You can read an endless array of articles from self-appointed nightlife luminaries talking about what makes a venue "work" in New York these days, and find yourself trapped in a cab with desperate club kids convinced that not hitting every single spot on their Friday To-Do list will result in a serious fear of missing out (as if having a good time is built on obligation). Or, you can go to 80 Pitt Street on a Friday around nine, and realize that everything else you've been checking out lately is pretty much a pale imitation. I very much prefer the latter.
As far as dancing and then seeing battles goes, Mike Q's Tuesday night (the weekly party that Diplo sang the praises of in "Vanity Fair") is your best bet. It goes late, happens in a club with flashing lights, etc. But that's nothing compared to watching the same dancers fling themselves on a gymnasium floor, fluorescent lighting and basketball hoops in full effect. Which is exactly what happens at Pitt Street when they have battles there.
Here's the thing about watching two people squaring off under unflattering overhead lighting: it comes off as more intense than witnessing the same exchange in a room with a disco ball. If you think about it, it takes some serious skill to make a setting that features inspirational murals superfluous, rather than campy. But that's what happens the second the "houses" all strut down the center of the floor, present themselves to the judges seated at a folding table, and get down to business.
The last time I went, it was Mike Q DJing and "The Voice of Philadelphia," Mr. Kevin JZ Prodigy emceeing (Kevin also produces and performs--check him out doing his version of "Nasty Girl"). The music is the second-best part of going, and it's all built around snare hits that make it easier for the dancers to dramatically chuck themselves on the floor in time to the downbeat, much to the delight of the crowd. My friend who came with was wearing minx, and we were definitely the only white people there (the first thing someone told him was to get there earlier next time; he might have a shot at winning the best-dressed contest). The fact that it was close to Christmas only made things better: if you've never seen two elves battle it out on the gymnasium dance floor, well, you've simply not lived.
Once you start watching this collection of ball battles, you'll probably figure out that words don't quite capture the level of showmanship and presentation that goes down at these parties. And whether it's a community center basement or an actual club, one thing's for certain: this scene is one of the last surviving bastions of cool in a city where what passes for creativity is too frequently commodity. So go enjoy it in its true form now, while you can.
For more on voguing and ballroom, read Network Awesome's interview with DJ Mike Q and watch "Paris is Burning" in our archives.
Whitney Weiss lives in Buenos Aires, where she DJs, throws a party called Father Figures, and is one-half of a band that bridges the gap between Snap! and Quad City DJs. If you want to hear what she's up to, you should visit soundcloud.com/djwhitneyweiss.