Guest post by Xander.

“Everyone is either trying to preserve or disprove who they were in high school.”

– Alec Sulkin, TV Writer

I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in nightclubs. More than I care to admit or consider. I remember when DJ’s played entire songs and bottle service was something that happened at recycling plants. Things have changed in the 10+ years I’ve been going out in Hollywood but as the saying goes the more they change the more they stay the same. The faces change, the venues close, remodel, and reopen, and the drinks get poured and consumed but the basic spectacle of the human mating dance and its peculiarities remains the same.

In this first of three articles, I’m going to be giving a peek behind the velvet rope. I’ve spent considerable time on each side of its cruel velour as both patron and promoter and will offer you a view of the landscape with an insider’s eye.

Club Life

Nightclubs have a daunting economic reality. There are huge start-up costs including liquor licenses, leases, furniture and décor, and yet clubs have very short life spans. Good clubs are good for less than a year and hope to hold on for an additional 2 to 3 years before closing down and starting over. This means that while the club has its run the owners have to milk it for everything its got. They do this, ironically, by denying entrance to as many people as possible. At least as many men as possible.

In nightlife, the product is the women. Sure the music and the venue matter but chubby Persian guys aren’t paying $1000 for a pair of $40 bottles of Grey Goose to watch some trust fund kid play his iPod. They are there to (try to) hook up with beautiful women. The proprietors of these places would call it “selling an experience” but what they are really selling is sex and self-esteem. Because as soon as you put a rope in front of something – anything really – and say no to people, basic human nature dictates that they will do almost anything to make those resurfaced feelings of awkward teenage angst disappear. Even billionaires crumble under the weight of their own insecurities. This is the business model of a nightclub.

Clubs seek out the “right” crowds via promoters. Rather than the club itself finding attractive men and women and guys willing to spring for bottle service, owners and general managers contact promoters they know can deliver an abundance of attractive women to serve as bait for hopeful and spendthrift men. Promoters work independently and often in hierarchical structures not dissimilar to the Mafia, with high level promoters outsourcing grunt work to lower level sub-promoters and everyone skimming from everyone else. In the movie of my life, I hope Ray Liotta plays me.

The women, of course, frequent these places to feel cool, to feel better than other women, and to meet guys. The clubs perceived “exclusivity” is a boon for women who would rather compete for a few high status guys than have hordes of drunk, horny undesirables pawing at them all night.

Plato’s Cave

Image is everything in nightlife. The women spend hours looking their best and the clubs create false demand by keeping lines outside of empty venues. The patrons often are looking for validation either by gaining entrance or gaining the affections of attractive strangers. Once inside the basic message that people often try to convey when they are in the club is “I’m having more fun than you.” It’s conspicuous consumption at its finest. But look a little closer and you’ll see that the emperor has no clothes.

While it seems that a bunch of great looking people got together to celebrate some occasion that you wish you were a part of, in fact club goers often only get together to club. Thus, the relationships in nightlife are often very tenuous. Girls that go out together are less friends than they are coworkers of sort, going-out partners looking to maximize their dwindling shelf-lives, Promoters may seem to be great friends (or more) with the girls at their tables but it’s often a symbiotic relationship that enables each to fulfill their role. The girls get to feel like they are in the “in” crowd, get free drinks and are allowed to rest their tired, stilettoed feet at the promoters table while the promoters fulfill their mandate to bring attractive girls to the club.

But the reality is that the promoter has 4000-5000 phone numbers in his Blackberry, with girls grouped by rating (on a 1-10 scale of course) so the promoter knows which girls to invite to which events. Even worse, the promoter will group girls of the same first name together so when he sends out his mass texts on Saturday afternoon they look personalized (e.g “Hey Jenny, {paste generic “come to X club tonight.”}) Lovely, isn’t it? This objectification of human interaction permeates the club experience and, combined with the virtual anonymity offered in such large gatherings, engenders superficial and transactional interactions among participants. Frequent club-goers often become jaded and disengaged. Rather than having a good time with their “friends” you’ll often see people standing on the couches texting people who actually care about them.

Facebook Me

Comedian Dave Attell hosted a show from 2001 – 2004 called Insomnaic where he traveled city to city hanging out late night, getting drunk, and rabble-rousing. In a recent interview he offered the following,

“I don’t think I could do that show now. Those late night scenes just aren’t there anymore. A lot of these kids I think are more content just to be on Facebook and the computer than they are to actually go out. They just really want to get a picture to post to their buddies wall, and that’s about it.”

There’s a lot of truth to this. Facebook has changed the game as promoters craft their images via their profiles (lame private jet profile picture anyone?), recruit and filter customers, and even fire out mass invites via Facebook events. Much of the social competition that women engage in also has moved out of the club and online, as funny and provocative pictures garner much more validation with much less effort than a night on the town.

