There is no shortage of restaurants where people go to dine in style on Long Island in 2019. It’s also easy to find a bar where DJs spin popular songs and casually-dressed people congregate.
But before these two aspects of LI's nightlife scene became the norm, there was a time when dancing (not eating) and looking like a fashion plate was what going out was all about. And unlike today’s popular hangouts — mostly restaurants and taverns — there were places that didn’t serve food, and were built to be flashy, even luxurious. Places dedicated only to partying, and not much more.
“Let's talk about Mirage,” says Richard Bedrosian, a veteran of the hospitality scene, of the club that once stood where the Buffalo Wild Wings is now along Merrick Avenue in Westbury. Bedrosian, who was in charge of booking the entertainment as Mirage's promotional director, has also worked on the “Body English Tuesdays” summer party at Chateau Briand in Carle Place (which is scheduled to return this summer), and defunct spots including CoCo’s in Huntington among others.
In stark contrast to the restaurant- and sports bar-heavy Long Island circuit of today, Mirage was a 12,000 square-foot nightclub with 40-foot ceilings and an Egyptian design that was influenced by the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, as Bedrosian describes it.
That was in 2002. Yet ask the Generation X clubgoers (those born between the mid-1960s and early '80s), and many will say it seems so long ago nightclubs were big — and big business on Long Island.
Former Garden City Hotel vice president Brian Rosenberg recalls that on an average Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, crowds of more than 1,000 people (wearing jackets, to boot) would hit the nightclubs that once thrived in the Garden City Hotel.
Rosenberg was a creative force behind the hotel's ever-changing club space, which was as known as The Dallenger in the late '90s before becoming the Posh Ultra Lounge in the 2000s. He also managed and promoted several other late-night party spots during the '90s and early 2000s. His last nightclub was the now-defunct Sugar Dining Den in Carle Place, which closed its kitchen and became rebranded as Love in 2013, shortly before Rosenberg left that venture.
“You wanted to see and be seen,” is how he remembers the vibe to have been.
Much like Rosenberg, 48-year-old Plainview mom Corey Cohen-Oren says dressing up was a top priority on her club-going nights.
“One night I’d wear Girbaud jeans and Doc Martens with a silky button down and the next it would be a skintight mini dress with slouchy boots. ... Anything worked as long as you could dance in it.”
She says her nights often started at 11 p.m., then she and her friends would dance until 3, make a stop at Taco Bell or a diner, then head home for it to start all over the next day.
“I wish we were in that era,” says 27-year-old Alexa Toscano, a hair stylist from Lynbrook. She and her friend (and fellow stylist) Arianna Lombardo, 24, of Bethpage, represent a slice of the millennial — and postmillennial — nightlife crowd. The two women frequent restaurants such as Kyma and Hendrick’s Tavern in Roslyn, which feature DJs spinning to upscale crowds, or head to Manhattan where traditional, big dancefloor-style nightclubs can still be found.
“I like a club scene,” agrees Lombardo, adding that while bigger clubs are "cool," they sometimes "get too crazy.”
The magic of the Malibu
Tony Greco, a force behind several well-remembered LI nightclubs including Uncle Sam’s in Levittown and The Malibu in Lido Beach in the '90s before his efforts at Melville's Four Food Studio & Cocktail Salon (which became The Refuge restaurant in 2014) remembers that “Everyone had attitude. ... They came to be entertained. They left their homes about the same time that today’s generation is going to bed.”
“The place was huge,” says Northport headhunter Gregg Alper, 47, of The Malibu. “Warehouse-size with two sides: the hip-hop side and the alternate side.”
Alper remembers each area had a dance floor and a DJ. A smaller room was geared toward dance, hip-hop and disco, while a larger room focused on New Wave and went live on the radio on Saturday nights, on the now-defunct 92.7 WLIR, also known as WDRE for a time.
“The energy was always amazing. We would go there not to meet girls — although I did meet my wife of 22 years there — but to dance. That’s what it was all about. Usually out with your boys and dancing up a storm for hours," Alper says.
