By around 10 p.m. on the last day of the past millennium, the anxieties that have been tormenting us for months – What does one wear to an apocalypse? Is there a bomb in that man’s knapsack? Where are all my invitations? – finally gave way to a really solid party vibe. MTV hosts and tourists from Grand Rapids wore giant “2000” glasses and acted much drunker than they really were. The city’s glittery people gravitated to (what decade is this?) Ted Field’s party at Studio 54. At Jivamukti Yoga Center, people chanted and stood on their heads. There was a 5K (now, there will be a celebration) run in Central Park. Internet mogul Josh Harris tried to convince the downtown world that the second coming (of Andy Warhol) had arrived. Times Square, thanks to 8,000 bouncers, was the city’s most exclusive scene, and Rudy beamed, gazing out at the 2 million or so feathers in his cap. But who cares who gets the credit? We survived Y2K – and lived to tell the tale.
Living El Año Loco
Just off the Deegan expressway, Jim-my’s Bronx Cafe on West Fordham Road is ruled by throngs of skin-tight-vinyl-clad Latinas on the dance floor, wired to the heavy-steady beats of merengue, salsa, hip-hop, and bachata. It’s a place where the men stand awestruck on the periphery, occasionally mustering the courage to jump in and swing their hips with the ladies. Even Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, not shy about using their elbows to gain center court, ogle and groove from their VIP table. But at Jimmy’s, what’s most amazing is the seasoned sensual moves of the older generation – grandparents showing the youngsters something about panache and pelvic virtuosity. During the Spanish countdown, everybody swings to a millennium merengue – then of course, champagne pops, and random hugs ensue. Forget the year of the Latino – they’re looking for a century.
Oh, Be Quiet
At Pseudo.com founder Josh Harris’s party-cum-performance art event Quiet, the year 2000 arrives not with fireworks or New Year’s kisses but with a drag king walking around a bordello-red basement room asking people to take a piece of paper and write down “things you want to leave behind.” Just after the stroke of midnight, most of the bequests are set on fire in a metal bucket; the rest are buried in what looks like plaster with a trowel to enthusiastic cheers. Which is just one sign that Quiet isn’t really much of a party at all – others include the three scantily clad women dancing provocatively under a neon strip-bar sign, the blanks-only firing range, and the round-the-clock presence of about 80 jumpsuited men and women who have temporarily moved into military-style bunk beds where video cameras record their every move for Internet television. Harris himself calls Quiet – which ran all week – “a fine-art installation,” but it’s really more of a loose Warholian Happening. “I think the effect is supposed to be new-millennium,” says an Upper East Side woman in a little black dress who heard about Quiet from a friend. Outside, a man with a video camera is asking people for predictions on what’s going to be big in the new year. “Extreme commerce,” says a woman from Miami. Then she adds, “that’s my company.”
Sky’s the Limit
“This is the only party that’s thinking about the next millennium,” claimed real-estate developer and American Museum of Natural History trustee Roland Betts, and he had a point. Guests at the museum’s millennial party were bolting like comets to be one of the first to land a seat in the planetarium in the new Rose Center for Earth and Space. “I couldn’t get into the damn space show,” he said, standing in the Hall of the Universe across from the AstroVision monitor that will allow live hookups from the Hubble Telescope. “It’s too crowded.” Betts was but one of 1,700 revelers who’d ponied up as much as $5,000 apiece to attend the private launch of the $210 million, 87-foot sphere within a seven-floor glass cube (the public will get its chance at the official opening on February 19). The star-themed décor extended to tables dotted with foil origami asteroids and surrounded by metallic orbs flickering in candlelight. The guest list – heavy on benefactors from the Millstein, Rudin, and Rose real-estate clans – hoarded such party favors as flashlights and kaleidoscopic star-framed lorgnettes. Bartenders served curaçao cocktails with names like Blue Giant Stars and grenadine Pink Nebulas. Even museum president Ellen V. Futter got in on the mission, sporting an iridescent silver nimbus shawl that glistered like Mylar. “You have to keep on theme,” she said. As everyone prepared to settle in for dinner, the name draws from nasa had gone awol: Astronauts Mark Polansky and Catherine Coleman, both of whom have orbited the earth, were getting a virtual tour of the universe in the Space Theater of the new Hayden Planetarium. “The flight show was phenomenal,” Polansky blurbed as butlers began serving an astronomical amount of Maine lobster (1,000) and Osetra caviar (20 kilos). By 2 a.m., couples in black tie and evening gowns were heading out to the street clutching silver orbs and half-moon balloons that had descended from above like some sort of cosmic confetti.
