On The List (With Melissa Rich): Inside The Hunt For NYC’s Next Nightlife Mayor
A lot goes on behind the scenes while you’re ordering bottle service…
Welcome to On The List (With Melissa Rich), NYLON’S column with comedian Melissa Rich, here to illuminate the state of nightlife, one party at a time.
Wow, party girls! When summer arrives early and unannounced, all bets are off. The Fcukers release party at Baby’s All Right, the unveiling of the new basement at PUBLIC — with complimentary martinis, I might add — and my first time at Mansions in Bushwick…Queens?! Whatever, I lived! But onto the most important things…
“...There’s a nightlife mayor?”
That’s been the primary response when I’ve brought up the New York City Office of Nightlife — and to be fair, it does sound made up. Most people partying in New York haven’t a clue what the office has been doing for the last five years. From starting programs to prevent sexual assault to stocking NARCAN at bars; managing relationships between the clubs that create the multi-billion dollar nightlife industry and the neighbors who want to sleep; all while supporting the hardest hit businesses through lockdowns and a complicated reopening process. A lot goes on behind the scenes while you’re ordering bottle service…
To even have an Office of Nightlife in New York is a huge deal. It’s shocking that five other US cities — including Pittsburgh and Orlando, if you can believe — appointed Nightlife Czars first, but our city has a torrid past with treating the industry like a criminal organization, a shift most pronounced in the Giuliani “clean up the city” era of the ‘90s. It was punctuated with the deportation of the owner of four of the city’s most historic clubs, Peter Gatien, who you may remember from Party Monster as Dylan McDermott in an eye patch. Even before 2020’s lockdown reminded everyone of the value of nightlife, the pendulum of support had begun to swing back, and in 2018, New York City got its own Mayor of Nightlife.
Ariel Palitz once owned the #1 noisiest bar in New York City. Her Lower East Side club Sutra received an impressive 235 noise complaints in less than a year, the majority called by one person, even after she invested $15,000 in soundproofing the space. When the club closed in 2014, Palitz kept working to support the city’s vilified club owners against individual neighbors misusing the system. That put her in the room as talks of a Nightlife Czar began and eventually she was chosen as the Founding Director of New York City’s Office of Nightlife. Now, after five hugely successful years, Palitz is stepping down.
I asked her how she’s feeling as things came to a close. “I’m really proud,” she says, getting emotional, which in turn, makes me emotional, “They’re happy tears.” Palitz’s fierce passion, dedication, and deep compassion make up the fabric of what being Nightlife Mayor is about: tearing down the stigmas that have plagued nightlife for years to create evolutionary change that allows better quality of life for everyone involved. Recently codified into law, in partnership with the Department of Health, is the truly radical NARCAN Behind Every Bar Campaign to combat rampant unnecessary overdosing. “Which actually is not fentanyl overdosing but fentanyl poisoning,” Palitz notes. “It is nefariously put into drugs, so it’s really a murder. You’re stopping a murder.”
The Office of Nightlife set out to “manage” instead of “control,” to focus on prevention and response instead of retaliation. Palitz and her team created reform for the issues she faced as a club owner, enacting MEND (Mediating Establishment Neighborhood Disputes) a free program used by clubs like House of Yes to move complaints from the 311 and 911 system to active dialogue. If a program like this existed in the early ‘00s, those of us who could get past the door would be smoking cigarettes inside The Beatrice Inn. Ultimately, Palitz created revolutionary change which helped to reframe the industry and provide resources to materially take care of the people participating in nightlife. In a full circle moment, she’s bringing Gatien back to New York from Canada to speak at her last organized panel before leaving office. With so much momentum, and so much still to be done, it begs the question: Who’s next?
The Nightlife Mayor is appointed, not elected, with a final decision coming from the mayor. Several hundred nightlife enthusiasts, many likely hungover, applied on the Office of Nightlife website and waited to see if they made the cut for a series of seven interviews ending with our nightlife-loving mayor, Eric Adams. What does the new Mayor of Nightlife need to have? According to Palitz: “Compassion, empathy, problem solving skills, leadership qualities, the need to right the wrongs that have been historically accepted, and maybe just a little bit of rage against injustice.”
One solid candidate is iconic ‘90s Club Kid Richie Rich. Last month, Page Six overheard a conversation between Palitz and Rich at Lamia Funti’s birthday party discussing the soon-to-be open position. He’s been busy with his new line Richerette but got an application in, he told me over a fascinating phone call that needs its own article. Rich’s qualifications are as unique as they are credible: He moved to the city after winning a contest to host the opening night of Club USA, made the Club Kid talk show rounds, and was questioned in the FBI’s investigation of the scandal in the scene. “Nightlife is such an important part of everything. It keeps the city alive, that fun,” Rich says, “I want to spread glitter all over the city.”
Certain names have come up repeatedly in conversations of who Palitz’s replacement should be: There’s Paul’s Baby Grand and Paul’s Casablanca owner Paul Sevigny; the newly sober literary party girl Cat Marnell; even Sophia Lamar’s proposed candidate photographer Travis Bass, who she tells me over a text message is “for a united nightlife.” The next Nightlife Mayor will navigate the city through the future of cannabis, with consumption lounges hopefully more aesthetically pleasing than the smoke shops opening every 50 feet, and continue to offer resources to minimize personal risk for the benefit of everyone involved in nightlife. Palitz knows of many excellent candidates and is bittersweetly looking forward to someone taking the reins, “on this evolving consciousness of wellbeing in nightlife.”
Whoever it is, there are big shoes on the dancefloor to fill.