Courtesy of Soma

Nylon Nights

“A House Party In a Restaurant:” How Pop-Up Parties Are Taking Over New York Nightlife

“With no one bar or club reigning supreme, pop-up parties are where everyone’s going.”

by Tim Latterner

If the New York bar scene was a sports franchise, this would be classified as a rebuilding year.

There’s lots of great stuff happening, sure, but no definitive bar or club is at the forefront of what’s cool right now. Everyone’s excited for a few things on the horizon, but we’re all in a little bit of a limbo state this summer until the September “openings” season comes into effect.

In that time, the New York party going community has taken up the reins to host their own series of events at various bars and venues. Pop-up parties are all the rage right now. Instead of going to a certain bar every Thursday through Sunday, expecting a specific crowd, that crowd has gone mobile, working off of Partiful accounts, Instagram DM’d guest lists, and never staying in one place for too long.

Bars and nightclubs are businesses, which require money, which require letting in the group of finance bros who are going to drop a few thousand on a table even if it means giving up a few inches of “cool factor.” In the pop-up party world though, money isn’t a surefire way into any room; the operators behind these parties get to put all their friends and cool friends-of-friends under one roof without worrying about overheads and operating costs.

“I was sick of going to the same places with the same faces,” says Ana Rosenstein, who, with Frankie Carattini, hosts Come Join Us On Thursday, a weekly party for the society and fashion crowd downtown. “We carefully curate parties, and we do a good job bringing in interesting people week after week. They’re normal, interesting, eclectic, and people you may want to keep in your life after. And we know them. Even if people bring a plus one, that's someone we’ve vetted bringing someone they’ve then vetted.

At Bodega Flowers and Seltzer Water.Relly

Rosenstein sees their party “as a house party in a restaurant.” While the first few editions have been in locales like the upper floor of The Golden Swan and Primo’s, they’re looking to expand into all new sorts of possibilities. She references theoretical goals like taking over a Chinese restaurant with dim sum going around at 2:00 am, and Frenchette, with roasted duck on passing trays.

When it comes to getting on the list though, it requires being in-the-know. When Rosenstein and Carattini — a longtime NYC doorman — put together the list, there’s a certain vibe they’re looking for.

“I err on the side of being more inclusive over less and of all different walks of life,” Rosenstein says. “It's not about the chicest crowd possible in the room. I'm trying to put together a room of people who will all get along, but otherwise may not have met. It's the crowd that you know will be a baseline level of fun. Then, you can throw in other people like my neighbor who is the preeminent cannabis lawyer in New York, another friend who’s [a noted musician’s] assistant.”

At Bodega Flowers and Seltzer Water, the venue is a little more abstract. Relly, a candid party photographer who goes by just one name or @disposable_relly on Instagram, hosts his own roving party in everywhere from nightclubs to tattoo parlors. After starting a year ago, the series has serious legs. “The whole idea was for it to be an art party. It started to catch on and Diplo showed up to one of them. Some of them are in bars, some aren’t. There are a lot of non-traditional spaces that have licenses and are fun to use. The reason we do clubs and non-traditional spaces is that you can’t count on the same people to come out every time. A certain crowd is going to go to a tattoo shop versus a crowd at Laissez Faire.”

Relly grew up in the city, starting to go to clubs at age 16. Seeing how nightlife has changed over the years, he’s able to keep a finger on the pulse and address those ongoing movements and changes when it comes to putting together his guest list. “Our main demographic is 24-35 year olds, people who have real jobs and spend money at the bar. We fall somewhere between LES club kid and flatiron art dealer. Everyone that comes to our party still goes out a lot and is looking for a good time.”

Courtesy of Inferno

To curate those invited, a Partiful is sent out that he personally approves. He has a keen eye for the kind of vibe that blends well at his events. “People that engage with the platform, even if I don't really know them, people posting recaps, those are all things I notice when I'm clicking on someone's instagram,” he says. “Do they follow the page? Oh, they know XYZ person. I can see if you’ve been to a past event, I can see the crowd you're with. The metrics are everywhere.

Further downtown, at Le Dive, Soma Discoteca is shaking up the standard clientele with a group of artsy friends and nightlife insiders. Founders Charlie Klarsfeld and Lolita Cros have put together a mix of people from growing up in the city and from Lolita’s work in the art world as an independent curator and dealer. They also appointed Ryder Kramer, a nightlife fixture, to run the door, who’s always in a perfectly tailored suit and has a knack for the right kind of person to let through.

“Approach me at the door, and if you have good energy, you receive good energy,” says Kramer. “And know the password. If you sign up for the newsletter, the password is in there. Lolita decides it, but it's always a word in French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, or Arabic. Languages from the music played during the night. I think last time it was ‘snowball.’”

At their last party, a corner by the door also had slips of paper and a box to put them in for missed connections spotted throughout the night. For those who checked off the box of approval or left their number, they were posted a few days later on the Soma Instagram account for people to tag the potential missed connections or reach out with a text.

The biggest list everyone’s jonesing to get on these days is for Inferno. The monthly-ish party at Jean’s has become the stuff of FOMO nightmares on social media. Dante Cardenas may work at a desk during the day, but at night he’s tapped some of the sharpest minds in nightlife to help throw this party.

“I saw New York as being very segregated right now. LGBTQ+ members, straights, millennials, the Gen-Zs, people from Brooklyn and Manhattan are all going to different places,” he says. “Music is incredible in Brooklyn with so many DJs. Manhattan is a little behind on that. Inferno blends both of those, great music and a fun, diverse crowd. I want it to be a place where everyone comes together.”

To do that, he’s reaching out to leaders in each of those communities and groups for the right kind of people to invite. “My dream is to bring everyone together and create more than a party, to create a community.”

At Bodega Flowers and Seltzer Water.Relly

So far, it’s working. In the few months that Inferno has been happening, the numbers of attendees are multiplying. In just four parties, the guest list has jumped from 150 to 400 to 1,500, and counting. “I like keeping it around that number now though,” Cardenas says. “I think when you get too big you can lose track of the vision. I want to be the best party, not just the biggest party.”

For his team, he’s tapped Markus Kelle, a veteran doorman, who knows how to manage that many people outside (both on and not on the list) waiting to get in. He also has Cardenas’s trust to determine who isn’t on the list but should come through anyway. He’s also tapped Jonah Almost, a young doorman working at Silencio in Midtown, who knows the nightlife landscape for younger, Gen Z people going out. Teddy Quinlivan is also steering creative engagement, leveraging her fashion and entertainment friends to come out for the party and providing valuable insights that help shape the night’s creative direction.

For those not in the know though, this isn’t the end of the line. Ask, and ye shall (maybe) receive. These parties all have an Instagram account, and those accounts are checking their DMs. A polite request, followed up with the right vibe and look at the door can help anyone sail through the velvet ropes. These parties are here today, and gone tomorrow though, so knowing where they’re headed next is part of what’s keeping the nightlife set on their toes.