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How NYC Nightlife Has Changed From The Pandemic – Industry Trends and Predictions

If you are one of the many who have been wondering, “Is the nightlife in NYC dead?” – The answer is, “Absolutely not!”

Although the nightlife industry was targeted with some of the most strict regulations during the pandemic, it never stopped. It just went underground and evolved. If you knew the right people, you could easily find an underground 420 party, boat party, or even a stripper party any day of the week.

But the pandemic has left a lasting impact on many facets of the nightlife industry. And these changes won’t just be due to lingering health regulations or social distancing phobias.

As an NYC nightlife consultant and club promoter, I have seen firsthand that shutdowns have made the nightlife industry more money-hungry than ever.

So, in this article, I’ll discuss behind the scene trends among underground parties and clubs, and the business models that have emerged due to the pandemic to explain, “How NYC Nightlife Has Changed From The Pandemic.”

Whether you are from NYC or a tourist visiting NYC, these are some of the most important trends and changes to nightlife in NYC that you should know about.

Vaccination-Only Events Are Here To Stay

Did you ever think that a vaccine shot would help you get into a club? Well, until “herd immunity” kicks in, you can expect to see “vaccinated-only” events becoming more common at both indoor and outdoor venues.

“Vaccinated-Only events” are events where proof of vaccination is required to attend. Proof of vaccination includes New York’s Excelsior Pass and the CDC Vaccination Card. And, despite the rumors, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated that a Vaccination Passport won’t happen on a federal level.

The onus ultimately falls on each state to decide upon the laws regarding proof of vaccination. So, keep tabs on legislation in your locale.

Since reopening, New York has openly offered incentives for COVID-19 vaccination.

Individuals have been offered $100 debit cards, free tickets, and other gifts.

covid 19incentivesforindividualsandcommunityorfaithorganizations hownycnightlifehaschanged alwaysthevip5750366525804787381. | How NYC Nightlife Has Changed From The Pandemic - Industry Trends and Predictions | Always The VIP

While businesses have been offered monetary referral bonuses as well as reduced social distancing restrictions and larger indoor capacity limits for vaccinated customers:

…businesses may eliminate the 6 feet of required social distancing, and therefore increase capacity, only if all patrons within the establishment…present proof of full vaccination status

NY.GOV – May 3rd 2021

Some businesses – like the 41 Broadway theaters in NYC – have proactively established vaccination requirements. While, on the other hand, clubs, bars, and lounges haven’t taken it upon themselves to turn away money from unvaccinated guests.

The “Key To NYC Pass” Vaccination Requirement For Indoor Activities

The Key To NYC Pass Announced by Mayor De Blasio Always The VIP
The Key To NYC Pass Announced by Mayor De Blasio Always The VIP

In line with New York’s trend of incentivizing vaccination, NYC Mayor De Blasio announced the “Key To NYC Pass” on August 3rd, 2021. This vaccination legislation is planned to launch on August 16th and be enforced starting September 13th, 2021.

The “Key To NYC Pass” legislation makes proof of vaccination (either with one dose or full vaccination) a requirement to attend indoor activities in NYC:

In contrast, other states, like Montana, have opposed vaccination requirements and put laws into effect to prevent individuals from being denied goods or services based on vaccination status. NYC is breaking ground as the first city to mandate such vaccination requirements, and reward vaccination with access to indoor activities.

While this may be embraced at private events and high ticket events, it’s surely not something that will be welcomed by nightclubs, bars, and lounges that thrive on large crowds.

It’s important to note that, according to the CDC, regardless of your vaccination status, you are still at risk of infection in crowds. And one of my biggest concerns is that vaccination requirements are likely to be used as a form of discrimination. Which is a rampant problem with many top clubs. Both reasons either make vaccination requirements potentially problematic or questionable.

Pop-Up Parties Are Rivaling Popular Nightclubs

While nightclubs were shut down, seasoned club owners, promoters, and a crop of new party organizers found lucrative opportunities for underground parties. Many built massive followings in the process.

With many party-goers embracing underground parties during the pandemic, pop-up parties have become as popular as traditional nightclubs.

