Keeping Up with New York's Nightlife
If there’s anything consistent in New York nightlife, it’s change. Angelo Bianchi, one of the Creative Directors at The Blond, knows this best. After decades of working the toughest doors at the city’s most infamous venues (The Beatrice and Happy Endings, to name a few), Bianchi’s seen nightlife blow up, disintegrate, reinvent itself, etc. countless times. His current project, The Blond, is the nightlife destination of 11 Howard, which placed on Conde Nast Traveler‘s “Hot List” in both the US and UK Editions. Known for its masterfully designed cocktails, the venue also boasts small bites custom crafted for the venue by the chef of Le CouCou. Attendees of the recent one year anniversary included Kylie Jenner, Paris jackson, Rita Ora and Nick Cannon.
We spoke to Bianchi about The Blond, how he got started in nightlife, and how it’s changed over the years.
Where were you moving from when you came here at 17, and why did you come?
I moved from Staten Island; though very close to New York City, it’s very homogenous in its own way. There weren’t really art galleries or diversity to speak of, so I yearned for something else. I came here and I went to school at NYU.
Did you feel like you were younger than everyone you were hanging out with?
Most freshmen are around 18, so 17 wasn’t too far off. It wasn’t that crazy of a thing to be honest. However, I went to an all-boys Catholic high school and never really went to parties in Staten Island. I just kind of went to school, came home, and that’s it, so the whole notion of being exposed to all of this: cafés, restaurants, clubs, parties…was literally a very new thing and I think that’s why I got so intrigued by it, because I had this insular existence, and all of the sudden I got exposed to the city.
What was your first experience in nightlife?
One of the first people I met was this guy named Jack Walls, who used to be Robert Mapplethorpe’s lover, and was friends with Patti Smith, and a lot of people like that. He also came to New York during a very interesting time, and still knew some people who were the original beatniks. I kind of entered into this wonderful [nightlife] world with someone who showed me around and introduced me to a lot of great people, parties and places to go; authentic, real, New York things. I had a sort of jump-start into this world, just knowing him. This was around mid ‘90s—around 1994. There was no social media; we all basically still used pay phones. There wasn’t Trip Advisor, so it was all word of mouth on what was good and where to go. It was a different time and things were far less regulated as well.
Where was everything and where was everyone living?
Much like today the majority of the people I knew at the time wouldn’t go much further than 14th street. The East Village was a little bit more wild and less gentrified; there weren’t as many college students. The area was still full of musicians and people who had been there for decades. It had a lot of character and that’s where I was spending most of my time. Now, it’s a little bit more cleaned up.
When did you start working in nightlife as opposed to just having fun in it?
Probably like the late ’90s. A friend of mine did the door at Sway, and I used to be really intrigued with who got in, how they made the decision, etc. so I’d be entertained watching the interactions with people trying to get in. I would spend so much time there, that sometimes my friend would say, “Hey, I have to run inside, can you cover me? You know everybody.”
Like [the party] Sundays at Sway?
Yes, that’s it!
Damn that place has been around for a while, then. What is the average life span that you see in a place that?
It has been, yes. Unless a club re-invents itself, if you get up to three years as the hotspot, you’ve done something amazing. Some places have managed to go much longer and to their credit, that’s an amazing job, but you’re quite lucky if you get that far. That’s what makes clubs and nightlife a tricky thing to be involved in.
What are the behind-the-scenes aspects of nightlife that an average person going to a club doesn’t know about?
Well I think that’s an interesting point in terms of how things have changed. I think there’s definitely a more serious aspect to nightlife today; it’s not really like the Wild West where there’s a club owner who just opens up. Things are very professional now, things must run efficiently…there’s a manager, general manager, meetings…
I feel like the introduction of bottle service and tables was a whole thing also, right? That concept wasn’t always around so what was that like for you and when did that happen?
I can say before that happened, getting in was completely based on if you could pass muster really. It wasn’t about how much money you had. It was more about what kind of personality you were bringing to the place, and so I think bottle service represented a major shift and things started to become very different.
You can kind of buy your way into it now whereas before you couldn’t.
Yes, but there’s a converse to that too. When bottle service was first introduced, certain clubs would give bottles to younger patrons who couldn’t afford drinks, so that allowed for a whole different aspect that wasn’t around before. So, there’s always a positive to the shift as well.
How has social media changed things?
I’ll say this. Have you ever seen Midnight in Paris? So it’s that whole thing where you romanticize a certain era as being the golden age, and then they have another era that they thought was better. So you know, you hear people talk about Studio 54, but sometimes you talk to certain people who actually went there and they talk about how a lot of the crowd was bridge and tunnel, and it wasn’t this amazing thing every single night.
I think every time does have a different moment or a place, and I think it’s the same now. There are amazing places now just as there were then, but I will say that one of the last times people could go out, be wild and completely free did come before the emergence of social media. The Beatrice Inn was one of the last “hot” places where there was no Instagram or people instantly knowing who was there and what was going on. If there was ever a person with a camera, it was Olivier Zahm from Purple, and it was probably his own party. So it was fun and great that he was there, not like every single person was taking photos.
