🐈⬛ Catwalk: The Meatpacking District
I walk the hellish catwalk runway at the hot new restaurant that the New York Times calls "cruel theater in the Meatpacking District."
If you haven’t heard about Catwalk, New York’s hottest new restaurant, then the only thing you need to know is that every last guest, even the owners, need to walk into the restaurant along a modeling runway.
This hellish plank stretches above two very, very long parallel cocktail bars. The bar crowd exists to evaluate the incoming. The New York Times calls it “cruel theater in the Meatpacking District.”
This walk immortalizes the famous and unknown alike. In the upstairs holding area bar you wait and pray to be allowed downstairs (there are no reservations at Catwalk) and you watch the historical best of the best on jumbo-scale screens.
In the twelve weeks since they’ve opened, there are already some very famous patrons in those videos. With the single exception of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, guests always walk across alone, music blaring.
The joke is that you know you’ve made it when they ask you to sign a release.
I have time to plan while I wait in the queue for my 50-yard journey to the mâitre’d stand. To my own surprise, I feel brave the night I get in.
My planned walk at Catwalk will be a "Most Interesting Man in the World Walk." (You have to attack it somehow.) The woman before me twists her ankle, and because of her failure, a rush of competitive confidence surges at T-Minus 30 seconds. I couldn’t have been more grateful if she crashed over the handrail.
This is the first time I’ve made it downstairs. After three visits to the upstairs bar, I have at last been picked. Twice before that, I couldn’t even get in to the upstairs bar from the street.
This time I get in alone. I am the only one in my party that is allowed - chosen - into the downstairs restaurant. They don’t let in my wife. We all agreed whoever got in would go, but at this point I’m trying to focus on the crisis immediately in front of me. There’s time for the one later in the evening.
I will momentarily be seated at one of the notorious one tops. For what it is worth, even eating here alone is considered an honor.
I will walk half the length of the elegant bar. I will slow - but not stop - in the middle. To swivel would be too much, but I will flash open the edges of my jacket to reveal my tie in a distinctly model way. My intention is for it to be playful, but not entirely for laughs. I’m a straight male and already balancing a lot of contradictions in this place.
Anyway, the plan. At the runway halfway summit, I will swell to 6’2”, my internal height.
And at the far end, I will point to the crowd like a Clinton, smile confidently - but with appropriate masculine restraint. Then I’ll wrap it up. I’ll descend down the stairs that lead off the runway with a modest "I just killed it" half jog. I will high-five an imagined handful of strangers. A blushing hostess will wait there to greet and flatter me and wonder why her dad back in Ohio can’t be more like this man.
Et voilà. It will be over with.
My 50-yard strut will have featured what is left of my youthful appearance, confidence and humor. The bar crowd that initially ignored me, will find themselves paying begrudging attention to me, seeking out the eyes of strangers to confirm what they have witnessed. Well, “how do you like that?” their eyes will say.
They will do this out of respect for the ruins of this once great city.
Then I will eat at my one top.
At T-Minus 20 seconds I notice a tremble emerging in my knees, but otherwise my confidence remains intact, and I can still “lean into” the fear. A little fear is necessary for greatness. All great models know this.
But at T-minus 10, a wrinkle.
I catch sight of a blonde woman at the bar. She is slow-gliding her head towards me, balancing invisible gold bullion bars on her motionless shoulders. She is moving through sparkling golden honey. She has to close her eyes to protect herself from the blizzard of cash tornadoing around her head.
When she reopens her eyes in slow motion, I am waiting there to meet her gaze with platinum confidence, a mortifying miscalculation. She laser-blondes a flash of heat-seeking disdain so precise only its target can detect it.
Damage verified, she steers her gyroscopic cash blizzard back away from me. The entire sexual write-off takes no more time than signing for a Centurion credit card.
T-Minus 9 seconds. Both knees knocking now.
My internal and external height cross paths at 5’9”, internal height dropping like crypto. In perfect correlation, my internal body mass index rises sharply, surging into the high 20’s.
I also notice I have mentally changed into a dark blue Brazilian thong. Hopefully, my new thong came from the Men’s Department. My racing mind is not sure.
I make an emergency executive decision.
I will abandon the Most Interesting Man in the World Walk and jump ship. Now I will “get to the other end as quickly as possible,” and “get out of my powder blue thong.” It is changing colors as fast as I am reminded of it.
My new measure of success will be “not clamping the handrail.” Extra credit for keeping my shoulders back. Like Rocky, I just want to go the distance.
At T-minus 1 second, my internal height lurches sharply down like a broken elevator. I have to step off at 5’2”. I have a powerful intuition that my thong has turned beige. I am unable to verify this visually with my internal BMI approaching the mid 30’s and blocking off my lower extremities.
I am pushed sharply from the plane at the exact moment the world famous DJ in residence cuts the music completely, and the room falls dead quiet.
Somewhere one last fork tine strikes a desert plate.
I am aware that someone’s legs are propelling me forward.
I find myself plummeting through a motionless silence that veteran parachuters try to prepare you for. This is the place where you can’t tell that you’re falling, but you still know that you are going to die.
“Zhhhhhhh,” go my ears.
“Faw - aw - aw - aw -aw -ling….”
I try to keep my shoulders back and my skin-tan thong thrust fully forward to avoid the skydiver’s spin cycle. On the video monitors, I spy drinks leaving lips in a synchronized ballet. They are splashing down anywhere they can: onto white tablecloths, bar counters, even the flat square rims of reachable plant containers.
I spot the tornado blizzard of cash studying me through the porthole of my spin cycle wash machine. She is tipping her blonde drink into her blonde mouth. She is fascinated by my blonde thong.
“No,” she shakes her head like she can read my mind. “No, no, that’s not right. It isn’t fascination.”
