You may have been there: It’s late, and you’re at a club. The pounding music has started to make you question the merits of “celebrity” DJs. (Celebrities to whom?) The sweaty men and loud women crowding you are so far gone they think everyone is as excited as they are about the bottle of champagne they just spent $1,200 on. Look, it even has a sparkler in it!
Suddenly, instead of having fun, you think to yourself: Is it over yet? When can I just go home?
Good news: You’re not the only one.
“People are getting weary,” said Ronnie Madra, a co-partner with Richie Akiva at Butter Group, which owns 1Oak, Up & Down and NeverNever. “People are tired of the branding and the websites and the marketing and the minimums. Some still relish it, but as the world is changing, the landscape of nightlife is going to go with it.”
“The modern form of bottle service first started in certain clubs in the late ‘90s-early 2000s, and then things fully swung that way,” said Angelo Bianchi, the creative director of the Blond, a private club in New York. Bianchi made his name in New York nightlife as the doorman for the famously cool Beatrice Inn and Jane Hotel. “That was the reason for the success of the smaller clubs in 2006, and they were the anti to that bottles-and-models system. At Beatrice, we never sold one bottle. It was a point of pride.”
That’s why Bianchi partnered with co-creative director (and Beatrice and Le Baron alum) Julio Montero to create the Blond at Aby Rosen’s 11 Howard hotel (more on that below), and it’s why Madra and co-creators Ronnie Flynn and Deevee Kashi started NeverNever, the tiny, dark dancing space next to Up & Down that has a much tighter door policy than its siblings. At NeverNever, the crowd looks cool, artistic, international and well-dressed. Most important, they don’t all look the same. There is no obligatory bottle service.
Madra said NeverNever happened “as a necessity” to cater to a younger crowd turned off by commercial club glitz, who were venturing to Brooklyn and even Long Island to party. While it takes generally $5 million or so to open a new club, Madra spent $30,000 to open NeverNever—and made that money back before the end of the first week.
“We built it as a little place where we are not going to get rich over night, but you can make a little profit and you can bring in a goulash of personalities and social standing,” he said. “There’s no sign on the door; you can’t really Google it. That’s what we like.”
In fact, plenty of places work as the outside of the model-promoter system. They’re quieter and more hidden, but the great thing is that the amount of fun you have is usually in direct proportion to just how quiet and how hidden they are—and how discerning the guy at the door is.
“People are interested in having an authentic experience where they are not walking into a situation that feels one certain way,” Bianchi said. “They’ll know within the first few minutes of walking in whether they’ll come back. People don’t want to go to places that feel like clubland, they want something organic. They want to go to somewhere on a quiet street.”
We’ve compiled a list of the top global nightclubs without bottle service. Enjoy!
This is another world-renowned institution, and while it’s no chic lounge, at least it doesn’t have models and bottles. The former power plant is so notorious that GQ profiled its famous doorman, and fashion heavies frequent it on their German excursions. There’s no rule at the door, other than the fact that you probably can’t get in. You definitely won’t get in if you’re wearing a suit, high heels, or any bright colors. Music here is heavily skewed to techno and house; phones and cameras are prohibited. There are no mirrors in the bathrooms. There is no VIP area. Don’t even think about trying to buy your way in. Expect to see an older crowd, well-cultured in dark, aggressive, club-going leather, possible fetishes, and heavy tattoos.
Where: Am Wriezener Bahnhof
When to go: Don’t get there before 4 a.m.
Pikes Hotel, Ibiza
Set aside your preconceived notions about Ibiza being chock full of EDM clubs stuffed with young Brits on Ketamine. That’s about a two-street strip; the rest of the desert island is beautiful, spare, and subtle in its pleasures. Pike’s Hotel, which is formally called the Ibiza Rocks House and is hidden in the rocky hills above Ibiza town, is one of those jewels. The place is built in a 15th century stone mansion that was converted to a hotel in 1978; the lounge and music area famously hosted jet setters, bohemians, musicians, and artists in decadence for years. (It provided the set to Wham’sClub Tropicana video of the 1980s.) The space plays lots of rock ‘n’ roll and funk/disco, plus famous old school DJs most nights; costumes and props are in some rooms, if you become inclined.
Where: Camí Sa Vorera, San Antonio
When to go: Not before 2 a.m.
