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The McKittrick Hotel is three connected, giant multi-storied old buildings in Manhattan, where the immersive (“emersive”) film noir-styled stage production of Macbeth is performed, retitled Sleep No More.
My story is not about Sleep No More.
The mythology of the ‘Hotel’ goes like this:
Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now.
The McKittrick is, in fact, named after the hotel in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. On the rooftop of the hotel, the theater company extended its theme to create a bar and restaurant called Gallow Green.
The company also opened a second restaurant last November. When the doorman allows you into the elevator, and the lift operator slowly takes you up - though it feels eery, like something isn’t right - you step out into the McKittrick’s hotel lobby.
The lobby is a detailed set piece, packed with 1930s suitcases, decor, a row of phone booths, and now, further on, a doorway. The doorway opens to a long train platform, with a train in the station on one side of the platform.
The train cars are full-size, set as dining cars with tables and place settings, ready for a fancy party. On the opposite side of the platform is The Heath; an old-fashioned supper club, replete with stage, long vintage bar, and a wide dining area with little tables and booths.
I made a reservation at The Heath wanting to take Eric somewhere unusual for his birthday dinner; knowing it was connected to the Sleep No More production made it all that more special to him, and assured me that it would be a cool atmosphere.
I didn’t know what else was going happen that evening.
We were seated, like other guests, for dinner alongside a great little stage that featured terrific vintage jazz, and a few singers, with none of it too obtrusive as to take over the room. Looking around The Heath, I was glad that Eric and I had dressed in low-key vintage formal, as not all guests had even bothered to change from jeans and halter tops for what is a really beautiful Art Deco bar and dining room. It wasn’t long after we ordered our first cocktails that started to notice people in formal 1930s dress and character having their own experiences as the evening was set to progress.
The cocktails were delicious. As we sipped at our table, a tall, beautiful, coiffed woman in a long, backless, sexy white gown draped with pearls came to our table and sort-of made herself a guest with us. She had a drink in hand, seemed tipsy, and didn’t mind putting her arm around Eric as she complained about her husband - the suave man currently singing onstage, decked out like a movie star from a bygone era.
She asked us each to pick a card from a card deck she had pulled out; she was talking, running some patter about numerology and mysticism that sounded like lady-grifter chat, but it was still good.
Later, when the woman’s husband walked by our table, he’d look to see if Eric was watching, and if not, he’d wink lasciviously at me.
Before our first course came out, a small, pretty girl all in black came to our table. She said there was a call for the gentleman. Eric looked at me and said, “What did you do?” - thinking that I had arranged a birthday surprise. I hadn’t, but I didn’t want to break his spell.
She led him out of the restaurant.
As I waited, the woman’s husband, also the singer and emcee, came over to chat me up. We made small talk, do you visit here often kind of stuff, and yeah, he was devilishly flirty in the way that makes you smile and feel like it’s a fun game.
When Eric returned, he was wearing a red thread necklace with a silver ring hanging on it. I said, “What is that, what happened?” He waved his hands dramatically and said he couldn’t tell me, adding, “But you know that, don’t you?”
I didn’t. I didn’t know any of it.
Our appetizers came out, and he took the necklace off. “Are you sure you should do that,” I asked him, and he didn’t really answer me. A few moments later, the male singer walked by and said with a nod to the necklace on the table, “You should really keep an eye on that, buddy.” He looked to me and told Eric. “There are wolves everywhere.”
We were both speechless (no small accomplishment). Mirthful, we ordered more cocktails and went on to the main course, which was really fantastic; I’d go to The Heath for the food if not the atmosphere. We dined as the band played; we were interrupted at one point by Eric’s work, but finished the meal without a hitch. I suggested we grab a nightcap at the bar to finish the meal.
Just as I did, I looked up in time to see another tall, gorgeous woman in a long white gown walk past our table. She slowed when she passed, reached over, and palmed me a bit of paper.
She whispered in my ear, discretion. And kept walking.
I glanced under my hand. Eric said, “What is that?’ I said, “I have to use the restroom.” He demanded, “Where are you going?” Over my shoulder I smiled and said, “The restroom,” which is where I went.