“Women’s Department,” her precision lasers etch onto my bare soul. “I bought them for you in the Women’s Department.” Vasectomy smoke and acrid burning rise from below my 42% BMI waistline.
Then deep in the restaurant, a demitasse spoon clicks against espresso porcelain and the silence explodes. Music roars back at chest-pummeling volume. I am in a Bond film. I am the dazed victim after the car bombing that stumbles through smoke with piercing tinnitus.
The Nigerian DJ has found the perfect song for me.
A chill of pure horror.
Yes, you can tell by the way I walk I'm a woman's man, no time to talk…
Forget the knees. My hands are now shaking enough to generate a sustainable-energy wind farm. I try to put them casually into my pockets to still the flapping.
I have seen this casual male model move somewhere, but my sweaty palms prevent clean pocket entry, so I have to hook my thumbs in instead. The thumb hooks feel ridiculous and awkward, but I’m stuck with this move now. I have committed to this move for at least half the walk.
But then I can’t commit to committing, and I pull them out. Either the tinnitus or the shaking extremities is overwhelming my hippocampal decision center.
By yard 25, I'm into self-conscious “both hands free” walking. On a good day this can be difficult to pull off with an audience. But my arms now belong to another person. It is like when someone at summer camp hides behind you and feeds you, and on purpose pretends they don't know where your mouth is.
I have no idea where my arms should naturally go. They are swinging too far to the front, then too far to the back, then in parallel. If I do not consciously arrest their rotation they will spin over my head like I am throwing a 12-6 curve ball.
And now it's all right, it's okay, and you may look the other way…
I see myself in the video monitors that run the length of the walk. I have cleared the halfway point. The angle of me in the monitors walking from the front I am able to deal with, but my walk on the monitors from behind is an out of body, Dantean vision of hell.
I catch sight of a second woman, the first woman’s otherwise identical twin, but a genetically impossible brunette. She's situated at the far end of the runway and will be fixed in my sightline for the remainder of my journey.
She’s going to “bring me home” her face says. She gives me a look of compassionate encouragement. She directs me to smile with her fingers pulling at the edges of her lips as if she is tying shoes. She pulls her shoulders back. Oh my god, she is helping me.
I catch the eye of a bartender. “This, too, is a circle of masculine hell,” Virgil shouts up from behind the bar. “The Brunette Circle is even lower than the Blonde Circle,” says my tour guide.
It comes to me suddenly. I recognize the bartender. He’s from the Shining. I am in The Shining. This is why the bar looks so familiar and also explains the twins and the long hallway.
Music loud and women warm, I've been kicked around since I’ve been born…
Twenty yards to go, and I'm having the Hitchcock thing where the closer you approach, the further away the lens makes it seem you have to go. I am the NFL punter that has the terrible misfortune to recover a fumble on the 3-yard line and must run the entire length of the field - only to realize he is utterly spent 10 yards in.
Before the very end I have a small flush of confidence.
Maybe this is because I know the whole thing is about to be over, or that I'd made it, or maybe I want one last gasp to save face. In a coup de grâce, I stop suddenly, strike a high arm-up Saturday Night Fever pose, then wave to the room, shooting a fierce platinum gaze at the brunette.
The whole thing works.
All of it.
They are laughing at the bar in a good way. I hold my pose just long enough not to feel like Richard Nixon. Then I start the Most Interesting Man in the World half-jog. If nothing else, I am finishing strong.
Got the wings of Heaven on my shoes, I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose…
I go into my half jog, but I don’t realize how tight the descent is on the metal off-ramp stairs down to the mâitre’d stand.
Not only do I slip, I fall into the bar shelf and knock a bottle of Aquavit into a gutter crevice behind the shelf. It doesn't break. But the whole thing is on the monitors.
In a way I never intended, I am becoming the Most Interesting Man in the World. I am the BMI 51 Most Interesting Man in the World Heavyweight Champion.
I reach down into in the shelf gutter to retrieve the bottle, but, by the time I do, the clever barback has quickly reshuffled the bottles towards the back so there is nowhere to return the Aquavit. If you've ever tried to replace a soda into a 7-11 shelf you know what I'm talking about. I try to hand the bottle to him, but he turns away. He will make an excellent bartender someday.
Life goin' nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me, yeah (ah, ah, ah)…
I make a disastrous choice.
I lean far, far over the railing to get the Aquavit back into the open shelf at the front. With the tip of my fingers I am able to get the bottle in place.
And then some terrifying, over-parented childhood instinct needs to make sure the label faces out at the right direction.
This is the grace note that tips the room over into wild applause. Diners rise from their one tops.
When I come to, I find myself covered only by a mental cocktail napkin. The mâitre-d’ is greeting me at the bottom of the stairwell. He is smiling ear to ear.
"That was incredible. Did you do that on purpose? You did it on purpose, right?"
He hands me a pen and a piece of paper. I take it in a shell-shocked haze.
“Can I get you to sign a release?”
“Yes,” I whisper. “Of course, yes.”
Anyone who’s anyone knows to sign the release here.
The entire point of Catwalk is to sign the release. Once you sign the release you get in without questions forever. It is like the Masters except with a green thong.
You know it's alright, it's okay, I'll live to see another day…
In the upper bar where you yourself will wait someday - hoping against hope to get picked for the downstairs - they show the legendary walks on the big screens.
Mine follows Anna Wintour’s.
In my fifteen seconds that follow Anna, you will see each moment from my John Travolta pose to me pivoting the Aquavit to face the label forward. All around me a bar crowd of beautiful people explodes in thunderous applause.
But while you’re waiting up there, hoping against hope to get into the downstairs, see if you can’t also find the terrified brunette covering her mouth with both hands.
Feel something. Twice a week.