When dusk turns to darkness, New York City doesn’t slow down. The night is lit with neon signs and headlights, apartment windows and streetlights. The majority of New Yorkers utilize the night to rest after a long day. But an entire economy comes to life at night. From the emergency room to subway maintenance, from comedians to custodians, there is hardly an industry that isn’t teeming with life.
Across the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that at 9 p.m., about 12 percent of workers are on the clock. At 2 a.m., this number drops to 3 percent. Though it’s a small population, they are part of a larger economy that drives the city while the rest of us sleep. Many of the industries that New York is well-known for—healthcare, business and production, transportation, entertainment—continue throughout the night. In a report by Sound Diplomacy, a think tank dedicated to night economies, New York’s night economy supports about 300,000 employees.
For many of these workers, there are health risks involved with working the night shift. Studies claim that night shift work leads to more injuries on the job, an increased risk of diabetes and breast cancer, and that the brain produces less serotonin. The National Sleep Foundation says that night work also “disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms and causes them to become out of sync with the external environment and/or behavioral cycles.”
But these workers push on regardless, either to support their families or because they prefer the quiet comfort of the night air. There is a certain type of magic watching the gears work behind one of the most influential cities in the world.
There is nowhere like New York, and there is definitely nowhere like New York at night.
"Sometimes, from beyond the skyscrapers, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island." ― Albert Camus
“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” ―Haruki Murakami
The Momo Maker
When Kamala Gauchan was 11 years old, she would come home from school to pound sticky dough into rotis—round, tortilla-like flatbread made for sopping up curry sauces and savory pickles.
She did it for her parents, who once owned a restaurant in Butwal, a town in the southern part of the mountainous country of Nepal, where Gauchan often worked after school. But her parents were tough taskmasters—if Gauchan couldn’t manage to cook and clean quickly, she wasn’t allowed to play outside.
At 9 p.m. in Manhattan’s Curry Hill, an area in Murray Hill along Lexington Avenue and 28th Street known for its Indian restaurants, Gauchan laughs heartily, remembering. She leans against a large print of Ganesha, the Hindu God of luck and prosperity who watches over her own restaurant. It is called Dhaulagiri Kitchen.
Some might feel badly for her for working as a child, Gauchan said, but her parents taught her the work ethic she needed to survive. These days she is grateful for the stamina to work late into the night.
On most days, Gauchan says she works more than 12 hours. “So hard for me, sometimes up to 17 hours,” she said. On this evening, she expects to be here until 2 a.m. But she doesn’t mind.
When Gauchan arrived in the United States 19 years ago, she worked for six years and eight months as a housekeeper in a house in Long Island, then as a cook. After years, she saved up enough money to buy a tiny restaurant of her own, on 73rd Street in Jackson Heights. She later sold it and bought her current restaurant in Manhattan.
She beams when she’s close to a Thali, a silver plate that holds Nepal’s national dish, dhal-bat. A plate of momos—round chicken dumplings, perfectly shaped by hand, are a key staple of Nepali cuisine—sits next to a bright red chutney, thick enough to cling to the folds and crevices in the steamed dough. The menu at Ghauchan’s restaurant features a variety of the dumplings.
“I love my momos and fish curry,” Ghauchan said.
Gauchan’s sister and brother also have restaurants—one in London, the other in Katmandu, with the same name – Dhaulagiri — in honor of the name of their late parents’ restaurant. Dhaulagiri, it is said, means White Mountain.
“My country, my mountains,” Gauchan said.
— Story and photos by Tulika Bose
As Rori Baldari remembers, she was setting up her telescope on a busy street corner in Park Slope, right where there’s a subway, a pizza shop, and lots of neon lights. Although lights aren’t good for stargazing, the streets were full of people she could share the night sky view with. It was the perfect place to do it.
A few minutes later, a woman walked out of her apartment. She climbed down the stairs, a glass of wine in one hand. She was crying. Baldari asked: “What’s going on?”
“I’ve just had the worst day of my life,” the woman answered, in between sniffles. Then she glanced at the telescope. “Can I take a look?”
Baldari readily agreed. Showing people the night sky was why she was there.
The woman looked through the telescope and, as Baldari recalls, let out a sigh of relief. “You’ve made one of the worst days of my life a little bit better,” she said. “I feel so much better.”
Baldari, with frizzy brown hair and a broad, friendly smile, is an administrative assistant by day and amateur astronomer by night. A native New Yorker, she started stargazing when she was a teenager.
“There was an ‘Aha!’ moment when I stepped outside my house and saw the beautiful crescent moon and planet Venus right next to it,” Baldari says. “I got my telescope, pointed it up at the night sky and I never looked back.”
She had a natural fascination with the night sky, perhaps because her older brothers would always watch Star Trek, she says, jokingly. When she was young, Baldari asked her mother to get her a telescope for Christmas. Her telescopes grew in size year after year.
In 2009, she found the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York—which goes back to 1927—through a Google search and joined. Now she is the group’s vice-president. The nonprofit organization hosts classes and regular observing sessions in several locations around the city, like the High Line, Lincoln Center, and Central Park. With around 900 members, the association aims to show New Yorkers that they can enjoy astronomy, even though the city has one of the world’s most light-polluted skies.
Light pollution disrupts the natural day to night cycle, but more concerning for Baldari, it inhibits the observation of the night sky. LED lights that are currently being installed throughout the five boroughs are “absolutely horrendous,” Baldari says. She hopes that the city will consider ordinances such as putting covers on street lights so the glare of the light faces down rather than up into the sky.
“It’s part of our natural beauty, as any beautiful park,” Baldari says. “The night sky is something we should treasure, value, and not allow it to become extinct.”
Baldari says she wants to inspire young kids to become astronomers and scientists by showing them they are citizens of a vast, amazing universe. She hopes that adults, too, will look up once in a while and realize that there’s more than what goes on here on Earth.
“I think it’s important to remind people of that,” she says. “Why? I don’t know, I just think it’s important. People seem to appreciate that.”
— Story and photos by Jennifer Kang
A Night with the Hungry
Standing next to three white vans, Juan De La Cruz chats with a group of volunteers. In a few minutes, at 7 p.m., the vehicles from the Coalition for the Homeless will depart in different directions to deliver food across the city.
