Fly on the Wall: Sleep No More, Party Lots More
For anyone who’s done the full (three hour?) theatrical journey that is Sleep No More, our ICC Presenters After Party at the McKittrick Hotel (presented by Jade Range) would add up to a teaser—in the most pleasantly sado-masochistic sense of “tease.” From our timid entry into the macabre-nostalgia of the dust-shrouded lobby, through the winding flashlight tour of the show (complete with black-as-night hallways, architectural groans, and a melancholy toast to lost beauty in a moonless “forest”), we got a tantalizing glimpse of the fully twisted Macbethian mind game that Sleep No More plays, nightly, with its audience.
Ted Lee and Rachel Harrison looks on as a mysterious guest (it's Don Lee!) dons a Sleep No More mask on the Trolley Car
Fortunately for ICC Presenters, who were coming after a long day (and some from that night’s Peru dinner at Raymi), the mind trip was efficiently bizarre, getting everyone to food and drink quickly without skimping on otherworldly stimulation. It all began in the aforementioned lobby, where velour curtains hung dark and heavy like tired eyelids, and a buxom, squeaky-voiced barmaid greeted us with shots of Pernod Absinthe Punch and Cava. Buzzes commenced, we met our next shepherd, a pale hostess with a long black gown who gathered us for tours by the tens in a ghostly sotto voce. We giggled, nervously.
Taken in several directions through portions of the show, the tours mixed and mingled presenters (mine saw the likes of Don Lee and Virgilio Martinez), fostering—as Sleep No More endeavors—stimulating disorientation amidst relative strangers (read: you might touch someone in the dark). As for sights: imagine a near pitch-black hallway broken only by pools of red “Exit” light, empty claw-foot bathtubs strewn with clothes and stains of prior acts, a wall of cutlery crucifixes rooted in petrified salt, and the empty, vaguely accusatory gaze of a stuffed buck—the list goes on. Unexpected, and we admit relieving, was the idyllic charm of Gallow Green, the rooftop bar at the McKittrick named after the setting for Sleep No More (by no coincidence, also the site of Western Europe's last mass witchcraft execution). Salem-esque vibe aside, the roof is dreamy: sordid gives way to pastoral, and ivy and twinkling white lights indicate a (brief) respite from mayhem.
Not that mayhem of another kind didn’t have its place at the party. Emerging triumphant from our tours, we all made a beeline for the bar and its array of Absolut cocktails. It being October 1 (and, not much later, October 2), we especially liked the spice of the Lekker Brew, with Absolut Mandarin and cardamom, and the tart kick of the Swedish Buck, mingling straight Absolut with apple juice, lime, ginger beer, and fresh basil. The savvy among us fortified with Chef Julia Jaksic’s menu, which was anchored squarely in the hearty and carnivorous with bacon-wrapped Australian lamb chops, seared farm-raised Cervena venison toasts, and a Scotch quail egg that would have been an ideal hangover remedy. (Those hidden away in our purse did not, alas, make it home.)
An unseasonably warm night on a rooftop with cocktails begs for indiscriminate mingling and miraculously energetic dancing, and this was no exception. We saw a gaggle of ICC mixo presenters—including Dave Wondrich, who created the night’s drinks, PDT’s Jeff Bell, and Dave Arnold and Tristan Willey of Booker and Dax—celebrating as a cocktail collective. Somm Slam Host Fred Dexheimer took a well-earned break from emcee duties with some free-roam socializing, and designer Martin Kastner caught up with StarChefs.com’s own Katherine Sacks in one of the space’s quieter, more civilized, corners (albeit near enough to the beer, which included Full Sail, Crabbies, Singha, and Sierra Nevada). Across the rooftop on the (impromptu) dance floor, CEO and avid amateur swing dancer Antoinette Bruno took a break from ICC hosting duties to take a turn with Chef Josean Alija who, it turns out, kept up admirably.
The more stationary among us were bar side, dispatching the rest of the night’s selection alongside NOLA Chefs Bart Bell and Nathanial Zimet. Candied Pork Ass progenitor Chef Chris Shepherd tossed back a few with Underbelly partner Mixologist Bobby Heugel and StarChefs Features Editor Caroline Hatchett. And StarChefs Managing Editor Will Blunt caught up with Rising Star Pastry Chef-turned retail-trailblazing mayo-specialist Sam Mason. No doubt the night’s capping nightcap memory: when boisterous Brit presenter Sat Bains used an unexpected (read: intimate) leverage point to lift fellow presenter Bell entirely off the ground, giving him—and all of us—a lasting (and possibly bruising) ICC memory. The night flew by, and before we knew it, it was 2am—time for most to go home, and a few (the bravest among us) to retire to a different kind of mayhem across the street, at Scores.
By Emily Bell