Underground parties are essentially pop-up parties, but often have an illegal connotation to them. Pop-up parties are experiential events that are available for limited engagements, to niche audiences, at various locations – Their popularity is typically tied to their organizer(s), not to a location or venue.

Learn More About Underground Parties in my Article “How To Throw An Underground Party”

During the pandemic, underground weed parties, raves, and stripper parties were thrown in different locations almost every week. So, traveling “off the beaten path” to find a party became the routine for many party goers in NYC.

Partygoers are now accustomed to following a party wherever it goes – it doesn’t have to be in a nightlife hub like Manhattan or Downtown Miami. Along with the decrease in tourism, this detracts from the walk-in traffic that once flocked to mainstream nightclubs in city centers.

To contend with this, clubs have started hiring underground party organizers to capitalize on their followings. While the ambitious organizers have taken over venues and started new clubs.

So, now you know why so many new dance clubs have been springing up! Those are the underground party organizers entering the public scene!

More Parties Are Invite or RSVP only

Before 2020, clubs normally sought to maximize attendance with a mix of general admission walk-ins and reservations. Not only because it meant more revenue, but a club with an empty dance floor has always been viewed as a sign of an unpopular party.

But now there is a large audience of people who are willing to pay a premium for “limited capacity.” This works perfectly for venues that want to maximize the spend per person while helping them to manage capacity limits better. This is why more clubs and parties are becoming “invite or RSVP only, and catering to smaller more elite crowds.

Private Film Release Party Baby Max Noel Ashman at Noir NYC Invite Only Celebrity Parties Hosted By Always The VIP
Private Film Release Party Baby Max Noel Ashman at Noir NYC Invite Only Celebrity Parties – Hosted By Always The VIP

In a post-COVID age where social distancing is more desirable and valuable, clubs are taking full advantage of it and leaning towards guests who will pay that $2,000 for elbow room at a private section. And this opens the door up for smaller, unique, upscale venues as they become more attractive options when compared to mega-clubs.

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Clubs Want Higher Cover Charges and Bar Tabs For General Admission

Capacity limits during the pandemic made party organizers have an aversion to general admission guests who take up precious space without spending a dime. So, more clubs are charging high cover charges or requiring bar tabs for general admission guests.

A cover charge is the cost of admission for entry into a venue.

A bar tab is a minimum required spend, which is collected upfront or as a hold in a credit card, upon entry.

Typically, a cover charge to a club in NYC would start at around $20, then progressively increases throughout the night at the club’s discretion. And a typical bar tab at a party would be between $50 to $100.

After shutdowns ended, many popular parties have adopted a higher pricing model, demanding cover charges starting as high as $50 to $100, and bar tabs as high as $200!

Lately, prices have become more reasonable with offerings of discounted early bird tickets. But, once the weekend is near, those tickets shoot back up to the $40 or $50 range well before the doors even open!

So, if the party that you want to attend requires tickets, buy them as soon as they are available. Otherwise, you will pay a premium!

Advance Tickets Are Required For Popular Parties

Before the pandemic, people could just get on a line for a club to get access – Not anymore. Most parties no longer accept general admission walk-ins at the door; Advance tickets must be purchased online for all general admission guests.

So, if you don’t have a ticket, then you just can’t get in! This has been effective in helping to limit the crowds and lines at venues.

Advance Ticket Requirements and Pricing For General Admission at Nightclub Always The VIP
Exsmple of Advance Ticket Requirements and Pricing For General Admission at Nightclub

Why did this happen? Outside of promotional guests that arrive with club promoters, clubs don’t want bodies in the room who aren’t spending.

So, if you are one of the many who like to randomly visit many different clubs in one night, that won’t be possible anymore unless you have purchased tickets for each in advance. Your best bet is to stick to bars that allow walk-ins.

Popular Parties Require Bottle Service

For many venues, capacity restrictions have made it hard to generate enough profit to justify reopening. This won’t change much if social distancing becomes a permanent part of our culture. Because of this, some popular clubs have done away with general admission and now require table reservations with bottle service for all guests.

