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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Life After Dark

Sneaking past the red velvet ropes with Taylor Plimpton ’99

The massive front doors at Avenue, one of New York’s indisputable A-list nightclubs, are among the most unyielding in the entire city. Even on a Monday night, there’s a growing line at the door, and the scent of anxious anticipation. Inside lies an exclusive world of celebrities and athletes, youth and beauty, loose money and tinselly glamour whose lure is so strong that clubbers will stand in line, for hours if necessary, for a shot at a once-over from the security staff and an approving “Go ahead in, Honey.”

Taylor Plimpton

photo by landon nordeman

Without breaking his stride, Taylor Plimpton ’99 skips the line, shares an easy handshake with the doorman, and spirits us through the checkpoint. Now, perched on the spine of a long black banquette, he seems entirely unfazed by the extravagant scene we find within. This shouldn’t be surprising; he’s a veteran in this world of velvet ropes and Big Nights Out. In his new book, Notes From The Night, he condenses more than a decade of first-hand experience in the Manhattan club scene into a single, endless New York night.

Although it may not have all actually happened in one evening, it is all true, Taylor insists. The book tells the story of Taylor—sometimes called Tap, by his initials—and his friends prowling the city, trying to make it into the right place at the right time. Names and some details have been changed to protect his friends’ identities, but it’s clear that Tap’s crew, guys with nicknames like “Zoo” (the ringleader), “Hobbes,” “Fatdog,” and “Stibbs,” were always game to hop in a cab at a moment’s notice and take a shot at sweet-talking their way into the VIP section. Monday night. Tuesday night. Any night.

Taylor’s partying career began while he was in prep school at St Paul’s in New Hampshire, when he would sneak out during his visits back to the Upper East Side to score drinks in Irish dive bars and less-than-scrupulous Chinese restaurants. Leaving New York for Reed was a chance to escape from the “country-club aspect” of his upbringing and try something new. “I was definitely wearing a skirt at Renn Fayre,” he admits. Like many classmates, he values having returned to the city with “a little West Coast in my blood.” Reed was also a place where he was able to experiment with his writing, hammer out his own voice and direction, and eventually stake his claim in the fields of creative nonfiction and memoir (his thesis project detailed a series of solo trips into nature across America). It’s no small feat when you consider that his father was George Plimpton, founding editor of the Paris Review, beloved New Yorker, literary lion, and an American master of the genre.

On school breaks back in New York, Taylor and his friends dove into a world of legendary clubs with names like Life, Tunnel, Lotus, and Float—all places that defined the fame, glamour and unhinged indulgence of the club scene in 1990s Manhattan. There’s a Big Moment he chases throughout Notes From the Night: a fleeting second he describes when all the pretensions and egos in the room melt away and one finds himself surrounded by instant friends all simply looking for a good time. He found proof of the bond, he says, on the nights when he would bring visiting classmates from Reed out on the town. If the stars aligned and they made it close to that perfect moment, he knew they would feel right at home, even three VIP rooms deep at Moomba, and even if they’d had to borrow a pair of shoes from the elder Plimpton to get in the door.

Notes from the Night

But how long can serendipity last? The charmed spells inevitably end, and the party evaporates as the next day begins. You drag yourself back home, and then back to work. Ultimately, it’s a little hard to put your finger on what Taylor has taken away from these clubs beyond the memory of these occasional magic moments. And the effort involved in finding them is a hard sell on paper. There are countless rejections and ejections, drugs (“inebriation becomes a sport, a crescendo of consumption”), botched advances (“the ones you fall for are somehow always leaving … tomorrow, the next day, a week later for Los Angeles”), and moments of real despair and self-loathing (“Is this miserable Muppet what I’ve become?”). For all its debauchery, the book ends with an admission: chasing the moment is all there is to this particular world, nothing else, and disappointment is simply part of the deal.

Notes From the Night was in development for several years, and Taylor originally conceived it as a way to grease the doors at hot clubs—you’re the guy who wrote the book about all this! Since he began the project, however, the clubs have changed several times over, and he has changed, too. Even if his partying days are not entirely behind him, they have mellowed as he’s matured, moved uptown, and pursued his writing career. Taylor had invited Zoo out to join us that night at Avenue, but his former instigator declined, saying that these days he considered the prospect of making a sortie on Monday night to be “rather aggressive.”

At Avenue, Taylor is far from the “complete idiot on the dance floor” he describes himself as in the book. Instead, he seems pensive as he looks out beyond the champagne-laden table in front of us, past the beautiful blonde in the green dress who is dancing on it, and through the mysterious and exuberant Malaysian gentleman who is (for some reason) laying out for the spread. We could snake some drinks from this extortionately expensive bottle of vodka and try to worm our way into the even more exclusive mezzanine above, but Taylor seems content where he is—taking it in, going with the flow, and seeing where the night takes him.

— By Stewart Stone ’06

Further Reading

Notes From The Night: A Life After Dark by Taylor Plimpton. Broadway Books, 2010.
The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays. Co-edited by Taylor Plimpton. Abrams Image, 2009.

reed magazine logoDecember 2010