People in need are also standing in front of the door of the coalition’s office in Midtown Manhattan. Cynthia, a woman wearing a dark skirt, in her mid-forties and of Asian descent, solicits Juan’s attention.
“Do you like my eyes?” she asks De La Cruz, 45. Around them, many white-collar workers, some wearing sunglasses and tight dresses, walk quickly toward subway entrances.
“They asked me to rob a bank!” she shouts to Juan, who is heading inside. “Let me know if you need someone to keep the money!” he replies.
Volunteers for the Coalition for the Homeless, a non-profit group that provides help for homeless people throughout the city, go out every evening, seven days a week, and hand out food to people on the street. This Monday three volunteers, one of them still in high heels from her day job, are headed for the Bronx.
The driver, a tall, chunky 30-year-old named Paul Fitzgerald, jumps into the van and adjusts the seat. The back of the van is filled with three grey containers that keep cups of homemade meatball soup warm and ready to be handed out. There are also boxes of oranges, several packs of milk and apple juice, and big bags full of bread and few muffins.
The first of the seven stops that the volunteers make on the Bronx route this evening is at Hunts Point. It’s half past seven, the sun hasn’t set yet, and only five men approach the van, parked next to a car mechanic. Some choose the whole menu of offerings, one of them only asks for milk and bread. The volunteers put everything into bags for each person.
“It’s the beginning of the month, people still have food stamps and money from social services,” said one of the female volunteers.
After few minutes, all three volunteers are back in the van, driving to the second spot in Hunts Point, this time in front of a homeless shelter. “It’s a temporary one, they only stay a night or two,” says Paul, who’s been a volunteer since 2010, about the shelter.
As he stands next to the bags, he greets the beneficiaries and makes sure they all stay in the line. Meanwhile, the women, wearing rubber gloves, put full rations in the plastic bags that they give away. One 21-year-old volunteer, Shira Bouskila, her curly hair tips dyed green, smiles softly as she puts oranges and bread into the bags.
Nearly all of the beneficiaries are Hispanic or black males. Some are chatty, others silent, and a few seem spaced out. “I’ve been living on the street for nine years,” says a short, toasted skin man with a few scars on his face. The man, who said he was Mexican, moves slowly, and does not speak much faster.
There is a kind of fatality, or resignation, in the way they all stand in line, silently, barely communicating to each other. Most of them come alone, even if they know one another, having met regularly at the same delivery point, every day, at the same time. As the sun sets, the line behind the van’s rear doors get longer.
A little after 8 p.m. the van arrives at 164th Street and Jerome Avenue, its fourth stop of the evening, 20 minutes earlier than expected. “Women first,” says a hectic one that jumps the queue. Others don’t complain. “They police themselves,” says Paul. “They know if someone causes trouble, that person should not come next time because the coalition will not stop anymore at that delivery point.” It’s been 30 years since the organization bought the first van, and it hasn’t stopped since then.
Two stops later, it’s already dark. At the busy intersection of Fordham Road and University Avenue, a long line of two dozen people is already waiting when the van parks. Behind them, the stained glass from the façade of St. Nicholas of Tolentin Church glows. At the back of the queue, a newcomer asks if his colleague needs a ticket to get on the line. At the front, a man holding a speaker blasting music confronts a woman on the sidewalk. “What are you looking at?” After a little verbal skirmish, he leaves with just a couple of oranges. He walks four or five steps, then throws the bag onto a pile of trash on the street.
Heading to the last stop, the van is much lighter. Over a hundred rations have been delivered. It’s not even 8.30 p.m. when Paul parks the vehicle in front of a housing project at Fordham Road and Webster Avenue, much earlier than 9 p.m., the expected time of arrival.
Fredesvinda Minaya, a usual customer, arrives late, but on time to get the last meal. The 53-year-old woman from the Dominican Republic says she has been getting food from the coalition for over two years.
Before she arrived, a line of men picked up everything that was left. Because it´s the last stop, and volunteers try to go back empty handed, customers reappear two, sometimes three times, after going back to end of the line. Their plastic bags fill up and the handles stretch so much they seem on the verge of breaking. “Could you give me a second bag?” many ask.
Before leaving, Paul gives Fredesvinda a pair of socks. She puts them inside one of the several bags she carries, filled with different things, and starts dancing. Only few minutes later, Fredesvinda picks up her belongings, waves her hand with a wide smile on her face, and walks away. Something she does every day, at the same time.
— Story and photos by Nico Lupo
“Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.” —Dorothy Parker
On an average weekday night, Ashley Jesus cleans the School of General Studies at Columbia University. She goes about her regular routine: empty the trash cans, wipe and polish the surfaces throughout the office, vacuum the floors, repeat. She does this throughout the night, every night. Office after office. Classroom after classroom.
Her job probably sounds boring to most people, but she likes the repetition, and working at night affords her some privileges that a regular nine to five job couldn’t provide her.
“I really love my job, working at night,” Jesus said. “It fits me well.”
When she gets off her shift at 6 a.m., she goes home and takes her elementary and high school-age children to school. While they are at school, she sleeps and goes to a local college to improve her English. Since she works at night and doesn’t work on the weekends, she gets ample time to spend with her family and friends, who would rather spend time together during the day.
One of her favorite parts of working at night is that it’s quiet and she’s alone. She doesn’t get in anyone’s way, she can go at her own pace and she doesn’t need to interact with anyone, unless there are mishaps. Then she calls her manager. But for most of the night, she’s by herself.
She’s been working this job for eight years and has always had the night shift. She isn’t planning on changing her work hours any time soon. For now, she is happy being alone in her blue jumper, working in the silence of the empty halls.
— Story and photos by Taylor Romine
A Night at the Ferry Station
At the Whitehall Ferry Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan, the people lining up for the Staten Island Ferry mimic the tides in the harbor, only at more frequent intervals.
Over a period of 30 minutes, the crowd gradually builds up, accumulating at the large silver doors at the front corner of the room. Five minutes before the ferry is set to leave, the people rush out and spill onto the ramp to the upper level, where they will enter the narrow pathway that leads to the ferry boat. Those who are running late sprint from the escalators as the security officer yells across the echoing room, “Closing the doors!” The terminal is suddenly empty, just a few stragglers left behind. This continues every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day.
