A nightclub may also be called a discothèque, disco, or dance club.
From about 1900 to 1920, working class Americans would gather at honky tonks or juke joints to dance to music played on a piano or a jukebox. Webster Hall is credited as the first modern nightclub, being built in 1886 and starting off as a "social hall", originally functioning as a home for dance and political activism events. During Prohibition in the United States, nightclubs went underground as illegal speakeasy bars, with Webster Hall staying open, with rumors circulating of Al Capone's involvement and police bribery. With the repeal of Prohibition in February 1933, nightclubs were revived, such as New York's 21 Club, Copacabana, El Morocco, and the Stork Club. These nightclubs featured big bands (there were no DJs).
In Germany, possibly the first discothèque was Scotch-Club. In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music, and the jitterbug dance were banned by the Nazis as decadent American influences, so as an act of French resistance, people met at hidden basements called discothèques where they danced to jazz and swing music, which was played on a single turntable when a jukebox was not available. These discothèques were also patronized by anti-Vichy youth called zazous. There were also underground discothèques in Nazi Germany patronized by anti-Nazi youth called the swing kids.
In Harlem, Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club were popular venues for white audiences. Before 1953 and even some years thereafter, most bars and nightclubs used a jukebox or mostly live bands. In Paris, at a club named Whisky à Gogo, founded in 1947, Régine in 1953 laid down a dance-floor, suspended coloured lights and replaced the jukebox with two turntables that she operated herself so there would be no breaks between the music. The Whisky à Gogo set into place the standard elements of the modern post World War II discothèque-style nightclub.
At the end of the 1950s, several of the coffee bars in Soho introduced afternoon dancing and the most famous, at least on the continent, was Les Enfants Terribles at 93 Dean St. These original discothèques were nothing like the night clubs, as they were unlicensed and catered to a very young public—mostly made up of French and Italians working illegally, mostly in catering, to learn English as well as au pair girls from most of western Europe. In the early 1960s, Mark Birley opened a members-only discothèque nightclub, Annabel's, in Berkeley Square, London. In 1962, the Peppermint Lounge in New York City became popular and is the place where go-go dancing originated. However, the first rock and roll generation preferred rough and tumble bars and taverns to nightclubs, and the nightclub did not attain mainstream popularity until the 1970s disco era. Sybil Burton, former wife of actor Richard Burton, opened the "Arthur" discothèque in 1965 on East 54th Street in Manhattan on the site of the old El Morocco nightclub and it became the first, foremost and hottest disco in New York City through 1969.
Disco has its roots in the underground club scene. During the early 1970s in New York City, disco clubs were places where oppressed or marginalized groups such as homosexuals, Blacks, Latinos, Italian-Americans, and Jews could party without following male to female dance protocol or exclusive club policies. It brought together people from all walks of life and backgrounds. These clubs acted as safe havens for homosexual partygoers to dance in peace and away from public scrutiny. Disco allowed patrons to explore sexuality and push the envelope on the dance floor. Disco clubs acted as an escape from such depressing environments and acted as the fantasy marginalized peoples could escape to forget oppression and racism. Disco clubs originally functioned as liberated party spaces and were seen as places of political statement.
By the late 1970s many major US cities had thriving disco club scenes centered on discothèques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco hits through powerful PA systems for the dancers. The DJs played "... a smooth mix of long single records to keep people 'dancing all night long'". Some of the most prestigious clubs had elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the beat of the music.
Some cities had disco dance instructors or dance schools that taught people how to do popular disco dances such as "touch dancing", the "hustle" and the "cha-cha-cha". There were also disco fashions that discothèque-goers wore for nights out at their local disco, such as sheer, flowing Halston dresses for women and shiny polyester Qiana shirts for men. Disco clubs and "... hedonistic loft parties" had a club culture with many Italian-American, African American, gay and Hispanic people.
In addition to the dance and fashion aspects of the disco club scene, there was also a thriving drug subculture, particularly for recreational drugs that would enhance the experience of dancing to the loud music and the flashing lights, such as cocaine (nicknamed "blow"), amyl nitrite "poppers", and the "... other quintessential 1970s club drug Quaalude, which suspended motor coordination and turned one's arms and legs to Jell-O". The "massive quantities of drugs ingested in discothèques by newly liberated gay men produced the next cultural phenomenon of the disco era: rampant promiscuity and public sex. While the dance floor was the central arena of seduction, actual sex usually took place in the nether regions of the disco: bathroom stalls, exit stairwells, and so on. In other cases the disco became a kind of "main course" in a hedonist's menu for a night out."
