There are experiences in life that change you. They can be as simple as a phone call or as large as the lottery, and you never really know when they’re going to happen. But when they do, and trust me they do, you enter one woman (or man) and leave a slightly altered version of yourself.
Now, I don’t mean to lure you in with drama, but I had one of those very experiences recently. It started as an ordinary circumstance for me, a simple email from my colleague about a new hotel story. The magical, transformative part of it all, would start happening as soon as I arrived at my home base for our latest spontaneous adventure at The James New York – NoMad.
The gorgeous 20th-century, beaux-arts building located on the corner of 29th Street and Madison Avenue has become synonymous with the New York social scene. I had heard whispers of what it is like to feast on fine Italian dining at Scarpetta and dance the night away at The Seville, but had yet to live it for myself. Long story short, I was ready to dip my toes into this otherwise exclusive side of New York City.
As many of my life experiences do, this journey started with cocktails. Now, The Seville is no ordinary hotel bar, and they serve no ordinary cocktails. If you can imagine what New York nightlife was like before right swipes and awkward Tinder dates, the good ole days when strangers became friends at the bar, you’d be picturing The Seville. Named after ‘Hotel Seville,’ which operated here from 1904 until 1980, the underground venue has a sultry, dimly-lit ambiance that makes you feel like you must’ve ‘made it’ to get in there.
My first stint at The Seville would be for a mixology class with Brad, the infamous head bartender who is single-handedly responsible for crafting their locally loved cocktails. I snatch myself a seat at the bar around 4pm, as one does, and let Brad take me on a ride through their carefully curated selection. “The menu is comprised of a few sections, Signature Spins play to the beaux-arts, the Classic Riffs are your classic cocktails done in a superior way. The ones I’m going to make for you today are the Beaux-Arts Beauty, the Smoked Old Fashioned, and the Matcha Mai Thai.” Three cocktails by 4pm? It wouldn’t be my first time.
As Brad shakes and stirs, he lets me in on his time behind the bar, “I’ve been bartending at Scarpetta for six years, we just opened The Seville a year ago and I’ve pretty much taken over the menu. Since I’ve started I’ve created around 90 cocktails.” The first cocktail on deck, the Beaux Arts Beauty, was inspired by the building’s heritage and design. It was almost as if each sip and scent told a story. Upon first impression, if it would’ve been physically possible, I would have tried all 90 of Brad’s cocktails in one sitting. I wondered, “How many cocktails have you made in just one night?” Brad laughs, “I can’t even comprehend how to answer that, to be honest.” “Well, over 100?” I asked. Brad, without hesitation, “Oh, by far.”
Give or take 15 minutes, and I had two new cocktails right in front of me, sipping my way through both simultaneously. Brad rushes back with a third libation, “In between the vodka and impromptu tequila we have your rum cocktail, a classic Mai Thai mixed with premium-grade Matcha and a high-end liqueur made with California almonds.” Being the amateur that I am, I took one sip and instantly thought out loud, “You could drink this in the morning and no one would know you’re having booze, it’s just the kind of cocktail I need in my life.”
Slightly worried about my current state, I had to wonder, how much rum was I actually drinking? Brad casually notes, “It has two and a half ounces. It’s pretty strong. We also use liqueur and Cointreau, so there are essentially three and a half ounces. I don’t make weak drinks. I’m not ready to let go of heavy alcohol. Speaking of, here’s another cocktail that’s pretty popular here, the Smoked Old Fashioned. We make our own house bitters, we do this one with a high-proof rum, espresso beans, cocoa nibs, vanilla, there’s definitely a lot of flavor.”
Before I could even lift my glass Brad inquires, “How do you feel about egg white?” I had my doubts about saying yes, but really, who was I to turn down any of Brad’s creative inklings? “I’m going to make one more cocktail for you. This one is my favorite cocktail, it’s the New New York Sour. The rye we’re going to use for the cocktail is 100 proof. It pierces through.”