By 9:30 p.m., the people who slowly file in range from denim-clad tourists with large bags from H&M and Uniqlo to weary office workers in wrinkled, untucked shirts. Many of them slump down on the stone benches placed in rows across the room. A man with white hair and a face freckled with sunspots reads The New York Times. Two teenagers turn to one another, talking intently.
If you ask the Department of Transportation inspectors, who are in charge of keeping the terminal safe, they’ll tell you about interesting people who pass through. On that evening’s 9 p.m. ferry, for example, a man held the door of the ferry open for his wife, who he insisted was almost there. She wasn’t. Security told him to wait for the next ferry, and his wife indeed arrived—about 10 minutes later. The inspectors said he has been doing this every day for the last week.
Late at night, the terminal attracts a rag-tag bunch. In the last year, one man who an inspector said is apparently an alcoholic, built up $120,000 in bills for ambulance rides from the terminal. It isn’t uncommon, the inspectors say, to see him back in the large hall several hours after he has been admitted to the hospital.
Most nights, a small woman in her 70’s comes to nap at the terminal, waking up occasionally to socialize with the guards. She is said to be a retired professor from Columbia University who has her own home, but prefers the fluorescent-lit hall in Battery Park.
On the farthest window next to the ferry entrance, two men perform, one singing and the other playing guitar on a speaker, pop-rock hits like “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey and “Here Without You” by Three Doors Down. Their guitar case is open for the passers by who want to tip. When people rush through the doors to get on the ferry they ramp up the gusto as they thank the audience. By 10 p.m. they pack up their equipment and go, leaving the hall with only the echoes of passenger conversations.
By 10:30 p.m., the police dogs who guard the opening of the hall, lie down for a nap now that the flow of people has reduced to a trickle. By 11 p.m., the hall echoes with the clacking of shoes and the rustle of the stores lining the exterior walls of the building. Neon lights from the flashing advertisements color the already bright terminal. Pigeons occasionally fly off the ledge they have adopted in the corner of the room, to circle around the room and return. While many New Yorkers sleep, life goes on at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal.
— Story by Taylor Romine, video by Angie Wang
Ain't it funny how the night moves when you just don't seem to have as much to lose? ―Bob Seger
A Night at the Diner
It’s nearing 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night. Outside the Green Kitchen diner, on the corner of 71st Street and 1st Avenue, taxi cabs run north up the avenue, while across the street the red block letters on a sign atop a storefront spell L.I.Q.U.O.R. It’s windy for May and it feels like rain.
Inside, a basketball game plays on mute on the television screen in the corner. The only sounds heard are utensils clinking against plates, metal slicing something on a sizzling grill, a pop song playing low in the background, and the voices of five or six late-night customers—the nighthawks.
“It’s a place to talk,” says Doug, 51, who oddly reveals his age but not his full name as he sits across from a woman, named Nicole, 46, who also wouldn’t reveal her last name. Doug is bald, muscular but not quite heavy, with pale skin that gives him the complexion of a ghost. “We like meeting here. It’s quieter than a bar.”
They’re seated at a little booth in the corner of the diner. There’s a half-finished cheeseburger on each of their plates. They pick at their fries.
How long have they known each other?
“Six months,” Doug says.
“A year,” Nicole corrects immediately. A foggy look crosses Doug’s face. It’s as if the emptiness of the diner makes it difficult to remember when their bond began.
The Green Kitchen, founded in this location 87 years ago, has exchanged ownership hands several times before being bought in 2006 by the Kasimis family.
“We are open 24 hours-a-day, every day of the year,” says Ari Kasimis, 28, one of the managers. “We pride ourselves in trying to serve everything.”
The diner’s interior was renovated in the last decade, but it feels older than that. Little cone-shaped lights hang down from wires on the ceiling, 25 in all. Chrome green leather booths line the walls and little wooden tables with four seats are set diagonally in the center of the main dining room. The L-shaped bar with high chairs sits nearly empty at the far end of the diner, where an employee pours coffee into a mug. Framed pictures of classic New York images— Frank Sinatra, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge—dot the walls. Above the kitchen door, a circular clock ticks away the time.
11:15 p.m.—The central dining room is empty except for a booth with two young girls, their bare legs bunched up to their chest with their arms wrapped around them, as if they’re trying to keep warm. They say they’re students at Marymount Manhattan College and that they’ve just come from a rehearsal.
“We’re graduating in a couple of weeks,” one of them says, taking a sip of a black-and-white milkshake.
What do they like about the diner?
“Good fries,” the other says, in a voice just above a whisper.
A new couple takes a seat at the booth once occupied by Doug and Nicole. A busboy has already wiped it clean, almost brand new. They open their six-page menu and prepare to order.
Up at the bar, an elderly, heavyset man in a Seattle Mariners cap sits with a younger gentleman. They’re hunched over their plates, sipping coffee, watching the end of the playoff basketball game on the mute television screen.
“I joke that I start paying rent because I’m here so often,” Chris Hamphill, 39, quips.
John Anthony, 65, lets out a long laugh. He says he likes coming here because it’s close to his house. Hamphill says he just enjoys the food.
“I’m usually the only one here at 4 or 5 a.m.,” says Anthony.
But then his eye twinkles and he begins to tell a story. Hamphill and the waiter turn toward him. He’s an acting coach and he loves the attention.
“There’s this old man, probably 85 years,” his slow, gravelly voice begins, “in a wheelchair. He comes in every single day. Always orders the same thing—coffee and toast. White toast.
“I don’t know his name. I think Bob? Is it Bob?” he adds, consulting with another waiter. “Well, Bob comes in every night, around 5:30 a.m. I learned that he was the only one left in his building, which was being bought out. He wouldn’t leave. Finally, he was offered $1 million dollars to move to a new apartment.”
Anthony is still speaking, making hand movements.
“Can you believe it? Guy gets a million dollars and all he orders is coffee and toast at a diner!”
Anthony chuckles, Hamphill laughs. It’s the loudest it has been inside the Green Kitchen all night.
