Easily the strangest thing I did this holiday season was spending a night hanging out in the roped-off front yard of a Dyker Heights, Brooklyn McMansion, waiting for a hot cocoa courtesy of the streetwear brand Kith. This wasn’t a spiked hot cocoa, mind you; just an amped-up, overly-chocolatey take on the classic made by the famed chef Jacques Torres—who was also there, for whatever reason. Swimming on the surface of my drink, next to a piece of white chocolate with the Kith logo on it, were a couple of floating Cocoa Puffs. The lucky few allowed past the bouncers and onto the driveway could snag a box of the streetwear brand’s collab with the cereal, along with some of the clothing made for the drop.
The house wasn’t a particularly notable Brooklyn brownstone. As far as I could tell, nobody famous owned it. (When I asked around, answers ranged from “owned by a friend of Kith owner Ronnie Fieg’s” to “loaned to Fieg by a really good customer.) So why, exactly, had Kith ventured so far afield of the spots that fashion brands typically pop up?The short answer is: because iconically New York spots, the less cool the better, have become some of the hottest locations in fashion.
The longer answer goes something like this: every December, Dyker Heights becomes the capital of Brooklyn Christmas, with nearly every house in the neighborhood trying to outdo its neighbors with Christmas lights. People come out in droves to see it. It’s a modest sort of New York landmark. Not the cool new restaurant, nor the cool new bar. Just: a really New York spot. And Kith, being a brand that loves to celebrate its New Yorkness, wanted to get in on that. But Kith isn’t alone. This was merely the latest instance of brands and promoters taking SNL legend Stefon’s idea of “New York’s hottest club…” seriously. These days, the big flex is throwing parties in spaces not typically meant for partying, the weirder the better.
A few weeks before my night in Dyker Heights, I found myself walking into Katz’s Deli at around 9pm The guy behind, who just wanted to get a pastrami sandwich for dinner, was stopped at the door. On any other night, he would have been fine, but his craving just so happened to collide with Underground Overground Comedy’s latest seemingly-random show. (They’ve held them in barber shops and laundromats, too.) The smoked-meat mecca has grown used to this sort of thing: it hosted a party with Diplo as the headlining DJ last August. A few months before that, in March, Vogue hosted its pre-Met Gala party there, too. The place where Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally had become “the newest hot girl hangout” according to Bon Appétit.
Katz’s isn’t even the only deli approved by the cool kids. During Fashion Week last September, Batsheva Hay showed off her spring collection at Ben’s, a deli that, unlike Katz’s, is in fact, kosher. Hay tells me that was part of the reason she picked Ben’s as the venue, but there was broader symbolism to it as well. “I loved Ben’s as a venue because it’s in the heart of the garment district, where I manufacture my collection, and I thought it would be nice to give a little boost to a local business that had fed garment and fashion workers for decades,” she explained. It’s also really good for getting attention. Why launch your collection in a typical event space when you can do it somewhere that’s going to surprise people?
What should we make of all of this? In March of 2021, a year into the pandemic, New York magazine coined the term “Zizmorcore”—after the iconically New York weirdo doctor—as a way to describe a very hyper-local, city centric style. Zizmorcore was brands like Rowing Blazers collabing with pizza spots like John’s of Bleecker Street, but it was also the rush to cop a tie-dye Russ & Daughters shirt like the one Jake Gyllenhaal wore on Instagram, hats from old-school downtown spots Odeon or Raoul’s, and the general thirst for any piece of merch, new or vintage, from some beloved, overlooked or forgotten New York City business. A little over a year later, I wrote about how people all over were looking to party at places that were the toast of the town 20, 30 or maybe 50 years ago. Local landmarks as party spots seems to sit right between those two ideas: a way for party-hungry people to get their rocks off, and in ways that broadcast a right-now kind of cool.
“We want to create memorable experiences,” says Matt Starr, who hosts a poetry night in alarmingly niche New York spaces. “Putting on readings that are unexpected like reading erotica in the Penn Station Sbarro or an old-school East Village porn shop. These are spaces that we find really beautiful and are important to us—they’re the kind of spaces that make New York New York. They’re also being underutilized. According to the manager of the Penn Station Sbarro, we’re the first non-family event to throw something there.”