This “Bottle service-only business model” is becoming particularly common for parties with entertainment. Here’s an example of the details for one party, called Etiquette, that I’ve promoted for and follows this “bottle-service only” business model:

exampleofpartiesthatrequirebottleservice hownycnightlifehaschanged alwaysthevip3089683064849363683. | How NYC Nightlife Has Changed From The Pandemic - Industry Trends and Predictions | Always The VIP

Parties that require bottle service typically imply this by stating “Reservations required” on their promotions, which is synonymous to saying “table reservatios with a purchase of bottle service is required.”

On the actual booking pages, you may find details regarding the required “minimum spend.” This details the overall costs spent for table service, which normally includes items like bottle service, hookah, and food if it is available.

A “minimum spend” is the minimum required amount that guests at a table must spend (exclusive of tax and tip).

Minimum spends at clubs often start at $1,000 and up.

As a business model, catering only to big spenders has operational benefits.  By knowing the exact amount of revenue that will be generated in a given night, clubs can budget more effectively, staff more efficiently, accommodate for social distancing, and focus more on improving the guest experience.

Parties that use this “Bottle service-only model” without improving the guest experience won’t prosper. Quality entertainment will be key for these parties – that means more than just a DJ. We’re talking live performances, burlesque dancers, costumed acts, musicians, and more so the experience justifies the cost.

Dance Floors Are Completely Open At Boutique Clubs

Even a pandemic couldn’t put an end to crowded dance floors. Most bars and lounges have kept their dance floors wide open, and even throughout the pandemic and the shutdowns!

Crowded Dancefloor during the pandemic at a Boutique Nightclub Always The VIP Photo By C Nez Byrd
Crowded dance floor during the pandemic at a Boutique Nightclub Always The VIP Photo By C. Nez Byrd

Some clubs simply filled dance floors with standing tables for bottle service to monetize the space. Only the big-brand clubs temporarily closed their dance floors, which inevitably came back immediately after social distancing requirements and capacity limits were lifted.

Large nightclubs like “Tao,” “Lavo,” and “Marquee” immediately closed early on during the 2020 pandemic once the numerous social distancing and capacity limits began. Large venues need big crowds and big spenders to justify the cost to remain open.

Additionally, big-brand clubs have more eyes on them – particularly, the media and the law. This is not as much of a worry for smaller lounges and boutique nightclubs that tend to stay under the radar.

Boutique nightclubs are small lounges or clubs that cater to a local or niche audience. These small businesses are often popular among local crowds, have local owners, and their reputation grows by word of mouth.

Typically, boutique clubs don’t have million-dollar brands behind them. So, they tend to pivot to change faster and are willing to take more risks, like opening their dance floors during the height of the pandemic.

After reopening, every club that I have come across has fully opened its dance floors. There has been zero concern over social distancing once it became optional.

Nightclubs Don’t Enforce Masks Guidelines For Guests

A common question that I have been asked is, “Are you required to wear masks at clubs?” No. Most clubs and lounges in NYC have not required guests to wear masks.

Even during the height of the pandemic and during the shutdowns, underground parties and clubs allowed guests to remove their masks. So, of course, this behavior has continued after the shutdowns ended, and mask mandates officially ended.

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The few clubs and lounges that enforced mask rules only required it when guests left assigned table seating to walk through crowds. But, technically, guests were always allowed to remove their masks to drink or eat. This is one reason why wearing masks inside a club is difficult to enforce – everyone is constantly drinking!

On a different note, Clubs and lounges continue to require their staff to wear masks. This is a common safety precaution that I foresee will remain well after the pandemic ends, and likely become ingrained in nightlife industry practices.

Small Bars Don’t Require Social Distancing

Social distancing is the death of small bars. Think of those small, claustrophobic pubs where you have to crawl over other people to get to the bartender. So, you will find that most bars in NYC do not enforce social distancing or mask requirements.

You can see for yourself at now jam-packed bars in popular neighborhoods like Greenwich Village or K-town on any given weekend night. Small bars have prospered since reopening just from the sheer volume driven by the pent-up demand.

When social distancing is required, the costs of reopening often outweigh the benefits. Most of the bar owners that I surveyed during the pandemic said they wouldn’t even open their doors until the allowed capacity was over 50%. And there are many lists of permanently closed bars out there to prove their reasoning.