Don’t be fooled, this New New York Sour would not be the last cocktail during my sitting. I also was lucky enough to sample a Lion’s Roar and Sting Fling. Bringing my 4pm cocktail count to an impressive six cocktails. My favorite, you wonder? Apparently, I’m just a sucker for a New New York Sour.
The Girl’s Night
Slightly more intoxicated than I should’ve been by 6pm, it was finally time to check-in to my Deluxe Corner King. The digs were as regal as they sounded, a gorgeous, large room adorned in local art and fixed with all of my necessary modern amenities. Put simply, I was smitten as I sat in my very own lounge area and unpacked. It wasn’t long, however, until I was joined by some company. A knock on the door came soon after from one of my closest partners in crime, Sydney. I like to think of Sydney as the queen of Key Biscayne, one of Miami’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Lucky for me, her grace happened to be in town and free for a debaucherous evening at The James New York – NoMad.
Our Sex and The City night-out would be filled with fabulous events to attend to; bites at Scarpetta, a drag show downstairs, late-night dancing at The Seville. But how do any two young ladies get ready for a jam-packed night out in New York City? Drinks and dress-up. Sydney always has the most elaborate outfits, granted she owns her own clothing line (Just Bee Queen) and her infectious style and charm told me that tonight, we were going to go all out.
Before getting all dolled up, we danced atop the custom king-sized bed, blasted music on the speaker, and caught up about the current men in our lives (and how we were more than happy to have a girls-only night out). It took us back to our slumber party heydays, where the only worry in the world was if your crush held hands with that girl from the second grade. And just as our jam session to A Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It? came to an end, it was time to take our fabulous New York City selves to dinner at Scarpetta.
The Right of Passage
Now, for the few of you who have been living under a rock and aren’t familiar with Scarpetta, it is my absolute pleasure to fill you in. Dining at Scarpetta is a right of passage for every in-the-know socialite. It could be said that one doesn’t even get to call themselves a true city dweller until they’ve passed through it’s upscale, contemporary dining room and sampled the fine Italian fare.
And somehow there we were, Sydney and myself, debuting at one of the city’s most coveted rituals. We certainly looked the part, I wore a burnt-orange slip dress and kitten heels, Sydney sported a sleek black jumpsuit and studded oversized earrings. We waltzed in and were promptly shown to a table in the center of Scarpetta, immediately greeted by our quick-witted, all-knowing waiter.
“Don’t bother to look at the menu, I’ll take care of you,” he recited in a whimsical Italian accent upon greeting us. He swiftly leaves the table, traversing his way in and out of attending to guests like a conductor in his very own Italian orchestra. To our right, two businessmen exchanged pleasantries over red wine and wagyu. To my left, a group of what I can only assume were Instagram-famous influencers giggled as they posted the ever-trendy ‘I eat spaghetti but never gain weight’ shot to feed their feed. In front of me, a young power couple looking very much in lust. And then us, two hungry girls already one-too-many cocktails deep.
We spent our time people-watching and sipping on some delightful Italian wines as we ate our way through the entire left and right side of the menu. To start, some fresh and light Tuna ‘Susci’, presented like sushi, but with the benefit of having preserved truffle. Then, my personal favorite, braised octopus with artichokes, marble potatoes, celery, guazzetto, and charred scallion vinaigrette. Some homemade pasta? You bet. Mouth-watering Crab Meat Tortellini and their famous classic Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil. What can I say? I’m a simple gal with a flair for fine Italian fare.
Oh, and if you’d thought I’d finished, we weren’t even close. There was the always necessary black cod, irresistible Valhrona chocolate cake for dessert, plus, of course, two espresso martinis to top it off. We could’ve stayed forever but alas, we gave our waiter a very on-brand Italian double-kiss as he bid us his final “Ciao.”
The Love and Lipliner
Hold on. I know what you’re probably thinking: when are we going to get to the transformative part of the story? Don’t worry, reader, we’ll arrive at the climax after just a little tidbit about me first. I’m what most people would describe as ‘au naturale.’ Always too shy to try anything adventurous with my hair or put on any makeup. In fact, the only piece of make up I own is concealer that I bought at CVS. It’s been used twice in a year. I just always felt like I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. But when I heard The James New York NoMad would be playing host to a drag makeover party during my stay, it was time to break out of my non-existent beauty routine.