— Story by Brian Pascus, photos by Cecilia Butini
11:30 p.m. – Most night sleepers would expect to feel the night winding down at this point. But not at the Green Kitchen. People need to eat. Like the woman with two handbags who just came in, walking fast, and is sitting at a table on the left-hand side of the restaurant. Or the other woman who just sat down on the right-hand side of the room. She is also carrying multiple bags and totes.
In a matter of minutes, Zack Imou, one of the two servers at the diner, gets the second woman soup, while an older server named Manuel tends to the first one. Imou seems to know the woman. They chat briefly in muffled voices. After the soup, she orders more food, and then a glass of white wine, which she sips slowly. She sits there for one hour, as coffee-getters or takeaway-grabbers walk in and out.
The place is quiet, except for some early-2000s hits playing softly on the radio. When he is not serving, Imou sits at a table and tinkers with his smartphone. A mirror behind him shows the buzz-cut back of his head. Does he ever get bored here?
“No, there’s always somebody here. Today not so much, probably because the weather is so nice and people are out, but usually it’s full, even through the night,” he says. “That’s why we stay open.”
12:30 a.m. —Manuel has small, dark eyes and a sad smile. He sits at a table by the entrance, speaking on the phone in Spanish. He works the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. He speaks almost no English. His tone sounds concerned as he speaks on the phone and then gets up to do his chores—like picking up table cloths and dishes. Sometimes he smiles. There’s hardly anybody in the diner at this time. The lady with the wine has left. Kitchen workers yell “Delivery!” every now and then.
12:45 a.m.– A young woman walks in in a hurry to pick up her take-out food. She walks out, and all remains calm for another five minutes. Until a couple walks in. They seem to know the staff. She rushes to the restroom while he sits at a table. They talk excitedly for a few minutes, then no more. She orders coffee while he swipes through his Instagram feed.
The acoustic hits on the radio are still playing; the basketball game is still on.
1 a.m. — Things seem stranger. The 1:30 a.m. customer is wearing a suit. He watches a video on his phone as he eats and talks to himself. A few tables away, next to the cash register, a man and a woman are doing what looks like accounting work. They use pen and paper and calculators, and their endeavors seem a testament to the passing of time just like the photograph of the Twin Towers on the wall next to them. The blue sky behind the towers has faded into a funky, greenish tone, but the picture is still there. Immutable. Eternal.
Kind of like the Green Kitchen, in a way.
“I’ve seen this place change,” says Ofelio Jimenez, who has been a regular customer for the past 30 years. “The lights weren’t so bright. But the food is still good.” Jimenez is an AC technician at Gracie Square hospital. He needs to check the hospital’s cooling system every two hours, on all its six floors. And he gets hungry. Luckily, the Green Kitchen is a two-minute walk away.
2 a.m.— The block is quiet. The bodega next door has closed, and the Green Kitchen seems to exist in the limbo between those who have gone back to work and those who have gone to sleep. Until two nurses come in—and the pace picks up again. Imou puts down his smartphone, the pancakes start to sizzle in the kitchen. It’s still four hours to the end of the shift.
— Story by Cecilia Butini
A Night at the Halal Cart
The Royal Grill Halal Food cart on 6th Avenue near Times Square is its own tourist attraction. People line up every night to purchase food—traditional and healthy Indian cuisine, lamb and chicken dishes, soup, and, even, hot dogs. Hundreds of people pass the food truck through the evening, laughing, talking, smoking, and speaking foreign languages. Some even come looking for it.
On this spring evening, more than 50 students walk by speaking Russian, staring and pointing at the food truck. A few people pull out their Canon cameras and take photos of their friends standing near the vehicle. One asked the man at the window, “How much is it for a hot dog?”
Inside the truck tonight is Hussein Ali. He has been living in New York for three years and working at Royal Grill for one of those three years, five days a week, from 4 p.m. until midnight. Ali says that the busiest time is Fridays and Saturdays. “People from all over the world come to Royal Grill Halal Food Truck,” Ali said. “I never know who I am going to meet,”
And from the sampling of his customers this evening, he’s right. Maro Raitio is from Helsinki, and this is her first time in New York. “I am excited to eat my hot dog,” Raitio said.
Alexandr Kharin was born and raised in Moscow. Kharin is on vacation and is in New York for the second time. “I have also visited Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago,” Kharin said. “Where ever I go, I always try to taste new foods.”
Laurence Jutras is from Montreal, and has been working in New York for two years. She rarely eats from food trucks. But tonight she is making an exception. “Some of my friends told me about Halal Food Truck so I had to come,” Jutras said. “I am so hungry! This is my dinner.”
— Story and photo by Tiana Hunt
“And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there.” ―Ezra Pound
As the sun sets over Manhattan’s East Village, Gianmarco Soresi, 29, sits outside a small cinema on Second Avenue. Tall and thin, he stoops over his notebook and reads his set list: The phrases “cat call, dad issues, divorce, subway speech” are scribbled there in pencil. Each refers to a comedy bit he’ll perform.
A well-dressed, predominantly black group of people mills around him. They’re there for the premiere of a small independent movie—Soresi is the half-time show. He’s not sure how much he’s getting paid: “I think I’m getting $50, which is nice,” he says. As the movie starts, he’s called into the theater by a producer. After a few minutes he slips out to the lobby to continue refining his set.
Comedy is Soresi’s main source of income and he performs at least twice a night, seven nights a week. Tonight, the movie premiere is his first obligation. Next, he’s going to help film a friend’s stand-up set in Little Italy. “If there’s an opportunity, I have to take it,” he said.
Navigating between venues and across boroughs in New York at night is a major challenge. Although the subways run overnight, Soresi struggles with their unpredictability. “There are certain situations, like an established venue—if I’m late, I’m f***ed! I’ve got to be on time.” Sometimes, this means ordering an Uber and, depending on the distance, losing money on the night.
Soresi says his constantly changing schedule wreaks havoc on his personal life. Most of his friendships are with people in the same business that he is in, comedy, and it is “impossible” for the single comic to find a night for dating. Usually his dates begin late in the evening and he has to cancel a lot.
It’s definitely nighttime work. If he’s slated for a “check spot”—the final slot of the evening, so-named because it is when patrons’ checks are collected—he is done around midnight. Some shows run longer.
