The New Ride
“If it wasn’t for this snowstorm, we’d probably have more of the Beverly Hills crowd flying in, and it’d be even sicker. But it’s always pretty wild,” said Matt—he didn’t give a last name—the men’s-room attendant at the nightclub Marquee. He was dressed in a white three-piece suit for work, and his voice was bassy and radio-announcer reassuring. “Looking sharp,” said a well-dressed man as he took a paper towel from Matt to dry his hands. He dropped a $20 in Matt’s tip jar. “Thought I’d dress up for the anniversary party, man,” Matt said, smiling broadly. “How’s that Hummer cologne?” the ad man asked, pointing at a bottle in the middle of a cluster of colognes. “Nice,” Matt said, but the man was wearing his own cologne already, and he declined to sample it.
“We get people in here wearing incredible fashions,” Matt said, “and I ask them where they got that suit, or those shoes, and they say London, or some secret place in Soho, and I go there and I see. It’s like with the colognes—I like to try to have the really best and the newest so people will say, ‘Oh, you’ve got that already?’ And I say, ‘Mm-hmm.’ It’s like a game we play, a little game of always keeping up on top. And that keeps you going till the wee hours of the morning, polishing up your game.”
It was about 10:30 last Thursday night, and the relentlessly celebrity-studded nightclub was still pretty dead. That night was a party for the club’s second anniversary, and the main players wouldn’t make their entrances until midnight or later. In the club itself, an abiding sense of the nervous lack of energy that fills the high-school prom before the jocks and cheerleaders and good-looking kids show up and start high-fiving and making out and spiking the punch suffused the main room.
A group of execs warmed themselves around a $325 bottle of Belvedere at a banquette in the room’s center. Snow was called for that evening; inside, giant cutouts of snowflakes hung from the ceiling, adding a layer of Christmas Eve anticipation to the night, and the silver buckets with black napkins draped over them for bottle service were all lined up with care. The D.J. played a bewildering and joylessly nostalgic mix of New Wave and 90’s party house music at high volume.
Back in the men’s room: “You always get the regulars—Paris, Leo, they all come here,” Matt said. “One of the reasons people come to the Marquee is that they read a lot about it in Page Six, and this is a town that’s so driven by celebrity and parties. We continue that 80’s party atmosphere, and a lot of people come for that allure. And they say, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this person or that person, I can’t believe I’m here.’
“And even though New York is such a big town,” Matt said, “you still get this same group in here week after week. What happens is that we’ve come to know them so much, we see them more than we see our own families. Like last week we had Britney and Kevin and Bruce Willis and Paris. Those same people you read about come here—I guess they come here because it’s one of the last bastions where you still have that party atmosphere and that energy every night.
“Me,” Matt said, “I’m from Philadelphia. I came to New York for the energy, and because I’m nocturnal.
“I was so driven because I always heard about the New York nightlife in the 80’s: Studio 54, all those places you read about when you grew up—it was like Disneyland. And there, they always need something bigger and better than the last generation had, the new ride. And when you come here, you’re looking for that new ride, and we provide that. And even if you had a bad day, you come here and you get caught up in this energy, and you forget about your problems.”
“It’s an escape from reality,” a man in a brown suit, sun-kissed highlights in his hair, shot over his shoulder as he walked out of a stall. There was a certain fatigue in his voice, the sound of a man exhausted from the demands of a life lived among the less-than-dazzling. Maybe it reflected a schism between the Technicolor fantasy of what he thought adulthood was going to be like and the relentless, surprisingly tedious grind that so many find it to be.
“You see,” said Matt, “it’s the 2000’s version of ‘I’ve arrived.’ It’s like, you went to school for so long—say you went to Harvard, and now you’ve got a job at Salomon Brothers—and it’s like, ‘Where can I go to celebrate?’ And this is where they all come, until 4 in the morning. And unlike L.A., where it’s only people from television or from the movies, here you’ve got all these type-A personalities from fashion, Wall Street, the media, music, and they all come here and they all know each other. And they can talk about everything—they can talk about fashion, they can talk about Madison Avenue. It’s where hype meets hype, and the expectations are met, and you all know what you’re talking about. It’s cross-pollination—you say, ‘I’ll take what this group is talking about over drinks in this corner, and I’ll take it back to my corner.’ You look for someone to give you that catalyst to keep you going, that little spark.”
