My impression about New York so far is that the best things are hidden. Not just out of the way or hard to find, but literally hidden, secreted, stashed away behind some false edifice daring you to crack the shell of mystery and find whatever tempting nut is inside. It gives the whole city a tantalizing layer of urban scavenger hunt, keeping the best things out of the probing pages of the tourist guides and, naturally, allowing us to quote “Swingers” incessantly as we shuffle down a street towards another bar deep in an alleyway, not even bothering to look for a sign.
Best examples of this so far are, of course, the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, and the bar Chris the Giant brought me to the other night called The Back Room that’s deep in a back alley on the Lower East Side under a thinly veiled front as a toy store. It’s got prohibition chic (speaking of which: Happy Repeal Day!) with all drinks served in tea cups presumably to fool the Rex Banners of the world, were there still any, and if there were, they would have the following conversation:
Rex Banner: What kind of toy shop is filled with rambunctious yahoos and hot jazz music at 1AM?
Bartender: The best damn toy shop in town!
There’s even supposedly a double secret back room where, at one point or another, co-owners Tim Robbins and Mark Messier must have had lengthy conversations about the fundamental socio-economic inequities inherent in the Islanders 2007 draft picks.
But the best secret stash in the city I’ve heard about so far may be SantaCon, an event that, as far as I can tell from the clues given, is just a gigantic goddamn mass of Santa Clausi cavorting about the city in a drunken, jolly sea of red jackets and nog fumes. Even its Web site maintains a secretive, yet unpretentious, demeanor:
SantaCon is a not-for-profit, non-political, non-religious & non-logical Santa Claus convention, organized and attended for absolutely no reason.
SantaCon (also known as Santarchy in some places) was first brought to our attention at a gallery opening of Patriot Day photography on Thursday night, thanks to a man wearing a revolutionary war era outfit, complete with tri-cornered hat and metal mug for whichth to containeth his mead(th). He ordered a Red Stripe.
“Shouldn’t you be drinking Sam Adams?” I asked.
“Ha! That’s a good one. That’s funny. Boy, that’s a good one,” he said, genuinely amused.
It was not a good one, really, and I was aware of this, but maybe humour was different in the 18th century and he was quite committed to the bit. He struck up a conversation with us anyway. The patriot costume was from his own personal collection, as he’s part of a costume cult, a group that, as you would imagine, just really, really likes costumes. He also is a devoted Burning Man fan and goes to SantaCon each year (naturally).
SantaCon, coming up next Saturday, starts at a secret location, he said. It’s part street theater, part surrealism, and a big part sloppy, carolling holiday mess.
The “Santa” part is key to the whole thing. “You have to dress up, though,” he said. “Santa suit, elf, something, but you must be in a costume.”
At the end of the conversation, having decided he liked Robin and I, he asked for our e-mail addresses and said he was going to find us on Ye Olde Facebooke and invite us to the con.
Robin and I both looked at each other with an understanding that there’s really no way we could turn down an invitation to semi-secret event featuring more Santas than all the malls in New Jersey could churn out (though with probably about the equal amount of stale alcohol smell in their beards). Ok, so it probably isn’t semi-secret for very long, just look at this picture from last year at Grand Central. But it’s still cool to be in on the ground level.
I haven’t heard back from the guy yet. But if we do I may have a very important question — can you tell me where — because I know there’s one somewhere in New York City — is the secret Santa Claus Clothing Supply Store, and how do I find it’s hidden entrance?