For some reason, when people start talking about clubbing, they get a bizarre urge to state the obvious. In honor of those people (and to save a few frustrating conversations, I’ll do it for you: Boston is not New York City. Shocked? Didn’t think so. This city is smaller, it has a very college-skewed population, and as such, its options, dance-wise, are different than some other metro areas. But that doesn’t make it all bad.
It’s also no secret that the dominant factor in a positive club experience is the music. So (and this is especially for all you techno-haters out there) here is a smattering of some of the better and lesser-known venues, broken down (predominantly) with music, mood and attitude in mind.
Finding a good hip-hop club in Boston isn’t quite as hard as, say, finding a liquor store open on Sunday, but it does take some looking. The most likely sources of hip-hop are the college clubs, which tend to heavily favor the less-innovative fare popular on MTV.
But if you want a hip-hop night somewhere other than Nellyville, you can always spend your Tuesdays and Thursdays at Aria, a swank Tremont Street lounge whose tiny dance floor packs quickly when its top-notch sound system starts booming. The $15 cover is a bit steep for Boston, but the plush layout, top quality DJ talent, and champagne-sipping, flossed-out fellow clubgoers make it worth the investment.
If you’re planning a trip to Vertigo, a small club a stone’s throw from Faneuil Hall, you might want to pack the black pants, but you can check your pretension at the door. The well-dressed, friendly crowd frequents this no-frills club for one thing and one thing only: dancing. If you plan to sit in the corner and sulk, slink away to the pub around the corner instead.
Karma lets in the 18-year-olds on Thursday nights, which can be a little frustrating. The good news is that the dance floor is big enough that you can avoid them, and the panoply of other clubs on the Lansdowne strip offer a lifeline for when the teenybopper set gets too ridiculous.
On Thursday and Friday nights, The Exchange is usually a safe bet. Not quite as hot right now as Aria and Vertigo, this club draws a crowd worth looking at with music good enough to keep you on the dance floor.
The Emily’s/SW1 complex tries to bridge the gap between a college club and a more upscale joint. Its DJs cater heavily to the masses, its crowds tend heavily toward starched-shirt former fratboys and the women who love them, and its dance floor isn’t the most roomy. Still, the cover is cheap (women often get in free), the drinks are strong, and novices won’t feel like their dance skills can’t compete.
For obvious reasons, various sorts of Irish bars fronting as nightclubs tend to be a predominant mode of entertainment for Boston’s college crowd, and that makes going to them fairly unavoidable. Allston’s The Kells has some things going for it — it’s big, its crowd is cute enough, and it’s a cheap cab ride away from HLS. Plus, with two floors, at least one usually has something pleasantly unoffensive playing,
The same is true of An Tua Nua, a slightly more upscale bar competing for the Kells’ business.
Less can be said of Faneuil Hall’s Coogan’s, a sticky, sweaty overcrowded mess on any weekend night, and Jose McIntyre’s, where the bored (or maybe ambitious) can dance, get roaring drunk and watch sports on giant screen TVs all on the same dance floor. The perfect place for dropping the H-bomb, and one of few where that pathetic tactic might work.
Over here in Cambridge, Phoenix Landing actually offers a little of both. This Central Square hangout draws heavily on the college set, and its interior is nothing to write home about. However, it’s known to draw some top-notch drum and bass DJs, and better yet, it’s only a long stumble or short cab ride back to Harvard Square.
And of course, if your only goal is getting sloshed and scheming on Harvard affiliates of one stripe or another, you can’t ignore the upstairs of the Hong Kong, where fairly consistent, if predictable, mainstream hip-hop can be heard throughout the weekend. Just don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning next to someone you know.
To expand your horizons outside of HLS, but not too far from the gutter, there’s always the extremely festive Big Easy/Sugar Shack complex in the alley on Boylston street. Again, expect mainstream hip-hop and Top-40, oversized Bud Lights, and boozed-up college kids. It may not be glossy, but it nonetheless can be a good time if you’re in the mood for it.
Glitz, Glamour and Techno
If you’re a 1L with a pulse, HL Central or someone similar has probably already wooed you to Pravda, whose glossy look, impressive liquor selection and decked-out international crowd can’t compensate for generally abysmal house DJs.
Electronica fans would be better served by Avalon, Boston’s largest and probably best nightclub, where big-name stars like Paul Van Dyk and others are known to tear it up at the popular Avaland party. Roxy and Venu, two of the other biggest clubs in the area, also draw the beautiful people with regularity, with top-notch DJs to boot.
Cambridge itself has one of the area’s best clubs in Manray, an upscale club for people tired of the same old thing. Friday fetish nights are the most impressive — wear all black or something outrageous or expect not to get in the door — and Thursday’s gay-friendly Campus party is one of the area’s hottest college scenes.
Across the street from the Sugar Shack and Big Easy in the Boylston alley is La Boom, whose opulent interior (and equally pretty crowd) suffers from abysmally inconsistent music. The dance floor is large, and bars are easily accessible, but if you’re looking to dance, it doesn’t cut it.