Outsiders generally think of NYC on New Year’s Eve in a very narrow way: Times Square and the moment when the dropping ball declares the new year official. Even as far away as Australia (where the new year actually starts a day earlier), they dream of being in Times Square for the big party they’ve seen on tellie. What non-New Yorkers don’t realize is that most New Yorkers stay away from 42d Street as if the site were damaged by a chemical spill.
It’s not just that the decades of celebration on TV have made the whole thing uncool. Beyond that, it’s the experience itself that is unpalatable. In order to be within eyeshot of the ball, or even within a dozen blocks of it, you must arrive early in the day, And then you are stuck, herded into a pen for crowd control. There’s no alcohol drinking unless you can be really secretive about it, and got stuff past the police checkpoints in the first place. You can’t leave your pen, not for a toilet break, nor to run into a lobby to get warm. If you do, you can’t come back. So you stand out in the cold for 6 or more hours, partying like it’s a temperance rally. This year, the temperature was a blustery, bone-frosting 20F (-10C). If you do want to consider this, perhaps the only good way is to snag a ticket at one of the venues in Times Square or a smorgasbord offering called the “Times Square All Access Pass.” That gets you into a variety of bars and hotels in the area for $300 to $400.
For the real parties, though, there are a lot better options for where to go, as locals say, “until the ball drops.” It’s New York, so there are expensive venues like luxury yachts in the Hudson, fancy restaurants and clubs like Chelsea’s Marquee or Webster Hall or Output (with its 24 hour event), each costing maybe a couple of 100 dollars per person. The famous jazz venue in Greenwich Village, Blue Note, offered a 7pm show and a 9pm show that went past midnight, each for the cost of a few hundred dollars admission. If you waited, however, the 1am post-ball drop show went for hours, and cost a modest $20.
And then there are the music-driven or artsy parties that seem to happen in every nook and cranny in the city and throughout the boroughs too, many of which are quite reasonably priced. New York is filled with promotional and media companies eager to show off their hipness and throw a memorable event, bursting with planned and impromptu sideshows, top shelf DJs and fully-stocked bars. There are hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of publicly available possibilities for having a better time than you’ll find in Times Square. The most notable options are easily found in newspaper or online listings plus Time Out. This is a big town, though, and most sell out, so it’s smart to get a ticket ahead of time. If you prefer to cruise, you can spy out the local club scenes as you walk the streets all around town, each marked by bouncers and roped off lines of chilled people.
Our family, with whom we were celebrating, had a three part plan for the evening. At 6pm, cook a great dinner together and take the time to enjoy it at our home base in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Around 10:30, head to a modest-sized club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (formerly downtrodden, but now very gentrified), where we knew the owners/party-givers and where friends of our children were gathering. After the ball drop, say 1am, two of us planned to stay at the club, while the rest of us switched to other options: one to an artsy media event at a warehouse in Queens, the two of us to join a friend from Dallas at the Blue Note in the city (where the icy queue lasted an hour and the music kept going until 4am), one to a house party in Brooklyn to celebrate with other friends till 5am. After that, sleep and recovery till the next afternoon.
Attending multiple parties during the night is common here, so many people party-hop around town. As a result, and because no one in their right mind drives on New Year’s Eve, finding an available taxi can be challenging. The subway works well as an alternative, but in the middle of the night, you can wait a long time for some trains and connections. We managed to do pretty well with the popular service Uber and the newer Hailo, handy ways of snagging a taxi or “black car” via your phone. Even so, later on in the night, it was tough to get a taxi. And it could be expensive, double or more on the regular price. We resorted to the subway and got lucky on train connections. Some of us got lucky in finding open cabs. Some knew the ropes.
We learned that you never tell the Manhattan cabbie you’re going to Brooklyn, or other boroughs, until you’re in the vehicle: though strictly not allowed, they find a way to refuse you unless you jump inside first, and then can’t kick you out. Our favorite method of the evening was piggy-backing. One of us scanned the cabs already headed up Delancey to the Williamsburg Bridge until he found one with an empty front seat. Waving a $20 bill, he persuaded the people already in the cab to add him onto the trip. Why not? They got a free ride.
So forget the ball drop at Times Square, but come to New York to choose among the best of parties elsewhere in town, and perhaps some of the longest in the world. Trying to clear our heads by mid-afternoon on the 1st, not too long after waking up, we were staggering from our apartment to join the rest of the family a few blocks away. Hailed with a cheery and surprisingly wakeful “Happy New Year,” we passed a very well dressed group of people, all good friends it appeared from their demeanor, just leaving a tented venue in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. Without doubt, they had been celebrating there since some time the night before. A very long night’s party into day.