If you really want to gauge how well an event is going, all you have to do is go to the bathroom.
Or, more specifically, head for the line outside the bathroom. Last week, at the Special Club’s soft opening, the short, chatty queue in front of the W.C. was abuzz with fun.
Special Club owner Ariel Arce is the force behind New York destinations like Tokyo Record Bar, Air’s Champagne Parlor, the defunct Birds and Bubbles, and SoHo’s supper club-approximation Niche Niche — which is right upstairs. On this night, Arce was bouncing from table-to-table, cracking one liners that almost seemed rehearsed, and popping champagne bottles. She was obviously enjoying herself.
Arce designed the Special Club to mirror the kind of swinging music clubs her father used to frequent in New Orleans (the operation is the culmination of a collaboration between Arce and her Dad). What you’ll find here is a stab at old-school New York cool that might remind you of vintage Stork Club stills: think Frank Sinatra sharing a martini-topped table with Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. There are small bites like Asian-inspired crudités and caviar dishes, plus salted nuts at every table. Expect a rotating list of cocktails, a wine menu bulging at the seams (thanks to Niche Niche), sake (including an initial gratis pour… sometimes more), soju, and bubbly.
At first glance, the space looks like an intimate blend of Mad Men and Lost in Translation. The stage, with its sweeping red curtains and glittery letters spelling out “Special Club,” are downright Lynchian... though mercifully sans menace. Jazz, blues, and soul bands will post up for three-day residences, and, according to Arce, they'll provide ambiance rather than distraction: We were seated in the second row, about 5 feet from the bell of trumpeter's horn, and the music never drowned out our conversation.
With two, two-hour seatings (8pm and 10pm) every night, the Special Club is the type of New York experience you want to start -- or for the early birds, cap -- your night. A reservation here is a notch on your itinerary that should impress anyone in your company (try it on Hinge dates or your visiting parents). It's an ace-in-the-hole pit stop that'll deliver two hours of laid-back music, a few libations, and a congenial crowd. The place evokes throwback cool without taking itself too seriously and, at least at this early stage, will make you feel like you’re in on a little secret. To quote myself outside of the bathroom, about one hour and four pours of "welcome" sake in: This place is really, really fun.
And that wasn't just the sake talking.