This October, Soho nightlife is turning green. Jon Bakhshi, impresario of meatpacking district hot spots Home and Guest House, is set to open his third club: a new eco-friendly space called Greenhouse. Mr. Bakhshi, known as “Jon B.” along club row, envisions an environmentally friendly venue with guests dancing on flooring made from recyclable material. Gyrating ladies, with their blown-out hair and glittery tops, will shimmer under low-voltage lights. Guys, lounging on buttery couches made from recyclable material, will sip on organic alcohol mixed with fresh juices. In early designs, Mr. Bakhshi pictured two floors, with a gigantic waterfall and a ceiling bursting with live plants. (He’s since scaled back.) The toilets? They’d flush efficiently.
“People can’t wait for me to open,” said Mr. Bakhshi, 31, the promoter turned club owner who escorted the bridge-and-tunnel masses into the meatpacking district in the mid-’90s. “For me, I just want the perfect venue.”
During Fashion Week in Paris last fall, leggy supermodel duo Jessica Stam and Carmen Kass hosted a celebratory party for Greenhouse at swanky Parisian club Le Baron. “I’m not sure an eco-friendly nightclub is gonna fly,” Ms. Stam told a Women’s Wear Daily reporter at the party, “but it’s raising awareness.”
Nearly a year later, with gas prices soaring and the words “energy crisis” tumbling off even the most un-Gore-like lips, the whole project of greening up nightlife seems perfectly prescient. The typical club—with its blasting sound systems, sweat-cooling air-conditioners and lights blazing three nights a week—gobbles up 150 times more energy than a four-person family every year, according to Enviu, a Netherlands-based, environmental nonprofit group. In New York City, dance spots tend to be open five to six days a week, making their consumption that much higher. And consider the thousands of bottle-service remnants and beer cans to recycle, cocktail napkins to toss and thousands of toilets flushing the night’s debauchery away. We may never see the end of tacky string-tie tops and gold chains, but our clubs, at least, can get makeovers.
For some clubs and bars, greening up has been a gradual process. The Village Pourhouse on Third Avenue, a spot near the N.Y.U. dorms that attracts a frat-boy crowd, uses certified green cleaning supplies, proffers organic beers and vodka and uses recycled paper products. (The bar’s laundry is also done in-house to reduce carbon emissions.) Fort Greene’s Habana Outpost, a chill-out spot famous for its margaritas, has tables made from sawdust and recycled plastic, and a composting system. There’s also a solar-powered cell-phone charger to juice up iPhones and BlackBerrys. But for others, replacing the Clorox with Seventh Generation isn’t enough: People like Mr. Bakhshi want to start from scratch and get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ) certification, a kind of gold star of approval for environmentally friendly construction practices from the U.S. Green Building Council. With LEED certification, an owner can market his club as a hip, organic sanctuary for the environmentally conscious. (Paging Leo! Adrian! Cameron!)
And with some clubs donating part of their profits to green charities, clubbers can, literally and figuratively, dance to save the world.
But might it be possible for club owners to take eco-consciousness too far? At London nightspot Club Surya, which takes its name from the Hindu sun god, even partiers’ sweat helps power the place. The floor is designed to harness the energy of its dancing patrons, which is used to power the club. As partygoers bop around on the spring-loaded floor, it dips about 2 centimeters, which sends a flywheel spinning to capture the resulting kinetic energy (think of how spinning on a bicycle can light an attached bulb). Press materials for Club4Climate, the nonprofit launched by British real estate mogul Andrew Charalambous that runs the club, claim that the floor powers 60 percent of the place. The rest is supplemented by solar panels and wind power.
But that’s not all. The aforementioned sweat turns temperature-sensitive walls different colors, toilets flush with rainwater and bartenders serve aloe-vera-infused “bio-beer.” An idea we especially like: Bouncers offer free admission to clubgoers who traveled there by walking, bicycling or using public transportation.
And Club4Climate, which donates profits to the Friends of the Earth foundation, has an office in New York City. Organizers are currently scouting for new club sites.
Club4Climate representatives did not return several phone calls for comment (and an e-mail sent to an address published on their Web site bounced back). Their mascot, a bald-headed, pale man in a white suit called Dr. Earth (just throw a Persian cat on his lap and you’d have Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies), urges clubgoers in an online video to have a “spiritual experience” while dancing the night away. In Dr. Earth’s 10-point plan to being a “greener self,” he claims that “passion and hedonism is your ecologically friendly right. Do it. Don’t be frightened of it.”
But until we have our own Surya-like space, Galapagos Art Space should satisfy the most eco-conscious among us.
