One of the goals when we started the are u coming? newsletter was to explore the sheer variety of nightlife in the city from the megaclub to the sex club, the frat house to the rave, from Bushwick to Seaport and back to Ridgewood. But what about middle-aged tourists with money to burn who want to go on a bender in Times Square? When I received an invitation earlier this month in the form of a 12-inch vinyl record cut into the shape of the New York City skyline to a party celebrating the new Hard Rock Hotel — “Now open for VIP treatment & 24/7 good times” — I thought, Why not? I missed the boat to Margaritaville, which opened last year just a few blocks south of Times Square, and I have yet to visit (even ironically). And truth be told, I grew up loving classic rock; my first tattoo was even a Jimi Hendrix lyric: “Fly on, little wing.” Presumably my parents, or a wealthier version of them perhaps since the rooms aren’t cheap, are the Hard Rock’s target tourist demo.
Even as “Empire State of Mind” played over and over again at the party, guests kept repeating things like “This doesn’t feel like New York,” which is to say it felt like Vegas. That said, I kept thinking, What’s more New York than a night celebrating a massive luxury-real-estate project built on the street that used to be the city’s actual Music Row with appearances by drunk celebrities and the mayor? As Ben Widdicombe wrote in his party-reporting memoir, Gatecrasher, “The bottom rung of the city’s social ladder is the weeknight promotional party,” which this definitely was. But what of it? “Above all, New York is a city of commerce.” So put another dime in the jukebox, baby.
7:38 p.m. | The Hard Rock Hotel is on 48th Street, halfway between M&M World and Hershey’s Chocolate World and just around the corner from Weed World. I enter through the Yankees-themed steakhouse on the first floor, where the stereo is playing “Hard Place” by H.E.R. — I think the Rolling Stones’s “Rock and a Hard Place” might’ve been more appropriate — and women in cocktail dresses and men in suits are sipping martinis and shooting oysters. I’m not in Times Square anymore. A waitress offers me a lump of beef tartare, but when I say, “No, thank you,” she laughs in my face.
7:51 p.m. | The party reminds me of the opening of Hudson Yards just before the pandemic. All of this big spending meant to show off the property’s new shiny finishings and fill the guests with enough booze and caviar so they feel just as shiny and it only looks shinier. I walk through an amber-lit lobby past two nude women being painted for entertainment and a photo op with an electric guitar. The hors d’oeuvres are bountiful, and here and there are what one woman with two cell phones calls “activations,” which I think is PR speak for other selfie stations. I head up to a terrace on the 34th floor and ask a mousy brunette who works in marketing what brought her to the party. She tells me, “I’m just celebrating exciting new things coming to the city. We’re always looking for the next best thing. We don’t know if this is the best, but it’s an experience, and we’re all about it.” What else would the experience seeker like to see come to New York City? “We’re missing different topography. We need, like, cacti and deserts and mountain ranges. Things like that. That kind of experience.” As if mountains and deserts can be bought and built just like this hotel.
8:00 p.m. | I head upstairs to the “Rock Star Suite,” a 3,300-square-foot penthouse on the 36th floor. (A customer-service representative for the Hard Rock told me the room is not currently available for booking but will cost about $15,000 per night when it is.) A woman who I thought for a moment might be Fran Lebowitz encourages me to check out the bathroom, where I find a woman covered in tiny white balloons reclining in the tub and a man next to her playing an acoustic guitar. The partygoers passing through the bathroom are thrilled and stop to take photos. I guess I personally was maybe hoping for something more Sid and Nancy.
8:07 p.m. | On the suite’s terrace, I meet an off-the-clock reporter who tells me she heard from “a well-placed source” that this party cost $3 million with $1 million going to tonight’s entertainment, John Legend (“She’s just on top of it again because she lost so much weight. No one is talking about that,” someone nearby gripes about his wife). With the amount of free-flowing Veuve and ice sculptures, I don’t doubt it. The reporter ventures a guess for who will actually stay here: “The type of people who go to Las Vegas. They’re from Ohio or Michigan. Their mortgage costs $10. They have money. Their kids are at NYU. Their daughter wants to see Wicked. They want to live like a celebrity.” Cue the Nickelback.
8:18 p.m. | There’s an ample supply of clearly wealthy, well-perfumed older women at this party who more than likely do live like celebrities, so I decide to talk to one dressed in a trim black suit with a massive golden brooch. She tells me she’s one of the hotel’s owners. Her friend is a San Francisco hotelier with very fake eyebrows who says she’s worked in hospitality for 40 years. Why hotels? “This is a sexy business. If you’re going to be in business, it’s a sexy one to be in.”
8:29 p.m. | I meet a nasally photographer smashing on a taco who is the first person I’ve spoken to who has stayed in a Hard Rock before: “The Vegas Hard Rock is probably my favorite fucking hotel.” That’s because it has a “provocateur suite,” which she describes in detail, going on and on about the leather and the handcuffs on the walls. But she refuses to say what kinks she got into there.
8:34 p.m. | Rumor has it that the Real Housewife Dorinda Medley is drinking ’tinis down on the second floor. Sure enough, I find her sitting outside in a black-and-white checked jacket, puffing on her Juul. “I want New York to be cleaner, I want people to feel safe. New York has gotta go back a little old school,” she tells me — by which I guess she means the Bloomberg years. She gestures toward her sparkly moneyed friends, “I also think people want to dress up again. No sloppy going out.” But judging by her slight slurring, the housewife whose tagline was “Diamond’s aren’t a girl’s best friend; martinis are!” might be on the verge of sloppy herself. For some reason, she rambles on for several minutes about Madonna’s naughty new NFT project. “This is a woman who singlehandedly with the song ‘Vogue’ welcomed the gay community into the world” — thanks for the appropriation, Madonna! — “and also, too, we just got through COVID, where Earth clearly now is a woman. We know it. She got mad and she let nature speak for itself. But the truth is without the vagina, there’s nothing. There’s no creation. There are no flowers, no trees. The Earth gives birth, so women give birth. We are Earth.” Okay … Before I leave, she’s sure to plug her personal line of bourbon: “Oh, I love dark liquor. It brings out the best in me. You don’t know late-night Dorinda!” Actually, I think I just met her.
