Someone once described the so-called Boom Boom Room, the lounge on the eighteenth floor of the Standard Hotel, as being like “the hottest nightclub in Sweden.” With its beige tufted-leather banquettes, brass railings, and giant flowerlike column in the center of the room, it struck me at first as an unholy marriage of Maxwell’s Plum, Studio 54, and Regine’s—but on a spaceship. Sort of. In any case, when you walk in for the first time, you feel as if you have been transported to a better place and a more interesting time … L.A. in the eighties? Vegas in the sixties? Berlin in the twenties? Decadent epochs, all. Even the view is too much. When you stand in the center of the club, you can see the Statue of Liberty and, with just a slight rotation of the head, the Empire State Building. If you were to spin in circles like Diana Ross, you would feel like you were inside a human-size zoetrope.
Tonight the Boom Boom Room is the site of a private record-release party for Alicia Keys, who is here with her boyfriend, Swizz Beatz, and her mother. Tyson Beckford and Spike Lee are among the throng (so early nineties). Beyoncé and Jay-Z (so 2010) arrive, the D.J. drops the needle on “Empire of State of Mind,” and Keys leans into the chorus (“These streets will make you feel brand new / Big lights will inspi-ah you”) Everyone smokes on the vertiginous step-out balconies. The staff, who are dressed like flight attendants (but from a different time!), seem to be as drunk as the guests (but cuter). People are dancing, but mostly they are drinking. And gulping down little hamburgers like they are at a Fourth of July picnic, grease dripping off their happy chins.
The scene outside the hotel is almost as mesmerizing: SUVs and limousines—clown cars all—are disgorging dozens of pretty ladies, all of whom look like Kardashians. Everywhere I look I see Khloés and Kims and Kourtneys and Kylies—some blonde, some drunk, some plump, some skinny, with clipped-in curls and major shoes moving with strange purpose in clouds of perfume. They seem to be heading in the direction of the Hotel Gansevoort, to its nightclub, Provocateur, designed to be “female friendly” through the use of purple and pink décor and “sensual music.”
After a long night of partying in the neighborhood, I head back to the Standard Grill around 3 a.m. and, to my delight, happen upon a group of women I know who are at the tail end of a hen party, and they are lit to the gills. At first, they are mortified to see me, and it takes a minute for me to realize that they never expected to run into anyone they know here. What happens in the meatpacking district stays in the meatpacking district. Manhattanites now treat the neighborhood as Vegas-on-the-Hudson.
But this is not the only neighborhood that has been transformed by one or more Miami-, L.A.-, or Vegas-style hotel-nightlife complexes. Just try finding a seat in the lobby of the Ace or the Bowery or the Gramercy on any given night. Getting a table at the Breslin? A couch to call your own at the Rose Bar? Fat chance, Bozo. One steamy Tuesday evening in June I met friends at the Ace Hotel at 6 p.m. to go to the Breslin, and we were told there were exactly 1 million people ahead of us. Why were so many people so excited to be there at that uncool hour? We headed next door to the hotel lobby—the place to hang out in the city right now—and, again, not a single vacant stool or couch. Everyone seemed profoundly engaged in either a laptop, a Rubik’s cube, or some sort of palm device. And they all appeared to be in the band MGMT.
It has been creeping up on us for a several years now, but the transformation is complete: Manhattan’s nightlife is practically synonymous with its hotels. After decades of irrelevancy—the last place on Earth most New Yorkers would go to be at the center of it all—hotels have become, for better or worse, a cultural force in the city again. They are at the forefront of interior design, hire the most celebrated chefs, host the most talked-about parties, and generally loom large in the psyches of tourists and locals alike who feel they must get in to see them. How did this happen? Somehow, a handful of stylish boutique hotels in midtown spawned an army of imitators that marched out across the country to places like Las Vegas and Miami, where the volume got turned up—way up—on their lounge-y lobby scenes and then someone had the bright idea of just putting a full-fledged disco in the building for guests to slosh around in. All of this has boomeranged on New York City and created a kind of happening-hotel arms race in which we now find ourselves with a multitude of (somewhat similar) options: Which young-adult theme park with modern-day Playboy club and pool on the roof do I want to go to tonight?