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How to Throw a Secret Party in a Hotel Room

New York City Restaurants + Bars Luxe Travel
by Sally Kohn Sep 9, 2013

Here’s what happened. A fairly staid and traditional hotel in New York City created four very glam and hip “concept suites” and, in an effort to promote them, offered a free night’s stay to several travel writers, myself included. I chose a 1,050 square-foot penthouse that included a 1950s Brunswick Centennial billiards table, a custom-made mahogany bar, and a massive wrap-around sofa. All this and the hotel is unionized to boot. So, um, of course I said yes.

And then the challenge. What was I going to do with a hotel suite bigger than my first three apartments put together? And what story was I going to write about my stay to make the hotel PR folks feel they got their money’s worth? Two birds, meet one stone. I threw a raging party in the penthouse hotel suite and captured the do’s, don’ts, and dangers for anyone intrepid or dumb enough to try and do the same.

Phase 1: Building buzz

A secret party is only as cool as you pretend it is. So I played up the secrecy and mystique. Two weeks before, the invite I sent around to friends was a minimalist, black-on-white graphic and an email address for RSVPs. That was it. The responses were awesome. “How enticing!” wrote one person. “This sounds too cool for me,” replied another. At one point, I actually worried I was raising expectations too high. “Nah,” said a friend in whom I confided, “the anticipation will create the outcome.” She was right.

After people RSVP’d, they got a followup graphic with drips and drabs of “more information.” This included such gems as:

  • This is a secret party. Do not tell anyone, online or in real life.
  • You may invite 1 friend, or 2 if one is either famous or a cute single straight guy (the latter are always in short supply, at least at New York parties).
  • Location and arrival instructions will be sent by 4pm the day of the party.

At this point, the party had more buzz than a beehive.

Phase 2: Smuggling in

We ended up with about 50 RSVPs. So at this point, if you wanted to be super low-key about it, you could buy some chips and beer and call it a party. But that’s not how we roll — my partner, in particular, hasn’t met a party budget she can’t break. So we hired the elusive, underground bartender Han Shan to serve up a menu of custom, craft cocktails. And we ordered a few dozen pork buns and cookies from the Momofuku Milk Bar.

Getting the bar materials in was fairly easy with the help of some giant suitcases. When the bellman picked up our very large and very heavy suitcase, I sheepishly tried to explain that we don’t pack light, even for one night. After we unloaded about two dozen bottles of liquor from the suitcase, we wheeled it out again to a 7-Eleven down the street and packed it with ice that we stored in the giant Jacuzzi tub in the suite’s cavernous bathroom. The room’s bar came stocked with some glasses; we supplemented with a few more that we bought cheap at Bed Bath & Beyond — but plastic cups work in a pinch, too.

The food was a bit more of pickle. At 7pm, an hour before our official start time, the delivery person called my phone to say he was in the lobby. I went downstairs expecting to find someone discreetly holding a bag or two of food. Wrong. There was the delivery guy with one of those 4ft-long carts loaded with eight very large and very obvious bags of food. I grabbed four, he grabbed four, and we conspicuously stumbled toward the elevators. The bellman must have known something was up, but he either didn’t care or didn’t bother telling anyone.

We got the food upstairs and arranged the pork buns in two disposable chafing dishes I’d purchased at a Party City and, yes, smuggled in with the big suitcase. The big suitcase was definitely the MVP of the evening.

Phase 3: Getting busted

Drinks and food are actually incidental to a secret dance party. The essential components are people and music. The hotel elevators didn’t work without a room key, so folks were instructed to text me when they arrived, using the elaborate code word “Downstairs,” and someone would ride down and then bring them back up to the suite. Easy enough, though if the hotel was paying attention to its security cameras, it would quickly notice the volume of foot traffic.

But what actually did us in was the music. Fifty people drinking and talking is loud enough, but add in a blaring soundtrack of Daft Punk and Jay-Z and you’re bound to be noticed. And we were, not by the hotel itself but by the grumpy guests in the next room over — the only other room on the floor. They complained, so the hotel sent a burly and brusque security guard to investigate.

Dripping with sweetness and sincerity, I apologized and said we’d turn it down. I even knocked on the neighbors’ door and asked if they wanted to come join us or if we could bring them a drink. The neighbors were none too happy. But that said, we weren’t that loud and it was only 9:30pm and they were in New York City for chrissakes. They should have relished the authentic glimpse at hip city life.

I thought we would be kicked out. But we weren’t. Why? Because I was a travel writer there to review the hotel and the hotel staff thought the party had been approved by the “home office” — a notion I may or may not have helped seed. Around 11pm, the hotel moved the couple in the suite next to us. We turned the music back up and our party went on until 2. From the drinks to the dancing to the drama, it was definitely epic and memorable.

The next morning…

I dragged myself to a noon site tour with the hotel’s marketing director. For a half hour, she gave me the property’s highlights — a beautiful restaurant with restored tiles and a stunning Tiffany-esque stained glass dome, and an impressively appointed workout room.

Then, right before I got on the elevator to leave, she said something like, “I just wish we’d known you were going to throw a party. We ended up paying for the other couple’s hotel stay, which cost us a lot.” I apologized, but what I didn’t say was that the hotel could have easily shut our party down and solved the whole problem. But they didn’t. In fact, when I checked to make sure the neighbors weren’t causing a headache for the hotel, the night manager said, “Don’t worry about a thing, go have fun!”

The hotel, which after reading this review requested to remain unnamed, is a lovely, classy, unionized retreat nestled in midtown Manhattan. I can report that their restaurant makes a wonderful steak frites with béchamel sauce, the rooms are spotless and well-appointed, and the staff are friendly and helpful. I can also report that the 1,050 square-foot suite includes a rad pool table, a great sound system, a massive custom bar, and about 50 individually folded hand towels in the tray in the bathroom — which seems to me to be begging for a kickass party, which is exactly what we threw. 

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