If you want to go dancing in New York City, consider Silvana

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

First I’ll recount the events, then I’ll offer an opinion about what they mean.


My friend K, from Germany, had her birthday on Saturday. She was turning 40 and she, with help from friends, planned several events for the day.

Several of K’s friends flew over from Germany to join us, and our dear friend Sonya, with complete secrecy, flew in from Michigan, and then surprised K, and K ended up crying she was so happy to see Sonya.

I met them all for breakfast, then I had to leave for awhile. The plan was we would meet at 3 PM and rent kayaks and go out on the Hudson river, then later go to a coffeeshop with a patio and play Cards Against Humanity, then late at night we would go dancing.

In the meantime, myself and my dear friend M were supposed to go to Barnes and Noble and buy some books. But M had a fever and was very weak, and she slept late, and she was groggy, and she had a cut on her leg that looked very bad. The hours went by, but she had no energy and could barely move. It was 1 PM, then 2 PM, then 3 PM. I kept thinking she would rally, but she only got worse. We decided we would stop by Urgent Care to have the leg checked. Urgent Care was busy and we had to wait an hour. The PA took one look at the leg and said “It’s badly infected.” He was worried she had septicemia and was sliding into septic shock. He said, “You need to go to an emergency room right now. She will need IV antibiotics.” We briefly discussed which hospital would be best, and then agreed on Lenox Hill, a place some friends of ours had gone and had a good experience.

We caught a taxi and went to Lenox Hill. The staff was very nice and we quickly got a bed. We got there at 5 PM, a doctor came to look at her at 6 PM, IV antibiotics were brought up and administered around 7 PM. She said I should go to the party but I told her I would stay with her till she was admitted to the hospital. Even in a very nice place, the ER can be loud and nasty. While we were talking, a drunk guy got into a fight with the staff, then security came, then the police came, the guy was lead away, perhaps arrested. Then a nurse came and gave M some Tylenol to bring the fever down and she sank into a deep sleep.

The hours went by. They ran various tests.

Finally, at 11 PM she was taken upstairs. I went up with her and stayed till she’d been introduced to the nighttime nurses who would be watching her. I called Sonya and asked if the party was still happening. She said yes. I left the hospital at 11:30 PM and took a taxi up to Harlem.

At this point they were all dancing at a tiny place called Silvana, across from Harlem Tavern, at the corner of 116th St and Fredrick Douglas Avenue. I got there at midnight. Most people had left, we were a small crew of 5, K and Sonya and two friends from Germany, Thomas and Imma. We were dancing for awhile, then we stopped and I got us a round of drinks. Then we danced some more. Then Sonya was tired and wanted to leave. I walked her home.

Sonya and K had gotten an apartment in this neighborhood in 2007. Later, Sonya got married and moved to Michigan and K had moved back to Germany, but K kept control of the apartment and ran it as an AirBnB hostel. It meant they all had a free place to stay when they were visiting New York.

We sat on the stoop and chatted for awhile. We were maybe 50 meters from Morningside Park, and she pointed over and said “I remember in 2007 there were drug deals and fights with cops every night in that park.” Nowadays the whole neighborhood was fairly safe. It’s somewhat gentrified. There are still some boarded up buildings, but there are also a lot of nice restaurants.

We talked about K and about life, then she said goodnight and went inside. I went back to Silvana.

Once upon a time, Harlem had been an African American enclave, but in recent years there has been a huge influx of people from Africa, especially the Gold Coast. A few years ago, on 116th St, there was a great Ghanaese restaurant. I’m not sure if it is still there. There was a Nigerian church, and a Nigerian restaurant. A few years ago I went through a phase when I watched a lot of African films, and from that I have a rough idea of what Yoruba sounds like, and I heard something like that standing outside of Silvana.

I mention this because, when I say Silvana was full of blacks, I don’t mean to imply that they were all African Americans. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 50% of the crowd was from Africa (ignoring for now the scientific fact that humans evolved in Africa, so we are all from Africa).

We kept dancing. K insisted that instead of beer, she wanted to switch to whiskey. I didn’t think that was a great idea, but it was her birthday, so I went and got two Jamesons, neat. For $12 you get what is either an extremely generous shot, or maybe it’s meant to be a double. We drank those, and especially for her, it marked the transition from tipsy to drunk.

We kept dancing. The crowd was very friendly, full of beautiful people being beautiful with each other, the men dancing close to the women, and the women looking them over, and either dancing closer or pushing them away. It was insanely crowded, and we were underground, and we were in a very small space, so just to be careful, I memorized where the fire escapes were, and made sure there was no nonsense like chains on the exit doors. People bumped into each other constantly, as happens when dancing in such a crowded space, but everyone seemed cool about it. They shrug it off, or they look at you, they nod, or you nod, it’s too loud to talk, but we all find other ways to communicate “Sorry about that.”

There was only one bad incident the whole night. A line formed around the bathroom. There was a woman who wanted to go. K also wanted to go. And Thomas had been in line for awhile, and was in front of this particular angry woman. Thomas went in to pee. For some reason the angry woman would not let him close the door. She stood there with the door wide open, so everyone in line could see Thomas peeing. K went over and confronted the woman.

“What is your problem?” demanded K. “What the fuck is your problem?”

I didn’t hear what the other woman said. Maybe she felt like she’d been cheated out of the line, or she felt she had to hold the door open to maintain her spot, or she just hated Thomas for now reason.

Then Thomas came out. K said something else, I think “So, go, okay, so fucking go!”

Quick as lightning, the woman grabbed K’s hair and then yanked K’s head down and slammed K’s head into the door. I jumped forward to get between the two, and there was another guy next to me, who might have had some connection to the woman, or maybe just didn’t want the police to get called, he jumped forward too, we got between them. The woman wouldn’t let go of K’s hair, so the other guy pried at the woman’s fingers and forced her to let go.

K took a step back, angry. She rotated her head slowly around her neck. Her neck hurt, but not seriously. The woman went in and used the bathroom. I stood between the door and K, so when that woman came out, I’d be a buffer between them. Otherwise they’d fight again. The woman came out and then K went in. Everyone was happy.

After that there was no other trouble. We went back to dancing. K danced a while with a really gorgeous woman who was wearing a skin tight blouse and jeans, and later K half danced with a few guys, as if to try them out and see what they offered.

Sometime after 2 AM all the other whites left. The place looked like a real Harlem joint, in the old sense, before gentrification. At 3 AM I looked around the place and me and K and Thomas were the only whites left in the place. Then Thomas left. K wanted more whiskey, so we got more whiskey.

Finally it was 3:30 AM and K got tired. I walked her back to her apartment. For some reason she felt now was the time to tell me about the various mistakes she felt I was making with my life. I was mismanaging my career, she said, I wasn’t living up to my potential, I needed to be more careful, make better decisions, step up my game. I let her talk. She is one of my dearest friends, and it was her birthday, and she was a little drunk, and it was 4 AM, so if she can’t speak freely now, then when? I told her that she was very important to me and I’d love her always, then I got a taxi and went home.

I wanted to get back to the hospital as soon as possible, so I set my alarm for 7 AM. I lay down on the couch and fell asleep instantly. I slept through the alarm and was awoken at 9 AM when a friend sent me a text message. I hurried back to the hospital to see how M was doing.


Those were the events of the night, but I’d like to offer a few opinions.

Dancing at Silvana was the most fun I’ve had dancing since I was in Berlin, back in 2010, and we all went dancing at Berghain. Why is that? Partly it’s because when I go dancing I want mostly to forget about myself. I want to get lost in the music. I find that difficult at most of the dance places in the USA, because most are too self-conscious. Dancing in the USA is a few different scenes. There is the Barefoot Boogie, which is for people who are very into dance. There is ballroom dancing for people who are into that. Then there is the average bar/music venue, which in the USA is often full of people who are not dancing. The worst are the ones that have a few people dancing and a large number of people who are leaning against the wall, nursing a drink, staring at the people dancing. The non-dancers ruin it for the dancers. I’d need to be very drunk to ignore them, and I’ve only gotten very drunk 5 times in my life. While remembering that all generalizations tend to be a bit wrong, if you aren’t at an explicit dance scene, such as Barefoot Boogie, the mostly white places tend to be the worst, and the guys tend to be especially bad. I don’t go dancing often. What I want is a place where I can get lost in the music, and that is easier when everyone else around me is getting lost in the music. I find it hard to find such places in the USA.

About alcohol. I know some people who don’t like to dance when there is alcohol, because it makes people aggressive. I have not been to a Barefoot Boogie in more than 12 years, but I think they had a “no alcohol” rule. If you need to find a place to dance that has no alcohol, then maybe that is your thing. I think for most of us, including me, alcohol heightens the experience, making it easier to forget one’s life. It can lead to incidents like the angry woman that fought with K, but that is just a part of going out to any club. If you’re surrounded by drunk people, there is always some risk. So long as you go with friends, typically you’ve nothing to worry about. That goes for most of life’s adventures, not just dancing.

I liked Silvana. As a point of contrast, consider the B Bar and Grill at 4th Street and Bowery. Maybe because it is so close to NYU, it attracts a very young crowd, at least 20 years younger than me, and it’s a self-conscious crowd, and it has the vibe of a self-conscious meat market. It’s the opposite of what I’m looking for.

All of this is to say, if you’re looking for a place where you can get lost in the music, surrounded by other people who are getting lost in the music, you should check out Silvana. Don’t expect much, it’s just a tiny place, but I loved the crowd that I found there.