The wedding invitation explains that the Friday night of this three-day extravaganza in New York involves going to an ‘immersive theatre event set in the heady 1920s’.
Having spent two years living in Shanghai where every other night was some Twenties-themed fancy-dress affair with questionable jazz and endless art deco, to say we were done with that period would be an understatement.
I can’t face more eye rolling, though, so I keep our destination, the Roxy Hotel – with its spectacular 1920s movie theatre, jazz club and art deco marquee – firmly under wraps.
As we arrive, it’s a bit harder to disguise: the entrance more resembling an old-fashioned cinema than a hotel. A man wearing braces and artfully rolled up sleeves arrives proffering champagne; Mr Smith obliges with a raised eyebrow, while I take great pleasure in shocking our American hosts by letting 16-month-old Master Smith have a small sip from mine. Is there anything more delicious than shocking Americans?
The champagne is a good distraction, because sitting in the Roxy’s lobby truly is like sitting on some prohibition movie set: all beautiful waitresses and rugged barmen in period-appropriate costumes (rather beautifully designed, it must be said, by tailor Craig Robinson).
Around the edge of this enormous space, there’s Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee, a very hip coffee shop selling organic, fair trade, shade-grown, stir-brew coffee (don’t ask me, I’m an Earl Grey-with-milk kinda gal); a cocktail bar, an oyster bar and a really good restaurant serving classic American fare from 7am til late.
At the centre of this huge atrium – surrounded by leather sofas you want to curl into with a Long Island iced tea – is a stage, where a jazz band is already well into a relaxed early-evening session. There are rows and rows of rooms soaring up above you, all coming off this one central vacuum. It gives the place a very communal feel, with all roads leading you back to the music: the backdrop to everything here.
Up in the room, Mr Smith is onto his second drink. He’s making cocktails at the well-stocked wet bar (curated by NYC’s Liquor Cabinet), and has punk rock blaring full blast from the Marshall speaker. Each room has a selection of classic albums to spin on the record player: the first two we pulled out were the Ramones first album and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Clearly the party had started…
Away from the jazz heart of the Roxy, our room evokes more of the 1970s. With its cream leather banquette-style sofa and mirrored coffee table, I suspect Tony Montana would have felt very much at home here. However, the mountain of white powder on this particular table is the result of Mr Smith clumsily opening a container of powdered formula milk. Not quite as rock and roll…
Three drinks down, and the babysitter knocks at the door and asks if we’ve baby-proofed the room… Mr Smith and I look at each other with horror, until he – buoyed by a couple of G&Ts and two hours of dad-dancing to the Ramones – says he’ll see what the hotel could do.
We’re pretty flabbergasted when a charming man appears to administer the ‘baby programme’ to the room, covering all the sockets and table corners and even asking if Master Smith would like a pet for the weekend in the form of Bill, the hotel’s goldfish. Since he is more likely to squish the goldfish into a pot of playdough than look after it we politely decline, but it’s a lovely touch.
Fast forward a few hours and Mr Smith and I roll back into our new home. At night the hotel really comes alive. We head down to Paul’s Cocktail Lounge where there’s a fashion party in full swing – and this place has some couture credentials: Paul is a New York scene supremo and his sister, Chloe Sevigny, designed the (very cute) uniforms.
We do our best fashion editor impersonations and snaffle a couple of free drinks at the bar before deciding to delay the babysitter and hit up the Django. This is the Roxy’s second jazz club – literally underground – and is everything you would hope a New York basement jazz club to be. We could have stayed until dawn but, knowing Master Smith would be up in a few hours, we eventually stagger back to our room.
Next morning’s breakfast is a truly American breakfast: massive portions and liberal applications of maple syrup. After it, all we want to do is spend the afternoon slumped in the Roxy’s cinema but we’ve a wedding to attend, and Mr Smith is the best man…
Fast forward a few more hours (and drinks) and at some point well past midnight I’ve amassed half the club – including a group of girls I had met in the loos, an 85-year-old guy from Harlem dressed as a pimp, and a group of middle-aged ladies in their Sunday best for the Kentucky races – to come back to our room for an after party.
I open the taxi door and remember there’s a baby and a rather terrifying babysitter in said after-party room who would not be impressed by this rabble.
As for the hotel staff, though, I’m sure they would’ve welcomed us all with open arms. Because music and partying are the lifeblood here, and it infuses you with such energy and a sense of fun that anything short of a good time is an impossibility. This is immersive theatre at its best, and we love every single minute of it.
This review was first published in 2017 so some hotel details may have changed
Pyjama Queen (and one-time Smith gift-card designer) Olivia von Halle set up her eponymous brand in 2011 – and her luxurious loungewear has since been sported by the likes of Rihanna, Cara Delevigne, Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lopez. Showing the collection in New York, London and Paris, and having ever-expanding markets in Moscow, the Middle East and the US has meant travel, and lots of it, so she likes to think she’s something of an expert when it comes to hotel rooms. Her specialist subject? Bathtubs. In fact, Olivia is such a huge fan of baths she even named her boxer dog Bathtub…