Dubbed Love & Lipliner, the glitter-filled event gave us plain folk a chance to hang out with New York’s hottest drag queens in celebration of WorldPride. Better yet? We’d be getting all dolled up to benefit the incredible Stonewall Community Foundation. Founded by and for the LGBTQ community, Stonewall raises money and funds work for initiatives from education to family acceptance and health. Not to mention, they’re one of the top funders of LGBTQ housing to combat homelessness. In short, tonight’s vanity would also be in support of an incredible cause.
I walked into Love & Lipliner a blank canvas, slightly intimidated by my lack of understanding for popular feminine wiles. Everywhere I turned, there were casually cool characters embracing their truest selves. Everyone wore their eccentricities, quirks, beauty marks and scars on their appropriately flared and neon-colored sleeves. At first, Sydney and I walked around the banquet hall as mere observers, watching gorgeous queens bring out the inner (and outer) beauty in every attendee. I paused to think, if there was a world record for the most sequins, feathers and lip gloss in one room, this surely would’ve topped it.
It wasn’t long before one particularly stunning queen, Jan Sport, made us feel right at home and decided to give us our very own makeover. By the time she was done with us, our eyes glittered like disco balls. Lagoona Bloo, a similarly fabulous queen, caught our eye and proceeded to show us how to perfect our walk. After all, some would say New York City’s streets are your very own catwalk, and I definitely hadn’t been doing my runway any justice. We stomped, twirled, laughed at ourselves until we almost cried, and eventually landed our way into a photo studio with the talented Matt Monath. Now usually I would be too self-aware to have my photo taken so uncandidly, but I had a new sense of self-confidence. An “If you got it, flaunt it” philosophy that had been buried deep inside me somewhere between high school and entering the real world. It was right then, in front of the camera, that I let all of my insecurities go. Within a flash, I became a whole new woman.
The Last Hoorah
Having walked a mile in someone else’s sparkly shoes (and having learned a lot from it), Sydney and I decided to make one last stop to strut our stuff at The Seville. We were told by a few new acquaintances that Rakiem Walker would be performing, and with our glittery eyes, we looked too good to go home just yet. We catwalk our way towards the tunes and the velvet rope opens up for us to go in.
Every Thursday night, the husband-and-wife duo that comprises Rakiem Walker teams up with The Seville’s live DJ to bring party-goers a slice of the classics. And by classics, I mean all of your favorite old school hip hop jams. We danced like no one was watching, and made at least seven new friends. I note the specific number seven because that’s the exact amount of new numbers I had on my phone the next day.
With a fresh Rolodex of New York socialites, I awoke the following morning surprisingly with no hangover. Perhaps it was the irresistibly comfy bed with crisp linens or the fact that my new-found self-confidence took over, but I was feeling fresh as ever. And to finish my transformation from head to toe, I would finish my journey at The James New York – NoMad with a special treat at sundays nail studio.
Now sundays is not your average nail salon. When you step inside the plant-filled oasis, you feel like you’re stepping into an interior designer’s home. The minimalist design and earthy tones provide a serene space that lets you disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city outside. The best part? Since I’m one of those anxious types who doesn’t like to chat while I’m treating myself, sundays gave me my very own old-school mp3 player with guided meditations so that I could totally zone out during my little self-care moment.
Maybe it’s cheesy, or maybe it’s just plain true, but when you’re open to new experiences, you can find yourself in the most extraordinary situations. You never know who may enter your life and change your perspective. Life-changing moments can happen in the most unexpected of places, and at the most unexpected times. Look up from your phone, say yes to something out of your comfort zone, go up to the guy you’ve been crushing on at the bar. The worst thing that can happen, is that you’ll have a new story to tell at next week’s brunch. So be open, be crazy, go with your gut and trust me, your days will become all the more interesting.