(Originally published on Tumblr in 2013.)
A few weeks ago, I went to The Night Heron Speakeasy. (It’s closed permanently now, which is why I can finally write about it.)
We met a woman at a random Starbucks near Midtown. She took us to an abandoned building on a busy street. We were hiding in plain sight, a small group of strangers. We were led inside, by a dapper-looking gentleman, entering with confidence and purpose. We filed in, quickly, silently.
The inside of the building was crumbling, with peeling paint and rubble. Pieces of the ceiling periodically fell. A construction crew had stopped, mid-renovation. It used to be an office building, we were told. Dust permeated the air.
Turn your phones off, we were instructed.
We were given small flashlights and told to help the person behind us if they needed it.
Be very quiet. The neighbors can hear you. Don’t worry if the police show up. We have a plan.
My eyes were wide as we climbed over a railing and skittered quietly along a tall ledge, almost as if we were burglars in a movie. I tried not to look down, my heart pounding. We climbed up flight after flight of stairs to the top of the building. Some of the steps were loose and the handrails were dusty from neglect. We climbed up to a floor where none of the walls were still standing.
Flashlights off, please. Watch your step.
I saw the Empire State Building and all the buildings around us, with only the night air and a few piles of rubble between us and the sidewalk below. I listened to the story of the crotchety owner who refused to take advantage of his prime piece of real estate, and the renovations, stopped partway through, leaving piles of cables and rocks.
Then we climbed up another level, onto the roof. It was completely dark except for the buildings around us. I saw people watching television in their hotel rooms and empty offices with the lights left on. Apartment dwellers in the buildings nearby who, had they looked out the window at the right moment, could have seen us. The rooftop floor was uneven. There was no guardrail, no safety net.
Another well-dressed man emerged from one of the water towers on the roof and invited us inside.
One by one, we climbed up a rickety ladder, through a trap door, into the empty water tower. The ladder shook and swayed as I climbed up. I could see the lights of the city all around me.
White knuckled, I emerged into the water tower. Into soft lighting, quiet jazz, and the sound of cocktails being made.
Welcome to The Night Heron.
Join the Wanderlust School of Transgressive Placemaking every Tuesday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn this June. This series is part of Wanderlust’s residency at Atlas Obscura.
Originally published at kathrynyu.tumblr.com.