New York in Party Mode (Briefly): Behind the Metro Desk’s Nightlife Project

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There were a lot of late nights. Even nights that became mornings.

The Times’s Metro desk spent six weeks this spring and summer documenting nightlife in New York City as more city dwellers became vaccinated and reveling bloomed. From late May through mid-July, nearly 40 photographers and nine reporters went to D.J. parties, bars, backyards and curbside gatherings.

New York at Night, a project in pictures, video and text that published online Friday, is a reminder of all the ways New Yorkers cut loose. Yes, there are wild warehouse parties in Brooklyn. But nightlife is also a dominoes game in the Bronx, a taco stand in Queens or a backyard hangout in Staten Island.

“You think of nightclubs, of course,” said Meghan Louttit, a deputy Metro editor who helped lead the project, but a goal was to capture the aspects of the city many don’t get to see, in all its vibrancy.

The team began by listing types of events it wanted to cover. Organized parties like Papi Juice and Hot Rabbit were important, and the time frame would overlap with Pride Month, the annual celebration of L.G.B.T.Q. rights. But there was also a focus on other kinds of free-spirited gatherings.

“After a few weeks we started asking, what are we missing?” Ms. Louttit said. “We don’t have karaoke. So we need to go out and shoot karaoke.”

Jonah Markowitz went out six nights, shooting video with his Canon C500 camera mounted to a stabilizing rig.

“I’ve had early call times,” he said. “But this was the first time I’ve ever had an alarm at 3 a.m. so I could go to the very end of a rave.”

Mr. Markowitz captured a sweaty, mostly shirtless party at Brooklyn Steel. Another time, he photographed children playing in the cool shower of a fire hydrant. People were ecstatic just to be back together, he said.

In mid-June, as summer arrived and city and state authorities lifted the last major coronavirus restrictions, the party mood intensified. Then, the project seemed to be capturing a more permanent return to a prepandemic world. Currently, however, virus cases are rising again in the city, putting those days in a different light.

“Now it feels like we captured this window, this really lovely period of time,” Ms. Louttit said.

The photographer Mohamed Sadek started the assignment making digital photographs but found himself feeling too distant and formal. In searching for a more relaxed tone, what he called the “vernacular photograph,” he switched to a Minolta Leica point-and-shoot film camera. “Like you would be with your friends,” he said.

Reporters volunteered for which parties — and hours — they wanted to cover. Julia Carmel, who wrote and wove together the reporting for the project, chose the sunrise shift, when dancing pulsed past dawn. She perfected the “disco nap,” recharging after a day of work before going to all-night parties. She didn’t use a notebook, instead recording interviews on a voice memo app with her phone upside down in her shirt pocket.

Mr. Sadek looked for moments of intimacy with his camera. “I was not having a hard time finding people making out — the only other moment that was like that is New Year’s Eve,” he said.

Whether at crowded techno halls or smaller gatherings where people orbited the kitchen island, Ms. Carmel was reminded that reporting on nightlife requires the same social aptitude that going out for fun does.

“A lot of it is walking into a party by yourself and looking for someone who looks like they’d be open to talking,” she said.

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