By MELENA RYZIK
Published: December 31, 2007
It’s been more than three months since Melissa Maino and Jonathan Murray dressed up in gold lamé pants with matching boots (him) and a sailor hat and bubble dress (her) for the final Misshapes party. And it’s been about two months since they costumed themselves in green body paint (her) and a silver spacesuit (him) for what turned out to be the last Halloween blowout of a long-running series with an unpublishable name.
Both Misshapes, held every Saturday for five years, and the other party, held on the eve of major holidays for nearly eight years, were regular destinations for young downtown clubgoers. Their unexpected back-to-back demise left the skinny-jeans-and-Converse set — along with the promoters who cater to them — asking the same question: What’s next?
“It’s been rough,” Ms. Maino, 24, said. That’s especially true Monday night, one of the biggest clubbing nights of the year, when the former holiday-eve party was a reliable place to celebrate in the most downtown-decadent way possible. Going there “was what I depended on for New Year’s Eve,” Ms. Maino said, adding that its sudden end “was definitely heartbreaking.”
But on the weekend before Christmas she and Mr. Murray, 28, who live together in Manhattan and are corporate suit-wearers by day, rallied and coordinated their outfits once again to hit two of the newest regular parties. On that Friday, they were at Robot Rock at Le Royale, a West Village club open just three weeks (in the space that was formerly Luke & Leroy, once home to Misshapes) to hear Kele Okereke, the singer from the British band Bloc Party, D.J. On Sunday they stopped by Beauty Bar, on East 14th Street, where the D.J. and promoter who goes by the name Michael T., a founder of the holiday eve series, has recently helped start the retro-glam Re-make/Re-model party. For the time being it will also be held only before holidays.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to do weekly parties, unfortunately, at least for me,” Michael T. said, adding that the right site is difficult to find. “In a city just inundated with bottle service and things of that nature, that’s not me, and also ultra-hip Brooklyn ‘I don’t bathe and I have a beard’ is not me.”
In 2000 he was co-founder of the holiday eve series as a way to merge disparate Manhattan scenes — glam, rock, goth, indie, gay, straight — with his partners: Georgie Seville, a veteran promoter; Johnny Yerington (a k a Johnny T.), an East Village bar owner and musician; and the D.J. Justine Delaney, better known as Justine D. What began as a part-time endeavor wound up as a regular roving bacchanal, famous for its nude go-go dancers, wildly costumed crowd and dance floor debauchery. (The party’s original home, the Chelsea club Mother, closed unexpectedly after their inaugural event there; the founders moved it around to clubs like the Roxy, Avalon and Rebel.)
A rarity on the club scene, the holiday-eve party was also a destination for up-and-coming bands, indie favorites like Bloc Party, the Rapture, the Faint and !!! before they broke, and the Cramps and the New York Dolls on the cusp of their comeback tours. During its long run the party managed to retain a cult audience; more than 2,000 people came to the Halloween event, Michael T. said. Last year it was even the subject of a yet-to-be-released documentary, which the crew hoped would propel it to bigger projects, like an album. Despite its longevity, the series was never a moneymaker. “We did it as a labor of love,” Ms. Delaney said.
But the foursome’s different managerial styles caused near-constant friction. “We’ve had years where we were like cats and dogs, at each other’s throats,” Mr. Yerington said, adding that the group had decided to call it quits in 2008, after eight years. Then on Halloween Michael T. and Mr. Yerington had a fight about an unrelated party that both had been involved in.
Michael T. characterized it as the final straw. “I had an epiphany,” he said. “I was just like, do I want to continue to deal with this type of relationship in my life? No, I don’t.” He decided to disband the group immediately, though not without some regret. The end of that party, he said wistfully, “was kind of like somebody in your family passing away.”
But his partners were sanguine. “I think it was time,” Ms. Delaney said. It helps that they are all busy with new ventures. As the creative director of Studio B, Ms. Delaney is overseeing parties like Monday’s New Year’s Eve event there, with Slick Rick and Moby. Mr. Seville works with the Lower East Side club the Annex and at a club in Miami, Studio A, and runs a recording studio. Mr. Yerington is expanding into restaurants. And Michael T. is a co-host of a New Year’s Eve party on Monday at Don Hill’s in the South Village, with promoters of another downtown series, Trash. The Brooklyn band A Place to Bury Strangers will perform, and there will be burlesque; Mr. Murray and Ms. Maino are already on board for Don Hill’s, they said when they checked out Le Royale.
They gave Le Royale high marks for being not too self-consciously posey, despite the presence of a photo blogger. “The party should be about having fun, not looking like you’re having fun,” Ms. Maino said.
In Le Royale’s opening weeks, the ground floor lounge area, which has a V.I.P. section, was mostly empty, while the upper level dance floor was mostly packed. Fashion was less outré than at Misshapes. One man wore a sweater around his shoulders, apparently without irony.
“There’s two dramatically opposed scenes,” said Thomas Dunkley, a booker for Le Royale and an owner of GBH, a decade-old promotions company. “The real commercial scene,” typified by the big-box clubs of West Chelsea, “and the hipster scene.”
“Where it gets interesting,” he said, “is where the two merge together. We’ve always tried to be in that place.”
His partner, Alejandro Torio, categorized their crowd as music fans and “hipsters who have graduated.” To that end they are booking D.J.’s from indie it-bands like Peter Bjorn and John, and the Raveonettes, playing host to rock bands and giving after-parties.
Bottle service (buying an expensive bottle to get a table) is not a main focus, and though there is a coverage charge — around $20 — it seems easy to get around it by being on the right list or dropping the right name. (“Oh, you’re a friend of the bartender?” a doorman said to a guest who was trying to get in free. “O.K.”)
The comparatively unpretentious endeavor has the support of the club’s new owner, Dave Baxley, a nightlife veteran who used to run the 1990s D.J. haven Centro-Fly and whose taste in bars runs to the Subway Inn on the Upper East Side. “Everything is a little too clean in New York,” he said. “I feel like this is a good club for a recession.”
He added, “It’s the opposite of 1 Oak,” referring to another new downtown club backed by celebrity- and model-friendly promoters. “We are trying to have a sense of humor.”
But will it be the next Misshapes? When that hipster Mecca ended in September, a Tuesday party called Six Six Sick at the Chinatown bar Happy Ending emerged as a contender; Jackson Polis, a Misshapes D.J., had his birthday party there, and the promoters, three women known for their matching risqué outfits, won a nightlife award from Paper magazine. The downtown nightlife calendar also includes the Factory-esque 205 club on Mondays for karaoke (or Butter, for the celebrity-hungry); Home Sweet Home for a goth night on Wednesdays; Hiro Ballroom (promoted by the GBH crew) on Thursdays; and Studio B and the Annex on Fridays. By general consensus, Saturdays are still up for grabs.
But perhaps not for long. Next month Michael T. plans to restart Rated X, a particularly louche party with a late-night “hot body” contest, at Don Hill’s. Still, it won’t be like his signature party. “Every artist has their peak time, and then you make that mark,” he said. “Right now, I’m not at that peak.”
Not that he’s wall-flowering. “I’m a survivor,” he said. “It’s going to be me, Cher, and the cockroaches.”