Remember “Dow Ten Thou”? [Gross National Happiness]

All the recent chatter about the Dow reaching 11,000 points made me recall a piece I wrote (but never published) about another American economic highwater mark, attained in December, 2003. Bon apps.

Bling Ipsa Loquitor

“The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 10,000 yesterday for the first time in more than 18 months, adding its own ratification to this year’s economic rebound.” — The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2003

Precisely five hours after the closing bell on Wall Street on Thursday the 12th, a formerly desolate block 28th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues made its case for a rebound, too. Here the leading economic indicator wasn’t the evanescent “Dow Ten Thou,” but the opening of Crobar, New York’s most opulent nightspot in decades — a massive, self-described “over-the-top megaclub”, a pleasure coliseum for the new era. In all, some 2,500 Chelsea clubbers, transvestites, dancers, wispy models—and an alarming number of bluehair Jersey matrons and Goombahs in dark glasses—were invited to cram into a wedding-tent covered line at 9pm, awaiting a peek at the new 25,000 square foot club, proof positive that The Good Times Are Back.

And back they were this night, or so it seemed, but there would be a few more minutes to wait. No one seemed to mind, because this, after all, was It. Measured in pure bang per square inch, Crobar promised an opening nothing short of Titanic, with traditional Japanese Butoh dancers, aerial ballerinas, famous DJ’s, original art, and a turgid list of celebrities (De Niro, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, The Donald…) The line buzzed and lurched; cell phones and cigars lit up. After about an hour, the line trundled ahead, berated by security: “Slowly, people! Slowly!” Each person in line held a black glossy ticket which read, on opposite sides, “Let me in, I’m fabulous!” and “Let me in, I’m hot!”

Inside, as it turns out, nightclub designers Cal Fortis and Ken Smith’s creation was nothing if not mega: equal parts 5th Element, Lever House, Moulín Rouge, and a giant Laser-Tag, Crobar is a spectacle. And, the duo hopes, a Sure Thing. After winding up inky-black stairs guests pass a grove of giant-size, luminous bamboo columns, through a completely white-tiled, noise-canceling entry tunnel suggesting the subway, and finally, the real enchilada. With soaring 60’ ceilings, kilometers of industrial glass and steel, ropes of glowing translucent resin rods, squirrelly “intelligent lights,” and at least three nude dancers writhing inside colored nylon body socks, Crobar’s nerve center is a sensory Big Top. The crescent shaped main bar is longer than a 9 Train, and a DJ platform (reachable by a glass skybridge not unlike the one upon which Luke Skywalker dueled with Darth Vader) holds more knobs and switches and screens and wires than Howard Dean’s campaign bus. To the side, and above, a glassed in VIP room is a sort of Barbarella’s Bierstube, and, tonight, the locus of much frenzy. The DJ spins ironic hits, crowd pleasers, skittering remixes (Bowie, Mary J. Blige, OutKast; the Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’), and Grey Goose Vodka flows from the (open) bar as fast as the bartenders can pour. It’s a sight all right, but whether it’s a tonic for the city’s soul or massive, rueful metaphor depends on whom you ask.

“I just think that since 9/11, New Yorkers totally need something like this,” had said a tall, wispy haired blond man in a shearling jacket to reporters outside in line, as if scripted, as he signed a release form for the camera crews and high-fived friends in line.

Maybe he was right, but by midnight, in the VIP entranceway, Cal Fortis didn’t seem sure. You could hardly blame him: the place was at capacity; the smoking ban was in ashes; nude performers that ‘Miller vs. the State of CA’ might have deemed too prurient for public consumption were on the loose; a sort of B-grade celebrity flash mob including a very unhappy Amanda LePore had materialized at the front door demanding entry; paparazzi were getting antsy (what-no-Beyoncé-no-Janet?), and, although the crowd was altogether quite fabulous, a panicky buzz had, for just a moment, suffused the air. Dressed in a sartorial eighties pin-striped suit, Cal Fortis’ evening was getting a bit, to put it mildly, iffy.

“That’s a three hour old message!” he barked at an assistant, who was holding up a cell phone to Cal’s face with an expressionless mug. He stood surrounded by handlers and assistants in a half inch of water which had geysered forth from a men’s bathroom, and a slightly desperate-looking man with a deep tan was suddenly upon him, pleadingly, shirt-buttons wide open. “Ohmigod, Cal! Which way do I go?”

Fortis dismissed him with a wave. “Well — I’m happy that New Yorkers are happy,” he said, flatly, as yet another aide pulled his sleeve.

On the way outside to the cold, Crobar leaves its guests with a number of dictums. Above the labyrinthine coat check, a Jenny Holzer-esque LED display reminds you that someone, or something, is “Enduring and Becoming Somehow”. Lucite faux-road signs adorn the halls here, too. “LEAVING CHILDHOOD,” reads one. “FUCK YOGA,” says another. “GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS,” reads the largest, no amount specified. (December, 2003)

Postscript – Crobar NY closed permanently in February, 2007.

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