Nightclubs are closing or turning into restaurants to survive



When the Big Apple finally returns to being “the city that never sleeps,” there will be far fewer places to dance the night away.

While celebrity hot spots like 1Oak are expected to reopen when pandemic restrictions lift, other popular clubs have already become casualties of the deadly disease and its curfews, including Avenue, Up & Down and Vandal. Other clubs, like Noir in Chelsea, have turned into restaurants to survive.

Tao Group has permanently shuttered two of its five nightclubs: Vandal on the Bowery — a pre-COVID hot spot for celebs like Ariana Grande and the Jonas Brothers — and Avenue, once a popular watering hole for Lindsay Lohan and Justin Timberlake.

Tao Group tried to save Avenue, where international fraudster Jho Low once dropped $160,000 in a single night, by renegotiating the space’s lease, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

But the landlord decided to up and sell the building for $9 million to the B&R Tenth Avenue LLC, according to records. The new owners, one source said, plan to tear down the building to make way for a new office tower.

Fellow club czar Richie Akiva told Side Dish that his West Village club Up & Down, popular with stars like Rihanna and Tyson Beckford, is also closing. “It had become a big brand but after the pandemic, simplifying things is a better solution,” Akiva said.

The club king will reopen his legendary 1Oak in the city’s Meatpacking district when the city permits, however. The infamous club is where Rihanna hosted an after party following the Met gala in 2017 and where ex-New York Knicks player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside in 2015, leading to the arrest of two other NBA players who were later cleared of wrongdoing.

It’s not just the curfew that’s killing the nightclub industry — most NYC nightclubs operate in large spaces with few windows and no kitchens, making it tough to pivot during the pandemic.

Noir in Chelsea is among the few clubs that has been able to make the transition, thanks in part to the partial kitchen it had in place prior to the pandemic.

“We didn’t have a deep fryer or a hood, so we just got creative,” said Phil Zelonky, Noir’s owner.

Zelonky hired an executive chef and created a menu that focused on a raw bar and sushi, which “took the pressure off,” he said. And Noir continues to cater to the club crowd with “bottle parades” offered by masked servers who pour $2,000 plus-sized bottles of Moet Chandon champagne — known as magnums — directly into seated people’s mouths.

“We had to reinvent ourselves,” Zelonky said.

Noir first reopened as a restaurant on Oct. 12 before shutting down again when indoor dining ended in December. It reopened on Feb. 13 with just “six or seven main tables and a few high tops” in the vast 5,600 square foot space — making it ideal for social distancing.

“We are a place for people to let loose. People are still popping bottles, but at their tables. People enjoy the food and music and bottle service and have their own little party in a safe way at their table,” Zelonky said.

It’s going so well, so far, that Zelonky tells Side Dish Noir will continue to serve as a restaurant six days a week at the start of the evenings, before morphing back into its old self — an old school late night club — when the city and state permit.

Two of Tao’s five nightclubs — Tao Downtown Nightclub and Lavo Nightclub — are also now providing limited restaurant service, while its Marquee club is sitting dormant just waiting for the pandemic to lift, sources said.

Eddie Dean, who owned the legendary club Pacha NY and now owns Schimanski in Williamsburg, said he considered pivoting but decided against it.

“We weren’t a restaurant, and we couldn’t go from putting on shows to selling chicken wings on the sidewalk,” Dean said.

Dean will, however, reopen Schimanski as soon as he gets the green light from the city and state.

Owners of closed clubs say they hope to reopen at a later date, but also acknowledge that it could be tough thanks to the rise of one-off parties in large warehouses in the outer boroughs promoted on social media — a trend that’s expected to return in full force post-pandemic.

“New York’s nightclubs were already struggling. COVID was the kiss of death,” said Noah Tepperberg, co-founder of The Tao Group. “We need a mayor who will stand up for nightlife. Without it, we will lose the city that never sleeps. Nightlife is what makes the city so special.”


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