New York City’s pandemic party scene can’t stop, won’t stop — even if it infects somebody.
Despite attempts at a full reopening of non-essential businesses, COVID-19 restrictions regarding social events remain clear: “Indoor and outdoor gatherings statewide at private residences will be limited to no more than 10 people,” according to New York state health officials.
But party monsters are rarely apt to play by the rules, let alone be dissuaded by law enforcement — despite the highly contagious coronavirus having sickened over 21 million Americans since January 2020 and killing 371,000 people so far. Undeterred, promoters continue hyping splashy, full-service parties and raves on social media, through fliers and digital invitations emblazoned with DJ monikers, hospitality brands, and sometimes even venue names, if not a “secret location,” obtained by “DMing for details.”
Sources tell The Post their events maintain recommended health measures — but alarming packed-house videos posted on social media might raise eyebrows — and one venue was even forced to shut down. Meanwhile, many who put the kibosh on their own social lives in the interest of safety and accountability are disappointed and concerned with how this trend may reflect on the culture.
“Dollars over lives,” event organizer Lesly Remy Jr., 40, co-founder of techno dance party collective Long Count Cycle in Brooklyn, told The Post. “The current trend of plague raving … [is] eroding peoples’ trust in the ability of a promoter to keep them safe.”
The shutdown risk is real
While many of these ragers take place in undisclosed basements, penthouses and various other clandestine locations, some promoters are brazen enough to display the venue name and address in public announcements, such as Rebel Cafe & Garden in Bushwick — once the site of a regular event hosted by DJ Mark Dumitrescu’s electronic label, aptly called Undisclosed Records.
Dumitrescu declined to comment on the record when contacted by The Post.
Meanwhile, Rebel Cafe, which launched just six months prior, recently shut its doors to any parties “until further notice,” according to Matt Shendell, CEO of Paige Concepts, which runs Rebel, as well as the Ainsworth and newly opened Court Street Tavern.
In an exclusive statement to The Post, Shendell said “every time we’ve [booked Rebel to a private party], we’ve had to shut the event down.” Rebel is now open only for take-out and delivery.
Shendell said he’d hoped to keep the party going, responsibly, if only pesky promoters had been more forthcoming about events booked at his venue. He claims they often “misrepresented” their parties by assuring they would be safely managed by enforcing capacity limits and masks.
That didn’t happen, as seen in one Dec. 14 video obtained by The Post showing mask-less revelers dancing shoulder-to-shoulder. A clip posted by Dumitrescu has since been deleted, though it lives on in other DJs’ accounts. Shendell found it horrifying.
“The people throwing the events have been misleading, dishonest and have not assisted in any way with the COVID situation,” Shendell told The Post, “then riding off into the sunset with ticket money.”
Ariel Palitz, senior executive director of the city’s Office of Nightlife, condemns any illicit underground gatherings.
“We’re speaking with many within the industry who strongly oppose underground parties at this moment because these events put lives at risk and delay the return of a thriving nightlife scene,” she told The Post in a statement.
Even during the most promising days of summer, Phase 4 of the city’s reopening efforts, groups were limited to 50 people — not 400, as one recent bash on Long Island boasted. Since the start of the pandemic, local law enforcement has busted potentially dozens of illegal gatherings, including a sex party in Queens, a bottle club in Manhattan and several more raves held throughout the boroughs.
New year is not off to a happy start
On New Year’s Eve, the New York Sheriff’s Office dispersed three more crowded events, two in Queens and one in Manhattan — the latter with ties to Ivan Busheski, general manager of Omar’s La Boite, who also allegedly violated lockdown rules earlier this year for the same reason.
Sources tell The Post he’s regularly hosted events throughout 2020.
Busheski, 34, now faces a potential fine of up to $15,000 and revealed via his now-disabled Instagram account on Saturday that La Boite would be “forced to close their doors temporarily,” pleading for donations to support out-of-work staff.
Busheski did not respond to The Post’s request for comment. Shortly following the bust, however, he posted a series of Instagram Stories addressing the charges, which included footage of the police raid at 177 Prince St. “They can take everything from us, but they definitely can’t break us,” he wrote alongside a hushed-mouth emoji.
He also told Page Six that “he’s been raided 11 times.”
“People think we’re doing this illegal stuff,” Busheski said. “They’ve tried to arrest me seven times, but they can’t arrest me for anything. In fact, [the city sheriff] was like, ‘You’re the top three people reported in the city. Your enemies, your competition, they hate you. We know you’re doing something really stupid, but we’re doing our job.’”
Community watchdogs bite back on social
The prevalence of parties in NYC has even spawned social media watchdogs, who are blowing the whistle on bootleg bashes.
“The sheriff’s office would lose it if they had to bust all those parties,” said Kristina Alaniesse, whose viral Instagram account @CovidDJsNYC became infamous by outing local DJs, promoters, producers and other nightlife professionals caught engaging in illegal parties. The main watchdog account as well as the backup @CovidDJsNYC2, previously managed by Alaniesse and other unnamed industry players, has since been disabled by the social media platform. The archive of parties that “Miss K & Co” uncovered have since been moved to a blog post on Medium.
Alaniesse, 36, has made it her mission during the pandemic to bring illegal gatherings to light — so when the city reopens in full swing, the opportunists won’t be hired again.
“Most of those promoters and DJs are capitalizing off the fact that the industry is shut down and they don’t have any competition,” said Manhattan resident Alaniesse of her peers who insist on putting on illegal parties. Meanwhile, she told The Post, “veteran folks are starving for the greater good.”
