Rudy's town is a buttoned-up, straitlaced, in-bed-by-ten kind of place, right? Actually, no. All over the city -- hiding in plain sight -- there's a nonstop, multicultural house-rocking party. Better still, in most cases it's a party at which you'd actually be welcome. You're forgiven for not knowing about it, though. Thanks to the mayor's full frontal assault on clubs like the Tunnel, nightlife appears to have died a thousand deaths in the past few years. The downtown celebutocracy took the fact that there are fewer velvet ropes as a sign that Mayor Giuliani had actually won his war. But out past the "Page Six"-athons at Veruka and Lot 61 are dance-purist paradises like "Body & Soul" and Sasha and Digweed's party at Twilo, and a nighttime scene that's more democratic and diverse than at any time in recent memory. New York D.J.'s like Armand Van Helden, Victor Calderone, and "Little" Louie Vega are the city's hottest musical exports and the draw for a new British invasion of nightlife tourists. Prince, it turns out, was right about 1999. Just don't tell the mayor.
"You know the best thing about this place?" asked a die-hard sports fan about the new ESPN Zone as he watched Monday Night Football. "When you're standing up taking a piss, there's a TV -- it's incredible!" Lucky for him, ESPN Zone also offers a television just about everywhere else, including the ground-floor Studio Grill, the second-floor banquettes (an extra $20 during football), and even the fourth-floor arcade (complete with air hockey, mini-hoops, and racing games made of replica Formula One cars). The restaurant-bar is even interactive: A few fans looked up from their monitors near the faux anchor desk to argue about the World Series. "They'd even watch high-school football," observed a Brooklyn fan. And as ESPN's Chris Berman prepared to broadcast his live halftime report, at least one fan finally noticed the obvious. "There are too many guys here," he said. "But sports is a close second to women." 1472 Broadway, at 42nd Street (212-921-3776)
How hard is it to get into Lot 61 on Monday nights? Around midnight, the sidewalk outside the restaurant-bar was packed eight deep with beautiful young men standing on the toes of their Gucci loafers, trying to get the attention of the doorwoman and yelling at their girlfriends to stop pulling on their bandeau tops and tiny leopard-print skirts. Their chances of getting in? Next to none. In order to glimpse Lot 61's industrial interior or sip one of its fresh raspberry martinis, potential partygoers have to be recognized by the doorwoman. Who makes the cut? The likes of Shalom Harlow, Busta Rhymes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Messier, and Dr. Dre. But the room is light enough so that the fortunate few who do make it past the velvet rope can see exactly who rates the back banquette while they make their rounds, nonchalantly taking in the scene and trying, ever so politely, to become part of it. 550 West 21st Street (212-243-6555)
Most of the week, Cafe Wha? is a Bleecker Street standby where North Jersey sales reps drink to the beat of the Wha?, the hokey house group that plays a wedding-band blend of rock, reggae, and R&B. But Monday nights, it's a regular Rio North, where Brazilian expats samba to the percussive rhythms and Portuguese lyrics of the nine-piece band Brazuca. The dance floor -- really the aisles between tables -- doesn't fill up until around 11:30, but by then it's obvious you're not in North Jersey anymore. On a recent Monday, three off-duty strippers celebrating a co-worker's birthday snaked past the stage, backs bare to their butts. Nearby, two Brazilian women in business suits worked up a sweat with two chinos-clad guys who tried to do twirls and hip-shakes -- the kind of moves most straight American guys leave to Tony Manero. But at 1:30 a.m., the ladies explained that they had to work the next day and left the men with double-cheek kisses and broken hearts. 115 Macdougal Street (212-254-3706)
Tuesday nights, the usually dark marquee outside Cheetah glows hot pink with twelve west. And that's not the only identity confusion: The new "Twelve West" party begins around 7 p.m. with a happy hour for cubicle-crawlers but quickly morphs into a raucous dance party when former Studio 54 D.J. Nicky Sciano turns drinkers into dancers. The mix -- everything from rock to deep house -- is just as extreme. "What makes a party work is a wide variety of music and people," says Sciano. "People get stuck playing one kind of music, dancing with one kind of crowd, and that's not what made places like Studio 54 work." Indeed, the crowd recently included paint-splattered Levi's and baggy club-kid pants as well as business suits. Reclining with a Staten Island paralegal, a gorgeous young guy from Hunter College clicked his tongue-piercing against his teeth as he watched a drag queen in a red wig and kabuki-style makeup preen on the dance floor. "Anything goes," he cooed. "Fabulous." 12 West 21st Street (212-206-7770)
The Greenpoint lounge Enid's looks like "the parents went away for the weekend and the teenagers raided Dad's liquor cabinet," according to one regular, and the house-party vibe matches the pleather-sofa ambience. On a recent Tuesday, a nerdy-looking bartender -- primped for a class photo in starched collar, heavy-framed glasses, and cowlick -- boasted of his newly created "Backwards Professor," a sinister-sounding Scotch drink with no immediate takers. The Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold" played (on a classic-rock jukebox that might have stood next to Dad's liquor cabinet) as women with peroxide pigtails and Hello Kitty purses poured in to talk poststructuralist theory and temp gigs. A Texan artist squawked about gentrification -- "I can't believe they're charging $3.50 for a Presidente!" -- but even the most underemployed slackers couldn't complain too much, as the price included a complimentary screening of Robert Altman's cult classic Brewster McCloud. By 10:30 p.m., the hipsters were lining up by the pinball machine, and several would-be auteurs were earnestly debating the finer points of cinematography over domestic beer. 560 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn (718-349-3859)
Just like the Chelsea Hotel that hosts it, the "Velveteen" party is a "comfortable, quirky place where artists, designers, musicians, models, and actors can just relax and have a good time," according to co-promoter Audrey Bernstein. That means the wine-red walls of the new hotel bar have been lit up by the likes of Bijou Phillips, Rufus Wainwright, and Jennifer Posner -- who whoop it up to an ironic mix of hip-hop and seventies rock favorites or watch other beautiful people grope each other on comfy couches. The less-famous people who made it past the disdainful bouncers recently blended right in -- as long as they were wearing Gucci or looked like they could afford to. "Last night, I came with friends from Paris, London, India, and Rio," gushed an artist from Brazil squeezed into a skirt shorter than her wineglass. "It was a perfect New York evening." 222 West 23rd Street (212-255-4646)