Nightlife And The Phenomenology Of The Bar Stamp


My favorite thing about going out to bars and clubs is getting stamped at the door. Every club has their own unique stamp, some of them more creative than others. At the level of design, some stamps are as simple as an “X,” some are visible only under a black light, and others use the logo of the place. Last weekend I was at a club in Berlin and the bar stamp was a giant black imprint that said “34 HOMO.” I was the 34th homo in the club, I guess? It sat on my wrist for days.

You wait on the line and finally you get inside and you get stamped, branded with the venue’s insignia. Getting stamped is sort of like being in a special group of people, people who are all here for the same thing you are. The only thing better than getting one bar stamp is club hopping and getting more than one bar stamp, temporary tattoos all over your arm that say as much about your personality as what you’re wearing does.

Later that night you’re hungry so you and your friends end up at a diner or another fast food joint, hair disheveled, sweaty, and you and your people are all marked by that little bar stamp. The waitress comes by, a slightly older woman, and says something like “Looks like you guys had fun tonight. I used to go to The Copacabana Room when I was your age.”

Nightlife is interesting because it sort of doesn’t exist. It exists when it exists and not very much beyond that. It’s easy to describe nightlife, sure, but it is structurally intangible. You can’t have nightlife. You can get fucked. You can get fucked up. You can dance. You can fully participate in nightlife as an experience. But you can’t take it back with you.

Like a ghost, nightlife is impermanent. Ephemeral. As soon as the sun comes up, or as soon as the party is over, it’s gone. A memory.

Memories are what make nightlife so powerful, and they are what keeps us going out weekend after weekend. Nightlife is the stories we tell our friends about the hot guy we made out with in the corner or the guy we saw dancing in a jock strap wearing a giant orbital headpiece. But these are just stories. They are intangible. We go out weekend after weekend to recreate, to reproduce the highs and lows of the memories of the last weekend.

Most people see in night culture all sorts and kinds of debauchery. They question the point of going out — why do people look forward to the weekend or to the weeknight, if you’re really hardcore. It sort of goes without saying that night culture is exciting to people because it is the one time we are allowed to step outside of ourselves, to try new things, to experiment with people, substances, activities, and generally enjoy being at the height of life.

But if you think about it, nightlife is sort of like a movie set. It’s all make believe, not really there. Bars and clubs are largely shuttered during the day while the bars get restocked, the place gets cleaned up from last night, and everything is put back to normal.

Then the sun sets, and like vampires night owls materialize out of nowhere. Things come alive.

Bar stamps are the one souvenir of nightlife, and you can’t even keep that. I guess you could say a hangover or, hmm, an STD are also souvenirs of nightlife. But unlike those, each time you look at your bar stamp, wondering why it still won’t wash off, you are reminded of how much fun you had and all the wild stuff you did in the space. Two days later you meet a friend for a drink and she sees the remains of the stamp on your wrist. You flash back to the great time you had because it gives you a story to tell.

Nightlife is about stories — telling stories, hearing stories, making stories up. Stories of the awesome song the DJ played that you’ll probably never hear again. Stories about who was there and what they did. Bar stamps are the narrators of nightlife.

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