Can the joint venture between ex-Studio 54 proprietor Ian Schrager and the bohemian nightclub House of Yes create a new Paradise in Times Square?
“When Anya [Sapozhnikova] and I first got to New York, we worked around Times Square. We were stone broke and were told that if we wanted to make some money we could be either pedicab drivers or dominatrixes, so we did both,” said Kae Burke, who co-founded Bushwick’s House of Yes with Sapozhnikova in 2015, at the debut of the duo’s The Devouring: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell at the new Times Square Edition Hotel.
Raunchy bohemianism splendor seems like exactly the kind of vibe Ian Schrager is in pursuit of at his newest hotel. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the good ole’ days of Studio 54, but it’s clear hotelier Ian Schrager is hoping the marriage of youthful energy of Bushwick’s House of Yes (HOY) and the newly minted Edition can bring back something missing to Manhattan’s nightlife.
Paradise Club is definitely not your average night out in Midtown.
The atmosphere starts with the room, painted to look like a scene from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, lit by a giant red electric sunburst on the ceiling giving off a boudoir-like glow. Semi-circular booths and tables mean that everyone has great a clear view from every angle of what is happening center stage. In contrast to the Edition’s opening night party on Tuesday night, with a much more established crew of celebrity and media, opening night at the Paradise Club cabaret on Thursday drew a quirkier crowd, more in line with what you might expect from the bohemian loyalists who frequent the HOY.
A lot of thought has been exerted into making an evening at the Paradise Club a 360-degree experience. The show begins with the food, created by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, fittingly with an aphrodisiac theme. Our first course was already on the table when we arrived, consisting of varieties of shellfish with names like “Drowning Octopus,” “Caviar & Red Eggs,” “Asparagus in Bondage” (accompanied by an egg to be cracked open revealing creme to dip the spears into) and my personal favorite: a cat-food tin with cubes of meat called “Fancy Feast and Mustard Pickles.” Two small white circles that looked like alka seltzer pills turned out to be hand wipes, which we only discovered after trying to eat them.
The show, The Devouring: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is based on William Blake’s eponymous poem. In keeping with the Dionysian energy of the Blake epic, the mix of dance, aerials, acrobats, classical ballet, breakdancing—and one incredible woman who balanced, twirled, and flipped an astonishing number of parasols with her legs—is like watching an unvarnished sexy Cirque de Soleil. Sapozhnikova and Burke were circus performers, and they incorporate many elements of their heritage into this show.
Lighting and staging is magnificent, inspired by a Lenny Kravitz video, but you’d expect it to be great, as it’s provided by legendary design firm Fisher Marantz.
The act was in two parts with a 20-minute break for intermission. Later, Sofi Tukker sang and DJ Questlove rounded out the evening’s performances. Tickets start at $269, and the owners have made a good effort to indulge all five senses.
The Paradise Club has retained some of the DIY sensibility which makes the HOY so attractive. While the performances are impressive and slick, there is still a bit of an amateurish quality to some aspects of the club. Some of the shoes the performers wore still had price stickers attached, and in one set, inspired by Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life, the tree was made of green pipe cleaners.
But the goofy elements of the experience aren’t exactly mistakes—rather they’re what makes the Paradise accessible, non-threatening, and fun. They distract from the knowledge that you are in one of the most streamlined hotel chains in the world.
Oddly, the Paradise Club cabaret happened to debut the same night as new development Hudson Yards opened its doors with an enormous party for “VIPs” from around the globe. 10,000 people wandered through a new mall sipping cocktails and taking photos. It was an amplification of the 90’s trend of throwing parties in a retail store. The sheer scale of this party, as much a product of the Age of Instagram as anything else, felt much like being in another epic poem, Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Inferno. It was like being trapped with 10,000 souls in a circle of retail hell.
Both parties, the Hudson Yards extravaganza and the Paradise Club cabaret, felt current in entirely different ways. Hudson Yards was the ultimate expression of what happens when scale meets money, while Paradise Club fused Studio 54 vivacity with a targeted individual experience. Both owed elements of their origins to history and both are trying to interpret those elements for the future. But which experience will dictate the way forward remains to be seen. If Paradise Club is Heaven and Hudson Yards is Hell, I’d take the Angels of HOY anytime.