What's Up For Today?


Bright Lights, Downtown Style
Art for Progress Benefit @ The Canal Room 

Thursday June 9, 2005

Written by John V. Curtin
Photographed by Krisztina Fazekas

Carrie Fairfield
  Carrie Fairfield

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Somewhere below 14th Street, New York gets nostalgic for its own past; 2005 slips back into 1985. As I head downtown one evening in early June, I can see and feel the transition; buildings get lower, darker; the landscape seems full of danger and possibility. 

On a downtown corner sits a scene worthy of a Jay McInerney novel. A few hardy New Yorkers wait on the sidewalk, hoping that behind the whitewashed door is a party worthy of their patience.

In regard to velvet-rope etiquette, every nightclub in New York would do well to learn from Canal Room. Approaching the fashionable sentry guarding the entrance, I take solace in the fact that I know I'm virtually guaranteed entry (I am, after all, here to write a review). But I quickly become aware of my less-than-desirable male/female ratio and the doorwoman's "clipboard of reckoning." Suffice to say my confidence begins to waver. Thankfully, it’s momentary. After a couple minutes of the obligatory, velvet-rope waiting, Alicia (perhaps the best doorwoman in New York) whisks us through the pearly gates. I pause to thank her and pick up the half-dozen or so "darlings" she's managed to drop during our brief conversation, and I realize Canal Room succeeds where so many other nightclubs fail. Managing a welcoming attitude without sacrificing its quintessential, downtown cool vibe, it's more self-assured than the latest uber-club, highlighting the difference between confidence and arrogance. And though I generally like to think of myself as being special and important (thanks to Alicia, we were "VIP, all the way, darling"), I'm also keenly aware that in addition to being special and important, I also must be pretty damn lucky to be inside.   

And inside doesn't disappoint. Canal Room's space is somewhat Spartan (a bit reminiscent of an art gallery circa early 80's New York), but it's also a place where you're happy to spend a few hours. While other clubs come across as gauche or cheesy, Canal Room goes for something different. In a setting exuding discerning taste and sophistication, patrons are encouraged to relax and unwind - to kick back on one of the contemporary couches or take advantage of the fully stocked bar (which will inevitably lead to public displays on the spacious dance floor). Hardwood floors, minimalist white walls, and furnishings from IKEA’s (as of yet unlaunched) Signature Couture Collection – Canal Room completes the picture of the ideal SoHo loft.

The scene at the bar is also close to perfect. In no time I'm holding a perfectly mixed Grey Goose cranberry and a Corona. I'm pleasantly surprised by the crowd - even the most chi-chi clubs have been known to host people who most certainly arrived via a bridge or tunnel (not that that's a bad thing) - and Canal Room is pretty homogenous in a good way. Most of the crowd is 100% Manhattan (or at least appears so) - and no one's got anything to prove (with the possible exception of a certain sunglass-clad writer). Standing next to several six-foot models in the latest "vintage Armani-Valentino-Dior-whatever" will make even the most suave gentleman feel a bit uncomfortable and intimidated; fortunately for me I'm neither suave nor a gentleman.  

On a recent Thursday night, DJ Behrouz holds court over the dance floor. His mix of exceptional trancey, danceable house pleases the crowd below. And I get into it too. Even though I'm not operating on any psychotropic substances, I can't help but step out onto the dance floor, quickly finding myself in a sea of sweaty bodies, flailing appendages, and legitimately underground dance music. The disco ball also helps - countering the space's clean, ascetic design with the warm glow of 'disco bubbles'.      

New York Cool's John Curtin

All in all, a night at Canal Room is somewhat akin to an amazing house party. But this would have to be the best house party - check that, loft party - one could ever hope for. Between the design and the crowd and the music, Canal Room is the embodiment of downtown chic. Successfully conjuring all the glamour, decadence, and underground beauty it can muster, it's like a throwback to the 80's (or at least the way I've always pictured New York in the 80's) minus, of course, the potpourri buffet of illicit narcotics. It's the Manhattan of my dreams, really - the reason I moved to New York in the first place. Feeling as if you've accidentally stumbling into a private party hidden away from the rest of the city, you don't know anyone, they don't know you, but no one seems to care. The nice thing is, this is one of those rare parties you actually want to stay at, with people you actually want to get to know. I'll be back, I'm sure.

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