Famous 1970s discothèques included celebrity hangouts such as Manhattan's Studio 54, which was operated by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. Studio 54 was notorious for the hedonism that went on within; the balconies were known for sexual encounters, and drug use was rampant. Its dance floor was decorated with an image of the "Man in the Moon" that included an animated cocaine spoon. Other famous 1970s discothèques in New York City included " Manhattan's Starship Discovery One, 350 West 42nd Street, New York, New York, DJ's Frankie Carvajal, Joe Palminteri. Album Cover of Saturday Night Band's Come on and Dance, Dance features 2 Dancers in the Starship Discovery One" "Roseland's Ballroom West 52nd Street NYC", "Xenon", "The Loft", the "Paradise Garage", a recently renovated "Copacabana," and "Aux Puces", one of the first gay disco bars. In San Francisco, there was the Trocadero Transfer, the I-Beam, and the End Up.
By the early 1980s, the term "disco" had largely fallen out of favour in most of the English-speaking world.
During the 1980s, during the New Romantic movement, London had a vibrant nightclub scene, which included clubs like The Blitz, the Batcave, the Camden Palace and Club for Heroes. Both music and fashion embraced the aesthetics of the movement. Bands included Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Human League, Duran Duran, Blondie, Eurythmics and Ultravox. Reggae-influenced bands included Boy George and Culture Club, and electronic vibe bands included Visage. At London nightclubs, young men would often wear make-up and young women would wear men's suits.
The largest UK cities like Leeds (The Orbit), Newcastle, Liverpool (Quadrant Park and 051), Swansea, Manchester (The Haçienda) and several key European places like Paris (Les Bains Douches), Ibiza (Pacha), Rimini etc. also played a significant role in the evolution of clubbing, DJ culture and nightlife.
Significant New York nightclubs of the period were Area, Danceteria, and The Limelight.
In Europe and North America, nightclubs play disco-influenced dance music such as house music, techno, and other dance music styles such as electronica, breakbeat and trance. Most nightclubs in the U.S. major cities that have an early adulthood clientele, play hip hop, dance-pop, house and/or trance music. These clubs are generally the largest and most frequented of all of the different types of clubs. The emergence of the "superclub" created a global phenomenon, with Juliana's Tokyo (Japan), Ministry of Sound (London), Cream (Liverpool) and Pacha (Ibiza)
Techno clubs are especially popular around the world since the early 1990s. Famous examples are Berghain, Bunker and Tresor in Berlin, Omen and Cocoon in Frankfurt, Distillery in Leipzig, Tunnel Club in Hamburg, Ultraschall in Munich, Warehouse in Chicago and The Haçienda in Manchester.
In other languages, nightclubs are sometimes still referred to as "discos" or "discothèques" (German: Disko or Diskothek (outdated; nowadays: Club); French: discothèque; Italian, Portuguese and Spanish: discoteca, antro (common in Mexico only), and boliche (common in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), discos is commonly used in all others in Latinamerica). In Japanese ディスコ, disuko refers to an older, smaller, less fashionable venue; while クラブ, kurabu refers to a more recent, larger, more popular venue. The term night is used to refer to an evening focusing on a specific genre, such as "retro music night" or a "singles night." In Hong Kong and China, night club is used as a euphemism for a hostess club, and the association of the term with the sex trade has driven out the regular usage of the term.
A recent trend in the North American, Australian and European nightclub industry is the usage of video. VJs ("video jockeys") mix video content in a similar manner that DJs mix audio content, creating a visual experience that is intended to complement the music.
Many clubs have recurring club nights on different days of the week. The music festival Bangface, for example, started out as a club night. Most club nights focus on a particular genre or sound for branding effects.
Many nightclubs use bouncers to choose who can enter the club, or specific lounges or VIP areas. Some high-priced nightclubs have one group of bouncers to screen clients for entry at the main door, and then other bouncers to screen for entry to other dance floors, lounges or VIP areas. For legal reasons, in most jurisdictions, the bouncers have to check ID to ensure that prospective patrons are of legal drinking age and that they are not intoxicated already. In this respect, a nightclub's use of bouncers is no different from the use of bouncers by pubs and sports bars. However, in expensive, high-end nightclubs, bouncers may screen patrons using criteria other than just age and intoxication status: dress code and guest list.
This type of screening is used by clubs to make their club "exclusive", by denying entry to people who are not dressed in a stylish enough manner. While some clubs have written dress codes, such as no ripped jeans, no jeans, no gang clothing, and so on, other clubs may not post their policies. As such, the club's bouncers may deny entry to anybody at their discretion. The guest list is typically used for private parties and events held by celebrities. At private parties, the hosts may only want their friends to attend. At celebrity events, the hosts may wish the club to only be attended by A-list individuals; in this way, the famous guests can avoid having to deal with fans from the general public asking to have selfie photos with them.