As I crossed the dining area and went past the bar, I was sure I was being watched as I went to the ladies’ room. Once inside, I looked in my hand; it was a postcard-sized yellowed old envelope, with something bulky inside.
It was a heavy, weathered manilla luggage tag, with a key attached by twine. The tag had a mass of inky text, in really small letters, dented into the paper from being pecked out by an old typewriter. It was a set of walking directions; out this way, left and that way, along the bar, out the door on the right, a sharp turn, and I was to go to Platform 2. Once on the Platform, I was to unlock a locked door.
There was no Platform 2, I knew this; the platform for entry separating the vintage train cars and the restaurant was Platform One.
I followed the walking directions. I went through the main dining room, fairly unseen as I went along the bar as instructed, and out onto the platform, all the way to the last car. I had to go back further into the dark, because there was nowhere else to go. I found a giant door out of view, marked “Platform 2.”
I went through. Inside was a connecting set of waystation hallways, with train time-tables on the walls. At the end of one hall stood a man, who by all appearances, seemed dressed like a thug out of Boardwalk Empire. I turned from the train times to him, and back to the tables again, and looked behind me, and there was a door.
I tried the handle; it was locked.
I tried the key. It opened.
The door opened to a low wall of sound that hit me with heavy bass; a steam engine, a train. I began to see into the low-lit room, a vintage desk, a typewriter from the 30s or 40s, books and files piled and lining the walls far above the desk.
Next to the desk - a woman in white. She said, “Thank you for coming.”
It was the woman who slipped me the envelope. She was so pretty, I felt like I was in an old slip next to her gossamer gown, and perfect black bob framing her heart-shaped face. This woman looked like a siren and felt like a witch.
I thanked her for inviting me and stepped in on creaky floorboards. The room was a writer’s study! Or perhaps a detective’s office. I could smell the old paper in all the files and books packed crazily together up the walls and across the surfaces, but I couldn’t take it all in fast enough, and she asked me to sit down at the desk, which I did. She said she wanted to tell me a story.
And she began. She told me a tale, a long story about being a little girl and being vulnerable and weak, and how they hurt her. Tears shone in her eyes at one point, and as she wound the story, the sounds of the train engine in the room rose and fell, and rose again sometimes so intensely the room vibrated. She slowed her story and explained a change, “That’s when the wolves found me. They taught me to hunt. They made me strong.”
She told me more about the wolves making her one of their own, and of blood, and vengeance. And fighting for others when they can’t fight, fighting because it’s what you do when you love those on the fringes of the night, and because we’re made for this.
She was smiling at me.
She pulled out a decanter and a small glass. She placed the glass on the desk, poured a measure, and slid it to me, nodding that I should drink it.
When I put the glass to my lips and tilted my head back, she stood and got something from behind me.
I drank it all, sweet Madeira, in one slow go, all the more familiar in that I’m half Portuguese.
She leaned over me, very closely, and placed a piece of paper on the desk in the pool of light right in front of me. She handed me a pen, and I noticed it was a contract.
She said more things to me. She said I didn’t have to be alone anymore. She nodded to the line for my signature.
Her hand covered text below the signature line. The final words before the line were “I consent.”
She pulled her hand away, revealing my name typed on the contract.
Standing, she said she had to take me back now.
I thanked her, and she put my contract into an envelope, handing it to me as she took my hand and led me out of the study. She walked me back to the bar while making small talk, asking if I was staying at ‘the hotel’ and if I’d stayed with them before. When we got to Eric, she squeezed my hand, leaning in close as if to say a quiet good-bye.
She whispered in my ear, “Welcome to the family.”
I’ve been carrying this story in me ever since.
We finished our drinks and left, taking time to look at the glossy and elaborate dining cars along Platform One. Eric showed me the telephone booths; apparently when he was taken out for a call, he was brought through a false door in the back of one of the phone stalls, and also told a story.
"But," he said, "it wasn’t like what happened to you."
What happened to me, in a way, I’m still not entirely sure.
Visit The Heath if you ever get a chance.