At the New York Road Runners Club’s millennial midnight run through Central Park, making good time in the race ran a distant second to just making time. “Last year there were about eight girls who wanted to kiss Baby New Year,” laughed Connecticut competitor Don Platko, clad in little more than a diaper and “2000” banner (but toting a baby bottle full of Polish brandy). “This year, I’m looking to double that.” Limbering up among the more than 8,000 athletes, exhibitionists, and voyeurs were “Beavis Claus,” an icky-looking Y2K bug, and two boxes of Chinese takeout from New Jersey, as well as several slices of Millennium Toast. Only a few professional pavement-pounders had hopes of clocking in with sub-seventeen-minute times in the five-kilometer race. Jill Booth had come from Verona, New Jersey, to run as the Energizer Bunny. More than a decade ago, Booth took third place in the race, running as Father Time alongside her “six-foot-four New Year’s baby.” “But I was too fast for him,” Booth said, “and he married someone else.”
A Steamy Scene
At the stroke of midnight, an array of shining metal steam whistles, some more than eight feet tall, blasted and bleated out a cacophonic chorus outside the engine room of the Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Steam engulfed the 100 or so onlookers. “I’ve been hearing that damn noise in my apartment for more than ten years,” one of them said. “I figured I finally had to just come over and see what was going on.” So thrilled that she broke her New Year’s kazoo, the happy neighbor discovered what may be Brooklyn’s oldest and loudest New Year’s noisemaker. The bellows and screeches were produced by three steam-driven generators installed in May 1900 to heat and light the Pratt Institute. A century later, those gleaming machines still heat Pratt in the winter. All of which meant little to young revelers Kesley Hyten and Odessa Straub, for whom the noise was the thing. Once the chief engineer and his assistants finished with their steamy feats, they handed the girls and other children the strings controlling the steam whistles’ valves. Gripping them with white knuckles, children tugged till tremendous noises scared off parents and rattled any Y2K nerves in Brooklyn. Looking on, the stoned creative director of a New York advertising agency stood and watched, bleary-eyed. “It’s a steam of consciousness,” he said, smiling serenely as the children screamed.
Downstairs at Frank’s Cocktail Lounge in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New Year’s was celebrated with style, in tuxedos and sparkling dresses, with sequined tiaras, caviar, and filet mignon. A D.J. spun Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “In the Midnight Hour,” and Frank Perkins, the dapper proprietor for more than 25 years, welcomed guests with open arms and strong handshakes. Upstairs, Lorie Caval and her boyfriend, E-Man, presided over “Bang the Party,” New York’s only bi-borough deep-house party, which drummed in the New Year Brooklyn-style with a young set of black, Latino, Asian, and white folks all doing their own sweaty things on the dance floor. “At midnight,” one clubber noted, “the house music stopped; they played ‘Auld Lang Syne’; and a guy sprinted back from the crowd, turned three cartwheels, and fell on his ass in the back room.” At times, the parties – upstairs and downstairs – blurred, Thomas Pynchon-like, into one, as half-dressed hipsters mingled with predominantly middle-aged jacket-and-tie locals. Aarre Laakso, the co-founder of the new Website Unplugyourbrain.com, plastered his company logo all over Frank’s upstairs and on the Brooklyn streets outside. What’s the site? “I dunno,” he said, shrugging. “I guess we’ll have to figure that out this century.”
Forget the vision of institutional cinder blocks and Nurse Ratched clones swaggering through the halls – the folks at Amsterdam Nursing Home, a winsome, wallpapered enclave at Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, know how to have a good ol’ time. Even if New Year’s Eve starts at 11 a.m. and goes deep into noon. As a band serenaded them with jazzy tunes, a lively pack of seniors – some wearing iridescent tiaras – sprang from their seats (and even some wheelchairs). After sampling a gourmet banquet of puff pastries, pigs-in-blankets, and egg rolls, the assembled revelers clapped hands and raised a glasses of sparkling cider to the faux countdown. An affable 86-year-old resident named Martha Sternberg, who recently survived an almost fatal operation, and knows a thing or two about life, offered up this bit of advice: “Be grateful, have an attitude, and set a goal.” Sternberg’s goal for the new millennium: to make it to her 87th birthday in January. She says the secret to her longevity is avoiding the sour ladies who never smile or say thank you. But she doesn’t give them the cold shoulder. “I just wave and stay away from them.”
