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Booked Club

What really takes place after hours? A close reading of the Sound Factory indictment.

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Moments after I blacked out, the bouncer scooped me up off the floor, carried me in his arms like a baby, and threw me into a pile of snow outside the club.

It was a Friday morning in 1996, sometime after 9 a.m.; the club was Avenue B’s legendary after-hours place Save the Robots. I’d been partying so hard that I broke my ankle on the dance floor and promptly passed out. Assuming I’d overdosed, the guard dispassionately took action.

I was reminded of my Robots breakdown while sifting through the 35-page federal indictment of the equally notorious midtown after-hours nightspot Sound Factory, whose owner, Richard Grant, and two top employees were charged with, among other things, operating a narcotics “stash house,” after an early-morning raid on March 7.

“We documented more than 90 buys by undercover police officers at the Sound Factory,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says, citing rampant use of ecstasy, ketamine, and crystal meth. The police speculate that at least 70 percent of the club’s patrons were on drugs and claim that the druggy atmosphere translated into big bucks for the proprietors. In response, Grant’s attorney, Kenneth Aronson, says that “Sound Factory was asked to meet an impossible standard. No institution in society has been 100 percent successful in ridding itself of drugs.”

The indictment also describes sky-high door prices (up to $50) and $7 bottles of water, which led to an “annual gross revenue of $6 million.” But other club owners insist that after-hours profits are illusory. “The door fee is so high because you’re only getting water and juice sales at the bar,” says Tom Sisk, co-owner of Centro-Fly, a club that’s chosen not to stay open past regular closing time (4 a.m. if you’re serving alcohol). Aronson says it cost a considerable sum to run the Sound Factory—where a successful party requires around 6,000 revelers—citing the $78,000 in monthly rent and a security team of 50.

Poor profit margins are one reason New York’s after-hours scene has quieted down so much since the early nineties—when running a club was less expensive, say club owners, in part because there was less police scrutiny. The city had tried to close Sound Factory twice, and Grant was forced to implement expensive security measures, including a drug-sniffing dog. But the indictment calls the revamped security a “sham” and states that “police officers intercepted two bouncers dropping an overdosing patron by a garbage Dumpster outside the club.” Others were taken to an area of the club dubbed “crack alley,” to be doused with water or slapped until they regained consciousness.

If true, it’s a hellish scene, equal parts A Tale of Two Cities and Trainspotting. But for many clubgoers, after-hours dancing—which often takes place on Sunday morning—is thought of as a religious experience, complete with deified D.J.’s like Junior Vasquez. And the indictment suggests that the 61-year-old Grant also basked in the after-hours life, portraying him watching revelers from the D.J. booth. It’s a far cry from former nightlife impresario Peter Gatien, who preferred to coolly count receipts in his Limelight office, until he was arrested on ecstasy charges.

Richard Grant’s arrest will no doubt put a temporary crimp in some New Yorkers’ late-night schedules. As of last week, it looked unlikely that the Sound Factory would reopen, and if it does, the scene won’t be quite the same. But there’s always somewhere else to go at the very end of an evening. And a dedicated, if dwindling, corps of clubgoers will inevitably find it—probably behind doors far more impenetrable than the Sound Factory’s were.


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