The Era Of the Tough Doormen May End

The best clubs are known to have tough doormen who power trip on hustling guests with inflated covers and bottle packages, and flaunt their privilege as they select hotties from the crowd to skip the line. Just about everyone who clubs frequently has encountered this type at some point. But, as more parties become “invite” or “RSVP only,” tough doormen are no longer needed as the power shifts in the party-goers’ favor.

When all guests are invited or bottle clients, the doormen will have to adjust from haggling to hosting. So, modern doormen will have to nix the judgmental behaviors and focus on the guests’ experience.

Hopefully, this shift will reduce the bias and racial discrimination that is far too common at popular nightclubs where the color of your skin often dictates how long you wait in the line, the prices you pay, and even if you are granted entry at all.

You’ll Need A Promoter To Find and Access The Best Parties

Post-pandemic, getting access to the best parties may become even more about, “who you know,” than ever before. With many parties adopting an invite-only model, knowing party promoters will become essential.

Lately, the best parties are being communicated to limited circles of loyal followers. Some never even make it to the general public. So, if you ever have the impression that nightlife options have become limited, it hasn’t. The reality is that you just aren’t in a nightlife “inner circle” to access them.

It has always been helpful to know organizers and promoters. But it was never in your best interest as much as it is now.

Underground parties didn’t spend a dime for marketing and advertising. This proved the value of promoters and building loyal followings. Naturally, clubs want to do the same and avoid marketing expenses by hiring more promoters.

So, if you want to have access to all the best parties, find yourself a good promoter/organizer. Connect to their social media page, and you will likely see a ton of parties in their Instagram stories that you would otherwise have never found.

Smoking Marijuana at Nightclubs Is Possible, But With Conditions

I can’t tell you how many times a guest has asked me, “Can I smoke weed at this party?” The answer is almost always, “No.” If you are a pothead, then you know that most clubs will kick you out if they found you smoking weed, and that hasn’t changed yet.

Currently, Most clubs still do not allow guests to smoke weed indoors. But, since many states have begun legalizing recreational marijuana, we will likely see it overlooked more often – with a preference for bottle clients.

It is important to note that in NYC, businesses must have a hookah permit to offer non-tobacco hookah at their establishments. So, a similar permit requirement will likely apply for marijuana sale and use in each state.

New Jersey is already taking steps in this direction with zoning for “Cannabis Consumption Lounges.” Cannabis consumption has already been authorized at dispensaries in Atlantic City!

Cannabis consumption lounges are businesses, such as dispensaries, that are located in designated zones where the sale and consumption of marijuana has been authorized by state and local laws. 

So, you will likely have to wait until legislation is passed and permits are obtained, for the sale and use of marijuana in clubs and lounges, before you can legally buy and/or smoke weed there.

Below is a map of the legality of cannabis in different U.S. states, where leagally smoking weed in clubs is more likely to start happening first.

Map of US state cannabis laws
Map of US state cannabis laws – By Lokal_Profil, CC BY-SA 2.5

 Legend:  Legal for recreational use   Legal for medical use   Illegal   D – Decriminalized

For now, if you want to smoke weed at a party freely, then your best bet is to find an underground 420 party or cannabis event. This is yet another reason why underground parties will continue to gain popularity as an alternative to clubs.

If you want to smoke in the club, then pop a bottle, or the bouncers will shut you down as usual.

I hope that this information helps you to be prepared for NYC nightlife as we figure things out. At the end of the day, just remember this:

If you want to party on the cheap and don’t need the wild party scene, stick to a simple bar. They probably need the support more anyway.

If you found this article useful, please share this article to help keep this blog alive. And if you love to party, then sign up for my newsletter and connect with me on IG @nezlpaha or my brand @alwaysthevip!

Enjoy your nights out!

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About Author
C. "Nez" Byrd

A seasoned nightlife aficionado, marketing expert, experiential event producer, and entrepreneur from NYC. He is the founder of Always The VIP and has led growth marketing strategies for growing businesses. He has written unique articles on email marketing, SEO Due Diligence, lifecycle marketing, and the nightlife business. And he not only does he love classic cocktails, he is driven to make great memories as often as humanly possible.

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