It’s really changed things. I remember when I moved to New York, my friends and I really wanted party photographers to snap us out. I was obsessed with Cobra Snake in high school. Eventually we stopped caring, but maybe that was because we just needed our own phones to prove that we were out somewhere.
Yeah, it’s true. Back when I came back to New York, it seemed like every guy you knew was trying to be in a band, or had a band. Now it’s evolved to where everyone’s trying to work on their “brands” and that’s their Instagram handle or whatever it is. If you think about the difference between the two, one is based on abilities and merits – and also the community. Now everyone’s working on their own thing and can promote it via social media.
How did you promote parties before? Now you can throw a flyer up on Instagram, but what’d you do in the past?
It was really old school. People would call each other up, meet new people out and about, hand out physical flyers…it was a different kind of thing. That’s one way that things have definitely changed.
How does New York nightlife compare to international nightlife? Particularly, Europe.
Well, I haven’t been to too many places in Europe, and the context in which I’ve been is during fashion week. The cool thing about that is that many countries in Europe have embraced the notion of having a New York-style party during fashion week, and that’s always been fun, because it’s kind of like you’re on a class trip with all your friends in a foreign city. It’s always a great time. The Blond pop-up at Silencio this past February, for example, was a ton of fun.
Yes, exactly. How did that come about?
Tommy, who did the “New York, New York” parties in Paris—a friend for a long time, has been around longer than me probably, and we just saw things eye to eye, and had a similar vision of what a fun party could be. One day we decided to do something together at Silencio, which is an amazing venue, so it came together very organically.
And it’s not really like a super competitive vibe in any way, because you guys are working together and have the same demographic.
I’d say for the most part, nightlife is not really as competitive as people make it out to be. Everyone has their own following that they’ve cultivated, and in general, the more places that there are, in any particular neighborhood, it helps everybody because it just means more people are going out or there’s more of a reason to go out.
You have your own scene or demographic, but you could also have your own night, as in Mondays is this party, Tuesdays is this, so there’s still a pool to choose from.
That’s very true, but also, it’s a very small community of people who operate and we all know each other. I’d say that everyone pretty much amazing and very supportive.
With The Blond in general, because you’ve had so many different experiences in nightlife, what are you doing there that’s different than anything you’ve done before? Or if there isn’t anything, what are you doing again?
Well, I try to keep things as organic as possible, and we don’t really do flyers. It’s about our personal connections and friends. I’m just inviting them back and making sure that everyone who comes is having a very positive experience. We never want it to be impersonal, but fun and inclusive. We try to make it so that if you’re coming, you’re having a great time. I try to connect people who I think would want to know each other, and that tends to work out well.
Can you recap how not just social media, but dating apps in particular have affected nightlife?
Well there’s the privacy element, which we discussed. I think people are less likely to behave like nobody’s watching because everybody is watching and looking for content or using their phones to snap a picture. I think that’s made people a little more reserved, and they either stay in or not go out as much. I think another element that has affected people is that before if you wanted to meet someone, you’d actually have to go out and meet them. Whereas now it seems that people can just stay home and use some of these apps and before you know it, meet someone fairly quickly without having to go outside or make much of an effort.
Is it something that you hope changes, or is it something that doesn’t really weigh you down in any way?
It doesn’t really weigh me down, but I’m interested to see how things evolve. Things are always evolving; usually, not in a way that’s negative or positive, but it just is what it is.
One of the things that I have noted, speaking of evolution, is there’s much more of an emphasis on health, nutrition and fitness today, which is a major change from when I first moved here. People would go out seven nights a week and it was no big deal. Now, people go to whichever class starts at 6 or 7 AM and everyone pretty much has a six-pack it seems. But I also think that people are more concerned with how they’re perceived and again, tying into social media, someone will talk about it—if someone says about a person: “Oh yeah, that person likes to party,” it affects their personal brand. Again, that’s not positive or negative. It’s great that people are in shape and taking care of themselves—it’s all just part of the changing aspects of culture.
Anything else to say about The Blond?
I only know what we do and I know that we try to have all of the diversity in both the music and crowd—I think that’s what makes this city so special and we try to open our doors to as many interesting artists, creators and dreamers as possible.
I think nightlife is so undervalued, because it’s such a huge platform for people, or artists in particular. So many talents are discovered out at clubs and yet that seems to get erased from their wiki pages. Do you think nightlife still serves as a platform?
Absolutely, I think what’s interesting is the combination of those kinds of people mixed with the diverse, other elements of New York. If it’s all one crowd or one thing, it’s kind of boring. But if you’re mixing the architect speaking to the young fashion designer speaking to the sculptor or painter, it makes things interesting. I like it when there’s diversity and it’s interesting at any given venue. You don’t know what to expect or what’s going to happen. My goal is for The Blond to continue to be a place where I’d want to go, and invite people who I’d want to meet at a party.
Images courtesy of The Blond
Stay tuned to Milk for more NYC happenings.