In most cases, entering a nightclub requires a flat fee, called a cover charge. Some clubs waive or reduce the cover charge for early arrivers, special guests or women (in the United Kingdom this latter option is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 but the law is rarely enforced, and open violations are frequent). Friends of the doorman or the club owner may gain free entrance. Sometimes, especially at larger clubs in Continental European countries, one gets only a pay card at the entrance, on which all money spent in the discothèque (often including the entrance fee) is marked. Sometimes, entrance fee and cloakroom costs are paid by cash, and only the drinks in the club are paid using a pay card.
Some clubs, especially those located in Las Vegas, offer patrons the chance to sign up on their Guest List. A club's guest list is a special promotion the venue offers separate from general admission. Each club has different benefits when you are signed up on their guest list. Some of the benefits of being on a club's guestlist are: free entry, discounted cover charge, the ability to skip the line, and free drinks. Many clubs hire a promotions team to find and sign up guest to the club's Guest List. There are a few online service companies that offer guest list sign ups for multiple venues, such as Nightlife Q.
Many nightclubs enforce a dress code in order to ensure a certain type of clientele is in attendance at the venue. Some upscale nightclubs ban attendees from wearing trainers (sneakers) or jeans while other nightclubs will advertise a vague "dress to impress" dress code that allows the bouncers to discriminate at will against those vying for entry to the club.
Many exceptions are made to nightclub dress codes, with denied entry usually reserved for the most glaring rule breakers or those thought to be unsuitable for the party. Certain nightclubs like fetish nightclubs may apply a dress code (BDSM) to a leather-only, rubber-only or fantasy dress code. The dress code criterion is often an excuse for discriminatory practices, such as in the case of Carpenter v. Limelight Entertainment Ltd.
Large cosmopolitan cities that are home to large affluent populations (such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Miami, New York City, and London) often have what are known as exclusive boutique nightclubs. This type of club typically has a capacity of less than 200 occupants and a very strict entrance policy, which usually requires an entrant to be on the club's guest list. While not explicitly members+only clubs, such as Soho House, exclusive nightclubs operate with a similar level of exclusivity. As they are off limits to most of the public and ensure the privacy of guests, many celebrities favor these types of clubs to other, less exclusive, clubs that do not cater as well to their needs.
Another differentiating feature of exclusive nightclubs is, in addition to being known for a certain type of music, they are known for having a certain type of crowd, for instance, a fashion-forward, affluent crowd or a crowd with a high concentration of fashion models. Many exclusive boutique clubs market themselves as being a place to socialize with models and celebrities. Affluent patrons who find that marketing message appealing are often willing to purchase bottle service at a markup of several times the retail cost of the liquor. London's most exclusive boutique nightclubs include Amika, Cirque le Soir, Project, The Box, and The Rose Club. They are frequently visited by an array of A-List celebrities from the fashion, film, and music industries. All are located in London's prestigious Mayfair, except Cirque le Soir and The Box, which are both located in London's sex capital, Soho, and the both have a more risqué theme.
Many nightclubs operate a "guest list" that allows certain attendees to enter the club for free or at a reduced rate. Some nightclubs have a range of unpublished guest list options ranging from free, to reduced, to full price with line by-pass privileges only. Nightclub goers on the guest list often have a separate queue and sometimes a separate entrance from those used by full price-paying attendees. It is common for the guestlist line-up to be no shorter or even longer than the full-paying or ticketed queues. Some nightclubs allow clubbers to register for the guest list through their websites. There are a few online service companies that offer guest list sign ups for multiple venues, such as the Las Vegas based company Nightlife Q.
At high end or exclusive nightclubs, professional photographers will take publicity photos of patrons, to use in advertising for the nightclub. Digital SLR cameras and speedlight flash units are used. Concert photography and event photography are used to provide clubgoers with a memorable keepsake as well as promote their venue.
Nightclub photography moves at a much faster pace than other types of photography so that people can continue partying after posing for a quick second or two. It's much harder to compose the picture because you've got to keep in mind all the stuff happening in the background. It's also harder to see what's in the viewfinder because it's so dark. It's common to get some out of focus shots here and there because the auto focus was hunting in the low light. The biggest challenge would have to be figuring out how to get the best light possible. You have to be able to "see the light" and think on your feet more quickly.
Photographer Alex Evans from Milwaukee states that “I like that you get the chance to be social. When I am working I am not just standing there taking photos, and I am encouraged to talk to people and hang out with them. That is something you don’t get with concert photography. The club photography scene is “like a big party you get to be a part of.” He prefers shooting nightclub photography, because it allows him to make more creative decisions as opposed to trying to impress an artist and their fan base.
