An Evening of Diversions at the Launch Party for Experiences by GroupMe

Think Victorian game night crossed with high school field trip.

There’s a stylish skeleton just outside the frame, btw.

When Betabeat arrived downtown at a hulking brownstone bathed in red light with a double-digit Fifth Avenue address, there was already a line out the door. We were promptly assigned a pink wristband and told to head downstairs, where we discovered we’d be attending three classes over the course of the evening: Poker, music, and arts and crafts. So educational!

We’d arrived for the launch party of Experiences by GroupMe.* The company got its start with a group messaging service (which it parlayed into an $80 million acquisition by Skype) but recently expanded into the new group purchasing service, which allows numerous people to sign up for suggested events simultaneously and still split the bill.

The venue: the Salmagundi, an arts club founded in the mid-nineteenth century. GroupMe had conspired with event designer Adam Aleksander to send the service into the world in grand style. The suggested dress code was “elegant cocktail attire,” but budget Kardashian would have to do for this reporter.

A quick look-see around the first floor uncovered a table full of tater tots and grilled cheese sandwiches, a bar handing out mint juleps, and a photo booth involving major costumes. The elegant Gilded Age interiors had been swathed in Christmas lights and streamers of varying shades.

Downstairs, we were met by Jeffrey, identifiable as a chaperone thanks to his blue-and-white striped tie. He explained that, over the course of the next hour and a half, we’d be shepherded to three different experiences. But he refused to divulge too many details about what each would entail, other than to say our first experience would be a poker lesson from underground champ Haroon (just the one name, like Cher).

There were about twenty people assigned to our particular group, including the cofounders of Small Girls PR, Mallory Blair and Bianca Caampued, Pushd founder Chris Carella and the cofounder of GroupMe himself, Steve Martocci. 

Unfortunately, it turned out that twenty minutes wasn’t really enough to teach a room full of people of varying skill levels much about poker. Mr. Martocci’s companion Kelsey gamely questioned Haroon about the ins and outs of the game. But the crowd didn’t light up until our instructor mentioned something that sound an awful lot like venture capital. To wit: Sometimes an investor of sorts will pay his tournament entrance fees, in exchange for 50 percent of any winnings.

“You should get angel investors,” suggested Ms. Blair with a cheeky grin. Another man asked about ROI, then yelled, “AngelList for poker!” Mr. Martocci swiveled around to inform him that poker players are notoriously bad bets and their backers therefore subject to even more significant reversals of fortune than the average early-stage VC.

Soon enough however, bells were ringing throughout the house and it was time for our music class. As we headed up the stairs, Mr. Martocci stopped to chat with someone who’d just been in a tango class and “crushed it.” A glance at the map revealed that, elsewhere in the club, there were classes in etiquette, billiards, and other such arts. It was all a little bit like adult education crossed with one of those evenings of amusement that’re always happening in Jane Austen novels and Anne of Green Gables.

The author’s own Shrinky Dink. (Traced, naturally.)

We arrived upstairs to find musician Todd Reynolds waiting at the head of a small, claustrophobic room full of folding chairs, violin in hand and an iPad stationed on his music stand. Once the seats filled in, Mr. Reynolds picked up his violin and launched into an impromptu performance in which he used his electronic setup to layer sound upon sound, until there seemed to be an entire orchestra right there with us in the tiny room.

But it was the last of the evening’s activities–the least in keeping with the Sleep No More styling and the swanky attire–that inspired the most apparent delight: making shrinky dinks in a brightly light arts and crafts room. A room full of suddenly gleeful adults each took a piece of plastic and began drawing, finally waiting politely in line to shrink them in toaster ovens.

That concluded the program for the evening, though the party was scheduled to last for another two hours. Attendees dispersed accordingly to their activities of choice, to the photobooth and the dance floor–though the Shrinky Dink room remained popular as this reporter saw herself out.

*Disclosure. An Evening of Diversions at the Launch Party for Experiences by GroupMe