In New York City there are plenty of places to get drunk, starting with my kitchen. But most crave a more glamorous experience, and in a city of millions, glamor is often equated with exclusivity and secrecy. Faux speakeasys have become as much of a cliché as drunken fistfights in the Meatpacking District. Yet for a brief period earlier this year, a group of artists ran a true speakeasy in the most unusual of locations: A water tower atop an abandoned building in Chelsea.
As reported by the Times, the Night Heron was masterminded by artist N.D. Austin, who seeks to create "trespass theater." Austin developed a clever, and perfectly legal, method to research which Manhattan buildings might be abandoned; he and his team then created the entirely illegal experience of having select guests climb twelve flights of stairs and a ladder, emerging through a trapdoor into a cylindrical cedar space occupied by a bartender, booze and even a band.
The Night Heron was as exclusive as it was lawless. The only way to get in was to be handed a pocket watch by a prior guest (who had been instructed to offer minimal explanation), report to a street corner at a certain time, and call a number pasted inside the watch. Mysterious helpers led guests through one decrepit building into another and up 12 flights of stairs to the roof. The watches were taken at the door, but guests were given the chance to buy watches at the end of the night if they wanted to continue the chain of invitation.
Able to fit only twelve guests at a time, the Night Heron held just three seatings a night, and ran for eight weekends before the plug was pulled. But it is sure to spawn copycats.