In the past decade, a rush of music venues in booming neighborhoods across the city have closed their doors. Webster Hall is shuttered for the foreseeable future. Beloved Brooklyn DIY venues Shea Stadium and 285 Kent are things of the past. This trend has led many doomsayers to declare that New York’s vibrant nightlife culture is fizzling out.
But last year, the City Council made a move to help stop the late-night bleeding. It formed an Office of Nightlife, a department within the Mayor’s Office of Entertainment and Media. And this past spring, the person heading that office was made public. Her name is Ariel Palitz, the city’s very first “Nightlife Mayor.”
The job of the office is to be a liaison between all of the city agencies and the nightlife community at large. Palitz is less than six months into the job, and while its moniker sounds quite glamorous, the actual day-to-day of the gig is more mundane. Palitz has spent the bulk of her time in office thus far hearing out concerns from an array of stakeholders, and is in the process of planning a slate of five community meetings this fall.
But when things are humming along smoothly, Palitz says that her office will help mitigate fines, be a resource for education for venue owners. “It’s really about helping people open and say open,” she says.
The idea of a “Nightlife Mayor” isn’t new. There are similar offices in cities across the world, ranging from Amsterdam to London to San Francisco. Palitz says this trend is a part of a larger movement to manage nightlife economy and culture just as well as the daytime.
Photograph: Lila Barth
“The nightlife soul of New York is alive and well,” Palitz says. “Now we’re just going to make space for it and support it.”
One look at Palitz’s resume makes it easy to understand why she was selected for the role. A native New Yorker whose family has lived here for generations, a sizable chunk of her life has revolved around going out at night and working in the hospitality industry. She owned and operated the now-closed Sutra Lounge in the East Village. She’s a former member of Community Board 3 and was on its liquor licensing committee for six years. She also used to run a consulting company that dealt with many of the issues that she’s facing in her new role.
“Growing up, New York was really like my candy store,” she says. “There’s always this feeling that anything can happen—that’s really what New York is about.”
Later this year, Palitz and the Office of Nightlife is set to release an economic impact study on nightlife in NYC, which, among other things, will lay out the case for supporting a vibrant after-hours scene across the five boroughs. The industry supports some 300,000 jobs, and generates “tens of billions of dollars” in economic output, Palitz says.
With that much money on the line, the creation of the Office of Nightlife makes complete sense. Now, it’s the job of Palitz and her team to make the city thrive at night. And while she embarks on that quest, she has one humble request.
“I prefer to be called the ‘Nightlife Mayor,’ not ‘Night Mayor,’” she says. “Only my dad can call me a nightmare.”