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Night Clubbed

The NYPD crackdown's chilling effect.

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Peter Gatien isn't the only club owner singing the quality-of-life blues these days. While the attention of journalists and clubgoers remains fixed on the ongoing drama at Gatien's Tunnel (which began on April 17 with an early-morning raid in the club's vicinity that netted twelve people on drug-dealing and possession charges, thus giving the police cause to padlock the cavernous West Chelsea space), club owners and promoters around the city say that they've been feeling just as much heat from the cops as the headline-grabbing nightlife impresario has.

"They're targeting everybody -- it's not just one or two clubs," says the manager of one prominent New York club who prefers to remain anonymous. "I think I'm doing a good job, but maybe I'm not," the manager says nervously. "Maybe they'll shut me down tomorrow."

John Emmanuel Gartmann, promoter of TriBeCa outpost Vinyl's colorful, circuslike trance party Tsunami, shares the fatalistic mood. "The reality is," he says ominously, "if they want to get you, they will." Gartmann isn't being paranoid; he says that Vinyl's management received a tip from police that undercover officers would be visiting Tsunami. So for his most recent event, Vinyl hired seven extra security guards -- at Gartmann's expense. "I would have been in the black had it not been for that," he says with a sigh. "But I barely broke even."

Gartmann's economic hardship isn't unique. Mac McFarlane, co-promoter of Sound Factory's electronica-oriented Friday-night party Elevate, says that he lost at least $6,000 in hotel, airfare, and booking fees on April 30 when cops padlocked the club just hours before it was set to open. McFarlane had flown in three big-name D.J.'s for the event -- Stacey Pullen from Detroit, Donald Glaude from Seattle, and Terry Mullan from Chicago -- and is considering whether he ever wants to invite out-of-town artists to play at Elevate again. "I am rethinking the direction of this night," he says. McFarlane also says that stepped-up security measures at the door, like forcing patrons to remove their shoes for inspection, has soured the clubgoing experience. "You feel like you're in Beirut," he says.

Small-club owners are being hit hard by the crackdown, too. The owner of a West Village lounge complains of repeated ticketing for noise violations. And he suspects that undercover officers have been visiting his space regularly, even though his patrons are in their thirties and certainly not a part of the often hedonistic, drug-fueled dance culture. "I don't doubt for a second that they've come in," he says bitterly. "To the police, we're about a half a step above drug dealers and pimps." The NYPD, for its part, acknowledges through a spokesperson "stepped-up enforcement in response to complaints from the community."

Nightlife's movers and shakers aren't optimistic that the situation will improve anytime soon. "If you went to the Met and had to go through a full-body search at the door, you wouldn't go back," says McFarlane. Gartmann offers an even more caustic assessment of the state of clubland. "New York used to be the center of international nightlife," he says angrily. "Now it's one of the most boring places on Earth.


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