LA has reopened, and so have its dance floors, ushering in a “Roaring ‘20s” momentum that has revelers and promoters talking about a nightlife renaissance as they navigate a post-pandemic world.
On a recent Saturday night at the 840-person nightclub Los Globos in Silver Lake, sweaty bodies are celebrating the return of the beloved LA dance party known as A Club Called Rhonda. Its founders have been throwing fabulously inclusive discos for 13 years — featuring international DJs, drag queens, and club kids of all persuasions — and providing a safe haven in the LA club scene.
“It’s been a journey,” 28-year-old hospital manager Steven Vodicska says of his first night out in 18 months. “Honestly I can't even remember the last time I went out before tonight. I came here with my friends. This was their first time coming out to Rhonda, and they're having the time of their life.”
Another clubgoer named Natalie (who didn’t want to share her last name for privacy reasons) says, “I’m going out more than I was before COVID, and the energy is just so much better. I was dancing by myself for two hours and received nothing but support from those around me. It was just so sweet. I feel like pre-COVID, I would’ve gotten hit on and touched and groped. And that was not happening here.”
Party promoters say the boom is unprecedented for Los Angeles.
“We saw nightlife renaissances in New York in the ‘70s, Harlem in the ‘20s, or Vienna in the early 1900s — all these places where there was an explosion of creativity and so much culture coming out of nightlife,” says Rhonda co-founder Loren Granich, noting that the party has been selling out like never before. “That’s what Rhonda is trying to go for. That kind of stuff makes history, and it feels like that's happening, because so many people are excited about this world again.”
But the pandemic isn’t over
That’s not to say LA’s nightlife community no longer thinks of COVID as a problem, particularly as the Delta variant is spreading and cases are rising. Granich says he has numerous friends, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, who have gotten sick after going out in the weeks since reopening, and he’s been publicly urging people to get vaccinated before hitting the club.
Still, he and others say that there is only so much they can do to protect crowds under current guidelines, particularly as their businesses face mounting economic pressure to reopen.
“We wanted to say our parties are vaccine-mandatory, but were advised by some legal friends that that wasn't really enforceable, and that it could actually get us in trouble,” Granich says. “If we can't enforce it, then we just kind of have to do it. And it sucks to be in that position. I really get upset about people that don't take people's public health seriously, when life is going to have to go on. There’s no recourse for that, and I guess this is where we ended up.”
Mitch Edelson, who owns venues including El Cid and Catch One, the latter of which hosted Rhonda the previous week, says rehiring and training staff in the short time since reopening has been a challenge as many service industry workers remain reluctant to return to work. As a result, Edelson says he is paying his employees more than ever before, even as he and other operators continue to wait on critical funds promised by the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. He says those higher costs, combined with inflation and competition from other venues, leaves clubs with little option but to reopen and trust the social honor system.
“There's a certain level of personal responsibility at this point in the game,” Edelson says. “If vaccine checks or testing were a requirement across everyone, then that makes sense. But if the club down the street is going to get all the people who are unvaccinated or don't want to get tested, or who just don't want to deal with waiting in a longer line, it doesn't make sense for my guests.”
Incubation period to sea change
During the pandemic, many operators reevaluated their priorities and the experiences they wanted to provide. Others reflected on how to better preserve their communities.
Now, promoters say this moment marks a sea change for LA nightlife. Demand is skyrocketing, clubs are consistently selling out events, and promoters are competing for DJ bookings and launching additional nights. At least for now, it’s stoking a renewed sense of healthy competition in the business.
Aundy Crenshaw — COO, chief marketing officer, and head of business operations for popular electronic label and festival series Dirtybird — says she and her team have been “rushing like crazy” to get tickets on sale for an event in August in Exposition Park in LA.
“We knew that more [events are] coming on sale, so we definitely rushed and pushed as quickly as we can with a new ticketing platform to get everything up and going,” she says. “I think it really helped us and worked to our advantage to get those tickets up first. But it's a lot of pressure.”
Local nightlife stalwarts Rolando Alvarez and Eddie Vela wanted to bolster and “pandemic-proof” LA’s dance music scene and centralize the city’s otherwise disparate nightlife communities. So they launched the downtown LA-based record store and community space called Chapter One, which will host parties, discussions, workshops, and other events.
“This break was really good for a lot of us to assess what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong,” he says. “We have been sort of hibernating and waiting for this moment. It’s going to be our ‘Summer of Love.’ … I think a lot of us are going to be more driven to daytime events and to outdoor events, no matter what happens.”
Outdoor events with larger production value are already ramping up in a big way. That’s due to increased appetite from patrons and loosened event permits given out by the city. In addition to Dirtybird’s event at Exposition Park in August, Chinatown Plaza and Pershing Square will host a series of outdoor dance parties from local promoters Future Primitive later this summer.
Future Primitive co-founder Adam Gold says his team is looking forward to using their outdoor events to reclaim the city’s urban spaces and architecture, and pursue a nightlife similar to Berlin and Amsterdam.
“It's kind of the opposite of how you would think in Los Angeles, where everything's far away and you’ve got to be in your car,” Gold says. “You can take the train down, walk right into Pershing Square, and be in the middle of this really cool outdoor block party. We’re trying to bring a little bit of that European sensibility in, but amp up the production and decor markedly.”
Optimism for the future
Just how big LA’s nightlife renaissance gets depends on the trajectory of the pandemic, and how keen folks are to return to mellower routines of sweatpants and Netflix after the initial rush to go out.
“I think there'll be some sort of reevaluation in six months or so,” says veteran promoter Richie Panic of underground dance music institution Lights Down Low. “Do people want to finally embrace fun and their freer sides and constantly get weird, or are people like, ‘I got it out of my system. And now I kind of want to go back [to a more subdued lifestyle]?’”
In the meantime, the “Roaring 20s” or “Summer of Love” mentality reigns supreme.
“When you come back, and you see how crazy people are going, it really gives you that kind of push to keep creating,” Granich says. “That kind of feedback between the artist and the audience is just magnified by a million right now. And because of that, I think that will spark a lot more creativity and culture. You can feel, when you go out into the city, that you're living in some sort of historical moment because it feels different.”