9:00 p.m. | Everyone begins heading downstairs to the hotel’s music venue, called the Venue, for John Legend’s show. The emcee for the evening, SNL’s Kenan Thompson, is already here, looking a bit tipsy himself and hiding behind a pair of aviators. While I wait for everything to start, I hit the bar, where an overfriendly older man named Greg, who looks like every other older man here, asks me, “Have you seen any celebrities?” before touching my ass. Before I can wiggle away, he begs for my number. “Just take it!” I yell, putting it into his phone, to which he responds, “Oh, can you take it? Is that a micro-aggression?” Rock and roll, Greg.
9:13 p.m. | I watch a grinning blonde in pearls text someone, “Every time there is a hotel opening I can’t help but think of you.” I hate her for it.
9:26 p.m. | “There’s a piano over here, so I think you might know who might be tickling those keys. It’s gonna be good,” says Kenan when he hops onstage to kick off the show. He points out a few famous faces in the crowd – among them the police commissioner and also Al Sharpton – before introducing the chairman of the Hard Rock International, calling him “Josh Allen” then “David Allen” then “Tim Allen.” His name is Jim Allen. Yep, he’s definitely drunk, but he admits it. “I know it’s gonna be a fucking fantastic night down here. Look, I’m already cursing. See. Tequila. It’s all good though.”
9:35 p.m. | Apparently the price to pay for John Legend Live are a number of speeches about the Hard Rock and its “mottos” (Among them, “Save the planet” and “Take time to be kind”). I’m learning a lot, like the fact that the brand is owned by the Seminole tribe in Florida, so up next one of their matriarchs blesses the building. The crowd is in no mood and chatters loudly over her prayers.
9:50 p.m. | Still more speeches … Creepy Greg passes me by with a new piece of arm candy: “You were the hottest girl here, I thought.” I’m fine with second place.
10:09 p.m. | Finally, John Legend saunters to the piano. Later-night Dorinda, swaying a little bit, stands up to take a video on her iPhone before sitting back down, pulling out her Instagram, and DM’ing, of all people, from what I can tell, Keith McNally. Legend sings “Here Comes the Sun” and “Dancing in the Dark” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” but most of the people around me seem uninterested. The women walking around the room offering partygoers large selfie lights to snap photos in the dark aren’t helping. The bald guy next to me snipes, “John Legend is putting me to sleep.” A woman in a leopard-print dress complains about Chrissy, “She’s a narcissist, but I like her physically.” A gay guy I’ve been eyeing next to me whispers, “Now I know to never go to a John Legend concert.”
10:59 p.m. | If the “well-placed source” is correct, $1 million will buy you about one hour of John Legend’s sad, sexy crooning. After he says good night, most of the guests head upstairs, collecting gift bags of CBD products on the way out. A platinum blond boy draped in Gucci tells me, “I liked John Lennon’s concert!”
11:21 p.m. | Outside and across the street, I spot two shy-looking young women standing behind a police barrier pointing their iPhones toward the hotel. They’re also on the job tonight, collecting content for a fan site devoted to crushing on Vanessa Hudgens, who’s inside the party. “I’m currently updating as we speak. Putting up the pictures,” one tells me. Why, of all people, Vanessa Hudgens? “Why?!?! LOOK AT HER!!”
11:23 p.m. | Just when I’ve determined the party is over, here comes the city’s latest, greatest party machine, Mayor Eric Adams, in a merlot suit jacket and a big smile. Somehow I sneak into an elevator with his team and make it to an after-party upstairs. “I really thought he’d bail,” one of his people tells me. The mayor moves through the crowd, snapping selfies and shaking hands. “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang plays. “You’re glittering like gold,” the mayor tells a woman in passing. When he gets to me, late-night Hizzoner looks me in the eyes and says, “I love the Hard Rock.”
11:36 p.m. | Two millennial women in slinky dresses at the bar are debating the topic of the mayor’s frequent clubbing. One complains, “This is what I should be doing, not what you should be doing.” Her friend chimes in, “My friend got spit on by a homeless man in the subway the other day. I’d rather him prevent that than go to the Hard Rock.” Still, they couldn’t resist taking a photo with him. “I told him I liked his suit.”
Midnight | And wherever the mayor goes … here comes another of the city’s nightlife ambassadors, Cara Delevingne. She’s sitting in a booth talking very seriously and very closely to Vanessa Hudgens. For some reason, she’s also wearing an aquamarine bob wig (seriously, what is happening with Cara Delevingne lately?). I try to speak with them, but Cara holds up a finger: “Just one second.” After a few, she grabs Vanessa’s hands and pulls her away. “We have to go downstairs. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I have to steal her. It’s my fault.” On the terrace, late-night Kenan, still in his aviators, keeps the party going, smoking, drinking, and vibing with his friends and other hangers-on near the DJ. He’s smarter than everyone else. Who cares that it’s a Hard Rock? It’s a good party with a sick view. So good I overserve myself on the Veuve and end up in bed earlier than the mayor.