“I really wish I got to see that,” says Jack Alper, Gregg’s 21-year-old son. “I would have loved to [have been] a part of that.
The younger Alper says he enjoys the current bar scene in Huntington and Patchogue, including spots like Finley's of Green Street and Christopher's (both in Huntington) and Dublin Deck (Patchogue), adding that a lot of the places he goes to have a bar area with DJ and a dance floor.
Clearly things have changed around the Island, as the large nightclub is just about gone from most of Nassau and Suffolk — replaced by taverns and late-night restaurants with DJs. But what about the Hamptons?
Changes in the Hamptons
People over 35 who traveled east every summer will likely recall when Hampton Bays had a string of spots to visit during the warmer months. Among them, and perhaps the most popular, was Neptune Beach Club.
Vinny Maggio Jr., manager of Neptune Beach Club from 1990 to 2013, recalls that going to Neptune’s during the '90s and 2000s was “like a rite of passage."
"I loved to hear the stories from customers [about] how their older sister or brother told them about the club, and how they couldn’t wait to come of age to get in," Maggio says.
Neptune’s sat only a few dozen feet or so from the ocean. Celebrity DJs were often brought in to spin there — Danny Krivit, Roger Sanchez, Boris, Theo, The Chainsmokers, Chus & Ceballos, Paul Oakenfold, Oscar G, Danny Tenaglia, and Nervo, to name a few — and though it was mainly just a deck over the sand with a small indoor shack, on busy weekend afternoons people would be dancing on every possible space and platform all at once. Lines to get in could snake hundreds of feet back to the parking lot, which would often fill to capacity with cars, with drivers seeking parking for miles around.
Maggio remembers that by 2000 “the clothes got smaller and muscles and ink (tattoos) were what most guys wore.” He would hear stories of how these guys “trained all winter just to hit the Neptune deck on Memorial Day in a bathing suit. …The Hamptons were crazy, and there were bars and clubs everywhere.”
In addition to Neptune’s, Hampton Bays circa 2002 also offered neighboring Summers, as well as Foggy Goggle, Canoe Place Inn, Amber (which was renamed twice, to Brazil, and Ohm), Turtle Bay, Beach Bar — all in Hampton Bays and East Quogue — while Seven and Surf Club were draws in Westhampton Beach.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kristin Cole is a bit too young to remember, much less visit, Neptune’s, but when told of the crowds and the lines she immediately says “Standing in line? Big crowds? No, I’m more into Montauk, where I can chill.”
Some came to dance
“Gosh I feel old talking about this!” exclaims Nikki Rivas, 37, a Farmingville mom. “There was something to do every night of the week on Long Island… whether It was Monday night at Coco’s (in Huntington) or Thursday nights at Eclipse (in Commack) you knew you would see your ‘club’ friends at each club… it was almost like going to a friend’s house.”
She recalls the days when “we didn’t find out about the clubs on social media. ...We got actual fliers on our cars (often left on windshields) and heard it on the radio. ...The music was amazing, and you would always find a circle of break-dancers on the dance floor at one point in the night.”
Back in the '90s and 2000s, many dancers working for mobile DJ companies would meet at clubs and form circles to show off their moves. While that could get competitive, Rivas describes it as "a happy time, and the music brought everyone together.”
Cohen-Oren fondly recalls the heyday of club dancing on LI.
“We’d see the same groups of people at each club. There were groups of guys who I’d drool over as I watched them dance like b-boys,” referring to those who incorporated flips, tricks and complicated maneuvers into their moves.
Jack Alper says people his age “are more reserved when it comes to dancing. They think they’re ‘too cool.' ”
So... what happened?
According to some people under age 30, club nightlife is still very much a thing.
“I think bars are good for meeting up after work for a few drinks or day drinking on weekends,” says Ryan Dempsey, 25, from Hicksville, who runs a number of construction and facility maintenance companies. “I’m not personally a fan [of bars] at night, especially on weekends.”
