Walking into Chelsea's McKittrick Hotel is like walking into a time machine. By now most New Yorkers know that despite its name, it's not an actual hotel - in fact, I'd describe it as a piece of architectural performance art. Whether you're there for the eerie experience of Sleep No More, a drink at the lush Gallow Green rooftop, or some crooning musical stylings at the Manderley Bar, a night at the multifaceted, multi-venue space is sure to provide rich vintage delights. (If you couldn't already tell, it's one of my favorite places in the city.)
In keeping with its jazz age vibes, the McKittrick's roster of weekly and limited engagement events features the type of over-the-top entertainment so popular in the 1920s and '30s - magic (At The Illusionist's Table and Speakeasy Magick), jazz (every Sunday night), and masquerades (for Halloween and New Year's Eve).
But nothing quite embraces - and distorts - the throwback theme like the Follies. The Bartschland Follies. Like the famous Ziegfeld Follies, a production that captivated Broadway from the turn of the century through the 1930s, The Bartschland Follies is a theatrical revue featuring a rotating cast of performers. But unlike its OG counterpart, this madcap circus of a variety show is produced by Susanne Bartsch - the reigning queen of New York nightlife, known for throwing some of the best, biggest, and most outlandish bashes of the past few decades. Let's just say Ziegfeld couldn't even come close.
Unveiled in collaboration with New York burlesque star DeeDee Luxe and the McKittrick back in March, the show recently made its return to The Club Car for the fall season and, finally, I was able to see it for myself. As my poor, poor (but nevertheless curious) Instagram followers know thanks to my tiny-dot-topped story, I loved every second of it. And, my fellow weirdos, glamazons, and purveyors of the outrageous, you will too.
Like a Stefon skit come to life, this show has everything: operatic pole dancing, naked clowns, juggling stripteases, a penis that lights things on fire. JOEY ARIAS AND AMANDA LEPORE. And that's hardly even half of it.
Naturally, I pregamed the performance with cocktails up at Gallow Green, where I was introduced to a flawless woman donning a Barbarella-esque metal bikini. This, I learned (though her reputation had proceeded her) was DeeDee Luxe, a key collaborator and host of the weekly show. After working with both the McKittrick and Susanne for years, DeeDee brought the two together when the idea of a cabaret show came about. And while she loves the banter on stage, her favorite part is seeing the audience react. "People who haven't seen it before are like 'Oh my God!' It's just the energy and seeing people's moods just lift. Even for me - I'll be having a shitty day, then I see everyone I know, the performers, and it's so much fun. All of us put all our love into it and to see the audience [reacting] feels good."
I soon understood exactly what she meant. The whoops and gasps from the audience (me included) added to the exciting atmosphere, amping up whatever fascinating or funny thing was happening on stage. Indeed, audience participation occasionally went one step further - counterculture icon Joey Arias, for example, requested a straight male from a front table, who, once invited into the spotlight, was promptly disrobed. Not to mention the peanut butter sandwiches being thrown into the crowd from a place, um, down below. You'll just have to buy a ticket to fully comprehend that one.
Even considering every eclectic talent or they-went-there moment, however, perhaps the strangest (and most enjoyable) thing about the evening was how it didn't actually feel strange at all. Excuse me for bringing our current social firestorm into the mix here, but when the country seems to have embraced emboldened bigotry, this room felt like a concentration of what we love about New York: a judgment-free zone where people can be their unique selves and get celebrated for it, fire-starting penises and all.
The Bartschland Follies runs every Friday night at The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel. Get tickets HERE!
[Cover photo via McKittrick Hotel]