Since starting stand-up a year and a half ago, Soresi says he hasn’t gone to bed before 3 a.m. Before falling asleep he likes to relax and watch something. Usually it’s comedy.
— Story and photos by Maea Lenei Buhre
A Night at the Courthouse
Minutes after midnight, a 25-year-old man named Henderson steps out from behind the dark wood paneling that conceals the doors to restricted offices and judges’ chambers in the New York County Criminal Court, at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan.
Mr. Henderson, a muscular man in a light olive T-shirt, stands taller than many of the two dozen officers, attorneys, and other employees who work the night shift in the lower Manhattan courtroom. Every night, judges hold court from 5 p.m. to around 1 a.m., arraigning individuals accused of felonies and misdemeanor crimes within 24 hours of their arrests. On Wednesday night, Henderson is one of several charged with a felony.
He faces felony counts of drug sale and substance possession. The prosecution makes its case to hold him in lieu of $2,000 bail, and his defense attorney asks that he be released until his next court date. When the judge—who neither dons her black robe nor makes use of her microphone—begins to make her ruling, her voice is nearly drowned out by the sound of clerks shuffling paperwork and friendly banter between officers. Bail was set, and Henderson was told he would be back in court on May 15.
Four court security officers, tasked with maintaining order and calling cases, sit in the first row inside the courtroom floor. A black rope separates the restricted area from the public space, where family members, visitors, and even tourists can quietly observe from nine worn, wooden benches. A young man and woman sitting beside each other in the third row are the only members of the public present on the night of May 2. They wait, leaning forward against the bench in front of them.
At the front of the room, two flags flank silver metal lettering that reads “In God We Trust.” Nine round, fluorescent chandeliers hang from the high ceiling. Aside from the dark sky seen through the windows, the only indication that this court is being held after hours is a pile of empty recycling bins in the middle of the aisle and a sleepy court officer who rubs his eyes from the back row.
May 2 is one of the first hot nights of the year, with temperatures settling at 75 degrees even after midnight. The air that slips through the barely open windows isn’t quite enough to refresh the room, and the weather and slow pace of defendants parading in front of the judge is lulling. A police officer stands below the metal clock, leaning against a wall to keep upright. An attorney absorbed in his phone stretches and reclines in his chair as a clerk, a woman with a ruby red afro and jean jacket, sits up to type notes on her computer.
A court officer mumbles adjournment in the felony courtroom at 12:36 a.m., but police officers, lawyers, and attorneys are in no rush to leave, chatting with colleagues before slowly parting ways—as if it’s 5 p.m. instead of the middle of the night. Maria del Carmen Cáceres, a courtroom translator wearing a forest green dress and PVC glasses, has already marched across the corridor on the ground floor and into the misdemeanor courtroom, where her shift continues.
There, another judge, this one wearing a black robe over a red top, lectures a Mr. Mendoza, who was arrested after allegedly threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend “so no one else could have her.”
Mendoza’s attorney tells the court he has four kids to support. The defendant clasps his hands behind his back, listening to Cáceres’ translation. The judge approves his release, but only after warning Mendoza he cannot be in contact with the woman even if she initiates. If he is, he will be re-arrested. “You will not see or contact her,” the judge tells Mendoza. “By any means.”
A white clock above the doorway supplements the retired wooden one that has lost its hour and minute hands. Yellow, square lights illuminate the courtroom, which looks older and more run-down than its felony counterpart. The judge overseeing misdemeanor arraignments moves her defendants along at a quicker pace, in a courtroom where all but two security officers are male.
After translating the arraignment of the last defendant of the night, Cáceres turns to leave the room. “Today has been a crazy day,” she says in Spanish. The wife of the renowned double bassist Eddie Gómez, Cáceres is the only Spanish translator who works in the courthouse after 5 p.m.
Court is adjourned shortly after 1 a.m. At the end of the aisle that separates the two courtrooms, security officers wave goodnight from beside the metal detector in the lobby. Outside, the streetlights glint off the marble facade of the tall, narrow building. Just outside the main entrance, text is carved into a stone wall. It’s a quote from Cicero, the Roman politician and lawyer: “Good faith is the foundation of justice.”
— Story and photo by Nico Lupo and Angie Wang
“People dancing all in the street, see the rhythm all in their feet. Life is good, wild and sweet.” ―Lionel Richie
The Subway Fixer
Each night around 9 p.m., Ivan Rivera drives two hours in his white van from Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife and two kids, to New York City. He parks outside a different subway station, depending on the night’s assignment, and descends into the belly of New York’s transit system, ready for a night at work. This night, it’s Times Square.
Rivera is a supervisor of a team of construction workers hired by the MTA to repair subway stations—night by night, bolt by bolt, all year round—when fewer customers are around. With its 24-hour operation and decrepit infrastructure, New York’s subway system relies on people like Rivera to make repairs overnight, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., the only time that trains and stations are not packed.
Whether it’s painting walls, repairing leaks on ceilings, or replacing damaged pavement, Ivan’s team is on it through the night. He has been in this job for the past 12 years, ten of which he’s worked at night.
But he doesn’t enjoy it. “The opportunity came along and I took it,” he said, “Not because I like it.” The pay is good, though, and he is holding on to support his family. In the mornings, Ivan gets home by 7, takes his kids to school, and sleeps until it’s time to pick them back up.
As his men climb up scaffoldings or drill holes, Ivan gives them advice and direction. He sometimes goes back and forth from his van to grab materials, like bolts and screws. In the yellow neon light of a subway station, sometimes singers or musicians accompany the workers’ night. Other times, it’s their own task to keep each other entertained. “I try to make it as fun as possible, we’re always laughing, joking,” Ivan said.
A well-built man with a broad smile, Rivera is a native New Yorker. At 37, he has had enough of the hectic side of life and is trying to make plans to live more comfortably, and outside of the city and the country. He is building a house in the Dominican Republic, where he has roots. Unfortunately, the job “takes away from things I wanna do,” he said. And what does he want to do? “Be in a farm, be with my kids, animal, nature,” he said, “And not here.”
— Story and photos by Cecilia Butini
Loud Latin tunes are playing. Smoke and multicolored neon lights are falling over the couples, who are drinking, dancing, and smoking a hookah as the DJ mixes his music to fuel the fun.