Like Toscano and Lombardo, Dempsey also prefers the scene at Kyma and Hendrick’s, as well as Rare650 in Syosset and Monsoon in Babylon, upscale restaurants that regularly have DJ nights and tend to attract clientele in their 40s and older. Dempsey notes that there aren’t many "high-end places that are geared toward the under-40 crowd.”
Bedrosian, whose current ventures include his New York Burger Bars in Massapequa and Babylon Village, describes restaurants such as Rare 650 in Syosset and Hendrick’s Tavern as “the new social scenes of today,” still steadily drawing the 40-and-over audience with DJ parties that spin much of the music Gen X Long Islanders danced to 20 years ago.
As for those monstrous venues like GLO and Malibu, Rivas recalls that sometime between 2005-2010, they were suddenly empty on a Saturday night.
“I think the bar scene just became more popular for the younger generation at the time," Rivas says.
In Greco’s opinion, DWI enforcement was a direct influence on diminishing the interest in club-driven nightlife, as while he agrees that “the awareness of driving while impaired is necessary and important for the safety of all on the road,” he points to enforcement setting up “outside of every major nightclub with DWI checkpoints thus changing the landscape in nighttime entertainment … this combined with the smoking ban and birth of social media contributed to the demise if the nightclub business in suburban markets across the country,” forcing those in the hospitality industry “to find new niches and diversify.”
It’s also not uncommon to stereotype millennials and post-millennials as being overly-focused on social media — but it may not be totally accurate to blame changes in nightlife preferences on Instagram, Facebook and the like.
“I definitely have friends who prefer staying in,” tells Jack Alper about his friends who spend night on their phones versus out at bars, “mostly because it’s not cheap to go out, but I don’t think it’s because they prefer to be social online.”
“I’m not a social media guy,” Dempsey states, explaining he doesn’t “do any of that so I’m the wrong person to ask.”
Did the disappearance of the huge club extend to the Hamptons as well? Assuredly, as while the South Fork is still a vibrant place for summer late-night fun, almost everything worth visiting is east of the Shinnecock Canal. Of all the aforementioned spots once hot in Hampton Bays, only Beach Bar and Boardy Barn still exist and do big business. The mighty Neptune Beach Club ceased operation in 2013.
But if the lines were so long, right to the end, how does a place like Neptune’s fold?
There was hearsay at the time that Southampton Town was actively seeking to usher-out those big-in-the-90s clubs, but that was never confirmed. (In a 2011 email, then-Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst explained that the town board of that time, while not seeking to push nightlife out, was working toward resolving related issues such as crowd control, noise levels and parking issues.)
Maggio isn’t daunted by the changes:
“Some say that nightlife especially on Long Island is dead or at least on life support. I would say it's changed — and [while] you won't see the days of super clubs again anytime soon, there are plenty of brew pubs, roof top bars and riverside deck spots where kids are still doing what we did years ago so nightlife isn't dead. It's just changed.”
“People still go out,” says former nightclub impresario Greco, who helped morph Four into The Refuge. "The same basic recipe for success still exists," he says, noting The Refuge’s success, "but the venues have changed from clubs to restaurants, lounges and outdoor waterfronts.”
He points out that while mega-clubs are gone from Long Island, there are pockets around the country where clubs still exist, and for those wanting that experience, they find themselves in the more tolerant environments of metropolises like New York City where mass transit eliminates the DWI issue or they celebrate occasions on a junket to Las Vegas.
Lombardo, a millennial, says she certainly feels that way.“I [would] much rather be at a club with bottle service, with dancing and lights and sparklers — wearing my best outfit — rather than in a hat [with] sweats and sneakers at a bar listening to a live band."
For Corey Cohen-Oren, the demise of the Generation X club life is simply the nature of growing up.
“Living with the expenses [typical to life on] Long Island, working full time, having two kids and a husband who works at night a lot, well, I like to get into bed as early as possible.
“However, when there’s a chance to dance, I take it.”