The invitation looked . . . inviting: The W Hotel's monthly mixer, S.I.P. (short for "social interactive playtime"), promised "the right cocktails, people & music"; who doesn't yearn to meet the right people, sip the right cocktails, and bob, ever so slightly, to the right music? I longed to attend, but how to be right myself ? Having graduated from a flannel-and-patchouli hippie college (and being a fashion underachiever in general), I was ill-prepared for such an assignment.
Still, journalism often requires the chameleonic savvy of a secret agent, so I yielded all authority to a crack team of fashion experts. What they came up with, I was sure, would make me the hit of S.I.P. To the kids at Red Light Vintage Clothing whose job it was to "realize the fashion concept," I was Disco Ken: a living dress-up doll. In under 30 minutes, they had turned me into an unholy mix of Austin Powers and John Travolta, with slightly less yellow teeth and a lot less sex appeal. Still, I reasoned, these people must know what they're doing. Walking through the W door in my 2-inch platform shoes, I felt fully armored to face the chic brigade.
As it turned out, I would have fit in better naked. My three-decade fashion lag clearly called my rightness into question: My entrance was met with undisguised horror. It was dark, but I could still see a huddled triumvirate of women, laughing and pointing their neatly manicured fingers at me. The merry clip-clop of my platforms eclipsed the lighter footfalls of high-heeled party girls and loafer-wearing playboys. Like players in a precoital game of Red Rover, the men and women at S.I.P., in their gender-specific groups, were all questing in subtle ways for permission to cross over, and I was the gold-chain-wearing, disco- strutting doofus standing in the way. It was a strange and beautiful feeling.
ON OUR WAY to a dark corner booth ("I think you'll be more . . . comfortable here," whispered our server), my date and our mutual photographer walked past DJs spinning ambient electronica, wallpapering the room with Eurotrash bips and beeps. Relegated to Siberia, we could at least surround ourselves with "the right cocktails": neon-colored "drops" (lemon, rose, etc.) at $5 apiece. The emerald drop, with its sugar-rimmed glass, Sweet Tart candy taste, and extraterrestrial Midori glow, was insidiously addictive.
As was the weird bar food ($5 per plate) dreamed up by Earth & Ocean chef Johnathan Sundstrom. Fig-flavored popcorn? Thai-tinged tuna tartare with taro? Sonoma jack cheese goug貥s with acacia honey mustard (in bar-speak; in English, glorified cheese puffs and fancy dip.) Even in the swinging '70s, such blatant cuisine-swapping and flavor experimentation might have raised eyebrows, but at S.I.P. the well-dressed working girls and boys in their gossipy groups appeared perfectly happy to munch movie theater snacks dressed up as haute cuisine.
DESPITE THE MEAT-MARKET atmosphere, I personally suffered no embarrassment, since no one seemed at all interested in taking a stroll down my particular memory lane. Admittedly, I might have come off as less than debonair even in a more conventional outfit, as my stylish shades replaced prescription glasses, voiding any possibility of romantic eye contact, leaving me swimming in a world of blurry shapes buying each other cosmopolitans.
By the end of the evening, with the novelty worn off, S.I.P. seemed a little silly and completely harmlessa safe, cozy sandbox got up like an edgy N.Y.C. club, full of corporate players appraising each other's assets. My intrepid gang and I, buzzing from multiple emerald drops, made our exit in just the right spirit, in the blinding blitzkrieg of our own flash photography. How satisfying to have been, for once, at exactly the right placeand at the absolute rightest of times.
Now if only I could get "Staying Alive" out of my head.
Mr. Schindler's attire by Red Light Vintage clothing; hair by Breck.