Courtesy of New York Times:
LOS ANGELES — Getting to this party took commitment. The chosen had to R.S.V.P. early to get on the guest list but were not told where they were going. The address came later, by e-mail: Be at a dimly lighted parking lot just east of the Los Angeles River at 1 a.m. They lined up at a corrugated steel fence, shivering in their furs and leather jackets on the chilly December night.
From there, a shuttle took them to an empty warehouse on an industrial street south of downtown where all-night drinks and dance beats finally awaited.
Unlike New York, the city of Los Angeles does sleep. When the clock strikes 2 a.m. here, bars close down and clubs stop serving alcohol.
But a lively underground after-hours scene is moving to fill the void with an ever-changing menu of unlicensed dance clubs and pop-up speak-easies. Like the password speak-easies of Chicago in the 1920s and the wild after-sunrise dance parties in New York of the 1980s and ’90s, their illicitness is the key to their allure.
“You kind of feel like you’re taking your life in your hands going into these warehouses,” said John Lavin, who lives downtown. “But that’s part of the appeal.”
In the late 1980s, warehouses here and around the country served as settings for roving dance parties, a staple of the house music scene. After reports of heavy drug use, drug-related deaths and fires in the early 1990s, however, the police cracked down. Dance music DJ’s went more mainstream, moving to clubs that kept regular hours and followed, at least to some extent, the rule of law.
But after-hours parties have returned with a vengeance from New York to Los Angeles, in no small part because Facebook and Twitter allow organizers to publicize the events more widely while maintaining secrecy and exclusivity. In Los Angeles, with a metropolitan area of more than 10 million people — and no one legally selling drinks after 2 a.m. — the underground events are drawing hundreds every weekend.
The parties move around, from warehouses to photography studios or industrial buildings, the locations kept secret until just hours before they begin.
”They really are everywhere now,” said Detective Eric Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department’s vice division. He said the police had shut down at least 50 parties during each of the last few years. Mostly, they respond when neighbors complain, he said.
At one downtown event last weekend, people were still arriving at 4 a.m., circling the block near the Greyhound station in search of parking. A middle-aged man stood in the middle of a nearby street, asking people to be quiet and directing them toward the party. Police cars circled, too, but did not break up the gathering.
Inside the windowless brick building, men and women of all ages — black, white, Latino — lined up to get drinks.
“It seems to be a pretty eclectic group of people, people from all walks of life, which is nice and refreshing,” said Lucas McLoughlin, as he surveyed the scene. “There are people who are clearly intoxicated on various things. But then there are people who aren’t.”
Detective Moore said the parties had proliferated in recent years because promoters can make up to $20,000 in a single night.
Fearing increased attention from law enforcement, promoters were hesitant to speak on the record. But they said a big portion of their profits come from selling drinks when no one else can. Cover charges of at least $20 are standard.
Still, putting together a one-night-only after-hours party is not easy. Promoters pay for private security, a sound system, D.J.’s, portable toilets, bartenders, elaborate lighting and decorations to turn a drab warehouse into a glamorous club. The one thing they are freed from is licensing fees.
“It’s a big gamble,” said one promoter and D.J., who, given the illicit nature of the operation, did not want to use his name. “After all the money you put up, you don’t know if you’re even going to recoup.”
There are serious risks associated with parties in unlicensed locations: In 1990, a fire killed 87 people inside an illegal New York club.
One recent warehouse party here ended suddenly when a fire alarm went off. Although it turned out there was no fire, for a moment a stampede seemed possible as hundreds pushed toward a lone exit.
“Most have no permits whatsoever,” Detective Moore said.
But in a city often self-conscious about its cultural relevance, partygoers and promoters alike argue that Los Angeles needs the kind of vibrant late-night life that is common in places like New York, London and Barcelona.
“It’s a scary venture for people, sometimes,” said Eleanor Wells, who was at the party last week with several friends. “But once they go, they realize there are so many more possibilities under the radar in L.A.”
Local residents were already out walking their dogs when Ms. Wells left the party at 7 a.m., still in her heels and makeup, her feet sore from dancing. As she walked toward her car, she heard a pounding bass coming from another warehouse, and she followed the music inside. It was another underground party, and it showed no signs of slowing down.