Paradise Found (video)

“Welcome to Paradise,” the host greeted me, without a hint of irony, moments before I was offered a “welcome shot” of green apple, pomegranate, and vodka.

I’d just arrived at the Paradise Club, a collaboration between Studio 54’s Ian Schrager and Brooklyn’s House of Yes. Studio 54 is, of course, the nightclub where the rich, famous, and beautiful spent the late ’70s and early ’80s being fabulous and indulging in mild debauchery. House of Yes could be loosely considered its modern-day equivalent, albeit with a more egalitarian, less celeb-centric door policy: The Brooklyn-based nightlife collective is housed in a former warehouse in Bushwick, where patrons get glittered up to dance to DJs while performers writhe on platforms and aerial acrobats clad in little more than bespangled lingerie twirl on hoops or silks suspended over the dance floor.

Schrager entered the hotel industry after his Studio days, and the Paradise Club is housed within the Times Square property of his Edition chain of hotels. In a windowless studio on the hotel’s seventh floor, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired murals cover the walls on either side of the room; a starburst of colored lights spans the ceiling, the same hue as the red envelope on your table, holding the food and drink menus as well as the program for the performance.

Aerial acrobats perform for the crowd.
(Images courtesy of BFA and Liz Clayman)

A proper night at Paradise Club, you see, is actually dinner theater: by turns cabaret, burlesque, performance art, and Coney Island-style sideshow. The show, produced by House of Yes three times a week (and followed by a raging dance party that goes well into the wee hours), is called The Devouring: A Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and extremely loosely based on a poem by William Blake.

The bar at Paradise Club.

And devour, you will: The evening begins with an ample dinner, a set multicourse meal, served family style at each table. The courses correspond to the elements of earth, water, air, and fire; each course comprises several dishes, which change frequently. Earth starts you off with an array of snacks: a garden of crudités; possibly a “tree of life” strewn with bak kwa (a type of pork jerky), prosciutto, grissini, figs, black sesame-dusted radishes. “Water” brings seafood: perhaps oysters and shrimp in some form, a rainbow of roe dotted with horseradish. Air, contrary to its name, features the most substantial plates—on my most recent visit, it was a whole Cornish hen and an array of accoutrements that suggested a global tour of spice markets. Fire, served during the performance’s intermission, may earn its name with a blazing baked Alaska.

The flaming baked Alaska.

I’m still thinking about a couple of dishes from an earlier visit: one of cauliflower and strawberries somehow mimicking, even improving on, General Tso’s chicken; and another of succulent spiced pork ribs, brought to the table under a glass cloche that released a puff of barbecue smoke into the air when removed. Perhaps they’ll make a return appearance on the menu at some point.

Paradise Club’s smoking spiced ribs.

It’s all courtesy of chef John Fraser, who oversees all of the hotel’s food, including at 701West and the Terrace Restaurant. Much has been made of Chef Fraser’s Michelin-starred credentials: formerly of Narcissa and the Michelin-starred Dovetail, he currently helms Michelin-starred Nix and West Village neighborhood favorite The Loyal. The food at Paradise Club, though, is no highfalutin’ tweezer-plated tasting menu; it’s unfussy, largely finger food, like hors d’oeuvres that might be passed at a social affair. It’s party food, really, setting the tone for a festive evening.

Drinks are similarly celebration-inclined, with a Champagne-heavy wine list; tropical-leaning cocktails such as a “pina colada old fashioned”; and a Manhattan trolley, allowing servers to stir up stiff drinks tableside.

Like the menu, the show has small variations nightly depending on the availability of its performers, many of whom have very niche talents: One night you may have a sword swallower and a cowboy doing lasso tricks; another night might bring a woman achieving feats with parasols I never imagined possible, and a man vanquishing demons by juggling. The main story line, such as it is, remains the same.

The Devouring is a feast for the senses.

Dancers swirl, both earthbound and suspended in the air on hoops or silks. The M.C. croons the Rolling Stones’ tune “Sympathy for the Devil.” A duo performs a pas de deux to an operatic rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” It’s all sublimely sexy, in a PG-13 way—The Box, this is not. Nor is it a slick Broadway production: In contrast to the phenomenally talented performers, some stage sets and props looked as though they’d been repurposed from an artsy Burning Man camp. The DIY aesthetic encourages you to forget, for a moment, that you’re in fact in a glossy hotel in the most Vegas-y part of New York City.

While elbowing my way through the Times Square crowds later that night, after dancing to the post-Devouring DJ alongside the club kids who showed up dressed as though for a Suzanne Bartsch party, I found myself wishing I could’ve stayed in Paradise just a bit longer.