“Didn’t I see you at another blogger party recently? Or did I dream it?” asked Lindsay Robertson, an editor for the Comedy Central network’s Insider blog.
She was speaking to a fellow online scribe standing by the bar one recent Friday night at White Rabbit on East Houston Street. Her sense of déjà vu was understandable: According to her personal Web site, Lindsayism.com, “all my friends are bloggers.” And like many of her blogger friends, Ms. Robertson is often spotted hanging out in bars on the Lower East Side, where she also resides.
The blogosphere may be boundless, but the Manhattanites who prop it up with constant commentary every day have tended to materialize at night in the densely liquor-licensed area south of East Houston Street. Their frequent nocturnal networking transcends the ordinary co-worker happy hour. It’s the physical manifestation of years of electronic linkage, vis-à-vis reading and commenting on each other’s Web sites from the solitude of their own homes, which eventually results in actual face-to-face meetings.
The young community of writers that has so annoyed the mainstream media gathers together to recharge their inner cynics, spread gossip and get fitshaced. Their little nucleus of the L.E.S. has its own name, “Hell Square,” (Map) which refers to East Houston, Allen and Delancey streets to the north, west and south, and Delancey Bar to the east, just past Clinton.
“I think it was mostly that there were a bunch of bars with cheap drinks, places to live nearby with cheap rent, and lots of space and little attitude,” said John Carney, editor of the Wall Street news site DealBreaker.com, about the early days. “It was a social space that wasn’t yet run by anyone, so we could kind of invent our own thing.”
The blogger party-scene demo is overwhelmingly white—some might say pasty-faced, given the number of hours logged in front of flickering computer screens—save for the occasional appearance of Patrice Evans, creator of the urban-music site Assimilated Negro. It is a college-educated yet often high-schoolish crowd, prone to cliquish divisions, typically separating the A-list full-time professional bloggers from the spare-time regular joes—not to mention the reviled D-lister hangers-on who’ve been said to clear out a room by their very presence.
There are the usual drunken hookups and rumors of infidelity that generally accompany any sizable group of friends in their 20’s and 30’s—not to mention widespread partner-swapping perhaps best demonstrated, according to several bloggers, by the babe-hopping habits of BlackTable.com editor A.J. Daulerio.
Verbal spats are common, particularly when the neighborhood’s most argumentative old-school blogger, Andrew Krucoff, is involved. But no blogger could recall an actual fistfight.
One regular, however, did report an illicit hot-tub soak involving some of the city’s better-known bloggers, which resulted in their expulsion from the Hotel on Rivington. The party then continued at nearby Schiller’s Liquor Bar. “That’s about as hard-core as bloggers get,” he said.
Over a half-empty glass of Pinot Grigio, one professional blogger confessed to The Observer her burning desire to somehow “smoke pot and snort coke at the same time.”
THE SOCIAL SCENE DATES BACK BEFORE GAWKER, before Gothamist, before the Huffington Post, back to a time, shortly after the turn of the century, when bloggers blogged just for the hell of it, or for vanity, not a paycheck—a small community of whom lived in and around the Lower East Side. They were folks like Ms. Robertson and her then-roommate, Sarah Lewitinn, known via the Internet as “Ultragrrrl,” as well as the now seemingly ubiquitous Lockhart Steele, whose eponymous blog back then focused primarily on happenings in the immediate neighborhood.
While not every New York blogger hails from the Lower East Side, probably all of them have been to the Magician.
The low-key Rivington Street bar’s status as the blogosphere’s unofficial after-hours headquarters has been a running insiderish joke for years. It’s a gloomy joint, slightly illuminated by the glow of a jukebox, where frequenters hunker down at tables over beers and stiff drinks ordered up from friendly yet not always prompt tenders at the fully stocked bar.
Dubbed “Blogger High’s Peach Pit” by one-time Gridskipper guest editor Greg Lindsay—a reference to the fictional diner on TV’s Beverly Hills, 90210—the Magician became the de facto happy-hour destination for the writers at local haps site Gothamist. And, given its spacious back room, the venue was a frequent spot for big blogger blowouts, especially birthday parties. And people noticed. Village Voice writer Rachel Kramer Bussel once joked that on any given weekend at the Magician, “at least three tragically hip media folks will be celebrating their latest twentysomething age gain.”
