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Scratchpad: Best No-Cover Dance Party

Illustration by Mark Nerys  
  • Madonna said it best in her 1985 hit “Into the Groove”: “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free!” And, she might have added, Only when I’m dancing for free, can I feel this good! But finding a nightspot with the right mix of music, crowd, and ambience without forking over a cover charge can be tricky. I asked a bunch of dance-happy friends to help me locate five such places, then dragged them along for the ride.

    5. Williamsburg’s The Woods (48 S. 4th St., nr. Wythe Ave.; 718-782-4955) seemed to suffer the same blights as the once-great Savalas, which had the same owners before it closed, namely, an influx of aspiring scenesters who come more to snare a hookup than to dance. At least the flirters paused long enough to sing along with Journey.

    4. Between the fake palm trees and Terry O’Neill print of a hot-tubbing Sean Connery, I had high hopes for the Soho Grand’s recently opened Club Room (310 W. Broadway, nr. Grand St.; 212-965-3000). And sure enough, the people-watching was unparalleled on the Friday night I was there. But unless you’re in a bespoke suit or “press 12” (Vogue’s floor in the Condé Nast Building), prepare to feel out of place.

    3. At Bedlam (40 Ave. C, nr. 3rd St.; 212-228-1049) in the East Village, art-schoolers, comely gay men, and the women who want to sway with them packed the floor to bump to latter-day divas: Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Ke$ha. Everyone looked enthused, but it was altogether too crowded and cheesy for my taste.

    2. By now even high-level Goldman execs and Ed Hardy enthusiasts have heard about Pianos (158 Ludlow St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-505-3733). One girl on the dance floor actually said, “I’m so Lower East Side.” But the crowd on Thursday night came to get busy, and the D.J. obliged with an eclectic mix of baile funk, hip-hop, and MIA and Prince tunes not named “Paper Planes” or “Kiss.”

    The Winner!
    1. Like Pianos, Franklin Park (618 St. Johns Pl., nr. Franklin Ave., Crown Heights; 718-975-0196) had the magic combo of a game crowd and a D.J. who knows how to keep them that way. But it’s not often you see brownstoners, blipsters, and Hasids mixing it up on the floor. Here they were, losing their minds to Little Shalimar’s infectious crunk-soul-hip-hop blend. I couldn’t have been more surprised—or (hello, Madonna!) more free.

    What Is This?
    Each year, everything you see in “Best of New York” has been rigorously tested by a small army of discriminating critics. That’s a given. What you don’t typically see is so much as a glimpse of the process by which we reach our conclusions. To provide a taste of that (and to sneak in a few more picks), we’ve invented the Scratchpad, a brief look at the paths our testers followed in six categories.

From the 2011 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine