Your Essential Guide to Dancing in New York City
If you thought those “no dancing” signs you’ve seen around town were modern art or vintage kitsch, you were mistaken. For nearly a century, New York City was plagued by a ban that prohibited group dancing in all but a tiny number of venues in possession of a Cabaret License -- until Mayor Bill de Blasio repealed the law. Finally, popping, locking, dropping, and all other manner of getting down is legal! Sort of! In some places! In most venues, dancing is still only barely legal.
Yeah, the NYC dance ban remains complicated. The repeal made great strides toward a world where we can dance if we want to, but fully sanctioned disco is still relegated to the edges of the city in areas that are zoned for “heavy manufacturing.” Suitable, though, if you want to cut a rug.
In celebration of this new modicum of liberty, we’ve put together a guide to dance halls, music venues, and underrated exuberant dive bar dance floors for every type of New Yorker. Bust a move at your own risk.
For the off-duty model: Paul's Cocktail Lounge
No matter what heels, what dress, or what arm candy you’re donning, there is no guarantee you will gain admittance to Paul’s. The bouncers are famed for their capricious standards: One night you may be rejected for your shrill voice, another for your long hair, the next for your loud friends. It isn’t the hottest girls or the wealthiest guys who get in here. It’s whomever the bouncers are feeling that night.
If you do get lucky and make it inside nightlife impresario Paul Sevigny’s first solo venture, you’ll find roving waiters serving drinks from silver trays, bright, floral wallpaper, and a no cell phone policy. Paul’s is the answer to the ponderous aesthetic of reclaimed wood and dark leather that seems to have taken over downtown nightclubs.
DJs spin a mix of new wave, oldies, and soul tracks while you take to the dance floor, wondering what it is about you and your lucky new dancing companions that marked you worthy for entry. Remember: show up early. No one is admitted after 2am. This is the first place you go, not the last.
For the hipster on the prowl: Union Pool
Union Pool is a mecca for hip, thrift-store-outfitted 20-somethings looking to bed. The place is like a petri dish for singles hoping to connect (with minimal effort) to someone who also enjoys vegan cheese and Noah Baumbach films. The single and single-adjacent chat in the divey upstairs area and the heated patio, or let their moves do the talking on a subterranean dance floor. Expect DJs, garage punk girl bands, art pop trios, and the occasional gospel choir -- all of which are welcomed with a packed, rowdy, jiving dance floor.
For the unironic dancer with a nostalgia disorder: Home Sweet Home
Lower East Side
Once the home of ‘70s art star Gordon Matta-Clark, Home Sweet Home is now a grungy pseudo-dungeon replete with taxidermy and some of the best music in the city. Descend a staircase to a dingy room lined with carefully curated eBay detritus. You’ll find a rabbit in suspended animation, dental casts, a gaudy chandelier, and a set of couches that have every appearance of having been adopted from an Alphabet City curb.
Design quirks notwithstanding, Home Sweet Home is an excellent place to dance. If you’ve tired of the top-40-and-grind dance floor scene, try Home Sweet Home on a Friday. Each week, a DJ spins ’50s and ’60s vinyl, while swing dancers grace the dance floor in lieu of your typical gyrating crowd.
For the woke costume enthusiast: House of Yes
There is no typical night at the HOY, but an average night could include a man in a neon pink pixie wig showering buckets of glitter down from a silk aerial rig suspended 12 feet above the floor as throngs of scantily clad party-goers look on adoringly. Founded as a space for aerialists to practice and perform their craft, the place has become a legend in the scope of Brooklyn nightlife. Each event has a theme -- drag competitions, pool parties, amateur burlesque nights -- that dictates the evening’s music selection, the performance, and the costume you should be wearing.
But better even than the absurd extravagance of the place is the fact that, even on a dance floor as crowded as this one, no one will invade your personal space. The place is a sex-positive haven for the weird and wonderful, with a zero tolerance policy for any form of unsolicited or non-consensual dancing, touching, or even conversing. “This is a space for everyone to feel welcome and loved. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia will not be tolerated at our House,” its website reads. This is the most simultaneously wild and respectul dance floor you’ll find anywhere in the city -- or perhaps the world.
For the crew of coffee shop screenwriters: Good Room
This is your best bet when you want to skip the ultra-clubby scene on Wythe Avenue (think Output and Kinfolk). Greg Brier’s intimate dance hall is Greenpoint’s only full-fledged nightclub -- a best-kept-secret for G train hostages. Taking up real estate between a green-glowing TD Bank and a police precinct, the place boasts stained glass, a giant disco ball, and a chandelier fashioned from a set of ram’s horns.
On the dance floor, you’ll most likely groove to throbbing disco tracks spun by established NYC DJs, though the occasional live band will make an appearance. And once you tire of shouting over the bass, slink back to the cozy, quiet back room.
For the unofficial couple: Friends and Lovers
Set just below a self-storage-and-tire-shop-lined stretch of Atlantic Avenue, this low-key, two-room venue slings cheap drinks in the front (cash only, y’all) and rocks an eclectic range of music in the rear. Keep your eyes peeled for old-school hip-hop, new-school hip-hop, local indie rock acts, and a soul night where the DJs spin Shazam-proof deep-cuts from the ‘60s. The crowd comes to throw down: easily walkable from Bed-Stuy and Prospect Heights, and with nothing else like it in the area, Friends and Lovers draws any and all rhythm-hungry dancers from the neighborhood and beyond.
Quick true story: In the tiny smoking area in the back one night, friends definitely went to lovers when a couple propositioned a woman for a threesome. She made sure they were both cool with the arrangement, then the trois headed for the exit, presumably to ménage. The whole exchange took 60 seconds.
For the newly legal undergrad: No Fun
Lower East Side
Jaded New Yorkers will tell you that weekend evenings are best spent anywhere but the Lower East Side. But for the unspoiled among us, No Fun is... not unenjoyable. A night here tracks like a lazily written scene from an unambitious screenplay. There will be a line! There will be finance bros! There will be gaggles of girls gyrating to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” 50 Cent classics, and textbook Top 40 jams. But a night here sipping vodka sodas and reasonably priced margaritas will make you forget yourself for a minute and remember a time when going out on Ludlow Street was, well, fun.
For the insomniac: The Ditty
Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t any good late-night spots in Astoria -- This indoor/outdoor neighborhood favorite stays open until 4am every night of the week. And even better, you can order food ‘til last call. Catch live DJs, order a basket of fried chicken, and shut the place down with a reliable crew of local, jiving Queens kids.
For the squaaaaad: Miss Lily's
Buzzy Caribbean restaurant by day, dance hall by night, Miss Lily’s is the spot for when unlimited boozy brunch with your girls rolls into dinner and dancing. The colorful space is lined with packed booths of diners munching on jerk chicken and sweet plantains all evening, but once the dinner crowd slinks out, dancing queens file in. The music leans towards rhythm-heavy contemporary reggae tracks, though the occasional Chainsmokers smash tends to sneak in.
The small space and impromptu vibes make for an intimate dance experience, best shared by friends who all think they’re the Beyoncé of the group.
For the tiny dancer: Et Al
Lower East Side
Et Al’s cozy interior -- monochrome velvet upholstery in autumnal hues bathed in golden light -- feels like somebody caught a sunset in a butterfly net and set it free on Chrystie Street. The space is large enough to accommodate a little subdued hip shaking without having to worry about spilling your dirty martini. This is the Lower East Side’s intimate alternative to its typically rowdier locales.
For the reformed frat bro: The Freehold
As at Miss Lily’s, you can grab a meal at The Freehold before coasting into reckless abandon. But unlike most places, you needn’t wait for nightfall to let loose. Around brunch time on the weekends, The Freehold is a scene.
Patrons down creative breakfast cocktails while munching on tacos and skillet eggs before hitting the dancefloor. The enclosed, outdoor, heated space is like a sunny summer enclave through the colder months, and an open-air respite when it’s warm out. By 5pm the floor is packed with a throbbing dance crowd -- and remains that way until closing time at 4am.
For the EDM devotee: Bossa Nova Civic Club
Bossa Nova is a basilica for electronic dance music devotees. Founded by former rave promoter John Barclay, this 1,900-square-foot space has little in common with north Brooklyn’s homogenous crop of bar-themed bars. This is not where you go to grab a drink and lure a cute stranger into helping you with your crossword -- this is where you go to dance. DJs gaze down from an elevated sound system like booming techno gods, and comfortable, well-worn booths near the bar are open for drink breaks.
For the couple who should probably get a room: The Jane
This is where you go when you’re fed up with the present. Entering the Jane Ballroom is like slipping into a bygone era, Midnight in Paris-style. A grand fireplace and velvet-draped windows complement vintage area rugs and a rotating disco ball. Couples lounge on vintage daybeds and loveseats, dancers shimmy on the towering indoor balcony, and bow-tied waiters keep everyone happy.
The ambiance evokes old-world extravagance and arouses romantic energy. An intoxicating mix of lush decor, twinkling lights and air of intrigue seems to draw couples together on the dance floor and into dark, recessed corners. And when you do want to get a room? A minimal, overnight twin room upstairs might run you just about $100.
For the microdoser: Elsewhere
If House of Yes and No Fun had a baby, they’d name it Elsewhere. Scheduled events oscillate between eccentric costume parties, and classic, trap-themed dance nights. The 24,000 square-foot industrial complex on an otherwise quiet Brooklyn block has a cavernous central dance space, an upstairs café, an art-filled courtyard, and a rooftop stage.
For the co-workers who took happy hour one step too far: Black Flamingo
Black Flamingo is a casual neighborhood bar, until it isn’t. The spot is perfect for a beer and a pair of tasty vegetarian tacos, but as day turns into night and one beer turns into seven, you’ll find yourself on a packed, vibrating dance floor. The sunken space is smoky, dark and packed with a committed crowd of revelers swaying in unison to a house-leaning DJ.
For a Legally Blonde-era Reese Witherspoon: Beauty Bar
Beauty Bar is a sure thing for a little less bump-and-grind, and a little more bend-and-snap. The old-school salon design harkens back to the venue’s previous life as a beauty parlor, and you can nab a $10 martini and a manicure deal seven nights a week. Take advantage of the fact that everybody looks good under the dance floor’s warm, dim lights. and dance sans inhibitions.
For the sophisticated music savant: Ginny's Supper Club
Red Rooster’s sister supper club is a model of its genre, with tapered columns, mirror-lined walls, low round tables, and a softly lit stage. The live music here is an homage to Harlem’s home-grown sounds; the crowd is equally local. Stylish couples in their 50s are flanked by young men wearing suits and 20-something girls in shiny dresses.
Music rings out from the stage nearly every weekend, best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand and a hip set casually against a leather banquette. You’ll need to make a reservation for dinner and you’ll want to book an early table. Once 10pm rolls around the buzzing crowd will consume the space.
For the lazy dancer: Lovers Rock
This Caribbean-style oasis -- hidden behind a nondescript Tompkins Avenue storefront -- is your best bet for a take-it-or-leave-it kind of weeknight. Bartenders mix fruity rum cocktails for an eclectic mix of locals who sort-of-salsa and almost-merengue across a checkered floor. People sway to sleepy reggaeton but stop short of getting down or showing off. The stakes are a little higher on weekends when a DJ spins a more upbeat soundtrack, but the island calm carries over. Even in the dead of winter, the place has a sunny, laid-back vibe and summer brings patio drinking season.
For the recreational taxidermist: The Bell House
The Bell House has been bringing music fans and party-goers to the boonies of the Gowanus Canal since before it was cool. The large format dance hall is divided in two -- one space appointed with bistro tables and plush chairs, the other equipped with a dance floor and a stage. When you aren’t in the mood to dance, check out comedy shows, storytelling sessions, podcast tapings, and taxidermy competitions.
For the landscaping-enthusiast: Nowadays
Nowadays boasts the backyard every New Yorker dreams of, but so few can afford. It’s like a perpetual barbecue, and everyone’s invited to play cornhole, ping pong, sip cold drinks, and nosh on food truck fare. The interior is spacious, too, with a long bar, and ample room to boogie to throbbing DJ sets. Shake off your Sunday scaries at a weekly dance party, or stop by on Saturday night for a true rager -- but be warned, once you enter, it’s unlikely that you’ll emerge until sunrise.
For the Austin Powers look-alike: C’mon Everybody
There are few finer places to rock a pair of flared jeans than Bed-Stuy’s C’mon Everybody. Your throwback threads will fit right in with the kitschy ‘70s wood panelling and sparkling disco ball. Bartenders sling creative seasonal cocktails at a long bar up front, and the back gets packed with C-list bands, bubbly DJs, and local folks gyrating to whatever the hell the night’s theme is.
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