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Relax? Don't do it!

The latest casualty of the economic crisis? Lounges. And possibly leisure itself.
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  November 19, 2008

Lounge lizards, lament.

With the possible exception of sweatpants, nothing connotes "leisure" quite like the word "lounge." Yet in Boston, the outlook for lounges ain't so dandy. This month, the B-Side and the Abbey bowed their heads in defeat, while, earlier this year, the Paradise Lounge changed up its format, eliminating its intimate performance space and becoming yet another place to frantically eat nachos while the game is on.

So, as more and more local lounges close their doors for good, it begs the question: are cash-strapped Bostonians bidding adieu to our slothful sensibilities?

Contemporary cocktail lounges — those that still exist, anyway — are a glutton's paradise, patronized by young and trendy loafers who enjoy nothing more than sitting around, consuming. Reclining. Reposing. A "lounge" can also denote an intimate live-music venue, as is often the case here in Boston, where the very name suggests a cozy soundtrack to the Middle Eastern throw-pillow extravaganza nestled inside Barbara Eden's bottle in I Dream of Jeannie.

And that show, with its master-to-genie relationship, was a metaphor for lounge culture. To "lounge" — that is, to pass time idly — has long been an activity of the powers that be, the worry-free elite tended to by the underclass. Those with money can afford to lie supine, nibbling grapes from the outstretched fingers of bronzed peons, or, in modern times, sipping candy-colored martinis or organic specialty gin, chatting about loincloths and cabana boys and eyeliner and other inanities as the hours boozily meander along.

But with the Dow Jones ricocheting like an economic pinball, frets are rising and fun is plummeting. When you've lost your job, your house, your HMO, and your dignity, it isn't exactly the moment to lounge. No time for pithy blather or whiling away the evening with your feet propped up and your brain sloshing in a sea of expensive hooch. Frivolity is on the outs. Even leisurely nightlife is taking a hit. To put it bluntly, you lounge, you lose.

Thus, as victims of economic stressors, lounges — once our temples of relaxation — seem on their way to extinction. (Or at least to hibernation.) Given the staggering pressure to cut financial corners, and the increased job insecurities that many Americans are experiencing, it seems that anything that even incorporates the word "lounge" is in danger of disappearing.

What will this mean for the Middlesex, the Lizard, the Foundation? Lucky's? The West Side? Where will first-class airline passengers drink watery Scotch while powering through layovers? Is even the chaise lounge destined for banishment from the poolsides of the increasingly fiscally conservative? Ettu, lounge singers? What will become of Las Vegas without you if your venues — indeed, your very reasons for being — are yanked out from under you? There are only so many bar mitzvahs at which you can croon to make ends meet. Plus, pretty soon, people won't be able to afford to have babies. Just like that, there will be no more 13 year olds to usher into adulthood. What then, lounge singers? What then?

It's a lounge-ocalypse, now.

This gradual mutation and dissipation of lounge life seems to reflect our periodic need to trim the extracurricular fat. But damn it, lounging is practically our national pastime, and, in a sense, that lifestyle of idling and consumption epitomizes our international identity. Everyone the world over knows that Americans are lazy fatsos who take our excess for granted, and we're darned proud of it. It's our constitutional right to sit around on our bulbous asses and suck down pretentious cocktails made with trendy global ingredients and named after tired pop-culture references. How dare the stupid economy take that away from us?

Alas, who knows what lies in store for us next, once we've said good-bye to the indulgent lethargy of lounging, and hello to a more sensible, pragmatic, good-for-you-type of nightlife. Tofutinis, anyone?

Sara Faith Alterman is lying around feeling sorry for herself. She can be reached at

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