It was here also that Mr. Carney first noticed the influx of shiny shirts infiltrating the Magician’s more traditional printed-T-and-jeans set. “Somehow,” he said, “[the bar] had been ‘discovered.’”
As the Magician became increasingly crowded on weekends, bloggers converged more regularly elsewhere—even on their birthdays. Last month, in fact, Gawker scribe Alex Balk and Huffington Post editrix Rachel Sklar took their combined birthday bash to the far-less-packed White Rabbit on East Houston Street.
The encroachment upon blogger turf wasn’t confined to the Magician alone, however. It seemed to be spreading throughout the immediate area. “The streets were unpassable, crowded with the sort of people we once imagined were confined to the meatpacking district. And they were filling up the bars,” according to Mr. Carney.
One night at Local 138 on Ludlow Street, Mr. Carney and cohort Kevin Kearney, a writer for the now-defunct humor site Monoki, decided they’d endured enough body-surfing through the less Web-connected masses: “[We] made a pledge that we were banning the entire area from Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. ‘It’s Hell,’ Kevin said. ‘Hell Square, and we’re not going there anymore.’”
Months after the two sealed their pact, during the wee hours of Jan. 14, Mr. Carney was mowed down by a hit-and-run driver just outside the “Hell Square” border, at the intersection of Allen and Delancey streets—suffering several fractures and spending a number of days in the hospital.
After the Magician, the next blogger hotspot was Lolita, a candle-lit liquor bar adorned with pop-art paintings of topless women, located on Broome Street, south of Delancey. When that place got discovered, the scene moved on to German-style biergarten Loreley along Rivington Street near the Bowery. At press time, the barely-four-month-old Marshall Stack on Rivington, across Allen Street, also outside the “Hell Square” boundary, was the latest blogger hotspot.
“A part of it is the normal rise and fall of a bar,” said Jake Dobkin, publisher of Gothamist, via e-mail. “A place becomes too crowded, and one part of the scene breaks off and the rest of the people soon follow them. This kind of thing is particularly pronounced with bloggers, because more than most people, they want to feel they are at the forefront of things, always at the new in-place. In reality, this just means they are more sensitive to peer-pressure than most people—as soon as one person defects, it can start a lemming stampede.”
Amid the scramble for an enduring yet undiscovered Magician equivalent, divisions in the social strata have become more apparent.
Some bloggers suggested the scene is nothing more cohesive than a random barroom sampling of blogging all-stars and lesser-knowns. Others denied the very existence of any definable blog community. At least at the present time. “The idea that all the bloggers hang out together is kind of false,” according to Mr. Steele. “[It] was much more true in 2003-2004 than now.”
“There are so many bloggers now that the idea we could all meet at one bar just doesn’t work anymore,” he added.
Still, a new blogger-centric faction has emerged. A number of prominent bloggers use Dodgeball, a social-networking service for your cell phone, created by Lower East Side denizen and Teendrama blogger Dennis Crowley, that alerts subscribers to your whereabouts and vice versa.
“I’d say it’s more the Dodgeball scene that now rules L.E.S., not the bloggers per se,” said Mr. Steele, himself a Dodgeball member, “but the difference between the two scenes might take an anthropologist to sort out.”
Or maybe not. The top-rated venue visited by the blogger-created service with the multi-blogger membership in December? The Magician.
Obviously, the old standby still has a few enduring regulars. Mr. Krucoff, for one, hosted a rather last-minute pre-holiday party on Dec. 19 at the all-too-typical haunt, on behalf of his personal site, Young Manhattanite. (His motto is “Corporate Blogging Still Sucks.”)
Mr. Krucoff, perhaps best known by the dubious title “Gawker mascot,” occasionally has described his Lower East Side neighbor, Mr. Steele, as “the hub” of the downtown blogger social set. But he’s a bit of networker himself. The party attracted an eclectic mix of Web geeks and even drew a few A-listers, including “the hub” himself, Mr. Steele.
A few weeks later, The Observer spotted Mr. Krucoff again in the same spot. Not surprisingly, he’s also on Dodgeball. “The Magician is a block away from where I live,” he explained later via e-mail, “and I’m a creature with a pretty small comfort zone.”
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