bowl is as rude and fruitless as critiquing the menu at somebody else’s dinner party. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.
Years ago I began my slow and (hopefully) gracious retreat from being an ubiquitous presence (as it felt to me) on the circuit scene. I began slowly ticking parties off my annual must-do list. “Yes, ten Winter Parties is enough, I think. No, not doing Sundance this year. And I think I’ll end my run at Alegria at a meager five appearances.” Most of the other events soon similarly fell into the not-entirely-ruled-out, but definitely unlikely-to-repeat category.
The watershed moment in my surrender, my epiphany if you will, came five or six years ago in South Beach. Standing on the balcony at Crobar, I was wrenching my face at the melody-free circuit hit of the moment, that song that sounds exactly likes horseshoes tumbling in dumpsters going over Niagara Falls for nineteen uninterrupted minutes. For the tenth time in as many minutes, I shouted to my friends, “This music SUCKS!” And that’s when somebody clamped down on my elbow and dragged me the balcony rail. “Do you see 3000 men down there? Do you SEE 6000 arms in the air? THEY are having a fantastic time. The DJ is doing a VERY good job! The music doesn’t suck, YOU don’t like it.”
Yeah, ouch. And duh, Joe. If you don’t enjoy it anymore, why do you still go?
But wait, a twist approaches.
Armed with my new philosophy, I walked into the Nokia Theatre with Chris at 1:30am. For various reasons, most of our friends had decided against going to the party,with some refusing to battle what they’d predicted would be a nightmarish human gridlock for many blocks around Times Square. Not so. Our taxi let us out at 44th & 10th and we rather enjoyed our ten-minute walk through several hundred exhausted members of the NYPD.
Outside the Nokia, we were greeted politely by security, who actually smiled as they steered us to Gazelle (right), the clipboard-toting door drag. Gazelle was charming, quite contrary to the ice queens who often she-man the ropes at these things. One minute later, our tickets were scanned at the door and I paused in expectation of the traditional full body-cavity search. “Just down the escalator on the right, sir,” said the ticket taker. Oh! Sweet.
There was a lengthy line at the coat check, but it seemed petty to complain at that point. Plus, the bar was right next to the line. Budweiser was $6, a decent price for Manhattan on any night, much less on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. And somehow, the bar remained open until 8am. Not sure how they swung that, but I was grateful. I hate Red Bull and would much rather nurse a tepid beer in the waning hours of a party. (Plus, the breakfast beer is often the best beer of the day.) The coat check staff and the bartenders were as pleasant as the door staff. I’d hire any of them to work in a gay bar.
I found the Nokia a perfect venue for the party. One large-ish room on three levels, the Nokia has a large stage at the west end of the room, which that night hosted the DJ and lighting booths. Since the joint is now a concert venue, the large standing-room area in front of the stage served as the dance floor. Above the dance floor is a good-sized open level, occupied for the evening by three large boxes, atop which writhed the impossibly hot dancers imported for the evening from Montreal. Watching them dance, a patron mused to me, “I don’t even feel like I’m of the same species as those guys.” Seconded.
But the best part of the Nokia, for me, is the eastern end of the room (above), which is a huge stadium-style seating area furnished with hundreds of plush seats with cupholder (beerholder) armrests. I have always contended that gay dance parties should install viewing areas with seating, so I was very pleased to be able to take multiple breaks from the dance floor, yet still feel part of the action. Two large black scrims blocked the view from left and right sides of the seating area, so most took seats in the center section. The effect was very much like watching a Broadway show or a movie. A movie about hot go-go boys. Going up the center aisle, I had the oddest feeling that an usher should be handing out Playbills.
Surrounding the main room on three sides are large hallways with bars and seating areas. The restrooms are nicely decorated and massive, built to accommodate concert attendees all leaving at the same time. There was never a line to use the bathroom, a very special treat for beer drinkers like me who have spent many agonized minutes waiting at circuit parties.
Heading back to the main room, we also didn’t experience the usual annoying doorway clusterfuck that is often the hallmark of gay dance parties, as the Nokia features six exit doors on each side of the dance floor. The sound system, brought in for the party by the Saint, was crisp, clear, and appropriately shirt-rattlingly loud, but not so loud as to have me wishing I’d brought earplugs. In fact, you could actually hold a conversation twenty feet away from the dance floor without resorting to American Sign Language.