Attractive women, wearing bodysuits with nude stockings, walk on high heels from the bar to the tables, serving drinks to those who can afford their service. The DJ smiles at his crowd in a welcoming way. As he gets going—on one of the three DJ shifts on a Thursday night at Caoba Lounge, on Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn—he drinks some Hennessey on the rocks, and smokes a mint hookah every time he has a chance.
The DJ, Michael Mendez, 28, was born and raised in the South Bronx, though his family is from El Salvador. After his mother died, when he was 13, the family separated. They had no money, Mendez said, so he started to explore the world on his own. But he kept a tight connection to his older brother, Alex, who was a DJ, and who first took him to a club, called Noa Noa, in Sunnyside, Queens. There, in his early teen years, he learned the foundation of the art. It then took him two years, he says, to get noticed.
But he did. By the time he turned 15 the club hired him for the weekends. Then, after Mendez’s girlfriend became pregnant when he was 16, he dropped out of high school and within a couple of years was working in the most popular clubs across New York City to support his new family.
Mendez has a unique DJ style. He has mastered blending and scratching techniques, which helps him to engage the crowd. But for him the biggest challenge is working around different cultures, around people from countries where the music is different from what people listen to in New York. At Caoba Lounge, a place mostly visited by Latinos, he habitually plays a mix that includes Merengue, Bachata, Salsa, and Reggeton, as well as Electronic, Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, and Caribbean. Tonight he works from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., but Mendez’s schedule changes week by week, and he usually works two to three clubs a night, sometimes until 5 a.m.
For DJ Mike, as he is known, working as a DJ feels like a dream come true. He has always loved music, he says, and the work has allowed him to interact with different countries around the world. “For me the most exiting part about working at night is to have the chance to meet new people,” Mendez says.
But the job also has a dark side. The main problem: “I have to work my schedule around in order to be with my family.” Jowell, Mendez’s only son, is nine years old now and lives with his mother, after she and Mendez ended their relationship. Even though he does not get to see Jowell as much as we would like, Mendez says his son is his biggest priority in life.
To get ready for a big night in a Latino lounge or club, he sleeps all day. He tries to give the best of himself, but things do not always go exactly the way he wants. “My work environment—it’s kind of hit and miss,” DJ Mike says. “Sometimes I get good nights, sometimes I get bad nights.” One of the worst aspects, he says, is that he has to work around drunk people. “But other than that, I like to see people excited, having fun,” DJ Mike says. “My greatest happiness at work is when I see people having a good time.”
— Story and photos by Yenniffer Martinez
“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.” ―Simone de Beauvoir
The Wheeler Dealer
With jazz bopping in the background and bright red and green poker chips lining the poker, roulette and Black Jack tables, Chris Costello, a 38-year-old casino dealer from Manhattan walks into the room around 10 p.m. He’s wearing an all-black three-piece suit with a black tie on top of his freshly pressed white shirt and freshly shined black shoes.
A dealer in a three-piece suit may come as a surprise to some, but it’s a part of Costello’s normal job description as a roulette dealer at the Big Deal Casino located in Herald Square, a casino school and events venue. He works from 7 to 10 p.m. on most nights, and as late as 3 a.m. on several when he’s working at special events at the casino or around the city. His suit does double duty after his shift ends and he gets behind the wheel of a Town Car or its equivalent to drive New Yorkers around the city.
The hours appeal to him, he says. “I’m a night owl,” says Costello, who speaks with a heavy New York accent. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem, Costello says he also comes from a line of casino workers. He remembers visiting his aunt, who was a dealer in a casino years ago, in Reno, Nevada.
Costello, who was given the affectionate nickname Chris “Busy-bee” by family members and friends, says he enjoys working late because it gives him time and the flexibility during the day to work out, and hang out with friends.
The money makes it worthwhile too, he says. On average, he says, he earns about $500 a night, but sometimes if he gets a generous and lucky player at his table, he can pocket as much as $1,000. Sometimes, depending on the event and the number of dealers on the floor, the tips go into a bigger pool that he shares with other dealers.
Costello says the job is fun too. Dealers get breaks every 40 minutes, he says, and often, food and drinks are made available to dealers. The atmosphere in the casino is up beat too, as most people seem to be in a good mood. He enjoys egging the players on and gets a rush from helping control the mood of the room and getting people to spend more.
“Most dealers I know do this job because it’s fun and there’s great energy in here,” Costello adds.
After he spins the wheel for the last time on evenings, he keeps working as a driver until five or six in the morning. He gets a couple of hours rest, he says, and exercises. “Then I do it all over again,” he says.
— Story and photos by Faith Woodard
A Night at the ER
At Harlem Hospital on Lenox Avenue, massive glass panels depicting scenes from African-American history gleam like art deco beacons in the night, bright and beautiful. The scenes are reprints of the original murals, painted during the Great Depression by the first African-American artists to be commissioned by the Works Progress Administration. The reprints span a whole block between 135th and 136th on the building’s façade.
The originals are in a gallery inside the building. In 2012, the city council spent $4.2 million to restore them, as many had sustained damage over the 70 years since they were created.
Not far away, just outside the emergency room at 2 a.m., a Jamaican man named Edward Thorpe is hunched over in a blue jacket in a wheelchair, as if motionless. He’s facing The Harlem Community Pharmacy across the street on the left, barred shut with a metal corrugated gate.
“I’m waiting to get my diabetes medication,” Thorpe says, his last words trailing off into a slur. As he talks he hides his eyes behind his blue hood, until only his mouth is visible. There’s a gap where two bottom teeth are missing.
Thorpe is from Jamaica, he says. His mother is dead. She died from diabetes. He lives in a shelter right now. He has to wait until the morning, he says. That’s when the pharmacy across the street opens.
Behind him, inside the emergency room, four patients are hunched over their chairs. The floor is shining, polished. Two men in suits guard the entrance, in front of a sign that says Emergency Medicine in silver letters.
The man outside, they say, is not waiting for his diabetes medication. They say he’s making it up, and that he was just discharged from the hospital.
