The Wee Hours: Midtown's Halloween Hall of Mirrors

Too many Terrys! Homophobic hare meets Lady Bunny...

weehours peter oumanski rgb1 The Wee Hours: Midtown's Halloween Hall of Mirrors

Illo: Peter Oumanski

“I don’t recognize you,” said a man in a black negligee, black corset, black heels and two stuck-on circles of black mesh, one covering his mouth and another covering his crotch. It was early Sunday evening, Halloween eve, and he was talking to a man in a dress, with pink hair.

Somehow, he managed to nestle a cigarette into the small indentation in the spandex oral wrapping.

“I don’t recognize anyone.”

And how would he? Sprinkled along the charming stretch around 39th and Eighth were androgynous men in rubber-skin lady masks stumbling around on mermaid legs, models with their dainty cheekbones shattered by ballistics, beetle-eyed priests, monks, monarchs, morticians and their corpses, blacks swans, white swans, baseball stars, David Bowie, cops, criminals, African Queens.

But at La Escuelita, a gay bar, heavy on baile funk, which snuggles under the Port Authority’s vagabond-packed bus terminals, perhaps every night is Halloween. It doesn’t have to be the last day of October for a man to become “Jasmine International” and then have Jasmine International become Jennifer Lopez. Those men and women shuttled into town on Greyhounds just a few feet away—they could be men, they could be women. They could come to La Escuelita and be whomever they wanted.

The Observer was not sure whom we wanted to be. We had a red scarf pluming from a ratty tweed jacket, and round spectacles that profoundly limited our ability to see what was happening.

All this reinvention made for an appropriate place for Terry Richardson and V Magazine to host a Tea Dance and Halloween Revue, with models Joan Smalls, Candice Swanepoel, Sui He, Hanaa Ben Abdesslem and Bambi Northwood-Blyth in tow. A costume was required—Mr. Richardson couldn’t be himself, but anyone else at the party could without much trouble. All they needed were the large-framed Moscots.

“It is kind of odd, isn’t it?” the photographer’s girlfriend, Audrey Gelman, said to The Observer as we sidled up to the bar for two vodkas. A female model with brushed-on stubble and Mr. Richardson’s signature glasses had just walked by.

“He’s sort of everywhere.”

“Where’s he now?” we asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “But he’s dressed as a Hasidic Jew.”

There was a quick compliment about our glasses, but she didn’t inquire further as to whom we were dressed as. So we slipped them an inch down and could finally see the scene unfolding—mostly a blur of zombie makeup and garish shoes, all of it spinning and reflecting off the mirrors and black glass. There was V editor Stephen Gan as a pharaoh. There was PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach smothered in silver glitter. “I went to Ricky’s and I said, ‘Hi, do you have any of these street performers’ outfits?’” he told The Observer, referring to the tin men who mime on the street for money. “And they didn’t have it in the Halloween costumes—they had it in the regular costumes.”

Ms. Northwood-Blyth, whose visage pranced around the room on multiple TV screens, stood near the stage in a long and lacy white wedding dress.

“It started out as a twisted bride and ended up Madonna—‘Like a Virgin’ Madonna,” she said. “What are you?”

We shrugged and adjusted our glasses.

“Oh, well, how about”—she grabbed our notebook and pen, scribbled a circle and little rectangle on the back cover, and held it like a camera—“you can be Bill Cunningham, and take a picture of me!”

We took the notebook to our face, she curtsied, and the fake shutter of the fake camera made a fake pop.

One person not in costume was Lady Bunny, though she did a pretty good impression of herself. We asked if Lady Bunny had a favorite costume, and then a woman dressed as Lady Bunny walked up to us.

I’m her favorite costume!” the woman said.

Ms. Bunny ignored her and sized up the room.

“I host nights here at La Escuelita,” she said to The Observer. “Usually it’s reggaeton at 2 in the morning, with 18-year-old Latino and black kids. This is a little more fashion-y.”

“I want to get my picture with you!” the woman in a Lady Bunny costume yelled.

“And a little more white,” Lady Bunny said.

The bouffant-bearing-one’s main responsibility for the night was hosting the Halloween Revue, which showcased La Escuelita’s top-shelf lineup of drag queens pretending to be their idols. The Observer took a position by the edge of the stage, next to men in bondage gear with wads of ones in their palms, ready to slip the bills into the G-strings on display. (“They all have crack habits to support,” Ms. Bunny reminded the audience.)

“Is that a man, or a woman?” wondered a giant rabbit suit beside us.

We slipped down our glasses and stared at the silky rendition of J.Lo’s “On the Floor” that was exploding right in front of us.

“They’re all men,” we said.

With that, the performer’s robe came off and only pasties covered the naughty spots.

“My god,” said the rabbit suit, who would identify himself only as a British tourist. He was pointing and booing.

“It’s a man!” he yelled. “It’s a man! Get off! Get off! This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

But he stayed until the end, when Ms. Bunny closed the revue with some not-too-classy Amy Winehouse jokes. With the main event over, The Observer went upstairs and out into the world on the streets near Port Authority—everyone oblivious to the rampant performance below—where we ran into a friend sporting red lipstick and bunny ears.

“Who are you supposed to be?” she asked.

“Well,” we said, taking off the glasses. “Whoever you want me to be.”

nfreeman@observer.com