Happy Ending in Chinatown

This is awesome.  Look what popped up on my bank account:


Friday night I met up with some friends for dinner at the Italian festival going on in the lower east side.  After spending an ungodly amount of money on traditional Italian fare such as shish kebab and baklava, we decided we needed something to drink.  Not really knowing the area, we set off in a random direction in search of the first decent-looking bar, lounge, or nightclub that we came upon.

NYC’s smoking ban has made all the formerly-obscure nightlife hotspots much, much easier to find.  Just look down any given alley or side street for a crowd of people huddled around a nondescript door to nowhere, and voila – you’ve got nightlife.  We happened to be strolling down Broome Street — where the aforementioned Horrifying Cat Ad was found — and found ourselves faced with a dilemma.  To our left down Bowery was one group of a dozen or so people huddled around a door.  Straight ahead on Broome was another.  After spending five minutes (really) deciding which looked more like a nightclub-sans-smokers crowd and less like a smokers-sans-nightclub crowd, we chose Broome St based on distance.  Road less traveled, and all that.

he_exterior“No cover,” said the bouncer at the door.  “No cover no cover no cover no cover no cover,” he added helpfully.  I asked what kind of music they were playing.  “A little bit of everything, you name it.”  Great — every single nightclub in the US says they play “a little bit of everything”.  All of them.  But we didn’t want to walk anymore, and we all were in urgent need of a restroom, so we decided to head in.  I asked if there was a cover charge.  Nobody else thought it was funny.

According to their circa-2005 website, Happy Ending was once an “erotic massage parlor”.  That would explain why most of the basement was tiled like a shower stall, and frankly, why at least one of the showerheads was at, er, hip level.

he_upperThe ground floor reminded me of the glory days of Mars.  Deep red colors everywhere, velvet set-back seating, and dark, dark lighting.  A bar ran the length of the room and around the corner of the U-shaped room, while deep semi-circle high-back benches lined the remaining side.  It wasn’t big by any means — if a hundred people managed to fit in there, I would’ve been surprised.

As it turns out, the music was, in fact, “a little bit of everything”.  Aside from the standard assortment of top 40 / hip hop tracks, we heard Don’t Stop Believin’ and Shout (yeah, the Isley Brothers).  These were smattered with a healthy dose of 80s and 90s anthems ranging from Darude to Kraftwerk to Pet Shop Boys.

he_lowerThe basement floor was apparently where most of the, uh, “showering” took place during the building’s checkered past.  Institutional tiling was left in place during the brothel-t0-nightclub conversion, which must’ve been a real bear for the sound company to deal with.  Although you can’t see it in this photo, several large shower stalls (easily big enough to hold five or six people laying down) were glassed off and left in place for anyone who wanted their 15 minutes of fame.  All of the plumbing fixtures appeared removed, so epic pranks were out of the question.

The basement floor was as small and intimate as the ground floor, giving the entire venue what had to be a capacity of around 200 people tops.  Drink prices were New-York-reasonable at $7 a pop.  Both factoids lead to an obvious question:  Why can’t Harrisburg have nice things?  If a venue like this can survive under NYC taxes and NYC insurance and NYC rent, why can’t someone make it happen in Harrisburg?

Really, why?