In the lobby, a man in grizzled grey beard and tattered clothes glares into the distance. Another man clutching an intake form on a brown clipboard gets up slowly and shuffles towards the counter. Another man, in a green baseball cap worn backwards, slouches against his chair. A bright screen glares in the distance. No one watches it.
Meanwhile, a man wearing a black topknot who gives his name only as Dominique, walks out in an angry huff. He points to his shoes, brown loafers. His feet have refused to fully cooperate with them, and he’s wedged his heels out of the bottom.
Dominique had been a patient in the ER, and he claims that staff at the hospital stole his brand new gray and white Number 11 Air Jordan’s. He’s going to get the hospital to pay him back, he says.
“I’m not going to pay $220 for no reason,” Dominique scowls. He says the hospital gave him these brown shoes. He hates them. On top of that, he says, he has been waiting for six hours to be seen.
He seems glad to have vented. “Thanks,” he says, walking off. “I feel better.”
He walks into the dark, trailing into the distance, past the murals.
— Story and photos by Tulika Bose
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” ― Edgar Allan Poe
The Lyft Driver
When the ruckus of New York City’s bustling streets gives way to a leisurely nighttime drive, Phedeline Tanis comes alive.
Tanis, 26, drives mostly at night for Lyft, starting from the early evening to sometimes as late as 5 a.m. on weekend nights. She has been driving throughout New York City since 2016, when she quit her non-profit job and decided she would never work for anyone else again. Since then, her regular nighttime cruises have become a source of serenity for her.
“I prefer driving at night,” she says with a toothy grin, parked along a side street in Chinatown. “I find it more soothing, more relaxing. It kind of just envelops you.”
Plus, she adds, there are fewer lane restrictions and less traffic than other times of day – which makes maneuvering much easier when it’s time to park on the street for a quick bathroom break. Even though Tanis’s hours do conflict with most of her friends and relatives, she says she can easily change her shift to daylight hours to be free for an evening event.
People have a lot of misconceptions about nighttime Lyft driving, she says. For one, it’s not all drunk people. For the most part, it’s everyday people doing everyday things. “I pick up people who are going to the airport, who are catching a late train back home after the weekend, or somebody who had a long day at work,” she says.
People also assume the job is a dangerous one, especially for a woman driver. But even as a woman who chauffeurs total strangers all night long, Tanis says she has never felt a risk to her safety.
“‘They’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, you’re so brave — I was thinking about doing this but I’m afraid! Don’t you carry anything on you?’”she said. “But for me, I have never been in a position where I feared for my safety or my well-being.”
That sense of security, she says, probably comes from knowing that each ride is traceable on Lyft’s app. “Just the fact that people’s credit cards are connected to them and we know where the person is going, I think, just puts mechanisms in to put people in check.”
In fact, instead of seeing her womanhood as a disadvantage behind the wheel, Tanis says it’s led to several meaningful connections with other women—including some who were especially vulnerable. Tanis has picked up women who were running away from their husbands, women who were looking after their drunk girlfriends, and women who have been hit on my male Uber drivers.
“Sometimes [female] riders say I’m glad you’re a woman because I feel safer,” she said.
— Story and photo by Raishad Hardnett
The Bar Manager
Bek Cochi is a proud born and raised Albanian Brooklynite from Sunset Park, working as a bar manager at Jake’s Dilemma on the Upper West Side. He works Wednesday through Sunday from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. And he says the progression from the start of his shift to the end is always pretty much the same: “People start sober and then always get more and more intoxicated. Rarely do we have issues, but things happen. That’s just part of the night life. It’s tough, when you have to cut a person off.”
Cochi is 30 years old, heavyset with a bald head and beard bigger than life. He’s pretty hard to miss. And he can barely make it from the back of the bar to the door without pausing to greet or converse with multiple groups of people. He’s just that type of guy. And with no kids or major responsibilities, he gladly commutes from New Jersey for the night job he loves.
He’s been working at Jake’s for five years and started out as a bouncer, but his pivot to the bar industry is relatively recent. Before Jake’s, Cochi ran a summer camp and after-school program in Brooklyn for kids age five to nine. He says that was good training for any industry: “If you can deal with kids, you can deal with anybody.”
Jake’s was presented to Bek as a part-time gig by a friend, and he fell in love with it. He now works full time as both security and management. “I have a good time at work. The staff is awesome,” he said. “It’s like being paid to be out. I’m saving money!” His biggest blessing—and burden? The ladies. “Working in nightlife you can’t have a girlfriend,” he said. “Men and women get jealous, so it’s easier to be single—and it’s great being single! You meet women from different parts of the world.”
As a bar manager, his duties have expanded well beyond those of a bouncer. “Whenever I’m here, I’m here for everything.” He does the payroll, makes the liquor and beer orders, and interviews perspective hires in the earlier part of his shift. He even makes sure bartenders pour drinks correctly, as well as keeping the peace. His dream job doesn’t come without sacrifice, however. At times, he said, it can be hard to keep up with his loved ones. “I’ll skip sleep to go see my family and friends,” Bek said. “I work weekends when everyone is off, so I’ll make the push to see them during regular hours.”
Bek doesn’t see a next step in his life yet. He’s comfortable here at the bar, and he says he will know when he knows it’s time to go. And so far, so good. “This job means everything to me,” he said. “It allows me to pay all of my bills, and keeps me out of trouble. I love this job.”
— Story and photo by Erewa Uku
"I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance." —Nora Ephron
Ivorie Clare is not a morning person. So her job as a bartender at a club in Harlem that stays open until 4 a.m fits her like a glove. The long night hours suit her lifestyle, giving her time to do yoga, go to the gym, and walk her half poodle, half Shih Tzu named MJ.
“I just get enough sleep,” said Clare, who is 24 and works at the Shrine Nightclub on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. “I calculate the number of hours I need to feel good and rested.”
The bar job pays well too, she says, because she gets tips. Even on a Monday night, Clare says, she can gather as much as $500. It does make her nervous having that much cash with her though, especially late at night. That’s why she always carries a pocket knife. And “the security guys here are really good,” she says. “If I order a Lyft they walk me to my car.”
Clare is an attractive 5-foot-7 African American with milk chocolate skin and a shaved head. Although customers are often flirtatious, she laughs it off. Some customers can be rude. “Misery loves company. Sometimes they will try to test my patience,” she says, “But again it’s all about not taking it personally.”
