Seeking Likeminded Ravers

I’ve gone out a lot over the years. I’ve had my fair share of extraordinary experiences both inside and outside the club. The club is easy: it’s a known quantity, there is a relatively higher level of professionalism (hopefully, really—OK, only sometimes true, really—and OK, sometimes it’s especially really fun when the opposite is true), and there are generally just fewer variables involved with a night out at the club vs. an “underground spot,” a private location, TBA, whatever you want to call it.

But since last year, when lockdown began to ease up in San Francisco—my God, it went on so long, the social catatonia, two and a half years just deleted from memory, chucked into the bin—I’ve been after something very specific with my nights out. Mostly I think it’s that I’m getting older: I’m becoming much more aware of my own mortality, sort of, like not necessarily in a morbid way, just becoming aware, in a visceral sense, that time is limited, that my days on this good Earth are finite, and so I feel this urgency toward a certain kind of nightlife experience. These days I strive to party intentionally.

By party intentionally I certainly don’t mean some namaste-type shit. I mean if that’s your thing no judgment of course, but I like my intoxicants, legal or otherwise, and I like to get dumb. I mean that my ideal kind of party is “community-led,” and by this I mean a nightlife experience created by the individuals participating for the individuals participating. That reads like woo-woo and I guess it kind of is, but it’s also something where I know it when I see it and experience it, like pornography.

This was that kind of party. It took place at a very special spot in San Francisco—you probably know the spot if you go out in the city regularly. This spot, it’s run by people I love—people who care, people who are invested in the Bay, people I respect. Totally nondescript from the outside, there are two floors inside: an upstairs where socializing and mingling happens, and a dancefloor downstairs that’s just the right size—my big room days are long behind me, and so more than ever I’m after dancefloors that hold maybe 75-100 at max capacity.

The people who put the party on are also people I know and love, but that’s beside the point. (No, seriously.) The door was handled by folks from our community; behind the bar were friends, one of whom is a winemaker, offering their own delicious natty red on tap; rice was available, for free, if you were hungry; the whole venue was decorated and visually lush, a day’s work from another party organizer; and another friend, a talented fragrance artist, created a custom scent, regularly piped throughout the dance floor, clarifying my topsy-turvy senses each time I caught a whiff.

The point is that everyone involved in organizing this party contributed something and everyone worked to build this moment so that we, the attendees, could revel—and so we reveled.

I knew just enough of the crowd personally to spend the first few hours of the party in full-blown social animal mode—which is also why I love parties like this, because I get to mainline conversation with people I think are interesting. The folks I didn’t know were clearly there for the right reasons, too.

The music was good. I don’t have much more to say than that, which isn’t a read—I swallowed a bean and by half past midnight the beanstalk had lifted me all the way up into the clouds—but the tunes were juicy and percussive, polyrhythmic but party-flavored. I caught the end of Faited’s set and stayed locked in a single spot on the dancefloor for the entire four hours of Zo’s set—shoutout to those nearby friends who gave me water. She did play an edit of “Sandstorm,” which was memorable because somehow, that was the first time I’ve ever heard it played out, and I asked her about it later: “It’s a banger track, and if you’re too good to dance to it, this party probably isn’t for you.” Real.

At 4 a.m., the cops came. First I noticed the swirling sirens peeking into the dancefloor through some high-up windows; then I noticed a state of malaise sweeping through the crowd; and finally, as red and blue lights shimmered across the room, the music stopped.

This was the spot’s first noise complaint and its first encounter with police. I would learn later that the person who called in the complaint lived down the street, a single father with kids, and they couldn’t sleep. Again, real. The cops spoke with the organizers—each in varying states of alteration themselves—and eventually, the cops left.

By that time it was probably 4:30 in the morning, and while the dancefloor did not recover, the party went on. Suddenly it became a feverish sort of house-party vibe, as many folks crowded upstairs and began chattering into oblivion. I thought briefly about heading home, but I decided to stay.

Not much to report after that. You know the drill. I finally left when the sun came up around 7 a.m., the first time I’ve stayed out that late-slash-early in probably years. As I took a car home, I began to feel an extraordinary gratitude for these kinds of experiences, and for my life in San Francisco—a beautiful city beset, as you’ve probably heard, by challenges—and especially for the community of beautiful, talented people I call my friends, peers, and comrades.

Sometimes, the party hits just right, and when it does, it’s a really special thing.