On a Thursday afternoon in June, just days before the summer solstice, the scene in Hudson River Park looked straight out of a Thomas Cole painting: Bees and butterflies dancing in the air, the water sparkling in the distance, its less attractive parts smoothed out by the midday sun.
Plenty of couples were taking advantage, as if they had seen the tabloid photos of a lip-locked Bennifer as a sign from the universe that being touchy, romantic and happy in public was OK again.
A pair pressed their faces together beneath a tree, turning this way and that way for selfies. A few feet away, two bodies were intertwined on the ground, their heads hidden by a flannel shirt. Two others lay side-by-side, gazing up at the limbs and leaves of a lush tree.
Around 7:30 p.m., at Brass Monkey in the Meatpacking District, the scene was less nuzzly, more thirsty. All three floors of the establishment were packed with people on their second or third drinks. Two days earlier, virtually all restrictions on New York’s bars and restaurants had been lifted.
Groups of friends stood mere inches from each other, but remained locked in their circles, like cliques at a middle-school dance. One woman, a confident and experienced dater, whispered that she had forgotten how to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
But based on the observations of Marisol Delarosa, the managing partner of Brass Monkey, it wouldn’t be long before traffic jams began to form at the bar, created by “people who are so enamored that they don’t realize what’s happening around them.” In June, she said, the voraciousness among the bar’s patrons was next level.
“When we first reopened with restrictions in April, there were still a lot of, ‘How do we do this? Do we shake hands?’” Ms. Delarosa said. “Since the restrictions have been erased, it’s like a faucet has been turned on. The hesitation is gone.”
“Everyone’s kind of slightly lowered their standards, or maybe opened up their idea of what they find attractive,” Ms. Delarosa added. She recently overheard a customer tell a friend: “I’d make out with him. Before the pandemic, probably not.”
Ms. Delarosa, like her patrons, feels the tension between a full reopening and the possibility that one of the new coronavirus variants could shut everything down again.
“You have to live your life now,” she said. “People are full-on swallowing each other’s faces on Friday and Saturday nights.”
That evening, the streets of Lower Manhattan were so crowded a visitor could be forgiven for thinking she had forgotten a national holiday. (To be fair, it was Pride Month.)
A line snaked down West Fourth Street, ending at the entrance to the Cubbyhole, a gay bar. On Greenwich Avenue, crowds spilled out of Fiddlesticks Pub, the mass of bodies sweaty in the still-hot air. At Greenwich Treehouse, where some breathing room remained, a tray covered with Jell-O shots appeared, and with it, a sense of bawdy, gaudy rebirth.
Somewhere between 11 p.m. and midnight, at Union Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at least two couples were making out feverishly, one pair on a bench, seated next to a row of people, and another near the taco truck. Nearby, a man and a woman inched from a spot near some abandoned beer cans toward the exit, their eyes trailing each other’s bodies and their hands periodically grazing each other’s elbows — and other curves.
On almost any night in June, it seemed, similar scenes of re-emerging night life were playing out around New York City. By the middle of the month, people could mix and mingle at most bars, lounges and clubs as they hadn’t since March 2020.
Metropolitan, a gay bar in Williamsburg, reopened its dance floor and brought back its late-night closing hours on May 31. A week later, on a sweltering Saturday night, the dance floor’s length and width could be measured by the number of exposed chests and bare torsos that slid back and forth against each other in time to the beat.
The Boom Boom Room, a downtown institution known for its post-Met Gala soirees and its celebrity clientele, reopened at the end of June with a 600-person party and live music performances by artists including Madonna, Kaytranada and Honey Dijon. People were touching, hugging, grinding on the dance floor, and then some.
“There was a fair amount of making out in corners,” said Amar Lalvani, chief executive of Standard International, which owns the Standard, High Line hotel in New York, at the top of which stands the Boom Boom Room and its less snobby cousin, Le Bain. “There were couples taking the staircase and going to the rooftop. It was a close-proximity party, a happy party.”
Three months ago people were much more tentative, Mr. Lalvani said. But since early June, that has started to fall to the wayside. “People need a bit of a permission slip now to say it’s OK, and not only is it OK, it’s good,” he said.