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Nightlife & Entertainment: Best Dance Clubs

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At three on Sunday afternoons, when hungover brunchers are still sipping Bloody Marys, dancers begin to pack Vinyl (6 Hubert Street, near Hudson Street; 343-1379) for Manhattan's best dance party: "Body & Soul" courses madly until eleven, as Francois K., Danny Krivit, and Joe Claussell spin effusive, vocal-heavy house for a manic crowd of ecstatic club kids, Chelsea boys, Euro techno-tourists, and more, all of whom can make it to work or school on Monday, bosses and profs none the wiser. An ugly, out-of-the-way club with black walls, black lights, and science-fair string art, Vinyl, which doesn't have a liquor license, is not a lounge, rock club, singles bar, or nightclub: It's where people go to dance. Marquee dance clubs like Limelight, Tunnel, Twilo, and Life have sacrificed their dance floors to weekend marauders who'll pay $25 covers. Sure, Twilo's Friday-night series attracts D.J. superstars like Plastikman, but even Junior Vasquez's boys, on Saturday, have ceded his floor to the B&T crowd (until near dawn, at least). Limelight's glittery new "artistic" focus has brought more spectators than ravers to Peter Gatien's squeaky-clean cathedral, and for years Life has felt more like Death.

Though Vinyl just scored marquee D.J. Danny Tenaglia for alternating Friday nights, you won't find the brushed steel and video walls of the megaclubs inside. But you also won't find a bar full of swooning lushes, smarmy sleazes, and smug geektronica boys who dare you to clap at the wrong moment: Such alcoholic wallflowers would wilt in the heat. As the unabashedly upbeat, anthemic music surges on Sunday afternoons, temperatures rise from sauna to lava (at least one "water-resistant" watch was ruined by the steam). Like members of a ravercise fitness club, hard-core clubbers drop their leather and plastique poses in favor of bare, sweaty chests, sports bras, and drenched tank tops. Somehow, Vinyl has made clean fun hip and attracted a crowd as diverse as New York itself: On Easter Sunday, dreadlocked rastas flailed with boffo boys in bunny ears and a head-spinning break-dancer. In this virtually drug-free environment, panting athletic bodies sucked down Gatorade and Snickers by the "bar," while a Waspy prep lost his mind, flailing with a Japanese ravegirl. On the tiny stage, a man grooved in a pink-ribboned bonnet and khakis pulled up past his rib cage, while a club warrior in a terry-cloth bathrobe waved glowing sabers above screaming teenagers. Vinyl has made a virtue of its poor location, nonexistent bar, and terrible décor: It's kept the posers, pushers, and barflies at bay. Little more than a dance floor with four walls, heat, sweat, music, and sheer exuberance, Vinyl is unrivaled.

But don't tell that to the hundreds of people who line up outside the Copacabana (617 West 57th Street; 582-2672) on weekends and on their best night, Tuesday, when the club offers a buffet dinner from six to eight, included in the low $5 cover. New York salsa titan Johnny Pacheco, who began playing the original Copa in the fifties, says, "The Copa's the No. 1 club in New York. The best dance floor, the best groups, the best orchestra, the best dancers -- and everyone looks very elegant." Even Ralph Mercado, co-owner of Copa competitor Latin Quarter(2551 Broadway, at 96th Street; 864-7600), best on Thursdays, says, "They're still the hottest. We're just happy to be running second." Both clubs offer huge dance spaces for salsa and meringue and smaller rooms with banging techno. Well-dressed Latinos sip caipirinhas and Cuba libres, but only for the few seconds before hitting the dance floor.

Selwyn Hinds, editor-in-chief of The Source, says the best hip-hop dance club is, "without a doubt, Tunnel220 Twelfth Avenue, at 27th Street; 695-4682 on Sundays with Funkmaster Flex at the wheel." With performances by Busta Rhymes, Nas, Flipmode Squad, and Method Man, the club showcases the best hip-hop talent in New York for a crowd that's consistently crazed.

For swingers, the Supper Club (240 West 47th Street; 921-1940) is the cartoonish fantasia of your zoot-suited dreams. But for a less crowded, less glam night with superb big-band swing, try Mondays at Harlem's Cotton Club(656 West 125th Street; 663-7980). Mickey D. of the Savoy Swingers says that "regular folk and professional dancers love the Cotton Club," where, she adds, "it gets hot around nine," as the twelve-piece band blares into its second hour of Ellington and Gershwin -- but don't be surprised if they break into James Brown at the end of the set. The seats are always empty, the dance floor always full. Finally, Mickey D. recommends that you "wind down with the famous chicken and waffles" at Wells (2247-49 Seventh Avenue, near 132nd Street; 234-0700), a 60-year-old supper club where you can take your last turn on the floor to the magnificent sixteen-piece Harlem Renaissance swing band.


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