When Annabel Samimy, 47, agreed to visit a dance club with friends she wasn’t sure she could keep up with the 20-somethings. Luckily, she didn’t have to.
Retroclubnyc’s throwback theme—Long Island Iced Teas and Sloe Gin Fizzes are on offer, along with ‘70s and ‘80s hits—attracts the 45-and-over set. Ms. Samimy and her husband, who have three school-age children, got home well past their self-imposed midnight curfew. “You don’t go to clubs after you have kids, but then they get a little older and you want to reclaim your social life,” says Ms. Samimy, a New York-based stock analyst who visited the club in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood, which is also a popular spot for bachelorette parties.
Amid slowing growth in the $24 billion industry, club owners are looking to capture 45- to 54-year-olds, who spend more on entertainment than other age groups and make up the biggest share of nightlife consumers at bars, lounges, nightclubs and other venues with limited food services, according to IBISWorld. They are shifting to smaller lounge-like dance spaces, offering bottle service with unique cocktail mixers, and recruiting DJs to play disco. Some clubs open earlier for post-dinner patrons who are eager to dance but are “not closing places down anymore,” says Paul Seres, vice president at the New York Hospitality Alliance, a trade group.
One strategy is attracting older customers with dinner and keeping them in the venue throughout the evening, says Noah Tepperberg, partner at Tao Group, a hospitality company. Last year, the restaurant group opened Vandal, a pricey dinner spot with a basement lounge on New York’s Lower East Side. “We’ve built the lounges almost like small clubs,” says Mr. Tepperberg, whose large clubs including Lavo and Marquee attract a younger clientele.
Instead of working with promoters or distributing fliers, Mr. Tepperberg offers complimentary dinner (a $45 prime skirt steak, for example) and drinks to older influencers in exchange for social-media posts. Instead of electronic dance music, the lower-level lounge features DJs playing popular tunes to draw in an older clientele.
Some longtime clubs are scrapping large dance floors and creating space to dance between booths, says Stephane Dupoux, a Miami-based hospitality designer who’s redesigning Cielo, a 14-year-old late-night dance spot in New York’s Meatpacking district that once drew a younger clientele. “Older patrons prefer to have a place to hang out and have nice bottle of champagne, but could stand up and dance,” he says.
Other restaurants are being retrofitted with a nightclub feel, says Sean Finter, chief executive at Barmetrix, a nightlife consulting firm that has seen an uptick in such projects over the last five years. Older patrons are more likely to stay and drink after dinner, he adds. The goal is to keep them at the venue; dancing “loosens people up” and helps drive sales of alcohol and water, he adds.
At New York-based Blue Light, a weekends-only speakeasy above the more casual The Lately, a high-end bottle service, priced at $250 to $1,000, aims to appeal to those who don’t want to get “sloppy drunk,” says partner Gavin Moseley. Hard alcohol is offered in crystal decanters, along with fresh squeezed juices, and cordials in flavors such as watermelon Thai basil, and. served at reservation-only booths. Guests can select vinyl records for DJs to play and dance near their table, and a doorman keeps the crowd down. “We don’t pile them in like sardines,” he says.
Owners of Chicago’s Celeste restaurant and lounge in 2016 turned a third-floor events space into Disco, a ‘70s-theme nightclub space, says partner Nader Hindo. The hope was to attract 40- or 50-something clientele who didn’t feel comfortable dancing at nearby nightclubs where patrons were younger. Floors light up in fluorescent colors and the club had a guest DJ from New York’s legendary Studio 54 earlier this year. “For the older crowd, it’s very nostalgic,” he says.
Chicago photographer Jeff Sciortino, 48, heads to Disco after having dinner in the neighborhood. The atmosphere is akin to a house party and he often sees regulars, he says. “People aren’t stumbling,” he says. “It’s a little more reserved—but in a good way.”