Even before the rise of social media, nightclubs were taking a hit. I was surprised to hear a general manager tell me that he thought business had declined 20% because of the rise of internet dating. Although the nightlife scene is sometimes referred to as a bubble, it seems as though it is not immune to the trends that are affecting the rest of the world. If the goal is simple P in V sexual relations, nightclubs can seem anachronistic in a world of world of online dating, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

Last Call

At its best, nightlife is an extravaganza of the senses. The aesthetic and architecture of a well made venue, the aural pulsing of the speakers emanating deep-bassed drumbeats and of course the parade of beautiful women in short miniskirts and their painstakingly crafted illusions inciting feelings in men that hearken back to stolen kisses beneath playground swing sets. The clubs and the promoters do much of the legwork for a single man. They scour the city for the most attractive women, house them in one place, engage them with alcohol and near seizure-inducing sights and sounds, and pit them against each other in a skin-to-win competition for the attention of men. Under the right circumstances and with the right people, nightlife can truly be a fun and exceptional experience.

At their worst, clubs exploit human frailty. Insecurity can manifest itself in fights (men) or eating disorders (women). Addictions can be enabled. And people can confront a great chasm between what they seek and what actually makes them happy. If lived in too long, club life becomes the social equivalent of junk food. Sweet and satisfying at the beginning but ultimately leaves you feeling empty.

Continue to Part 3
Continue to Part 2

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22 Responses to Exposing the Nightclub Industry, Part 1: Velvet Ropes

  1. Kevin says:

    Interesting article. I love this kind of expose stuff.

    As a thought, I’d be interested to read a similar kind of guide or deconstruction to other types of nightlife venues. Personally I haven’t been to a big, trendy nightclub in years, and have never been to one in a city like New York, L.A., or Vegas. They’re not my style at all.

    It’d be cool to see the same kind of article talking about the politics and social psychology of divey, hipster rock bars, or niche goth clubs, or small, swanky lounges for the 30+ crowd.

    • Tim9000 says:

      +1 for this idea. Another thing I’d love to see is a comparative retrospective contrasting what bars were like in the 90’s or early 00’s, before I was hanging out in them (and before the rise of Facebook, smart phones, and Internet dating as something socially acceptable for every woman) compared to now. Were they much better places to meet women than they are now? Or just a little different?

  2. Andy says:

    I like your article, Xander. Keep up the good work!

  3. Koanic says:

    This line is the first thing that ever made me genuinely want to go to a club:

    ” The clubs and the promoters do much of the legwork for a single man. They scour the city for the most attractive women, house them in one place, engage them with alcohol and near seizure-inducing sights and sounds, and pit them against each other in a skin-to-win competition for the attention of men. Under the right circumstances and with the right people, nightlife can truly be a fun and exceptional experience.”

  4. Jon says:

    Great article. One helpful addition – what can a guy who doesn’t want to buy a bottle do to maximize his chances of getting in?

  5. Cobian says:

    Its exactly how i think of clubs, sometimes i go home after clubing with my club friends and i feel empty.

    At first I thought this was written by Mark but then at the comments i realize it was someone else, quality article good job.

  6. DJ Fuji says:

    Wow – awesome, awesome article, Xander. Most guys who spent that much time in clubs now lack the remaining brain cells to write something this eloquent and well-thought-out. :)

    So true about the superficial club personas, especially in the LA/Miami/Vegas cities. I work in clubs almost every weekend and it’s hard not to get jaded after a while — you constantly see people at their worst but trying so hard to look at their best.

    It’s like high school all over again.

  7. Aaron says:

    Great article. You cut through all the bullshit in the facade of these places. I’ve had my club days but I find it really sad those people that can’t give it up. I think you put it best “At their worst, clubs exploit human frailty. Insecurity can manifest itself in fights (men) or eating disorders (women).” and I’ve seen plenty of both…

  8. Hauke says:

    Wow, really great article!

    “…club life becomes the social equivalent of junk food.”

    Awesome.

    What interests me is, what was your solution? Underground clubs, maybe complete abstinence?

  9. Matt C says:

    So… if clubs are essentially out of the picture. Where the fuck do I go on a Friday night to find some horny cute girl to fuck?

    • Xander says:

      Ha… not arguing against clubs. In fact I’m going out to one tonight. In Part 3 I’ll be discussing how best to navigate them.

  10. Brett says:

    Good points by Matt C and Hauke.

    Xander – if clubs are impossible for the average guy to pickup up an attractive chick then what does a guy do to make it work in a club? Your article is honest but depressing at the same time.

    So again, what is a guy to do if he is not rich, connected, one of status or tall, dark and handsome?

  11. Mark says:

    You guys, this is a three-part series… answers are coming. Relax.

  12. Zen says:

    Good article +10 points for mentioning Plato’s cave. “Its all shadows and illusions on a wall,” lol.

  13. Pradeep says:

    Xander – Brilliantly written – I was a former die hard clubber – everything you’ve written up there is spot on ! Thanks

  14. Nathan Richardson says:

    Wow, very perceptive article on the dynamics of it all. I’ve found myself feeling bad after leaving a club because of a lack of female acceptance. But the next day I realize it’s all bullshit, and that women probably feel the same way.

    Clubs and Bars really do exploit, but what else would take it place?

  15. […] etc.) have a similar story. With the exception of a couple fashion articles and Xander’s series on nightclubs, articles by the other writers perform at about 2/3 as well as the site’s […]

  16. […] that we’ve discussed the landscape of nightclubs and girls you’ll find in them, it’s time to prep you for surviving and thriving […]

  17. […] a lot of amazing fashion articles over the past few months. This one’s a good place to start. Exposing the Nightclub Industry: Part One, Two and Three – Xander’s acclaimed three-part series on how to successfully traverse […]

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