“Instead of clocking in for work, they’re clocking in to party,” one of The9AM’s five co-founders, Rawlin Rosario, tells me when I ask, “Why 9 a.m.?” A cheeky play at a familiar — often dreaded — time of day is taking on an entirely new meaning under the vision of Rosario, Adrian Almonte, Kenneth Espinal, Jonathan Espinal, and Anthony Garcia, the co-founders of WeAreHouse78, a production and entertainment company that features ‘The9AM’ under its umbrella.
It isn’t easy to imagine that this event — now amassing thousands of attendees — began as a friendly 7 a.m. pregame in 2015 for New York City’s SantaCon, a pub crawl celebrated by people dressed in Santa Claus or Christmas-themed costumes. “It was simply, ‘Let’s meet up to pregame to do SantaCon,’” recalls Kenneth Espinal. They were taken aback by the number of people who filled that Washington Heights, NYC apartment and, even more surprisingly, sent money for beverages, almost like a bar tab.
From there, the group (who all work in marketing, advertising, and legal), knew they were onto something, never imagining where it’d go in just a few short years. While they went on to throw another party the following year — their first outside of the uptown apartment — it wasn’t until two years later, in 2017, that they decided to plan the event more officially by looking for a space and organizing the details ahead of time.
Taking a gamble on a grander vision, the team found a larger venue and invested their own money into an open bar concept for 500-600 people, uncertain if their efforts would pay off. But they did. “The tickets sold out right away,” recalls Garcia, with evident pride. Despite the considerable risk, hundreds of guests embraced the team’s bold concept.
The successful turnaround marked a pivotal moment for the future of The9AM. The following year, they were emboldened to expand into other holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day. That event drew a larger crowd of 700 attendees, setting the stage for even bigger things to come. In fact, they secured La Marina, a now-closed famed New York City restaurant and venue, for a following event, with a capacity of 1500 persons. The event sold out in just 19 hours, a testament to the team’s growing popularity and reputation.
Now, they’re hosting several events throughout the year, including St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Halloween, to name a few, gathering thousands of party-goers across different cities — most recently, expanding their highly in-demand party series to Miami. They’ve also had famous musical guests like Tokischa, Bobby Shmurda, and Fivio Foreign. Their latest event, held at Brooklyn’s Avant Gardner, was a massive success, drawing a crowd of over 2000 attendees and a surprise performance by French Montana. The event caught the attention of The New York Times, solidifying The9AM’s status as a major player in the event-hosting industry.
In speaking with the five co-founders, their secret to success is evident: It’s all in the community. It began with their first event, which originated within a chat on the once-popular group messaging app, GroupMe. “It was a public chat, so anybody could add whoever they wanted. People were adding their friends, their friends of friends,” says Rosario. Now, the group chat has manifested into numerous ones between attendees buying tickets together, meeting beforehand to trek to the event, or having sleepovers the night before.
And while the founders might not be in their attendees’ group chat anymore, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel their presence. “You’ll see us outside managing the tickets. You’ll see us running around the party. We’re not these five ‘cool dudes’ that are just backstage the entire time and not engaging with the party. You’re not wondering who throws this party,” adds Garcia.
That personable touch lends to that community feel, which can also be seen in the details — like the range in music and ensuring the song choices aren’t offensive to any communities — to the people they collaborate with, including women and LGBTQ+ talent. “It’s the small undertones that carry on from a ripple to a wave,” says Jonathan Espinal. Rosario agrees and chimes in, “The people that we work with, it shows the deep diversity and inclusion that we aim for.” That’s why they’ve decided to honor Women’s History Month with all-women DJs for their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day event in New York City.
It’s the small undertones that carry on from a ripple to a wave.
This sense of community that The9AM creates at its events is particularly noteworthy given the history of New York City’s party scene, which white, upper-class revelers have long monopolized — looking to the brunch-hour parties in the Meatpacking District once exclusively promoted to this demographic. The9AM disrupts that exclusionary culture, making a powerful statement that bringing people from different communities together can lead to growing success.
I couldn’t end our call without mentioning the creativity behind The9AM’s content. From their straightforward branding that reads “Yes, The Party Is At 9AM” to their highly-visual recap videos that will evoke your nostalgia if you did attend or your FOMO if you didn’t. I quickly learned that their creativity is just one of the many ways they’re committed to their business. As Kenneth Espinal stated, “We just demand that greatness from ourselves. Whether it’s DJing, inclusivity, creativity, innovation, we push one another.”
When asked about the future of the event, they share grand schemes before Almonte pauses and stresses the work they’re doing in the here and now, and the ultimate desire to have guests leave their event with one question, and one question only, on their minds: “When is the next one?”
Photos Courtesy of THE9AM