Study in Brown
Katie Brown is a Gen-X Martha Stewart who teaches millions of viewers the intricacies of how to entertain. But when she decided to throw a last minute New Year’s Eve party in her new Crosby Street digs, she still felt unequipped. “It’s the millennium,” she sighed. “People have really, really high expectations.” But she planned and cooked for three straight days, and at 10:30 p.m., her banquet began. Gallerist Holly Solomon, director Ben Younger, style writer Bob Morris, and seventeen others sat around an immaculately appointed candlelit table, under a makeshift canopy of grapevines, as a cheerful butler served home-cooked courses. Exactly 30 minutes after dessert, everyone gathered around the television to watch Dick Clark count down the new year. Champagne corks popped, everyone embraced, Katie distributed metallic confetti, and, by 1:30 a.m., most of the guests had cleared out. “It’s all about timing,” says Katie, who happily piled into a car with her remaining guests and headed to a downtown club. “A good hostess knows the right time to say good-bye.”
The Village People
Susan Brownmiller, it turns out, is a feminist who knows how to throw a party, and by 10 p.m., the celebration in her two-bedroom West Village rental is in full swing. Guests from every sixties-radical-culture faction fill the low sofas or sit cross-legged on the rug, talking, talking, drinking, reminiscing, in an Ed Koren drawing come to life. There’s a lot of drapey, colorful clothing – not a synthetic fiber in the house. The women, mostly writers and academics (Vivian Gornick, Robin Reisig, Joyce Johnson), are talking about other strong women. The men mostly look like Allen Ginsberg, or at least his agent. “Someone was saying that if a bomb were dropped on Jane Street, the feminist movement in America would be wiped out,” Brownmiller says. “But it’s really just the feminist literati here.” Marlene Sanders, who made her mark as the first woman reporter hired by ABC News, insists on watching the Times Square ball drop, but there’s no television in sight. “I asked Susan about a TV set,” she says. “And she mocked me!”
“This is strictly b-and-t,” griped a woman in a pixie cut and diamond earrings who was perched on one of the black leather couches in the VIP room at Pier 2000, but no one else seemed to mind. A young reveler with bright-blue hair danced with two slim young women in ball gowns as a blue-suited, slightly hammered investment banker blankly looked on. A swing band performed in one room, but it was the thumping music next door that catalyzed the disparate crowd beneath an enormous disco ball. Floor-to-ceiling windows that afforded views of the city skyline and the Hudson River made the cavernous Pier 92 seem even more expensive than the $250 cover price. As midnight drew near, everyone grouped in front of huge monitors to watch the scene at Times Square. Moët & Chandon flowed freely, perhaps too freely. When one fellow in a crewcut and striped sweater passed out, onlookers shrieked “He’s dead!” as friends dabbed at his forehead with damp napkins. His eyes opened less than two minutes later – and he was offered a fresh glass of bubbly.
The TV Set
I am one of the great number of people who believe New Year’s Eve happens at home and on television. I settled in early this year. The millennial moment was just passing Shanghai. The mood on television was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade upbeatness mixed with Christiane Amanpour global seriousness. The real deal, though, wasn’t the public pageantry, but the marathon ad lib – not one interesting thing to say and so much time to say it in. The secret, it seemed, was to speak excruciatingly slowly. Peter Jennings, on the longest, spoke the slowest. He moved the teenagers in my house off the couch early (some to parties; some to meet the new year online). “We’re in Bethlehem. You know this is a perfect place to celebrate the millennium,” said the Fox correspondent, struggling. “Ahh, because this is where it all began. Some people have told us that this the year the Messiah will come. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if that prophecy comes true. Security is tight.” “Basically, it’s a fun night in Moscow – a real sense of optimism here, where a recent poll shows people believe life will be better in the next millennium,” according to the CNN correspondent. And yet while the patter is slow (and unbelievably silly), over Egypt or so, the pace starts to quicken. “A little fun and little frivolity is very serious business in France,” says Barbara Walters from Paris, and shortly thereafter the appointed hour sweeps over the ABC set-ups at the Vatican, the Eiffel Tower, and the Brandenburg Gate. From Italy, I receive my first e-mail from the new century: “No Y2K so far, but not so sober either. Love and kisses. Happy Happy.” Mostly, television on New Year’s Eve is a quaintly kitschy experience, and I am reliably asleep by midnight. But tonight, tracking the hour, from Manger Square to the embankment on the Thames and onto St. John’s, Newfoundland, before striking the U.S., well, suddenly there was no avoiding it. And for a second, as it passed, all right, it was something.