The first song we heard as we arrived was Britney Spears’ Gimme, Gimme, but mindful of my new credo, I just bounced along. Then DJ Demarko played the horseshoes song and I had to laugh at myself. I’m not sure when Manny Lehman took over but he played a lot of stuff that I knew and liked, albeit usually they were tribaled-up remixes of the originals. Here’s a short list of Lehman’s tracks that I scribbled in strobe-addled Sanskrit on my notepad:
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)
Ralph Falcon – I Need You
Crystal Waters – Destination Unknown
ABBA – S.O.S
Rozalla – Everybody’s Free
Mary J. Blige – Be Without You
Robin S- Show Me Love
Shakira – Beautiful Liar
Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough
Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
Sharon Redd – In The Name Of Love Also heard: a slamming techno remix of Chris Crocker screaming, “Leave Britney Spears alooooone!” Predictable, yes. But it still made me laugh.
Towards the end of the party, I ran into long-time Saint photographer Robert Zash, who was kind enough to tour me backstage to meet DJ Manny Lehman. I was quite pleased when Lehman plotzed over my Donna Summer Love To Love You, Baby t-shirt, which features the artwork from the original 1975 12-inch. I should have told him that I wore the shirt in honor of Donna’s birthday, which is New Year’s Eve. Yes, I know Donna Summer’s birthday. Bite me. (BELOW: Lehman and Zash.)Zash also introduced me to his friend, Rev. R. Craig Bustrim, a long-time Episcopal priest from Scottsdale, Arizona. That was an odd coincidence, since I had just posted about the schism in his church. Bustrim quickly schooled me about the truly accepting attitude of most congregations, and I felt doubly guilty for not making that point in my post.
Back on the dance floor, Zash intro’d me to tuxedoed Saint owner Steve Pevner, who interrupted Zash’s intro with, “Oh, I know who YOU are.” Yeah, awkward, considering the pan I gave this year’s Black Party here on JMG. I found Pevner a complete sweetie and when I asked him for a photo, he responded, “Only if you dance with me.” After the song ended, he was swept away by fans and I never got the pic. Pevner is also a busy actor and owns a literary management agency.
Over the course of the evening I heard some minor kvetching that party was under-attended, due in part no doubt to the Times Square issue and the previous evening’s bacchanal at Alegria, where the volume is as crushing as the number of bodies. The room could have held a few hundred more people and never quite hit that eruptive critical mass that many circuit parties do, which doubtlessly disappointed the hardcore circuiteers. But I thought the attendance was fine. The dance floor was mobbed for several hours, yet you could move easily throughout the rest of the venue.
The patrons were a delightfully atypical melange (for these sorts of things) of age-ranges, ethicities, and body types. Yes, the usual body-glittered, hot-pants wearing gaysian club kids were in the house, as well as lots of guys who probably drink Human Growth Hormone at every meal. But there were also art-fags, hipsters, oldsters (like me) and more than the usual handful of RGs. On the other hand, there were only a handful of bears or anybody with facial hair. Aw, well. Also seen were some bold-face names like Carson Kressley, whose smokin’ hot date was wearing a “Starfucker” t-shirt. Cute. (ABOVE LEFT:Hottie gives props for Mel Cheren. (ABOVE RIGHT: Party hotties Alan, Erik, and Franco.)
Around 8am, Manny Lehman ended the party with Amy Winehouse’s Rehab, appropriate, considering the mechanism by which most patrons were still awake. After the applause died down, Lehman encored with Madonna’s strangely beautiful, yet spooky Isaac, which perfectly set the tone for my departure from Nokia into the grey and empty Times Square.
In summary (finally, you say), I thought the Saint pulled off a next-flawless event. For me. Quite ironic to come to that conclusion, really, considering the mind-set I’d so carefully prepared before arriving. While some may bad-mouth the attendance, once word gets out how easy it was to get in and how delightful the house staff was, next year’s event, should it return to the Nokia, should be even better. These days I reserve my rare dance party-going to the events that truly cater to and program for my age demo and musical taste. Blowoff. Real Bad. Black Party. The Trocadero reunions. I plan on continuing to shake my non-buff booty at those parties until they too are no longer fun for me. Looks like I’ll have to add another party to that list.