Her biggest fear is that someone might touch her inappropriately or show disrespect. But thankfully, Clare says, she has never felt violated on this job. If a customer compliments her, she smiles. If the customer says something that is inappropriate, she says, she turns away.
“I act like I don’t hear them, walk away, make the drink, give them their drink with a smile, hand them their change and gracefully collect my tip.” If things get worse, “I get a manager or get security involved to give them a warning and, if need be, they get escorted out of the venue—I don’t argue or entertain them.”
Before she became a bartender, Clare went to school for culinary arts and hospitality management. Every Tuesday, after she works the happy hour at Shrine, she puts what she learned into practice, working as a manager at B2 Harlem restaurant. On other days, Clare usually works a double shift at Shrine, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Clare works seven days a week, and it’s not easy. But she says she doesn’t get too tired, mostly because she likes the music the club plays.
“When I do look around all I see is people shaking that ass,” she said, “and they are having a good time.”
For the most part, Clare says, she does too.
— Story and photo by Tiana Hunt
She brings in the ice on her own; wipes down the tables; places the silverware together; creates the signage in pink chalk, making sure the letters are in bubbles. She puts together her playlist for the evening—techno tonight, as disco was last night—and begins to check that all her bottles in front are full.
“I think the hardest part is the mixed bag of not knowing what you’re going to get from a certain clientele,” says Megan Allen, a 32-year-old bartender at West End Lounge on Broadway. She pours a gin and tonic for a customer with sleepy eyes. It’s nearly 9 p.m. on a Friday and her shift doesn’t end until 4 a.m.
Nothing is new to her in this business. She’s been at it since she was 16 years old: dishwasher, bar-back, cocktail waitress, you name it.
It’s not all music and mixes for Megan though. There’s stress in this job.
Things she worries about daily. She says that the job sometimes makes her feel like a musical conductor, organizing each patron in the bar, looking out for them, making sure they are served, checking if they are still happy. Other times she considers herself a therapist. “I’ve had people who come in and want me to read their palm,” she laughs. “Others are just lonely. There was a man who wants a wife but he’s in love with his cousin. Go figure.”
“The biggest challenge is in New York you’re allowed to drink on the job,” she said. “I’ve met people here who don’t know how to wash it out because they’re alcoholics.” She’s not drinking tonight though; eight long hours are ahead.
Despite the uncertainty of who comes in each night, her favorite part is getting to meet new people—and entertaining them. “I’m a performer,” she adds, as her bleached-blond hair falls into her face. “I used to be in a girl group and am working on an original musical.”
There’s music playing now, something European and formless, without lyrics, but loud enough to drown out the customers. Megan moves to the music as she pours a drink, bobbing her head back and forth.
A small gentleman with stooped shoulders waits patiently to get her attention. “What can I get for you, sweetie?” she asks with a smile. The man doesn’t answer yet. He seems overwhelmed by the choices.
But Megan still smiles at him. There’s no rush. She’s got all night.
— Story by Brian Pascus
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.” —Thomas Fuller
Some nights, Shaul Ginsberg sleeps on the job.
He’ll settle in for a nap in the basement of Plaza Jewish Memorial Chapel around midnight and wake up around 4 or 5 a.m. to pray. After all, being a shomer is an around-the-clock job, and the man’s got to sleep.
Ginsberg, 50, is one of a handful of shomers on call at the chapel, ready to report for duty whenever necessary. When there’s a death in a Jewish family, relatives can request the presence of a watcher who will accompany the body until it is buried.
In Orthodox Judaism, it’s important that bodies are not left alone, Ginsberg said. According to tradition, when the soul leaves the body at the time of death, a vacuum is created. Without the presence of a shomer—or “guard,” as translated from Hebrew—harmful spirits can enter the body.
So Ginsberg settles into a black, worn-out swivel chair in the corner of the chapel’s basement, just a few feet from the refrigerators where bodies are kept. He hunches over a wood folding table and reads psalms to the dead.
Ginsberg, who also works as a daytime administrator at the chapel, has a salt-and-pepper beard that matches the sweater he wears underneath his pinstripe suit. Though working as a shomer allows him to study the Torah in the peace and quiet of the chapel, Ginsburg admits that it can sometimes be spooky to be in there alone at night. During the day, he can leave to pray at a synagogue or eat with friends, but nights, he said, are often lonely and boring.
Still, he said, it’s rewarding to give families peace of mind in times of hardship. Ginsberg, who has worked as a shomer for more than 30 years, said he decided to become one after the death of his great-grandmother when he was 14. “Her body was taken away and hidden from me,” he said. “I wanted to learn what happened behind the scenes.”
Though Ginsberg took on the job for personal reasons, he said some just do it for the money. “There are no qualifications,” he said. “You just have to have a pulse.”
— Story and photos by Angie Wang
The Parking Attendant
Winter nights inside the office were Rafael Ciriaco works can be very cold. The thin windows at the 24-hour parking lot located in the basement of a building on West 108th street don’t stop the chilly wind. To keep himself warm, Ciriaco turns on all three of his electric heaters. But for the most part, the night is quiet—not too many customers.
This is the eleventh year in a row that Ciriaco, 59, has worked here. He arrived in New York from the Dominican Republic with his family 12 years ago. The father of two lives four blocks away from his job and switches between two shifts with at least one colleague. One starts at 4 p.m. and ends at midnight, and the other begins at midnight and lasts until 7 a.m. He likes it that way, though.
“I prefer to be free during the days,” says Ciriaco, “I can wake up whenever I want, enjoy my breakfast, get a quick appointment with the doctor and not have to wait.”
With good weather approaching, nights will get busier, he says on a chilly spring evening, as his colleague sits next to him glued to a Latin TV soap opera. “People come to park their car at any time,” he says. “Every now and then you have a drunk person coming to park late at night, but I’ve never had any problems.”
Whether he finishes his shift at 12 a.m. or the one at sunrise, his wife is up when he walks into the door. Sometimes, so are his children. Like Ciriaco, his family is used to his timetable.
— Story and photo by Nico Lupo
Meet the Team
SENIOR VIDEO PRODUCER