September 20, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

New York nightlife isn’t so extreme anymore. For years, warehouse-size nightclubs have created excitement bordering on chaos, while breadbox-size lounges have offered intimacy verging on inertia. But a new hybrid of hot spots — like Spy Bar and Jet Lounge in chichi SoHo and Divine Bar in midtown — are mixing the best of both scenes while serving up some of the best martinis, wines, and tapas.

In the been-there-done-that, quick-comfort-fix ’90s, the popularity of ”lounge bars” is fitting: They’re entertaining without being exhausting. Even if you choose to stand and schmooze, a couch is always nearby, just in case.

Spy Bar has so many velvet sofas, it’s like a night out in Macy’s furniture department. It could also be easily mistaken for an old-style lounge. Early in the evening, black-clad downtowners are casually nestled, drinking and slurping oysters. Come 1 a.m., though, and a new dynamic, one keeping with the club’s soaring ceiling and massive chandeliers, takes hold. ”I can throw in everything from Peggy Lee to the Sex Pistols to Rage Against the Machine,” says DJ Andy Anderson, clearly enjoying the ability to sample freely. A celebrity or two is ushered in (Sharon Stone, Mick Jagger, [the artist formerly known as Prince], and Mel Gibson have been spotted at Spy), and a significant number of people are shooed off. ”We turn away 10 times as many as can get let in,” says co-owner Jeff Gossett.

A few blocks west, at the Jet Lounge, Bijou Phillips — 16-year-old model du jour — is dancing manically one minute, slumping in a surreally proportioned couch the next. The one-month-old Jet is half the size of Spy, but its dazzling walls, dappled with shards of broken mirrors, deliver all the glitz of a big-time club. ”This is a lounge and bar,” says co-owner Andrew Sasson. ”We try to mix everything together.” Again, except for all clubgoers — there’s a cool-types-only door policy here also.

If the air of exclusivity seems too suffocating downtown, midtown’s Divine Bar prides itself on inclusiveness. Open since June and drawing a more professional crowd, this lounge club boasts an extensive menu of appetizing tapas, drinks, and cigars: a connoisseur’s delight but not a greenhorn’s dilemma. ”We explain how to choose a cigar,” says co-owner Shari Schneider. ”We pair the wine with the food, and the drinks with the cigars.”

The 40-foot stainless steel bar and the rustic wood beams peacefully coexist too. If there can be such a middle ground in NYC, these scenes may translate into a nationwide trend of comfort and joy.

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