One of those veterans told The Post he supports Alaniesse and her cohorts’ efforts, claiming he’s “keeping a spreadsheet of receipts.”
“I won’t book them after this and won’t want to work with them,” said David, an influential nightlife producer of nearly 15 years. The Brooklyn producer asked The Post to withhold his full identity with regard to his association with high profile venues in the city.
Remy, too, said there’s no love lost between his group and those throwing illicit parties: “It’s easier to navigate the field when you know where the land mines are.”
“We have no desire or motivation to organize any event if the safety of our patrons can’t be maintained,” he added.
Shane P., a Brooklyn nightlife performer of more than a decade, with billings at Webster Hall, Santos Party House and more, believes the trend “absolutely wreaks of privilege.”
“I hope to see these corny, narcissistic DJs that are hosting these super-spreader events blackballed,” said Shane, who told The Post he, like Alaniesse, has taken the heat on social media for being outspoken. “Do these people not understand what the stakes are? A lot of the partygoers are spreading their germs all over the city [and] some of y’all don’t even live here.”
David, who books at venues and events throughout the city, sympathizes with peers in a financial bind. “I see friends of mine … doing anything they can to survive — taking construction jobs, moving in with their parents, going back to school. I have so much respect for them.”
Gabriel Levy, owner of the Lower East Side’s Rumpus Room, echoed David’s remarks. “For the people out there who are throwing or supporting parties, you are only perpetuating the death cycle,” Levy said, in a statement to The Post. “I understand the desperation … in the face of the government’s failure to adequately support [the industry]. But the solution is not to kill ourselves and others by operating illegally.”
But germs be damned, say the city’s pandemic revelers, whose opinions on COVID-19 range from a willful ignorance, believing the city has already seen the worst of it, to indifference in the face of personal financial struggles. The Post reached out to more than two dozen individuals and venues associated with publicly advertised parties, called out by Alaniesse’s @CovidDJsNYC account, between December and January — all of whom declined to go “on the record,” if they responded at all.
“I have thrown questionably safe parties,” said one such source, who agreed to reveal himself as Mr. Fox, an alias used earlier this year to anonymously promote his parties, which ceased before the city reached its peak daily COVID-19 death rate in April. Now, he said, “I don’t believe the risk-to-reward [ratio] is worth it.”
Multiple insiders acknowledged an inevitability to the underground party scene.
“People can’t be held down,” said Mr. Fox, adding wishes that “someone decent” would step up to organize safer events “instead of the clowns that do it for profit.”
“We wouldn’t be doing anything if we didn’t have to,” said another inside source, who agreed to speak to The Post on the condition that his identity be revealed only as a former host of the now-defunct The Roof at Output in Williamsburg.
The club kid claimed that many of these events are doing everything they can to maintain various safety measures as suggested by the state Department of Health, such as guest temperature checks and mask requirements.
But he complained that workers of the city’s lucrative nightlife and entertainment industries aren’t being taken care of in a way that is commensurate with the $35 billion industry, according to a 2019 report released by the mayor’s office, which employs some 299,000 New Yorkers.
“Why would nightlife workers ever be put into such a precarious position?” he said, pointing to the fact that vulnerable populations, including queer and minority folks, are at the center of it.
Mayor’s Office of Nightlife: ‘Don’t drop the ball’
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s was the first administration to launch a city agency in 2017 dedicated to the industry, the Office of Nightlife, which told The Post their mission has always been to advocate for musicians, DJs, promoters, producers, bars and restaurants.
Those efforts paid off recently when Congress passed the Save Our Stages Act, which allots a bailout of $15 billion toward independent music venues, movie theaters and related businesses, as part of the most recent COVID-19 relief bill — though it could take weeks or months for that cash to reach those who need it now. They’ve also pushed to allow restaurants to expand their space into streets and sidewalks to make up for indoor dining and for looser restrictions on the use of portable heating units, which may help many businesses on the brink continue to operate through the winter.
Nevertheless, many of their public awareness campaigns have centered around social distancing and staying home, such as their 2020 holiday season initiative, “Celebrate Responsibly, Don’t Drop the Ball.”
“As a former operator, I feel the struggle that nightlife is going through, and we’re doing everything in our power to support them,” said Palitz, who owned and operated Lower East Side nightclub Sutra for a decade.
Even the most aboveboard events with all the trappings of coronavirus safety can be full of risk. Last month, a story featuring wedding photographers in Texas Monthly went viral on social media for revealing how event staffers are falling ill despite mandatory face masks and COVID-19 testing requirements. Nearly all of the local insiders The Post spoke to for this story reported that a number of their colleagues had tested positive for the coronavirus after being hired to work events that promised to follow all the proper restrictions and testing protocols.
The heat from law enforcement has prompted an “exodus” to warmer, less restrictive cities in the South and beyond, namely the Caribbean, Tulum, Mexico, and Miami, including by Mr. Fox, who reported that Florida’s Magic City officials have been more “relaxed” with social restrictions compared to NYC.
“The kicker is when the [law enforcement] come in to check — they turn the sound down a slight bit in order to notify everyone to be on their best behavior and put masks on,” he said of Miami bashes.
But Big Apple parties rage on. Footage of a party shared just after New Year’s Eve, held at an unnamed location, was shared via Instagram Stories by Dumitrescu and included a shot of an indoor projector display telling guests “MASK ON” around 7 a.m., according to the timestamp, alongside three crying-laughing emojis.
The party that started in the wee hours continued until well into the afternoon, as seen in the video — dancing like it was 2019.