“Answer every fetish.”
- Raven O, Compére, The Box
In many ways, a city represents the décolletage of the modern psyche; so much on tantalising show, so much less - the bounties of nature that entice our gaze - artfully and thrillingly hidden from view, left to the rapacious thrills of the imagination.
The transgressive impulse to plunge oneself down the rabbit hole of corporeal and psychological possibility seems to have been refracted a million times with the advent of the sheer multitudinous ambition of the metropolis. To experience The Box represents just that plunge - down into the dark and musky cleavage of the city, down into the obscure history of vaudeville and burlesque, and into this self-styled “theatre of varieties”.
This ultra exclusive, den of chic iniquity is shrouded in secrecy - with a strictly enforced no camera no cell phone policy - which has only poured oil on the waters of controversy and mystery since it opened in 2007. The sense of the guiltless indulgence of impulse in gilded privacy has also drawn an ever-flowing stream of celebrities and the cream of society nightlife.
A lavishly appointed but intimate venue, with a seated dining capacity of up to 150 and a seated and standing capacity of 392, The Box is steeped in the mythical history of the American stage. Created by genius of the risqué Simon Hammerstein, grandson of Broadway deity Oscar Hammerstein II, it references the twilit world of circus freakery and old-school kinkiness that graced the boards and wowed the crowds of America’s variety theatres since the mid-Nineteenth Century. Hammerstein and his partners Richard Kimmel and Randy Weiner created The Box on the site of a former sign factory on the Lower East Side, dating back to 1935 when the district was still famous for its burlesque halls and dime museums.
The Box features one of the most selective door policies found in New York’s legendarily choosy hospitality scene. Therefore, it is those almost exclusively from the most elusive of society’s bubbles - film, the aristocracy, millionaire socialites - that can possibly breathe in its faintly sulphurous glamour, and who in turn only serve to stoke the fires of its notoriety. In fact, Oscar nominees Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, as well as vegan-hedonist techno-legend Moby and nightlife impresario Serge Becker, are said to have been heavily involved in the initial stages of the project’s development.
Clad in the seductive reds of burlesque’s illicit glamour and seemingly lit in the come-and-get-me gloom of gaslight, the daringly intimate interiors fashioned by Hecho Inc.’s John Kole and Phil Morgan, summon up the tasseled contortionists and tattooed fire-eating maidens of yesteryear. From Tuesday to Saturday, the exotic, erotic and often shocking live acts perform all manner of modern burlesque for thrilled crowds from late evening until the wee small hours, while truly first-class bistro cuisine inspired by the Lower East Side’s unique ambience wings its way to the old-school booths and tables.
The arched eyebrow of scandal and the catcalls of infamy with which The Box swiftly made its name - seeing it crowned “International Nightclub of the Year” at the 2010 Quintessentially Awards - were then transported wholesale to London’s Soho this year. Hammerstein, who has lived much of his life in the British capital, further displayed his impeccable sense of the history and social narrative of his métier, first in choosing Soho, London’s spiritual home for naughty downtown pursuits, and second in his very deliberate choice of premises.
As the first venue in the country to feature full frontal nudity, the Raymond Revuebar was a symbol of Soho’s permissive morality and a stylishly risqué celebrity Mecca in its 1960s heyday. Revered by many as a design classic, Hammerstein and his team have lovingly restored and remodeled the Raymond Revue bar into a stunning after hours club which, using much of the original style, fixtures, and fittings, can seat 125 for dinner and accommodate 288 standing and seated patrons.
A slightly more expansive tri-level space, The Box Soho offers contemporary bistro fare by top luxury caterers Randall & Aubin and performances commencing at the stroke of midnight. By the summer it had muscled itself onto the radar of London’s glamorous cognoscenti, hitting the headlines as a procession of domestic and international figures - including Kate Moss, Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice - were snapped sashaying euphorically in, and even more euphorically out, of its intriguingly anonymous wooden doors.
Not content with bringing his particular brand of top-tier carousing to New York and London, Hammerstein has recently announced that work is underway on The Box Las Vegas - opening soon in the mold-breaking hospitality behemoth, the Palazzo. It is hard to doubt that well-heeled voyeurs will soon be flocking to his post-modern circus when it sets raucously down in the world’s glitziest city.
So, with a playful sense of opulent lawlessness - the kind one can imagine hanging thick in the air of a dilettante playboy prince’s private court - The Box has captivated the imagination of a new generation of pleasure seekers who see a touch of art in their peccadilloes.
“To be a poet is to place pleasure, beauty and sensual delights front and centre, it means having a predilection for debauchery.”
- Nicole Brossard
- Benjamin Stewart
Address: 189 Chrystie Street
New York, 10002
Tel: 212 982 9301
The Box Soho
Address: 11-12 Walker´s Court
London, W1F 0BZ
Tel: 0 20 7434 4374