The Blond held its Paris Fashion Week party here, which is saying something about the level of its status as an international A-List spot. Bianchi said it’s his favorite place to relax out when he’s in France. The general design of the room hasn’t changed for decades, with Byzantine red velvet and pink neon trim on the seats and walls; this is a testament to the brilliance of what used to be a bordello. The top of French creative life files through here at some point or another: high-powered fashion photographers, owners of other clubs, financiers, designers, editors, singers, painters—and, yes, Russian money—from all ages and races. Handsome, well-known-among-a-certain-set DJs imported from all over the world perform until early in the morning hours.
Where: 58 Rue de Bassano
When to go: The most fun you’ll have is a late night here during fashion week—odds are you’ll encounter the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. (I did). Show up after the early birds finish their dinners and cabaret dances. The real crowd you want to see gets here after 1 a.m.
The Scotch of St. James, London
It’s a veritable bastion of music history: The Beatles and Rolling Stones performed live sets here, but it’s no concert venue. The owners of Paris and New York nightclub Le Baron had a hand in its rejuvenation, and now it’s updated to reflect a modern outlook; fashion types (Stella McCartney, Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne) hold parties there on special nights. So do New York nightlife gurus out for work abroad. If you go, drink Scotch whisky or bourbon—they’ll go well with the Denim Jeans and disco.
Where: Mason’s Yard.
When to go: Show up around midnight on a Wednesday or Thursday. You’ll be good.
Doheny Room, Los Angeles
The spot on Santa Monica Boulevard has a warm, airy California feel and a potentially softer hand for people who want to get inside. The walls are lined in banana palms and portraits of David Bowie and Faye Dunaway; in true LA style, the menu has lobster and vegan sushi. Upstairs offers more of a club atmosphere—you can buy a table if you want, and you will see a DJ and maybe even bottle service, though not at the level of annoyance. For LA, that’s saying a lot.
Where: 9077 Santa Monica Blvd.
When to go: Go to dinner at 9 p.m.; upstairs will have energy around 11 p.m.
Paul’s Cocktail Lounge, New York
Colloquially known as Paul’s Baby Grand (but officially named Paul’s Cocktail Lounge, so as to avoid confusion with Baby’s All Right and Baby Grand, two other NYC late night places), this is the little room Paul Sevigny created under the auspices of the Roxy (formerly Tribeca Grand) Hotel. The walls are covered in large palms (wallpapered and otherwise); the male wait staff wear white, double-breasted suits and carry themselves with the dignity of those who have partied in the glam bygone days of another era. Open format is the key here. You’ll hear dance tunes from Madonna to Scissor Sisters here; don’t expect Calvin Harris or Drake. Ludwig, the doorman, is fickle and wise; if he turns you away a time or two, he may welcome you with open arms on the third try.
Where: 2 Sixth Ave.
When to go: Go at midnight or 1 a.m. It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays.
The Oasis Clubhouse, Buenos Aires
The private members-only club is just that—unless you know someone, or want to purchase a guest pass for the entire place. While the rest of the club has a lounge, terrace, bars, a pool and gardens, weekends are the draw if you want to drink and dance: There’s usually a DJ and plenty of internationally minded sophisticates to talk to while you’re there. The feeling here is relaxed and faintly Parisian, with a twist. The place feels like a hidden Argentine villa decorated with American and European expats. (It very nearly is.) You won’t work up a sweat dancing, but you will feel extremely self-satisfied at how well you’ve managed to infiltrate the cool-people crowd. And the cocktail list is extremely well put.
Where: Costa Rica 4651 Palermo Soho C1414
When to go: On the early side of the evening, for a cocktail and respite.
Mr Fongs, New York
The brainchild of five owning partners, including Adam Moonves (yes, the son of that Moonves), Fong’s lacks signage and glitter, which is exactly why you venture down under the Manhattan Bridge deep in Chinatown, anyway. The feel here is softer, with Brooklyn creatives of all ages mixing with Manhattan artists and publicists. The DJ in the corner is almost an afterthought (there is a jukebox), but he’s there to move the crowd a bit once the night gets on.
Where: 40 Market St.
When to go: Sometime around midnight should be fine. Avoid the weekends.
NeverNever, New York
This is the secret club on the backside of Up & Down. A short, dark hallway connects the two, but a big man in a dark suit is positioned there, and you won’t be able to get from one to the other. NeverNever is more exclusive—and more secretive—than Up & Down; Benny, the doorman out front, seems erratic, but he’s sharp as a razor’s edge about whom he lets in. If you do make it past Benny, expect to see a lot of Australian surfer studs slightly disheveled in the way that charms American girls, their off-duty model girlfriends, writers, chefs, and lots of doormen/DJs/managers from other clubs who come in late to network and gossip. You’ll hear a lot of new wave and indie music here; you won’t hear hip-hop. As Madra said: “It’s not about the big experience, it’s about the right experience.”
