The Nights When New York Felt Alive Again

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There was a glorious yet fleeting moment this summer, between waves, when the Covid case count was at its lowest since the beginning of the pandemic. Before the Delta variant began heightening anxieties and led to increased calls for a return to wearing masks, the city felt, shockingly, almost normal.

At no time was that more evident than the hours between sunset and sunrise, when New York’s streets became electric. We headed back to our regular haunts, and at bustling Pride celebrations we rediscovered the kind of liberation that comes from losing track of your limbs in a crowd.

Neighbors played dominoes and drank lukewarm tequila. The finance bros of Manhattan went hard during happy hour and ended the night well before neon-haired ravers, who piled into subway cars with plans to dance until the sun came back up.

Over eight weeks between May and July, The New York Times sent 40 photographers and nine reporters to all five boroughs to document performances, house parties, bars, dance floors and all the chaos that makes New York come alive in the dark. The portfolio captures the collective risk that many New Yorkers took to revel in the city’s deeply missed party scene. Now, as cases spike once more, the moment looks a little like a reckless tragedy averted, but these euphoric weeks were a release from the heaviness of the year — a hint at what we will hope will be waiting for us on the other side.

After months of lifted and relaxed restrictions, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that indoor entertainment and performance venues will need to require proof of vaccinations from patrons, another challenge for nightlife venues. But the industry will be crucial to the city’s recovery — both spiritually and economically. A study conducted in 2016 showed that New York’s nightlife industry was supporting nearly 300,000 jobs and generating $35.1 billion annually. Ariel Palitz, the senior executive director of the city’s Office of Nightlife, said that nightlife provides about $697 million each year in local tax revenue.

And though the most recent rise in cases has proven how fragile and uncertain recovery will be, it’s clear that nightlife will find a way to return as long as people still crave the escape of moving through a room of strangers.

“The pandemic really highlighted what was essential in this city and what’s a luxury,” Ms. Palitz said. “This industry has always been seen as nice to have, but now we know it’s a need. It is absolutely part of our fabric, of our daily lives.”

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