I am of the firm opinion that when it comes to celebrating New Year's Eve, the trappings need not be luxurious. Attitude counts more. And honestly, it seems that no matter which venue you choose, certain iconic symbols — the Times Square happenings, the bubbly toasts — are givens.
Here is a spectrum of spots-to-be at midnight Saturday that includes rooms with views, attractions old and new, and funky spots with groove.
Let's begin at the top with the big-picture perspective: Urban sprawl is bad everywhere except from a penthouse vantage point. Street lights glitter for miles and, on a clear night, you can grab a window seat and take it all in.
At Lexington's high-rise lounges, all private VIP rooms might be booked by now, but that should not deter you from paying a more accessible cover charge with the rest of us. After all, how much privacy do you need for the biggest party of the year?
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Skybar, which brought moonrise-watching to downtown in 2009, will have its resident disc jockey, Scott Hammer, on hand with tunes from the '70s to now. That's all good, but this night is synonymous with sparkling wine, and consider that Skybar's champagne list trumps everyone else's. High rollers will want the vintage Krug or the Roederer Cristal, but the more modestly priced bottles are perfectly respectable, too.
Vue is the newest tower in town. In the spot atop the Chase Bank tower formerly occupied by Baker's 360, the refurbished interior is fresh and new, while sporting its signature black and gold. A wall now separates the dance and music areas from the dining room, so midnight doesn't have to be boisterous unless you want it to be. The club side will have a steep $50 cover, but you get food and champagne. Check out the view of the city from the restroom, with its own special vista.
If you're prone to vertigo or just prefer terra firma, you can — and should — either cross Esplanade and party to Latin music at Natasha's Bistro and Bar from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., or cross Main Street to The Bar Complex, Lexington's internationally recognized bar that has been entertaining the gay, straight and every other orientation for more than 31 years.
Like most places, The Bar will open at 8 p.m., and everyone gets free champagne at midnight. It is, however, the split levels and unapologetic entertainment that make the place perpetually fun. The Living Room Lounge sports banquettes and an oak bar, there's a drag show in the Gilded Cage Showroom, and upstairs is the Johnny Angel Disco, a 1980s-style dance floor with a fine light show.
Soundbar, in its brief lifespan, has acquired an almost unbelievable traction, and the place just keeps evolving, now offering the same great experience on a second floor. For a $15 general cover, you get DJ Crow with the best of 2011, a midnight toast, your own boa, party favors, five balloon drops at midnight and coverage of the Manhattan happenings on 16 flat-screen televisions. Soundbar is opening the heated patio, too, which will be a unique retreat from the scene in crowded rooms.
Within the tight downtown parameters of Rose and Broadway on the east and west, and Short and High to the north and south, two more recently opened spots are throwing their first New Year's bashes.
One of those is Parlay Social, whose interior is inspired by the romantic aspects of Prohibition. Nothing about Dec. 31 at Parlay, however, will suggest teetotalling. Food and pours of Korbel will abound to say goodbye to 2011, before and after which local bluesman Tee Dee Young will perform, kicking off his "Jamming in the Islands" tour.
Equally buzz-worthy, and entirely different, is Trust Lounge. Many people are already flooding the place for its magnificent Beaux Arts interior and live jazz, but New Year's Eve promises a "Las Vegas nightclub experience in Kentucky," according to the club. What does that mean? A Vegas disc jockey. Girls dancing on elevated platforms. A cover that entitles you to all-you-care-to-drink of domestic beers, well liquor, hors d'oeuvres and endless sparkling wine. A midnight cannon blast of 2,012 $1 bills. A few other surprises are hush-hush at the moment.
But things won't exactly be subdued outside these limited boundaries.
It wouldn't be right to ignore campus, North Lime and Manchester, so let's tip the hat to spots in these groove-worthy neighborhoods as we close the book on the past year.
For example, forget about auld lang syne at Cosmic Charlie's. For the last night of 2011, they'll bring the best of local bands doing covers of Led Zeppelin. Now there's a niche for you. (Read more about that in Walter Tunis' column on Page 6.)
At Buster's Billiards and Backroom, in the heart of the Distillery District, the theme is local and super-affordable. There's a cover of a mere $8 in advance, $10 the night of the show. Who's playing? G-Funk Allstars. Nothing predictable about the evening except monumental funkiness and the complimentary champagne toast at midnight.
Finally, beloved Al's Bar in the North Limestone corridor is spinning the party two ways: New Orleans blues to start and after-midnight salsa dancing to the Big Maracas and the Swells.
Arrange for your designated drivers early, dress according to style and whim, and have a wonderful New Year's Eve and a happy New Year.