He loves it up here, floating high above the crowd and staring down in awe at the scene below. It is Friday night, and Andrew W.K. is perched inside the lighting booth at Santos Party House, the Lafayette Street club he opened with a few friends last spring, which is where he tends to spend most of his time on nights when he’s not hosting the party or performing the pop-metal anthems that made him a presence on MTV a few years back. Thanks to some fluke of the bi-level venue’s acoustics, the 150,000 watts exploding the sound system are funneled into this cramped little nook in just the way Andrew believes music should be experienced: every beat a jackhammer to all sense and reason. But the main draw to the lighting booth, for him, is the panoramic view of the action on the main floor—the sweat-soaked faces glowing under the twirling heart-shaped disco ball, the crush of bodies inside the D.J. booth, the grinding, swaying, and ceaseless hip-shaking—that never fails to instill in Andrew a sense of both pleasure and purpose.
“It’s just kind of absurd,” he shouts over a medley of techno-infused James Brown B-sides, “to think someone can be responsible for creating that, you know?” He takes a sip of whiskey from a plastic cup. He shakes his head. A tall, pale-faced 29-year-old with big, wandering brown eyes and jet-black hair grown the optimum length for head-banging onstage, Andrew has in a sense been preparing to open a club like Santos since long before he knew he’d formally enter the nightlife business. His major-label debut, 2001’s I Get Wet, was a brash, juvenile collection of songs centered around a single theme—“Party Til You Puke,” “It’s Time to Party,” “Fun Night,” and his most famous single, “Party Hard.” Performing in a filthy white T-shirt and filthy white jeans, he crafted a public persona that relentlessly embodied his music, screaming about the soul-edifying powers of fun with an infectious earnestness. This fusion of hair-metal rebellion and hippie love-spreading helped Andrew sell some 400,000 albums and win a dedicated fan base comprising those who truly thought he was rock’s savior (mainly adolescent boys in midwestern states) and others who saw him as an awesome postmodern prank (twentysomethings on the coasts). “It sounds funny, but personally I don’t really like to party,” Andrew says. “What I like to do is create the party.”
Along with his partners—the downtown artist Spencer Sweeney, the architect Ron Castellano, and nightlife veteran Larry Golden—Andrew began conceiving of Santos three years ago, long before the economy nose-dived. But their vision has proven to be almost presciently in line with recession-era New York. While Santos is a big, commercial, high-profile dance club, it has a decidedly democratic, unpretentious vibe. There are expensive drinks and a line out front, but the club isn’t defined by $900 bottles of Cristal and a bitchy door policy. Unlike Marquee and the countless other clubs that have metastasized in West Chelsea, Santos positions itself as a self-consciously friendly place, letting in anyone and everyone who believes that forgoing inhibitions is a more noble pursuit than flaunting wealth. Everything from the signs Andrew tapes to the cinder-block walls (“Thank you for partying!” “You have a beautiful face!”) to the slogans on the club’s T-shirts (“Fuck this! I’m going to Santos Party House”) reinforces the sense that the owners are very, very happy you’ve decided to come by. Like a couple of other venues—the massive, industrial-flavored Studio B in Greenpoint; legendary downtown iconoclast Susanne Bartsch’s Sunday-night parties at Greenhouse on Varick Street—Santos defines itself with a spirit of inclusivity, not exclusivity. Mainly it’s just a big, throbbing, dark room to lose yourself in for a few hours. Always eager to personify the club’s ethos, Andrew often spends hours manning the phones in the office—not something you imagine, say, Jay-Z doing at 40/40—providing directions to lost clubgoers and ending calls with messages like “Can’t wait to see you! Hope you have fun!”
While Andrew’s obsession with fun can come across as borderline comical, his unwavering belief that an awesome night can have transformative powers, providing the freedom and release required for maintaining mental health, goes a long way toward explaining why Santos has gained such a rabid and diverse following. Whereas most venues succeed by targeting a single subset of New York’s nightlife—Chloe 81 for scenesters, 1Oak for socialites—Santos aims to bring all these splintered niches together. One night it’s a destination for the asymmetrical-haircut set just off the L train, the next it’s home to a raucous gay party (Andrew: “The downstairs has been known to devolve into a kind of leather orgy”), the next it’s a techno palace, all fog machines and neon lights. “And, as you can see, Friday nights”—when the D.J. booth is helmed by the likes of Q-Tip, the rapper—“are more of a kind of hip-hop vibe,” Andrew says, proudly adding that Busta Rhymes, P. Diddy, and Mick Jagger have all stopped in. “But to me the best nights are when you see the crossover, the people who come for a live rock show and end up staying for a techno party. That’s been happening more and more.”