Photography by Roger Erickson
Minutes before the clock strikes 10 on a chilly Tuesday night in April, Frankie Sharp, clad in a studded black vest and matching shorts, rushes into Westway, the Manhattan nightclub that’s hosted his weekly gay dance party, Westgay, since its inception on Valentine’s Day 2012. He quickly throws down his bags and grabs a can of Stella Artois, “to calm my nerves.”
Sharp usually gets to the venue around 9:30 -- tonight he’s running late -- but with a couple of sips and a quick run of his hand through his slicked-back hair, he’s immediately at ease. The venue is a calm scene, one that looks nothing like that which takes place later: RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Jinkx Monsoon will perform as a tarted-up Catrina from a Day of the Dead parade, and a man with a rubber unicorn mask covering his head will crawl on all fours with a go-go boy in a jock strap riding him down the club’s runway.
In the less than four years since his move from San Francisco, where he produced events, Sharp has become the current It boy of New York nightlife, a scene he’d once admired from afar and is now being credited with reviving. “New York always seemed so colorful and interesting to me,” he says. “Then I moved here and started going out and all I saw were people dressed in black, standing alone, staring at each other. I thought, Where did all of the amazing people go?” The obvious answers are now Westway, the former West Village strip club where Westgay is thrown, and the seminal East Village gay bar the Cock, where Sharp DJs on Wednesday nights to a less rowdy crowd.
Sharp admits that he planned to avoid working the club scene upon his arrival in New York, but soon realized his career aspiration—to work in fashion as a stylist -- wouldn’t pay the bills. He also wanted a creative outlet that offered more freedom. “I needed a part-time job, but I didn’t want to work for someone else,” he says. He was soon offered a spot at East Village bar Bedlam -- “They were like, ‘Why don’t you throw one of your stupid little parties here?’ ” -- where his weekly event EVERYTHING featured celebrity DJs like Bravo’s Andy Cohen and performers like SSION’s Cody Critcheloe. A year later, Sharp says, he was approached by the proprietors of Westway to produce “a big, raucous gay dance party.”
Sharp thinks of himself as more of a director than party producer, though. “I don’t throw parties,” he claims. “I want to build experiences.” Performance is central to Westgay, and one can often catch an appearance by a Drag Race alumnus (season 4 winner Sharon Needles was an early guest) between the requisite house music and half-naked go-go boys. Throughout the night, the bash itself moves to different rooms: the main room, with a runway and flashing lights; the second room, with mirrored walls and a small stage; and the third, “back room,” which plays host to a variety of debaucherous, dark activities. “It just needs to continue, continue, continue. It really is a circus,” Sharp, a hyper-aware ringleader, says. “If I ever see anyone sitting there and looking bored, I tell a go-go boy, ‘Go over there and stick your ass in his face. He needs to have some fun.’ ”
While frivolity is Sharp’s sole agenda, he’s also enjoying his recent success and exposure. This summer, he’s planning a Fire Island version of Westgay, as well as a big blowout for Gay Pride weekend, hoping to attract a larger, more diverse crowd. “When I started going out, I saw how every party was very homogenized,” he says of the New York scene. “I wanted to create an environment for me and my friends. Even though the crowd has expanded, everyone is respectful. And, more importantly, everyone is having fun.”