With apartments too small to throw parties in and dorms that have quiet hours NYU students have thrown themselves to the streets, where there’s a whole bustling city full of activities happening during the night. The problem? They have such limited options due to many nighttime activities having an over 21 policy and the rest making a large dent in students pockets.
Nightlife is a prominent part of any New Yorker’s life, especially NYU students — whether that means clubbing, hanging out at a restaurant or walking back home from campus. Though the playground of this city may seem limitless, NYU students still feel constricted by underage nightlife options because there seem to be no other options but just waiting for their 21st.
“The age limit is a huge barrier in terms of being able to go out and indulge in everything [New York City] has to offer because I think that there [are] so many activities that I’d love to do but can’t because I don’t have a fake ID or because I am not 21,” CAS junior Siyona Samuel said.
A thriving nightlife allows students to have new experiences. Students want to partake in these endless options that most of the time require a valid 21+ ID. Tisch junior Gabe Zimbler doesn’t want to miss out on concerts just because of his age.
“I see a lot of young struggling artists trying to break into the music scene, but it’s so hard to find an affordable venue without 21+ restrictions,” Zimbler said. “Many events get their attendance cut in half because you need a fake ID to get in. I feel like it acts as a great impedance in the creativity of the youth.”
In a city that can often feel too big and lonely, exclusion from activities that help build community is challenging, especially for students who come from all around the world. Samuel never had an issue hanging out with her friends while in India because alcohol was not central in her friendships. In New York, though her friendships continue to not revolve around alcohol, many of the activities they want to partake in after class aren’t alcohol-free.
“Everyone is out doing stuff I can’t do just because I am not 21 or I do not have a fake,“ she explained.
Despite its bright lights, big city impression, New York struggled to find its sweet spot when it came to nightlife before now. The city couldn’t lower the legal drinking age, but it could modify its laws around nightlife hubs like bars and clubs. Until October 2017, New York bars were subject to the Cabaret Law, which required them to obtain a dancing license if they wanted to allow their customers to dance. This law was not as prominent in nightlife as it was in the ’90s when Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided to revive the law that was enacted in 1926. With police controls and threats of closure, the Cabaret Law was also used as a means of racial discrimination. Mayor Bill de Blasio had been less insistent on the “Footloose”-like law, finally getting deciding to rid of it last year.
The city government, under the leadership of 37th District of the New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal, has taken steps to further recognize the importance of freedom and open communication surrounding nightlife. A greater move toward this recognition is the creation of the Office of Nightlife with Ariel Palitz as New York’s first Senior Executive Director — commonly known as the Nightlife Mayor.
Earlier this month, Palitz kicked off the first town hall in her office’s Five-Borough Listening Tour lined to the walls with people at the historic Murmrr Theatre in Brooklyn to listen to community members’ complaints and suggestions. Even Amsterdam’s former Nightlife Mayor Mirik Milan made an appearance.
Prior to accepting her new position Palitz was on the state liquor licensing committee community board for six years and owned a nightclub, the Sutra Lounge, for 10 years. But she hasn’t just participated in the nightlife industry, she sees its repercussions every day.
“I live above a bar,” she said as a resident of the bar-filled East Village for a number of years.
New York is part of a global movement that Palitz likes to call the “United Nations of Nightlife.” As the first U.S. city to have an office dedicated to this, New York is inspiring other states like Washington to do the same.
“It is really about life at night and how it affects everyone that lives and works and breathes and creates in it,” Palitz said. “It really is an ecosystem and in order for an ecosystem to be healthy, it needs to be nurtured and supported.”
New York joins other urban nightlife capitals such as Amsterdam and London, which each have their own versions of nightlife mayors. GLS senior David Baler spent two years in London, learning as much as he could about the nightlife culture of London and the advancements that came with the election of London’s night czar, Amy Lamé, in 2016. With New York’s recent improvements, Baler has been so inspired by the topic of nightlife that he’s decided to write his whole thesis on it.
“As the urban population increases around the world it is important for cities to utilize the full capacity of the 24 [hour] cycle,” Baler said. “I think the Night Mayor movement is an important step in this direction. Historically, city government’s action at night has been preventative, and a more holistic and informed approach to nighttime issues can only benefit a city’s population.”
He thinks that Palitz has the potential to connect New York’s residents with the mayor’s office when it comes to improving nightlife.“I am sure that the mayor had listened to venues and stakeholders in nightlife before, but now they have a direct person that they know,” Baler said.
Nightlife Mayors around the world have been advocating for an array of issues from women’s safety at night to more representation of the LGBTQ+ community. London’s night czar is working toward making London a 24-hour city while Amsterdam’s former night mayor Mirik Milan, who recently was replaced by Shamiro van der Geld in 2018, focused on decreasing alcohol-related violence by 25 percent.
Although the Office of Nightlife recognizes that nightlife is not just about dancing under strobe lights while consuming copious amounts of alcohol, little progress has been made in catering to communities, like underage college students, that want to have fun after sunset — sans vodka.
“Even if I had a fake to get in [to venues], I wouldn’t drink because I am not going there to drink,” Samuel said. “It is a sticky situation because I love to go out and dance. I feel like most Indians do, and if you see me at any weddings, it is wild because I really enjoy it.”
While this is the case in New York, urban cities around the world not only allow students to partake in nightlife but also encourage them to do so while being working members of society.
“In London, there was a computer locker room for people who went from the library to the club,” Steinhardt senior Rachel Levy said.
In Prague, where the drinking age is also 18, the environment is much calmer because of the relaxed nature surrounding drinking and going out at night. Tisch junior Addison Worthington, who is studying abroad in Prague, found that the lack of pressure around drinking made going out more enjoyable.
“I honestly go out here far more than New York since it’s legal and much cheaper,” Worthington said. “It also seems more laid back and accepting since it’s people who have been coming since they are 18.”
Cities like London and Amsterdam do not have to put problems that come with the drinking age into their agendas, as their drinking age is 18. In New York, however, students have to go through the process of getting a fake ID to even be able to get into something as simple as a jazz club or gallery opening. LS sophomore Justin Pilgreen spent his first year in London, yet after coming to New York following his year of liberty, had a hard time socializing.
“I am not really a dance club type of person so being underage has made much of an impact on me in that sense but I do miss going to bars and meeting new people,” Pilgreen said.
In a recent brief email conversation, Palitz mentioned that she was aware of underage students’ concerns.
“As a native New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan, I know the [under-21-in-New-York] question is valid, while knowing that there are also endless options,” Palitz wrote.
As the student body of the city that does not sleep, there is a curiosity surrounding how Palitz is going to be an advocate for underage students. But Baler believes that Palitz could be the student’s ally as there are many stakeholders — though venue owners and residents are in the foreground. Nightlife is all-encompassing.
“Nightlife is a place where all people find groups that they are comfortable in, especially if they are not comfortable during the day,” Baler said to WSN. “All these people who are on the fringe find some kind of solace in nightlife.”
The steps taken by the New York City Mayor’s Office are promising steps toward a nightlife that is more inclusive and less pacified. Hopefully student life and involvement can also take part in the discussion to make New York’s nightlife more inclusive to people of all ages and have opportunities for a whole lot of dancing.
Email Yasmin Gulec at [email protected].