Galapagos, which first opened in 1995, has been in the process of relocating from North Sixth Street in Williamsburg to a 102-year-old, 10,000-square-foot former horse stable at 16 Main Street in Dumbo for the past year. In late 2005, Galapagos’ rent on North Sixth Street was raised by 30 percent, resulting in a $10,000 increase to their monthly costs. That, along with increasing electricity fees and maintenance problems, meant that Galapagos couldn’t afford to stay in the neighborhood it helped establish.
But the move offered an opportunity for club owner Robert Elmes to give his business an eco-makeover. The new warehouse-style space on Main Street includes a “hyper-efficient” air-conditioning system for hot summer nights. Instead of oil-powered heaters, hot water pumps through pipes in the walls to keep the dance floor warm in the winter. A 1,600-foot decorative “lake” is fed by a water well that Galapagos drilled for the new building. The toilets use less water than the average john, and there’s energy-efficient lighting, too (only 7.5 watts per square foot!). The new venue has been open sporadically this summer, showing films and hosting small events, but it should be fully operational by next Tuesday and open full time by September.
Mr. Elmes is currently seeking the much coveted LEED certification for the building.
“Certainly, we’re at a crisis with energy and climate,” said Mr. Elmes. “Our idea has to be to participate as much as we can in creating solutions. If we can lead by example, we will.”
Galapagos plans on holding tours to explain how they made the building more environmentally friendly.
Mr. Elmes explained that every detail of the construction has to be considered for LEED certification. The entire process, he said, makes entrepreneurs think more creatively, not only about their clubs, but about the institutions as cultural venues. “We’re not in the same kind of thinking model as a regular business,” he said. “If the artists can’t pick up their heels and lead, who can?”
Aaron Levinthal, a partner with environmentally friendly events production company GreeNow, said that when companies are thinking of getting eco-friendly, they should consider that other kind of green, too. “It’s an easy thing to market,” Mr. Levinthal explained. “You say your event is more green, it’s easier to get sponsors, and you can start getting tax breaks.” He said it’s also cheaper to use energy-efficient generators. “It’s almost stupid not to do it.”
GreeNow, which is only six months old, organizes recycling programs and powers outdoor events with generators that use 99 percent biodiesel. They even use biodiesel-fueled forklifts and trucks to transfer equipment. One prominent client is the city’s River-to-River concert series; GreeNow also powered the lights that lit up the Pope in Yonkers when he visited the city in the spring.
Mr. Levinthal, a technical director and producer of corporate events for 18 years, said Al Gore’s documentary on the climate crisis, An Inconvenient Truth, changed everything. “That stupid movie was such a baseball bat to the face to what is going on. My wife and I changed the way we lived when we were at home, and me and my business partners became much more eco-aware.”
Barcade, a Williamsburg bar lined wall-to-wall with old-school video game machines, looks like a monster of energy consumption, with its Rampage and Ms. Pac Man flashing all over the place. But at the bottom of the beer menu, patrons might see a curious note about the venue: The bar runs on 100 percent wind power. Owner Paul Kermizian said that customers’ first reaction is to look up into the skylights and search for some kind of wind turbine in the dingy ceiling.
“I have to explain to them that that’s not how we get it,” Mr. Kermizian said. Barcade purchases their electricity through ConEdison Solutions, a subsidiary of ConEd that offers “green” energy. So when a customer operates one of the 28 arcade games in the club, their Donkey Kong character is lit up with electricity coming from 20,213-foot-tall wind towers on Fenner Wind Farm in Madison County, N.Y.
Barcade also exclusively serves craft beer, made at independent breweries in the States, which usually run on wind power or have alternative energy sources.
“We use quite a bit more electricity than regular bars,” Mr. Kermizian explained. “We wanted to try to do something that lessened our impact, looking into alternative providers. It’s a little more expensive, but it evens out with the amount of goodwill we feel and good publicity that we get.”
Chuck Hunt, executive vice president for the New York Restaurant Association’s metropolitan chapters, said that the city’s clubs, bars and restaurants consider greener practices “one of the most proactive situations going on right now” in the industry, and added that the association plans on setting up a hot line and information program on how to be more environmentally aware owners.
But not all clubs have been keeping on top of more eco-friendly practices, said Mr. Hunt. Or if they are, “they aren’t bragging about it yet.”
Except for one.
“You’re talking about the world, and the water is melting and the temperature is changing,” said Mr. Bakhshi, the club owner who plans on opening Greenhouse. “This is something we can do to change things. I think that everybody in every business and in everybody’s lives are going to have to adapt to things like this. I think that’s going to be the way of life.”
Greenhouse has already held publicity parties at the Cannes Film Festival and Sundance, in addition to Paris Fashion Week. Mr. Bakhshi plans on throwing a huge opening bash in New York when the club opens in the fall, and to donate a portion of the proceeds to green charities. “The whole idea of giving back,” he said, “we’d like to really focus on that. We’re a green club.”
Mr. Bakhshi added that he’d like Al Gore to host the party. “I definitely have to reach out to him for sure.”