Ariel Palitz steps down as the New York Office of Nightlife senior executive director this month (April), after serving in the role since 2018. The office was created to act as a liaison between the city and New York’s late-night community.
Palitz vouches for hospitality’s resilience. She claims the sector is strongly building back from the pandemic, in which caused the loss of around 4% of its restaurant, art and entertainment businesses.
The people behind hospitality are great problem solvers, creative minds, and producers, she says. These are people that know how to handle a crisis, and they’re doing “extraordinarily well.”
Post-Covid, the city has seen a nightlife revolution. Venues are opening doors at a “quick clip”, and there’s been an influx of applications for liquor licences, adds Palitz.
A mass of sites, spanning from small, speakeasy jazz bars to large-floor dance clubs, are popping up in the Manhattan Proper borough for instance. The city is reawakening. The public want to go out, and workers are invigorated.
“We’re moving in a very healthy and positive direction,” says Palitz. However, this wasn’t always the case. There was a time, she recalls, when the 24-engine of the city was revving a bit slower.
Right after Covid, customers got used to going out early: dinner and drinks were slotted in before an early night. But with warmer spring nights leading to summer, Palitz trusted the city was moving towards recovery.
“New York is a very vibrant 24-hour city”, she says. “I definitely don’t think this is a town that’s going to bed early anytime soon.”
The city’s $35.1bn nightlife sector supports 300,000 jobs and creates $700m a year in local tax revenue.
“You can always bet on New York; you can always bet on nightlife, and you can always bet on people’s innate need to socialise and to go out and be together.”
In recent times, New Yorkers have flooded to the dancefloor with a new zest, gravitating towards colourful performance venues renowned for their inclusivity, freedom of expression and festival buzz.
Since lockdown thwarted personal freedom, consumers are throwing themselves into large, crowded events, and choosing places that allow them to express themselves, according to Palitz.
Freedom of expression
“People are craving not only to witness, but to participate,” she says. “They want to be entertained and have all their senses immersed.”
Performance venues, like Brooklyn’s ice warehouse-turned-nightclub House of Yes, are often hot on safety and harm reduction. These were key focuses of the Office of Nightlife under Palitz.
She kickstarted programmes like the Narcan Behind Every Bar campaign to raise awareness of the opioid crisis, and the Nightlife Industry Training and Education (NITE) Schools – set up to destigmatise harm reduction practices in nightlife.
Historically, nightlife in the city had been a criminalised and vilified industry, according to Palitz, but she believes the city has come a long way since the 90s in mending the relationship between hospitality and the police.
She feels optimistic about the path the alliance of the late-night sector, the authorities and residents is heading. The implementation of the Office of Nightlife in 2017, paired with the industry’s evolution, leads her to believe the city is moving in the right direction.
But the industry is not without its burdens: jobs in hospitality are still down by around 6% from the pre-pandemic peak. There’s competition, there’s the cost of doing business, and there’s also inflation on top of Covid’s lingering ramifications, lists Palitz.
Debt is also an issue, and sites are struggling to source qualified employees following the 2021 Great Resignation, in which 40m people, including many hospitality workers, left their jobs.
Operators are also tasked with driving creativity and maintaining high standards to keep hold of customers’ attention spans. It’s a challenging industry at the best of times, says Palitz, and this has only been exacerbated after Covid hit the night-time sector a “direct blow”.
However, the pandemic was not without its lessons. It taught the world that nightlife, hospitality, and socialisation are not a luxury, but necessary to economic, cultural, and personal wellbeing, Palitz continues. “We all learned to appreciate what we almost lost a little bit more”.
“Nightlife is a huge part of achieving a great life, and that’s why the future is bright, and it should be supported and respected and appreciated in every way possible.”
Socialising is a basic human need, adds the nightlife mayor. She says: “You can always bet on New York; you can always bet on nightlife, and you can always bet on people’s innate need to socialise and to go out and be together.”
This was something worth investing in: “You can bet,” she believes, “that it will have a great future of growth”.
The final words of wisdom from the night czar? Life is for living. She concludes: “Nightlife is a huge part of achieving a great life, and that’s why the future is bright, and it should be supported and respected and appreciated in every way possible.”