On a steamy evening in late July, Ariel Palitz, New York’s nightlife mayor, is taking in the scene at Dimes Square, the Chinatown triangle where Canal, Orchard, and Division Streets converge. Depending on whom you ask, the area is either a thriving downtown scene, a played-out inside joke, or a nonentity. Palitz sees its recent influx of new businesses, which includes the Nine Orchard hotel, as an indicator that New York nightlife is fully back.
“I love the energy,” she says. “You can walk around and pop into different venues, there are people on the street, there’s so much going on — it has a quintessential New York vibe.”
Despite the hardships the pandemic wrought on New York’s $35 billion nightlife industry, Palitz sees plenty to be optimistic about. “I think there’s a lot more gratitude for nightlife now,” she says. “The enthusiasm and excitement people have to get out and socialize is extremely high.”
Palitz is quick to emphasize that her role (official title: “senior executive director” at the New York City Office of Nightlife) does not just involve going out; it’s really about supporting nightlife businesses and helping them navigate the bureaucracy of doing business in a city like New York. It’s about helping restaurant and bar workers, too.
And it’s something she understands firsthand: From 2004 to 2014, Palitz owned Sutra Lounge, on the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street, and during that period she also served on Community Board 3 for seven years. She was two years into leading the city’s new Office of Nightlife when COVID hit.
Since 2020, the Office of Nightlife has helped bars, venues, and restaurants navigate rapidly changing local regulations, on top of everything else. “They’re not just dealing with umbrella blanket issues like COVID, they’re dealing with how to get permits, and licenses and inspections, and their own personal challenges,” she says.
For tonight, however, Palitz, a lifelong New Yorker, is focused on showcasing a corner of the city she’s called home for almost three decades, since 1996, taking us from Dimes Square, up Allen Street, past her old club, and over to Avenue C in Alphabet City for a perfect night out.
“I moved here,” she says, “because I thought it was the nexus of the universe. You can sit on the corner and see people from every walk of life. Almost any type of music or food you’re in the mood for is within arm’s reach.”
Palitz likes to stop by this cozy Portuguese-Spanish seafood spot for fried shrimp heads dusted with paprika, and a spritz, which comes garnished with olives. “I love seafood and fried shrimp heads, and to my shock and dismay they’re not an easy thing to find,” she says. “And the hospitality is wonderful.”
This natural wine bar overlooking Dimes Square is “the perfect place to go when you don’t have any plans,” or for a drink after dinner at Cervo’s. Palitz likes ordering a glass from the rotating list of natural wines and some frites. “It has the sort of café culture where you can sit for hours and watch the Lower East Side go by.”
The Nine Orchard Hotel opened earlier this summer inside the 1912 Beaux Arts Jarmulowsky Bank building, with Estela chef Ignacio Mattos behind its dining concepts, including its classic bistro, Corner Bar. “I think this will be a cornerstone for the neighborhood,” Palitz says, noting its addition to Dimes Square’s variety of options. “You have a dive bar like Clandestino, a great raw bar like Cervo’s, and now, a gorgeous hotel restaurant with a seafood tower. I’m looking forward to spending many an afternoon and evening here.”
On the way to Make Believe — and in true mayoral fashion — Palitz ran into her friends, artists Savior Elmundo and Konstance Patton outside of this low-key spot for, as the name suggests, grilled cheese sandwiches. That night, Cheese Grille played host to an art show in its outdoor dining shed, repurposed as the Art Garage on Allen. It’s not the first time, or the last time, that Palitz runs into friends throughout the night.
This rooftop bar at the Sixty Hotel is “like a dream,” Palitz says. “Everything is pink, and flowery, and romantic.” She likes to stop by for an after-work cocktail, like the Spicy Matcharita, and take in the sunset, although she notes, “as it gets later, it becomes this really great mingling and music room,” with DJs coming to play from around the world. Palitz even held her birthday party here a few years ago, and while she’s there she runs into yet another friend, bartender Ayelet Afek.
This plush piano bar in the former Acme space is, Palitz says, “a great example of reinvention. It’s elegant, cool, exclusive but accessible.” She sees The Nines as the perfect place to bring someone you want to impress. She likes ordering small bites at the bar, and calls out the infamous Kaspian potato, topped with Russian caviar and creme fraiche. “When you see caviar on a potato, you order it.”
Remember the cheese sandwiches and “Cuomo chips” that popped up to appease the former governor’s pandemic mandate that bars serve food with all alcohol? Nublu, the Avenue C jazz club that Palitz calls “a New York institution,” found a creative solution for that when they hired chef and DJ Kamui Sumida to serve hand rolls and omakase out of an upstairs space now known as Studio 151/ Ichi Go Ichi.
“They created this incredible solution to stay open legally, and it’s been so popular it stuck,” Palitz says. Studio 151 is also a vinyl room where some of her favorite DJs, including Stretch Armstrong and DJ Nickodemus have spun records, while downstairs in the Nublu club the performances include jazz, Afrobeat, and hip hop. “I go there whenever I feel like dancing to live music or experiencing something new; I’ll go by myself on the way home or the way out, grab a hand roll and a boogie, and I’m on my way.”
No night out in New York is ever fully complete without one final meal, whether it’s halal chicken over rice, a hot dog, or the classic New York slice. And on this night, Palitz decides to share a few slices from Sauce, with the requisite spicy marinara sauce on the side.