New York Scene: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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It has been almost three years since AfterEllen took a cattle prod and nudged me onto the streets of New York City to cover the New York lesbian scene. At first I protested. The request happened soon after the dissolution of a long term relationship, and I told myself I would take a year off and avoid dating, the scene, and lesbians in general. Voluntarily wander into the vast, debaucherous and frenetic world of lesbian nightlife in the biggest lesbian scene in the world? I mean, one does not simply walk into Mordor. Did the editors have a secret desire to see me institutionalized at Bellevue? I was quite happy sitting at home playing House of the Dead on the Wii with my roommate. Who doesn’t like shooting virtual zombies every night? Every so often I would write a blog post about celesbians for the site without leaving the privacy of my home. I lived a quiet, anonymous existence in Queens. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If I needed change, I could simply play Mario Kart. 

But a few days later I thought about it and decided to frame the request in a different light: I was going to be paid to walk into a room, take photos and leave. As turning down easy money would make me a bad Asian, I decided not to be an embarrassment to my people and took the assignment. If the first time were too horrifying, I could simply just stop writing. What is the worst that could happen? It’s just a three hour tour.

Three years later, the New York Scene column is still around. But all hamsters need to jump off the hamster wheel at some point. The party can’t go on forever, so this will be my last column about New York City nightlife. As the scene continues to evolve, it is time for me to move on as well.

Over the years you’ve read about the galas and parties that happened in this crazy city, but the most interesting stories never made it to this site, mainly because I wanted to continue to do my job in peace, and keeping the peace required being on good terms with everyone working in nightlife. While I was getting paid, I wasn’t getting paid enough to risk my sanity. If I wanted to risk my sanity, I would have become a promoter. The New York City lesbian/queer nightlife scene is made up of a wacky cast of characters who all know each other, are friends with each other, compete with each other, and in certain circumstances, date each other. Everyone is a hustler and a Type-A personality, and when alcohol and other substances enter the mix, the behind the scenes alliance making and breaking, cutthroat business dealings and personal beef rival any mob drama. It never got as bad as it did in Miami (See, “The Great Lesbian Club Wars“), but at times, it came close. And admittedly, I couldn’t look away.

With the behind the scenes drama and the constant need to make fickle audiences happy, club promoting is a taxing and tiring business, and there is a lot of turnover. The scene is completely different than it was three years ago. The promoters are different. The faces in the crowd are different. And the expectations are different – we demanded more, and we got more. Over the years we saw Maggie C introduce the upscale alternative to the rowdy roving parties or divier bars, and she even brought Grammy winner Cyndi Lauper to Pride to sing for the girls. That’s My Jam’s Tikka Masala came out of Gowanus to the White House to deejay for Joe Biden. DJ Whitney Day came out of Bed Stuy, tirelessly took as many gigs as she could, transitioned from deejay to promoter and was recently crowned “The Queen of NYC Lesbian Nightlife” by Time Out New York. Out lesbian Christine Quinn became the speaker of the New York City Council, and she is expected to run for mayor. Forget being the queen of NYC lesbian nightlife – how about being queen of this entire city, period?

Another bid for taking on the city at large rather than just the lesbian community – while retaining its sapphic vibe – is The Dalloway, a restaurant/bar owned by a couple of familiar faces, Top Model and MTV veejay Kim Stolz and The Real L Words Amanda Leigh Dunn. Set in Soho, not in the traditionally gay West Village or Chelsea – or lesbian mecca Park Slope, The Dalloway blends in with the rest of the neighborhood and serves up exquisitely plated and delicious small plates and tasteful cocktails. You will not find greasy bar food, or cheesy syrupy oversized cocktails here. A sleek yet warm interior devoid of garish rainbows awaits patrons. The lesbian vibe is subtle but present, and it is a place where you can take your straight friends, your parents, and your grandparents before mingling with your girl buddies downstairs. The clothing line FUBU stands for “For Us, By Us,” but The Dalloway is decidedly FABU: For All, By Us. As as the gay and lesbian community continues to make strides towards acceptance and – dare I say it – assimilation (which, in my opinion is a very good thing and I will not debate you about this at this time – or ever), venues like The Dalloway are a natural outgrowth of current social and political trends and are a step in the right direction.

Photos from the grand opening featuring DJ Samantha Ronson are below. The Dalloway is located at 525 Broome Street.

R: Amanda Leigh Dunn

R: AfterEllen contributor and filmmaker Desiree Akhavan

R: Kim Stolz

L: Samantha Ronson

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