Most nightclubs employ teams of bouncers, who have the power to restrict entry to the club and remove people. Some bouncers use handheld metal detectors to prevent weapons being brought into clubs. Bouncers often eject patrons who bring party drugs into the venue. Bouncers count the number of people admitted to a club in order to prevent stampedes and fire code violations, and also enforce a club's dress code, frequently accepting bribes to let people jump the queue. Many clubs have balcony areas specifically for the security team to watch over the clubbers.20 September 1929: Study Club fire of 1929, early dance club fire that killed 22 in Detroit, Michigan, USA
23 April 1940: Rhythm Night Club fire, 209 killed at nightclub fire at Natchez, Mississippi, USA
28 November 1942: Cocoanut Grove fire, 492 killed in a nightclub fire at Boston, Massachusetts, USA
1 November 1970: Club Cinq-Sept fire in a nightclub just outside the small town of Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, Isère in south-eastern France; 146 people killed
8 March 1973: Whiskey Au Go Go fire, 15 killed after firebombing at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia
2 August 1973: Summerland disaster, 51 killed at fire at Summerland leisure centre at Douglas, Isle of Man
28 May 1977: Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, 165 killed and 200 injured in nightclub fire at Southgate, Kentucky, USA
14 February 1981: Stardust fire disaster, 48 killed and 214 injured at nightclub fire at Dublin, Republic of Ireland
5 April 1986: Bomb attack on La Belle discothèque, Berlin, Germany, 3 killed, 230 injured; 2 Marines sustaining permanent disability were 2nd Force Recon Co. Marine's LCPL Hurt & LCPL Blackwood who despite their injuries gave assistance to their fellow Marines and civilians alike before their injuries were discovered by medical personnel
25 March 1990: Happy Land fire, 87 killed in a nightclub fire at Happy Land, The Bronx, New York City
20 December 1993: Kheyvis Fire, 17 killed in a nightclub fire at Buenos Aires, Argentina
18 March 1996: Ozone Disco Club fire, 162 dead and 92 injured at a nightclub in Quezon City, Philippines
30 October 1998: Gothenburg discothèque fire, 63 people killed, 200 injured in a nightclub fire at Gothenburg, Sweden
24 March 2000: Throb nightclub disaster, 13 children killed, 54 injured in stampede in Durban, South Africa
1 June 2001: Suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium discothèque in Tel Aviv, Israel
13 October 2001: Stage toggled at Zapata discothèque Stuttgart, Germany, several people hurt
21 December 2001: At Club "Indigo", Sofia, Bulgaria, in an early party for minors, the huge crowd pushing their way to get in collapses down the frosty stairs and crushes 7 children (ages between 10 and 14) to death
12 October 2002: 2002 Bali bombings, 202 killed by large bombs.
7 December 2002: Cowgate fire, Edinburgh, Scotland
17 February 2003: 2003 E2 nightclub stampede, Chicago, Illinois, 21 killed and over 50 injured
20 February 2003: The Station nightclub fire, 100 killed at nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island
8 December 2004: A shooter in Columbus, Ohio shot and killed guitarist "Dimebag" Darrel Abbott and two other people, also wounding band manager and a fan in the audience
30 December 2004: República Cromañón nightclub fire, 194 killed and 714 injured in a nightclub fire at Buenos Aires, Argentina
18 June 2007: Gatecrasher One Fire, Sheffield, England
1 January 2009: Santika Club fire in Santika Club in Watthana, Bangkok, Thailand, 61 killed and at least 212 injured
24 July 2009: a man bled to death at a pool party in Perkins Park nightclub, Stuttgart, Germany, after he made a head dive into a swimming pool in which there were fragments of glass
5 December 2009: Lame Horse fire, a fire at the Lame Horse nightclub killed at least 155 people and injures 79 others in Perm, Russia.
15 January 2011: 3 girls died, 14 people injured at a stampede in West Balkan Club, Budapest
27 January 2013: Kiss nightclub fire, 245 died in stampede in Brazil
25 October 2015: Inul Vizta Karaoke club fire, 17 killed and 71 injured in Indonesia
30 October 2015: Colectiv nightclub fire, 55 killed and 180 injured in Romania
12 June 2016: At least 50 people shot to death at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida
1 January 2017: At least 35 people killed in an attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey
The following is an incomplete list of nightclub lists or nightclubs with their own Wikipedia pages, of all genres.List of electronic dance music venues
List of nightclubs in Australia
List of nightclubs in New York City
List of nightclubs in Rome
List of nightclubs in Sweden