The true function of the "The McKittrick Hotel" is deliberately veiled in an air of mystery by its creators, which lends well to a refreshing lack of expectations for the multifaceted experience that awaits visitors to this old Chelsea warehouse complex (formerly the scene of '90s-era megaclubs like Twilo). This ambiguity is all part of the transporting journey to a brilliantly conceptualized nightlife destination that's loosely themed on a fictionalized 1930s-era backstory involving a luxurious hotel—it's name, The McKittrick Hotel, borrowed from the lodge in Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo—that was condemned and deserted during WWII, only to recently reopen to the public.
Within its walls, guests can pick and choose their own adventure, grouped around three core elements: The superlative, must-see Sleep No More theatrical production; the speakeasy-inspired, supper club-style The Heath restaurant; and the rooftop lounge, Gallow Green.
Think Eyes Wide Shut, meets haunted house, meets murder-mystery theater, meets Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth, meets film noir, and you might just get the most general gist of this must-be-experienced-to-be-believed theatrical production, from British company Punchdrunk. Trust me when I say you've never seen anything quite like it.
Sleep No More is not a traditional sit-down stage show, but rather a unique, roving, interactive play, where curious, adventurous theater-goers and anguished, agile actors roam freely between a massive multi-floor set where acts unfold throughout more than 100 meticulously detailed and dimly lit rooms, corridors, and themed spaces. From a graveyard to a taxidermist's workshop, nursery to hospital ward, each room reveals clues and sparks imaginations, with participants invited to hands-on exploration as they search for clues and context—you can rummage through drawers, open cupboards, thumb through books and photographs.
The macabre tone of the immersive show is consistently eerie and suspenseful, with participants required to wear Venetian carnival-style masks, and sworn to silence throughout the course of the play. Efforts are made by staff to separate groups and couples as they arrive so that the show is experienced as a solitary journey. Alone, in this dark world, devoid of the comfortable commentary and facial cues of friends and even strangers, one is left to solely navigate the depths of one's senses and emotional impulses, in a setting that intrinsically nurtures inner fears and anxieties.
In theory, no two participants have the same journey, as audience members are free to wander the sprawling set at whim, roaming from room to room, examining their surroundings—a half-typed letter here, a bloody bathtub there—stumbling upon actors and scenes as the play unfolds all around them.
Theater-goers can choose to follow one actor's course through the set (after a point, the scenes will loop), or, instead, to set their own rhythm and path. Actors, through largely wordless scenes, play out dramatic themes of violence, despair, and sex, with scene including blood and nudity/
Occasionally, there are special one-on-one character encounters, where audience members are pulled away from the crowd and led into private rooms for mysterious and creepy encounters.
Ultimately, the storytelling is nonlinear, and the conclusions drawn come based on the varying plot points any one guest might witness. It is all, of course, subject to interpretation and might even be deemed nonsensical—as is often the case with any proper nightmare worth recalling.
Sleep No More performances generally last up to three hours, though participants may stay for as little or as much time as they wish. Before, after, or during the show, guests can visit the jazz-infused Manderley Bar, for cocktails and shots to take the edge off.
There are generally five arrival times scheduled each evening, with performances starting between 6pm and 12am, depending on the day of the week (shows run daily, barring special events; tickets cost $75 to $105/person; no one under 16 is permitted); reserve tickets online. 866-811-4111; 530 W. 27th St., btwn 10th & 11th aves.
Production company Punchdrunk's first-ever foray into restaurants, The Heath, set just a door down from Sleep No More, offers even more set-worthy, film-noir-esque atmosphere, designed to recall a 1930s-era, speakeasy-style supper club.
The menu, by Chef R.L. King, highlights contemporary takes on classic British and American cuisine (think meat pies, steaks, and vegetable stews), but the main attraction in the softly lit, sixth-floor, 140-seat restaurant is less the solid fare than the ambiance, with its impressive set design (including a section stylized as a train's dining car) and a mix of dinner-theater theatrics and live jazz performances.
The Heath is open for dinners from Wednesday through Saturday; dinners are priced prix-fixe ($55/person) or à la carte (mains from $23/person); reservations are recommended. 542 W. 27th St., btwn 10th & 11th aves.; 212-564-1662
The McKittrick Hotel's design flair extends to this whimsical outdoor rooftop lounge, a secret garden lair, spilling over with plants, flowers, and vegetable gardens (with the vegetables and herbs harvested here showing up on dinner plates at The Heath and for seasonal cocktail garnishes at the bar).
Like The Heath, there is a subtly developed railroad theme, with railroad tracks and a rail car mixed in with the decor, a nod to the discarded rail tracks that were discovered on the roof at the project's inception (possibly a relic from the nearby High Line's historic railroad days).
Gallow Green guests can choose from cocktails ($17), wine (from $12), and beer (from $8), or stiff punch bowls to share (from $65), along with sweet and savory light bites designed by The Heath's chef.
True to The McKittrick Hotel's core concept, guests can expect occasional interjections of period actors embedded within the crowds.
Come fall and winter, the space is completely reimagined as The Lodge, a cozy, cabin-style retreat with mulled wine and hot spiced cider on the menu, and a pine-tree forest erected just outside.
There's also a seasonal brunch service on Sundays, with live music (it's held in The Heath in case of bad weather; $35, including one cocktail). Reservations are recommended; doors open at 5pm nightly, and 11:30am for Sunday brunch. 542 W. 27th St.; btwn 10th & 11th aves.; 212-564-1662