On a drizzly, ordinary autumn evening in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a select group of revelers were summoned to a fantastical, furtive fete at Skylight One Hanson, a spectacular event space in the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, one of the tallest four-sided clock-towers in the world and an official New York City landmark since 1977. Built in the late 1920s, most of the building’s 37 stories have been converted to luxury condos or dentists' offices in the past decade, but the vestibule that housed the bank has remained an untouched architectural treasure, thanks to the preservation commission that helped to also convert this interior section to landmark status in 1996.
The 63-foot-high ceiling decorated with turquoise mosaic tiles depicting the zodiac, intricate details carved into Romanesque marble columns, and masterly metalwork from René Chambellan are just a few examples of what make Skylight One Hanson a venue that begs for dramatic flair and extravagance. This particular party had plenty of that, but the ambiance took a decidedly peculiar turn (in the best of ways) on a night that desperately needed an infusion of wonder.
Upon crossing the initial threshold, even the ornate archways, immense wrought-iron light fixtures, and Cosmatesque floor tiles couldn’t keep everyone’s eyes from darting directly toward a dazzling damsel dressed in a draping, scarlet and gold gown with a matching wide-brimmed hat. Ostentatious outfit aside, it was height that was her most discerning feature, as she literally towered over the crowd, standing one-third as tall as the entire expansive room, her attire literally creating a tent-like structure beneath her body. Despite the fact that I sauntered in arm-in-arm with my stunning woman, the brazen vixen stared us down and beckoned us over with the curl of her hand.
Even at over six-feet in stature, I had to crane my neck to meet her gaze, and it was impossible to hear a word from her mouth at twenty feet above with the cacophonous crowd combining with sounds of banjo, guitar, drums and stand-up bass blaring from a folk-rock band performing on stage up front. The flirt in red realized yelling was useless, and rightfully switched her approach to gesticulating toward the circular chamber the bottom of her dress created, as if to ask us in.
I pointed to my chest, looked up at her and mouthed "Us?" and she came back with the old shrug head-tilt combo move, then coyly put her palm over her mouth and batted her eyelashes like a vamp. We made our way over, hoping to get a peek of what was going on under all that fabric, but just as we were about to step into the Promised Land, we were met by a pair of diminutive yet burly men clad in velvet, maroon jackets and gilded masks with long, pointy beaks impeding our entry. We tried to walk around them, but wherever we went, they moved to block us. One of them put out his index finger and started wagging it up at us like a child scolding his schoolteacher. I leaned down close to hear him say:
"You have to be invited in. By one of us."
What the hell? I looked at my lady in disbelief as a couple of guys in black suits stepped out from the back end of the enormous ensemble and exchanged winks with the four-foot tall balls of hired muscle. But before we could get upset about the strange, confounding encounter, a dapper old gentleman dressed in a white collared shirt, burgundy vest and matching top hat, and a long, plaid coat came over and excitedly introduced himself as a "chemist." With an exaggerated British accent, he began going on about different roots, herbs, spices, and botanicals. Before he got carried away — which he seemed bent on doing — another man ambled over in a neat black vest and bowtie and handed us each an icy, carbonated cocktail.
"Hendrick’s gin and tonic," he proclaimed. "Drink up!"
We clinked our glasses and swigged back the bubbly, cucumber spear-garnished beverages, toasting "to another crazy night." But we had no idea how nutty it would be.
The night in question was the latest installment in the made-for-the-YouTube Generation marketing masterpiece known as "Voyages into the Unusual," a series of curious theme gatherings that take you inside the bizarre world the Hendrick’s brand has been developing since its inception in 1999. Attendees get to indulge in Hendrick’s boutique gin in an assortment of expertly crafted libations, along with hors d’oeuvres (like "Greek salad" served in cucumber cups, cuke "Capreses," and shrimp "cocktail" where the shrimp is skewered onto a squeezable syringe of sauce) that pair with the flavor profiles of each drink.
On top that that, skilled actors don elaborate costumes and interact with as many guests as possible, talking up Hendrick’s, explaining what goes into its “oddly made” gin, and performing unexpected feats of magic and mystery. There’s no telling what to expect, other than the unexpected, of course. Be prepared for surprises galore and an array of “oddities” you just have to see. (Make sure your iPhone is charged to 100%; you’re going to want to take tons of photos and videos, and you’ll probably want to do some real-time Tweeting and posting to Facebook.)