Books About New York City Nightlife
Gossip columnist Walter Winchell called it "the New Yorkiest spot in New York." F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rita Hayworth, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe were among its loyal clients. The Stork Club, located on East 53rd Street and described in Ralph Blumenthal's Stork Club: America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Cafe Society (Back Bay Books, 2001, $14.95), is just one of many New York City clubs that have emerged as icons of their eras, the centers of cultural revolutions or the headquarters of the criminal underworld. The city's nightlife - from the cabarets of the Gay 1890s to Limelight owner Peter Gatien's 1990s drug kingdom - has been described in dozens of books.
For a city with such a famous nightlife, New York has had a difficult relationship with its nightclubs. While clubs have sometimes been credited with revitalizing run down neighborhoods (as Limelight purportedly did for Chelsea in the 1980s), and have become major tourist attractions, the nighttime presence of the young, off-beat, often drugged up crowd has made clubs a continuous target for the police and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The current dispute over the city's cabaret laws is indicative of the city's ambivalence about its nightclubs. While the Bloomberg administration considers rewriting the city's 77-year laws, many New Yorkers still oppose changes that would make it easier for nightclubs to allow dancing.
New York has been the city that never sleeps since at least the 1890s, when cabarets first became popular. During the period known as the Gay 90s, singers entertained Broadway cabaret crowds with tunes like "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl" and "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage." Around 1910, writes Lewis A. Erenberg, in Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890 - 1930 (University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition 1984, $18), the Manhattan cabaret Cafe des Beaux Arts had a special bar that served women only.
The Cotton Club, a famously upscale club on the corner of 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue, was filled exclusively with white patrons, like Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin, and black performers like Duke Ellington and Dorothy Dandridge during the 1920s. The neighborhood also had a thriving gay scene, and clubs like the Bamville Club, a cabaret at 65 West 129th Street, and Glory Hole, a small working class bar, flourished. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930 by Steven Watson, (Pantheon Books, 1996, $19.95) describes Harlem during the era of Zora Neal Hurston and Langston Hughes, spending many pages on the neighborhood's nightlife. The Washington Post calls the book, "a grand tour of the time, place, and driving forces behind one of the nation's greatest cultural flourishings."
Columnist Winchell was often found in the exclusive Cub Room of the Stork Club, which first opened as a Prohibition-era speakeasy but reached its heyday in the 1940s. In his 2001 book Stork Club, Blumenthal details the rise and fall of Sherman Billingsley's nightclub, which fought to keep gangsters and unions out and lasted until the 1960s. As Kirkus Reviews writes, Stork Club is "a comprehensive, anecdote-laden history of the rise and fall of a man and his gin-mill-cum-glamour-machine."
Bianca Jagger rode into her birthday party at Studio 54 on a white horse in May 1977. Steve Rubell's nightclub was famous for its exclusive VIP parties, with patrons like Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli, and Salvador Dali, and its notorious velvet ropes: even Cher was reportedly turned away at the door. The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night, by Anthony Haden-Guest, (William Morrow, 1998, $25) talks about what was inside: a massive disco, with a flourishing drug scene. The author, a Studio 54 regular himself, also describes his own experience.
One of the most recent books about New York City clubs is Frank Owen's Clubland, The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, (St. Martin's Press, 2003, $24.95.) As a journalist for the Village Voice, writing an article on the drug Special K in 1995, Owen became acquainted with all of the major players in the nightclub scene at Limelight and Tunnel. These famous Chelsea "ecstasy dens" were owned by Peter Gatien, whose "rave parties, wild exhibitions of chemical-fueled liberation, briefly defined a cultural moment," wrote the New York Times. In Clubland, Owen recounts his six-year investigation into the lives of the club kids, drug dealers and narcotics agents at the Chelsea clubs. The book culminates in a grisly murder and Gatien's trial for racketeering.
Other books about New York City nightlife - through the ages - include:
The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance:
Gangsters and Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway (Four Walls Eight Windows; November 2003) by Jerome CharynGigs: Jazz and the Cabaret Laws in New York City (After the Law) (Routledge; October 1991), by Paul Chevigny The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930 (Pantheon Books; 1996), by Steven Watson Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890-1915 (Smithsonian Institution Press; Reprint edition October 1994), by Thomas Laurence Riis
Jazz: A History of the New York Scene (The Roots of Jazz) (DaCapo Press; October 1981), by Samuel Barclay Charters, Leonard Kunstadt
Myself Among Others, A Life in Music (DaCapo Press; May 6, 2003), by George Wein with Nate Chinen
When Harlem Was in Vogue (Penguin USA; 1997), by David Levering Lewis
52nd Street, the Street of Jazz (DaCapo Press; April 1988), by Arnold Shaw, Abel Green
Broadway Below the Sidewalk: Concert Saloons of Old New York (Clipper Studies in the Theatre, No 4) (Borgo Pr; August 1994), ed. William L. Slout.
21: Every Day Was New Year's Eve: Memoirs of a Saloon Keeper ((Taylor Publishers; March 1999), by H. Peter Kriendler
McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (Pantheon Books; June 2001), by Joseph Mitchell
The New York Concert Saloon: The Devil's Own Nights (Cambridge University Press; November 2002), by Brooks McNamara
The Bitter End: Hanging Out at America's Nightclub
Live at the Village Vanguard (DaCapo Press; April 1988), by Max Gordon, Nat Hentoff
Night Creature: A Journal of Jazz, 1975-1980(Oxford University Press; June 1997), by Whitney Balliett
Fabulous!: A Photographic Diary of Studio 54 (St. Martin's Press; September 1998), by Bobby Miller
The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night (William Morrow; Reprint edition May 1998), by Anthony Haden-Guest
Clubland, The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture (St. Martin Press, May 2003), by Frank Owen
Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland (Simon & Schuster; August 1999), by James St. JamesLast Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey (Grove Press; August 2000), by Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton
Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret (Limelight Editions; Reprint edition October 1992), by James Gavin
Nightclub Nights: Art, Legend, and Style 1920-1960 (Rizzoli; May 2001), by Susan Waggoner
Nightlife, Vanity Fair's Intimate Guide to New York After Dark (John Day Company, New York, 1931), by Charles G. Shaw
Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930 (University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition November 1984), by Lewis A. Erenberg
Tony Pastor Presents: Afterpieces from the Vaudeville Stage (Greenwood Publishing Group; September 1998), by Susan KattwinkelGuide Books:
The New York Book of Bars, Pubs and Taverns (E P Dutton; January 1962), by David Yeadon, Roz Lewis
Night Games! A Guide to Understanding & Enjoying the Nightclub & Bar Scene(R&B Marketing; September 24, 2002), by Rodney Battles
Shecky's Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2003: New York (Hangover Productions; September 2002), by Chris Hoffman
Time out New York's Guide to Eating & Drinking 2003 (Time Out New York; October 1, 2002)
Time Out New York Bars & Clubs (Time Out New York Partners, L.P.; May 23, 2003)