I could never get into a club when I first moved to New York City in 2000. I tried. A lot. Each time, as if scripted, I was embarrassingly shooed away from velvet ropes, often by less-than-kind doormen for a litany of reasons. I didn’t look the part. I had too many guys with me. I couldn’t afford to buy expensive bottles of alcohol. There was always a new requirement I failed to meet. However, despite the repeated rejections, there was something so alluring and magnetic about the nightlife scene that I kept going back to try. And I wasn’t alone. The herds of people clamoring outside most venues for a chance to breach the coveted threshold doors demonstrated the overwhelming demand to belong to this elusive, exclusive world — a hedonistic retreat filled with models, bottles, celebrities and the rich and powerful.
After all, in the purest essence, a nightclub is just a room or series of rooms. The décor differs at each place, as does the spatial layout, but the fascination with clubbing boils down to wanting to be given access to a room. Sure, the experience inside counts, but that doesn’t explain why the majority of people want to hang out somewhere they’ve never been before or why they choose to go back again and again. Ask a random smattering of revelers what their rationale is and many will simply answer, “Because it’s hot.”
We know something is hot when our friends and the media dictate and sometimes spoon-feed us their take. But while it’s easy to know when a nightclub is hot, the hardest thing to understand is what hot means and how you devise and control something so nebulous and arbitrary. It’s the product of a certain mental process — a seemingly preternatural, intangible result of an owner’s ability to understand and manipulate people.
Consumers are conditioned to understand that the ultimate pleasure comes from being in the hottest club. Places that are impossible to get into, where guests check themselves out before walking up to the door, lest they face a brutal rejection. Owners of the most sought after places have taken away guests’ free will. They don’t just want to be there; they need to be.
While the space itself is somewhat important — although club owners honestly can throw a raging bash in a completely empty loft — a more integral element in hotness is the crowd that fills it.
“The people inside a venue are everything,” Goldbar and Surf Lodge owner Jamie Mulholland says. “Filling up a room with the intent of making it hot is like curating a museum with living people.”
A law of percentages is applied to patrons in a hot venue. I’ve heard how most clubs endeavor for 2 to 10% of undesirable patrons and work very hard to maintain just the right ratio of men to women.
Not to mention the occupations of those filling the room. Operating on the basis that if you win over the right tastemakers, influencers, celebrities and big spenders, word of mouth dictates these people will tell everyone they know about their — hopefully — spectacular time at a venue. Recommendations run downhill faster than water, and it’s not long before all of the “right people” hear about a new place, without the owners expending much effort on outreach. However, too much awareness is sometimes a bad thing. If you’re aiming to create a feel of exclusivity, the world can’t know about your place — just the right people. Thus, clubs flirt notoriously close to the brink of the tipping point. If that invisible threshold is crossed, the club passes over into a land of overexposure. In this industry, that’s undesirable.
“Think of it like a dinner party that you’re at,” Scott Sartiano, co-owner of Butter, 1OAK and The Darby, says. “At the end of the meal, someone suggests going out, and everyone weighs in on where to head. You already know precisely who you’re going to listen to the minute everyone starts to speak. That’s the person we always try to reach. The one everyone else will follow.”
“Hot” is created by guys like Mulholland and Sartiano. As I’ve come to figure, a club that’s hot breaks down mostly into three things: a carefully selected crowd, patrons’ enthusiastic endorsements and a slow, steady burn of press vs. a fast explosion. (Too much press can actually harm your venue.)
“Hot” is the overall buzz that leads to a self-sustaining machine (provided those operating the machine know how to run it smoothly): One mishap, misjudgment or ill-informed decision, and your club is closed. “Hot” also is about creating the veneer of a party paradise via meticulous planning and constant maintenance. But mostly, “hot” is about controlling the media, your image and the crowd. While it’s moderately easy to generate, “hot” is incredibly hard to sustain for longer than a split second.