The New Yorker calls the city's infamous new restaurant "searing and libidinous theater... a magnificent humiliation," The New York Post "a failed model's career in one night." I walked it.
From its opening night six weeks ago, the Catwalk rules have been straightforward: everyone walks the runway. You can’t get into the restaurant any other way. There’s no “back door” into the downstairs nightclub. There’s no walking the runway with the security of somebody at your side. God or mortal, male or female, guests must be willing to walk alone through the lights and fans of the elevated catwalk that run the jaw-dropping length of its 70-yard cocktail bar. Even the owners.
By the end of the evening, you have lived through an evening of subtle and not so subtle humiliations - from your groveling to get in to the chef’s rejection of your wine pairing. For the first time since Alexander Hamilton founded The New York Post, Page Six has a better description of a Manhattan social event than The New Yorker.
“An evening at Catwalk is to understand how brutal it is to be a failed model in New York City.”
Two parallel cocktail bars run the entire length of the windowless room. Between them, the eponymous, elevated catwalk runs the length of the bar top - and well above it. The extraordinary length was possible by joining two underground meat packing assembly lines directly in line with each other. Together they run the length of a city block. Catwalk - between 9th and 10th and between 12th and 13th - has now supplanted Oscar Wilde on 28th Street as the longest bar in New York City.
There is an illusion that the catwalk is floating, somehow sustained by top shelf liquor and supermarket rows of $2700 table service Cristal. Even with the vaulting ceilings of the now exposed first floor, Eli Manning in his prime could not have thrown a pass from one end of this runway to the other. This sense of the impossible greets you around every corner. “We are big, and you are small,” should be on their matches.
The entire point of the place is that you are small.
At the far-end of the runway, two expressionless models greet you - if orbiting their eyes in their sockets can be called a greeting. “Welcome,” they are saying in the language of High Fashion. These models at the maitre-d’-stand are anxiety-level thin. These aren’t the easy-on-the-eye, drop-deads. They are the exotic, hairless cats of Vogue’s deep-inside pages, the models that only cruel fashion designers adore: hollow-eyed, pale, languid, insolent, bruised from within, of indeterminate androgyny and age. There are exactly zero other jobs they can do.
Your model whispers something unintelligible under the loud music – while turning away from you. She needs to recharge her eye-sockets on someone beautiful. You make the mistake of asking her to repeat herself. She turns back to you, looks you in the eye for real now, and tilts her head vaguely.
“Go to the bar, you,” directs her slow chin. It is at this exact moment you turn into an empty garment rack for the remainder of the evening.
The entire point is to be turned into an empty garment rack.
A naval fleet of bartenders and barbacks sail up and down the Remy Martin Straits. They eye-drop exotic bitters like chemists, hold frosted beer glasses to the light looking for stray fingerprints. They pierce olives so precisely you expect them to cry out.
At the Catwalk bar, you name your spirit by brand or you do not drink. There is no “house pour is fine” on the martinis, and because you need more than a second to identify your spirit, you break the bartender’s rhythm. He sails back down the Straits and disappears over the horizon for five full minutes. When he returns, you name the only vodka you can think of under pressure. He has to look away.
At the gleaming brass bar rail, you find the perfect spot to stand as six-foot models with talcum-soft necks bump into your garment rack. They do not hear you apologize to them. You hyperventilate into the infinity pool of your $32 martini as it splashes over your hand and under your watch strap.
Because you were the only member of your party to be allowed in, you are alone, the greatest of the Catwalk humiliations. This gives you more than enough time to study the restaurant through the bar mirror. There isn’t a single surface in the entire restaurant that doesn’t glow from within. In an inventory of shining surfaces, you identify glass, chrome, white tablecloth fabric, and candle wax. There are candles in the candles.
A man reaching his credit card past your ear to settle his check says the bar has “lysergic sparkle.” He has borrowed and rehearsed this line. The ice chests, he says, are backlit with “blue spectrum LED.” The liquor shelf rack is illuminated by “tungsten, red-balanced hallucinogen lights” - haha - courtesy of the lighting designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or, possibly, the Metropolitan Opera House. Which Met has always been instinctively clear before, but now your New Yorker instincts have been stripped. You have no idea which “Met” he is talking about.
What you do know is that this restaurant stuns, and no picture in a restaurant review will ever do it justice. The restaurant is “awesome,” informs The Post, a word The New Yorker has never printed without performative irony. For their part, The New Yorker calls Catwalk a “magnificent humiliation.” The “magnificent” part so confounds you that you will return repeatedly to get your mind around it.
Catwalk is now the unrivaled queen of New York restaurants, and you will enter her Throne Room on your knees.
The entire point is to enter on your knees.
Over the exit door in neon:
More than anything
It is awesome and magnificent
To be beheld.
Because the entire point is to be beheld.
You are forced to wait in a queue to take your turn before they launch each of you onto the runway independently. This arrangement doesn’t help calm your nerves. The woman ahead of you sets off boldly on the Jaggerian stadium plank, with swagger, dressed to the 9s, prepared for it, but halfway through, she twists on her heel, almost imperceptibly, but then a second time, this time perceptibly. She checks her fall slightly on the steel handrail with her fingertips and afterwards never recovers her confidence.
You wish you could help her. For years waiting for subway trains, you have imagined jumping down into the tracks and running to save someone who has been pushed. But you are also reminded of dark fantasies of sticking your hand between the third rail toaster elements that power the trains - or not being able to run fast enough ahead of it to survive. None of these thoughts bode well for your own approaching jump down onto the tracks.
The music is loud, of course, curated by Rotimi Alakija, Africa’s number one DJ. Alakija is here for a brief stint to open a restaurant in New York City. In his home in Nigeria, he is a towering figure of their exploding international music scene. For some small slice of time, Thursday to Saturdays through August, he will loom to your left. “He towers over the runway launch,” writes The Wall Street Journal. “A king on loan from a nation.”
He wears an all-white Dashiki coat, Ankara pants and a kufi. He stands on a triple stack of Moroccan carpet in his bare feet. As he looks at you, he sways sightly to his music. It is as if he is standing behind an interrogation room mirror and taking for granted that he can study you openly. Which he does. You can pin the moment he has pinned you.
To your surprise, he leans into the interrogation room to let you know in his Shawshank baritone, “If you haven’t lived it, it’s never going to come out of your horn.”
Then, abruptly, from behind, there is an instruction in your ear. “You’re up.”
A woman with Ted Talk headphones is orchestrating your jump. She quickly straightens the shoulders of your blue blazer. She checks to make sure there is no hidden parachute. She has the same level of interest in your unfolding experience as a teenage roller coaster attendant.
Then, with a firm push on your lower back, she shovels you from the plane.