the ny parties of my youth

February 24, 2011 |  Category:   nyc remembering

I’m not much of a party goer these days, but I was thinking about all the various parties that I went to when I was younger in school. Those all night parties were epic, particularly when you were 18 and living on your own. At the time, you felt like you knew it all at that age, but of course when you look back, 18 seems so young, a child really. I didn’t even intend on moving out of my childhood home in Queens when I first went to college. The intention was to commute every day with my best friend who had also gotten into the same art school as me. We would drive in her hand-me-down yellow car, park at a lot and take the train to the East Village the rest of the way in. The commute, however, was long and stressful. We’d sweat bullets every morning as we nervously stared at our watches, praying that we wouldn’t be late to our first class. The ride back home was often late, sometimes past 10pm as we’d have to stay in school to finish our projects due the next day. One day on the way home, we got off the train in the evening and looked for her car. We would always joke that maybe one day the car wouldn’t be there waiting for us. That evening we looked…and looked…but no car. Apparently it had been stolen. Our parents decided then that it was time we moved to Manhattan to be closer to school and so we did, to an apartment in Chinatown just 5 or so weeks into the school year.

I still remember the moment my mom called when she got home after helping me move my things. She was sitting on my bed sort of dazed. I can still even picture her sitting in that empty, black room (yes! I had black walls in my room in high school). Now that I have girls of my own, I can’t really imagine how weird that must have been for her. I, on the other, hand, felt a whole other range of emotions. I don’t think anyone ever forgets their “firsts” and I’ll certainly never forget the first time I stayed out all night with my art school friends till dawn, walking home at 5am towards the breaking sun rays over Lafayette Street one October morning. The view down that street looking South bathed by those streaming sun rays is forever burned in memory and I don’t think I had ever felt more alive until that moment.

There would be many many, more parties and late nights after that. Some of those nights were spent at the studios up in school on the 6th floor as we worked on our color theory assignments. This usually involved painting color swatches and a lot of ColorAid paper. My friends and I would get some veggie sushi rolls at the Korean deli for dinner and work through the night. Sometimes we’d quit close to midnight and go skipping down Broadway like reckless idiots to Soho, back when Soho was still a gallery inhabited art haven, to bars and watch bands play music. Other nights we’d find ourselves on the Upper West Side in a grand Classic 7 apartment, at a party with the most eclectic mix of people who helped opened our eyes to the world.

And my first Halloween party? Theater for the New City’s annual Costume Ball, the first year and every year after that (and can I tell you how happy it makes me to see that it’s still being held to this day over 20 years later? Some East Village traditions have remained!). The Halloween party at the theater was this wild multi-level, multi performance, cabaret, art filled extravaganza. My friends and I would sneak in through the back door as we usually knew someone who was performing there that night. What I remember the most about these parties, however, is feeling so much like Alice in Wonderland wandering around the cavernous theater spaces and a maze of smaller, nested rooms full of colorful people and psychedelic colors. Sometimes I really miss the East Village of the late 80s.

What I was remembering today as I was flipping through some old photos were these mid-winter parties that took place at the Sideshow by the Seashore Building in Coney Island, a fun house of sorts. They would happen around this time of year, in February. Living in the East Village during those years, these parties were the only time I’d venture into Brooklyn until I moved there a few years later. There’s something about being on the beach in winter, looking at the horizon and seeing the long stretch of sand. I remember the seagulls were always really aggressive, as was the wind and the surf, but it felt so invigorating to be on the ocean in the dead of winter to wake yourself up from cabin fever and the winter blues.

It’s amazing how we could party almost every night back in those days, always seeking out the next show, the next party. Those parties have mostly been replaced now by pink sprinkles, balloons and cupcakes. Sometimes I have to laugh. When you’re 18, you never think that you’d end up here.

You Might Also Like

  • leslie February 24, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I was at RISD during the mid 80’s, so not quite the same, but I, too, remember weekends in the city and Soho gallery hopping. I was a small town Midwestern girl and NYC was IT for me. It’s funny to remember just how dangerous it felt then, to be cruising around the Bowery at 2 a.m., or how exciting it was to go to the openings at Sonnabend or Leo Castelli or Mary Boone. I live in Brooklyn now, too, after many years spent in Chicago, and it is still amazing to be in NYC, but…just not the same, of course, as when I was 18.

  • Ingrid February 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

    So funny. Nothing can be closer to the truth. I grew up in Queens and remember those parties. The ones you paid to get into at the door. I’m really enjoying your blog. It’s honest and real and funny. Thanks for bringing a bit of nostalgia to my day.

  • Linnea February 24, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for sharing

  • Anna @ D16 February 24, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever been a real party. Birthday parties when I was little, sure, and grown-up parties like baby showers as an adult, but I’ve never done the kind of things you’re talking about — ever. I guess that ties into not ever having had a circle of friends.

    I do remember ColorAid, though! I loved color theory class, and I kind of wish I still had all of my little Albers-esque creations.

  • Tim McMurdo February 24, 2011 at 11:27 am


    Every morning I visit my top sites page in Safari to see who posted the night before. I then start reading in ascending order until I read my favorites last. This all occurs as I am eating breakfast and preparing to face the day. If you have posted, I always save your blog for last. You have become the strawberries on my pancakes.


  • Jenna February 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    @Anna, I just saw some ColorAid at NY Central in the east village the other day. I was shocked to still see it! That’s where I bought my boxes.
    @Tim, thank you. This might just be on of the nicest comment anyone has left me.

  • Grumble Girl February 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I wish I could say I experienced such wonderful parties… I was recalling the other day how much walking we did at night… Though not quite so late (I lived at home and my parents were waaaay strict) but I do remember the deliciousness of wandering while the city slept. Good times. In some ways, youth really is wasted on the young.

    I loved this post. And that was a lovely thing for Tim to say…

  • Jacqui February 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    those days of university and parties that went all night and out til all hours in the city (melbourne, australia in my case) and moving to paris for a boy i’d known two weeks… Don’t want to sound like the 40+yo mother of two that I am, but the poignancy when i think of that time and know that I will never again feel that delicious sense of freedom and newness. When I’m eighty the memories of those adventures will bring me great delight, as they do even now.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    And I’m with Tim; love what you write.

  • Jasmine February 25, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Jenna, I love reading your entries. They are so evocative and eloquent, and your pictures are all so beautiful to look at. My favourite blog, by far.

  • Megan Champion February 25, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Such a pretty picture you paint.

    18 is so fun and stupid, still, I dont miss it.

  • rebecca February 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    i’m jealous of how much cooler your youth was than mine. be proud!