Out in the main room, the social temperature had risen significantly. The faithful had begun to file in, and the faint whiff of loneliness was replaced by an electrical affirmation. Perhaps because The New York Times had run a piece in Thursday Styles that morning about the sense of power and self-assurance that wearing only a sports coat conveyed, a lot of guys in line only had ski caps or scarves or gloves to check, and girls in little dresses fresh from car services and limos walked straight in, nearly blue from cold and clutching at their too-slender sides, like shivering presents waiting to be opened.
Within a few moments, the actor Scott Speedman and his almost unnaturally good-looking entourage had been whisked to a banquette in the back room. Names arrived: Chloë Sevigny, Paul Sevigny, Dylan Lauren, Chris Heinz. When Simple Minds’ timeless and adolescent plea for freedom and affirmation and recognition, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” boomed over the sound system, those in the crowd who weren’t frantically sending text messages went pretty near crazy. Three guys in suits and loosened ties punched their arms into the air just like Judd Nelson’s misunderstood burnout in the final freeze frame of The Breakfast Club. The nostalgic theme of the music began to make sense.
This was where these people came to have their idealized teenage aspirations authenticated; where being in the presence of models, and movie stars, and all the people they read a lot about in Page Six, made righteous sense of their choice to leave their unpopular friends behind and go to their fancy colleges and devote themselves wholly to their fabulous and exhausting careers.
And outside, a throng of party hopefuls shivered and charmed and cursed in the wind. A man in a camel-hair coat gave up and walked away from the throng, muttering, “Asshole.” It was a sharp reminder that for a party to be exclusive, it is required that some are not called. For some to be on the supercharged, glittering inside where every night is like Christmas, many more would have to be left on the sidewalk outside, in the cold, waiting for the snow to fall.
On Thursday, the not-so-Neue Galerie celebrated its fourth annual Winter Gala. The gala, which is sponsored by a different something every year—this time it was Gucci—has become a curiously fashionable cocktail party overpopulated with supermodels and dirty hems.
This year, for the first time, an “intimate” dinner had been arranged for the lucky chairwomen and their hangers-on in the second floor’s main room. One chairwoman, Gwyneth Paltrow, didn’t attend; she was “otherwise committed.”
Once the dinner ended in time for the gala’s official 9 p.m. start, the usual alpha suspects—Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer, Lauren duPont and Renee Rockefeller—and their favorite fantasy dates, the dreamy design duo Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, made way for the betas like Zani Gugelman, Coralie Charriol and Fabiola Beracasa.
The shiny black tables—seating for 50—remained empty and unwieldy as the after-dinner hoards arrived. Three trays containing Sachertorte and similarly pernicious treats tumbled and crashed to the ground.
Downstairs, Luke Janklow and his wife danced on the edge of an otherwise empty dance floor in the museum’s canteen turned discotheque, Café Sabarsky. A heavily beaded and feathered octogenarian refused to identify herself as she twirled her arms into mysterious shapes in front of a large mirror. “It’s a bit much to ask people to wear black tie to a cocktail party, don’t you think?” a social type was overheard saying. Her train was promptly stepped upon. Amanda Cutter Brooks, with the collected plumage of three magpies on each shoulder, explained that she had been waiting a lifetime to wear this, her mother’s old frock. Liya Kebede, the good-willing, child-bearing Estée Lauder “spokeswoman,” breezed past in a transparent black gown, floor-length. She had presided over dinner. A great deal of attention was paid to the bar, slow, and very little to the paintings by Egon Schiele, oooh, that currently adorned the walls. “I’m so bored,” a young man said. “It’s definitely not cute,” said his friend, as more guests crushed into the room. “Can we smoke in here?”
Before midnight, guests filed out into the cold, into waiting town cars destined for that No-Chel standby, Bungalow 8. Gift bags containing scented Gucci candles were provided as parting gifts. “Smells like the cheapest deodorant ever,” said the young man. “I’m leaving it.”