Where: 246 W. 14th St.
When to go: No earlier than 1 a.m., weeknights. Two a.m. is better.
Paradise by Way of Kensal Green, London
The place has a menu filled with seasonal delectables and gastro pub fare, but the late-night drinks and music scene is what we’re after here. Inside are multiple levels with dark corners for chatting or eyeing the famous Sunday Roast. It’s located close to Queen’s Park and Kensal Green stations in West London, so the music (DJs, R&B, Jazz, Electronic) is as eclectic as its patrons (youngish, casually pretty) and wine list.
Where: 19 Kilburn Lane
When to go: Go for an early at 10 p.m. before heading elsewhere for the night.
Rose Bar, New York
This is the gold standard for grand New York lounge-y bars where you can hear a DJ and dance a little, or cuddle in a comfortable banquette and watch people while you sip a boulevardier under a large Damien Hirst. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel, so the crowd is mixed, with moneyed Internationals, uptown twentysomethings, and on certain nights, music lovers who come to hear Chairlift or CRX play secret sets. (Credit Matthew E. Green and his staff with directing a robust indie scene there.) Go on Wednesday to hear Johnsville DJ; his knowledge of dark and sexy tracks (Donna Summer, Larry Levan, Poolside) beats anything you’ll hear elsewhere.
Where: 2 Lexington Ave.
When to go: 11 p.m. or later, but before 2 a.m.
No Name, Los Angeles
Los Angeles has cornered the market on showy places with sparklers and ladies with faux appendages (hair, breasts, lips, and so forth) so to find a place truly away from big film spenders and swimsuit models on the make takes some work. Enter No Name, the unmarked spot on Fairfax that works hard to avoid those patrons. It’s unlisted, so the only way you’ll get in is through word of mouth or a quasi-secret invite system that feeds into a list as inflexible as a sidewalk. Once inside, you can order food, if you want, or gawk at the art and actors that line the walls. Listen to the DJ play Edward Sharpe; maybe drink an Old Fashioned.
Where: 423 N. Fairfax Ave.
When to go: Early, by New York standards. The place clears out by 2 a.m.
The scent inside Silencio is subtle, intoxicating, and unforgettable, just like the weird Club Silencio that inspired it, from Mulholland Drive. You don’t really notice it at all until you’re all the way down the winding stairs to the bottom, where cavernous rooms include one for smoking, several for lounging, and a chic dance floor right in the front of the DJ booth. The bar in the center is expensive and extensive. Be ready: The fashionable crowd in front of the DJ will dance, if given the chance.
Where: 142 Rue Montmartre
When to go: If you have the chance to go, go, and the earlier in the morning (2 a.m. or so) the better. This is one of the world’s best clubs in the real sense of the word: hidden, chic, with an interesting mix of all types of creative, beautiful, stylish, and odd people. The whole thing is an experience without seeming constructed or artificial. What you won’t find inside: suits, Louboutines, body-con dresses. What you will find inside: Rick Owens, Yoji Yamamoto, Celine, Saint Laurent, obscure fashion brands from Spain, France, New York, California.
The Blonde, New York
This might be the hardest door to get into in New York at the moment; once inside—if you get inside—you’ll find the sort of interesting mix that the models/bottles formula scattered: tall, pretty, and fashionable women who happen to work as models, sure, but also young street artists, understated rich kids from Paris, a British photographer or two, and a couple of New York local downtown kids—gay, old-school club kids, too—mixed in for good measure. Even though the space is part of the Howard Hotel, it’s never open to the public, and doorman Dereck is famously standoffish, so don’t expect to get in easily. The vibe is chic, dark, intimate and faintly European; expect to hear everything from Talking Heads and Fleetwood Mac to Rihanna and 2 Chainz.
“When you walk into the Blond, we didn’t want to make it feel like a club,” said Anis Khoury, general manager of the 11 Howard hotel. “Plush, comfortable—that word comfortable just keeps coming up. The Blond exemplifies what a comfortable setting should be, a place where you go to meet friends of friends.”
Where: 11 Howard St.
When to go: Late, after midnight, on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday.