Alegria At Ten
The world's most successful gay party celebrates its first decade
Written by Mark A. Thompson and Robert E. Doyle
It was the last weekend of April 2000. In Washington, nearly a million LGBT people converged on the Capitol for the Millennium March. For many people, the highlight of that historic weekend in D.C. was the afterparty at the Post Office Pavilion. Produced by a visionary Brazilian with a background in theatrical production, the party was a major success and immediately became the template for what would become one of the most popular parties around the world. The man behind the magic that night was Ric Sena.
“I was not thinking long-term,” he recalls. “But that first party in D.C. went really well.” Later that year, in June 2000, Susan Morabito’s legendary New York Sunday night party after the Pier Dance and the Pride March had been cancelled. “She was so disappointed,” Sena says. “I said, ‘Susan, if I find a venue in New York, would you spin for me?’” Sena got on a plane and talked to Beto Sutter and John Blair, who were still producing the fabulously successful Saturday nights at the Roxy. They talked him up to Richard Grant, the owner of Sound Factory (now Pacha). Sena knocked on the door of Sound Factory, talked to Grant, and signed a check to secure the space. The party sold out. Alegria was born — and gay nightlife has never been the same.
That Alegria Pride also marked the inauguration of the Sound Factory as Alegria’s first New York home. It quickly established Alegria as the benchmark for marathon parties marked by superlative production values, the hottest go-go dancing musclemen, and sheer hedonistic joy. Starting in January 2001, Sena began holding Alegria Sunrises, morning parties that grew to 1,500 attendees in three months.
With more than 12 years producing theater in Brazil, Sena had a background perfectly suited to creating an event that combined the spectacle of Cirque du Soleil, the energy of the Roxy, and the erotic frisson of a porn shoot. “The party had a look,” says Sena. “My boyfriend Mike and I would go out everywhere with flyers in our pockets. We invited everyone — the most interesting, the most fun, hot boys. People would always ask, ‘How do you get so many good-looking boys?’ We had a lot of friends. Those 400 couldn’t have been more fierce — and they would tell their friends. And that way, we met the right people who were really fun.”
As soon as Sound Factory owner Richard Grant realized what Sena had accomplished with the sold-out Alegria Pride 2000, he gave Sena carte blanche: “Richard got all excited. He liked what I was able to create there. He loved Alegria. He was so proud. He offered me the club if I wanted to keep doing it.”
The Advent of Abel
Those who know their New York nightclub history know that Sound Factory — the incarnation on 46th Street, not the one in the space that later held Twilo — had opened in 1997. Sena’s was the only gay event at the new Sound Factory, “so that made it even more special,” he adds. “If you wanted to go to a gay party at Sound Factory, you came to Alegria.”
It was on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February 2001 that a DJ little known to the denizens of New York nightlife made his debut at Alegria at Sound Factory. After that night, it only took a New York minute before everyone was talking about Abel Aguilera, who has become the DJ most closely associated with Alegria.
With the addition of Abel’s infectious cha-cha beat, all the elements were in place for a party to rival the legendary clubs of New York’s nocturnal history. As Sena recalls, “The Sound Factory would almost explode. There was so much energy. It was the right crowd, and a lot of things came together. Ten different things all at once: the hot boys; the bartenders; the music; the club; the crowd; the décor. People were talking about it everywhere — all over the States and in Europe.”
With a schedule averaging seven to nine parties a year, most of them on the Sundays of three-day weekends, Alegria turned into a major Circuit destination. Boys (and, yes, girls, and good-looking, hip straight couples, too) from around the globe flew into New York. When a brand-new mega-club opened in West Chelsea on West 28th Street, Alegria moved to its second home, the gorgeously appointed Crobar, in January 2004. “The timing was amazing,” Sena says. “Crobar was finally ready and they called me. So then I left Sound Factory. It was not a good ending.” (The Sound Factory has since been taken over by Pacha, but that’s another story. )
A purpose-built club with a capacity of 3,000-plus, Crobar was the first club since the demolition of the Palladium to rival the spacious grandeur and awe-inspiring technology that marked New York nightclubs such as Studio 54, Paradise Garage, and the Saint. According to Sena, “Sound Factory was about the energy — the energy on the dance floor, the heat and all that. But when Alegria went to Crobar, visually, it was something so different, something nobody had ever experienced in New York. Crobar was amazing. And I had the only gay event there, so if you were gay and you wanted to party at Crobar, you came to Alegria.”
During the next four years, Alegria secured its global reputation for stellar events filled with some of the hottest boys and men on the planet, all dancing to music that became known as the “Alegria Sound.” There was the release of three double CDs from resident Abel, Alegria, Alegria Musica, and Alegria Universo. Then there were the songs written specifically for Alegria. “Waiting for Alegria,” “Universo Alegria” and “Café con Alegria” became dance-floor standards. The party became synonymous with a sound that fused tribal, House, and cha-cha into a distinctive and propulsive rhythmic backbeat, over which the resident DJs layered vocals, melodies, percussion and drums.
Jaw-Dropping Décor, Dance Divas, DJs
Apart from the distinctive sound, there was also the décor. “At Crobar, with its high ceilings, what made the difference were the decorations, and there were some really amazing sets,” says Sena. Among the more memorable: the spaceship; the swimming pool; Batman; and the prison party. The latter, which took place at the 2004 Alegria Xtreme, was particularly intense. The phenomenal set designs were all created in Brazil and shipped to New York, including such jaw-dropping sets as a helicopter flying overhead (evoking the Broadway hit Miss Saigon); a roller-coaster for Alegria Xtreme 2006; an elephant beneath a circus carousel; and an entire Gold Rush frontier town, complete with general store and sheriff’s office; as well as the aforementioned mothership, which landed inside the club, disembarking an entire crew of extraterrestrial Circuit boys. For a New York-themed party, pieces of yellow cabs were hanging from the ceiling; the bartenders were Yankees; the center column was wrapped to look like the Empire State Building, complete with lights.
The performers included dance divas, porn stars, and Circuit personalities like Deborah Cox, Frenchie Davis, Ultra Naté, Jeanie Tracy and Suzanne Palmer, just for starters. The stable of DJs expanded beyond residents Abel and Tony Moran to include at various times Eddie Elias, Ralphi Rosario, Alyson Calagna, Dudu Marquez and Micky Friedmann. “I have to like the music,” says Sena. “There are some DJs that I feel really comfortable with, and certain DJs I started listening to and brought to Alegria. There’s a time to open people’s ears to new music — something different, but the right ‘different.’ Alegria is celebrating ten years of bringing the best music to New York City.”
The annals of New York nightlife are littered with nightclubs and parties that have come and gone. It takes vision and creativity to outlast clubs such as the Saint (1980-1988) and Paradise Garage (1977-1987) and even Studio 54 (1977-1986). That longevity in such a fickle town makes the upcoming tenth anniversary of Alegria on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2010, all the more noteworthy. “Alegria would not be what it is if it was not in New York,” says Sena, who works out of an office in Miami Beach. “This tenth anniversary party is going to be about New York, a thank you to the Alegria family and New York City, so I hope I can get the crowd that really enjoyed the early years of Alegria. I hope they show up on Labor Day because that’s what the celebration is going to be.”
For ten years, Alegria, under the aegis of Sena, has repeatedly packed the dance floor with some of the most extraordinary specimens of male beauty, all dancing in joyful abandon from Sunday night right well into Monday afternoon. Plan on Alegria 10, being held Labor Day Weekend, to be one of those parties people still remember at the dawn of another decade.