When you went to a party like Michael Arenella’s Jazz Age Lawn Party for (not to brag or anything) many years before it was cool, it can get kind of tiresome. First of all, it gets more expensive every year (the $35 ticket was less than $5 in the beginning). It also becomes more and more competitive as everyone in New York shows up in their twenties finest to vie for Bill Cunningham’s validating camera. I was ready to skip it this year; I didn’t feel like spending the money I would need to spend to compete. And Bill Cunningham had taken my picture once, anyway. But then I told Evelyn, who had never been, that she should go at least once, and she convinced me to come back. So on the second weekend in June, I put on the same dress I’d worn last year, made a fake bob, tied a shawl like a turban, put on some red lipstick, and found myself back on the 1 train to South Street Seaport.
I made new friends on the subway that I subsequently sat with on the ferry. It’s pretty easy to tell who else is going to the party, given the anachronistic dress code. Ana, Maureen, and Kathleen are all recent college grads going to the event for the first time. When I couldn’t get ahold of Evelyn, we sat together on their picnic blanket drinking St. Germain cocktails. I bought a chocolate sundae and a small bag of popcorn with truffle oil, which I’d been craving since the potato chip truffles I ate with Kara and Juliana. I also met up with Jessica, a Gatsby-philic friend I’d made at a fellow travel writer’s twenties-themed birthday party.
Then I took some time to look around and enjoy the setting. In recent years, there’s essentially a vintage market as well as the catering service. The caterers set up booths for different kinds of food: a raw bar with shrimp and oysters, the sundae bar and the popcorn bar where I got my snacks. There’s the St. Germain truck, parked outside the always-crowded St. Germain bar, and a little wooden moon where you can get your picture taken. The market encompasses all manner of vintage- and vintage-inspired goods, from fascinators and hair accessories to men’s jackets to feathers, gloves, and frilly lingerie. There are two stages now: a side platform with an alternating lineup, and the main stage where Arenella and co. provide accompaniment for a sea of swing dancers amateur and pro. And then there are the people: hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers dressed to the nines in drop-waist dresses, pearls, brooches, turbans, and fedoras. I stayed just long enough to get a lay of the land, then headed out for the Manhattan view before it got too crowded to get back home.
I usually find theme party companies nichey and pretentious; that is, after all, why I started my own. I was, however, really feeling the Gatsby theme this holiday, and that’s a common trope among the popular theme party companies. La Vie Parisienne is thrown annually by Dances of Vice, one company that’s known for highly stylized events. The party is a masquerade ball as well as a 1930s-themed soirée, and I went with my friend Evelyn. I finally got to wear my bought-in-Venice mask of starched and gilded lace, and I debuted a floor-length gown from Screaming Mimi’s. Per the party’s instructions, we also wore a pink rose each to signify our single status.
The party takes up the entire DTA, or Down Town Association. The building houses one of New York’s most prestigious social clubs, but this night it belongs to stilts-walking clowns, cabaret singers, and models in bras and hoop skirts. Each barroom, ballroom, or reading room has its own swing or tango or bossa nova band, and liquor flows freely at every hall and landing. We hadn’t paid to attend the three-course dinner in the third-floor Dining Room, but we were able to join the raucous party in the main ballrooms. To French and American jazz by Pooquette, we danced under a sky of hearts and Cupid’s arrows in a sea of others in head-to-toe vintage.