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No Smoking, No Dancing
I went to escape Toronto. I left wanting to escape the Hudson Hotel, Manhattan.


The Hudson Hotel opened in the last year of the world as we knew it. For three years prior it had been built by Ian Schrager, the erstwhile co-owner of Studio 54, and Philippe Starck, the designer. That’s what magazines say, “built by.” They usually say it about people like Schrager and Staerck, people who couldn’t actually build a Lego rocket ship. It was a huge building. Preposterous. You couldn’t tell from the street. It was at the top of midtown, with the universe all around.

In that year 2000 I knew about almost nothing outside of books, and it wasn’t until 2007 that I went to New York for the first time–on the bus, you know. I remember somebody talking about the Hudson  like it was important, like there was a bar we should be at, but we weren’t. I remember, too, that when later I went to New York for fashion stuff (once, twice, five times; I forget) there was always some editor staying there, saying that the rooms felt like cabins on a ship. I thought it sounded delightful. A ship.

It was Fashion Week in New York again, just now, but I went there with very little intention of going to any of it. When I got there I had even less. I wanted to–in order–drink; smoke American Camels; think about seeing art; find Mexican food; find drugs; dance; sleep; sleep; sleep. I wanted to walk around the city over and over until I had cleaned myself of the memories that graffiti’d every fifth corner. I’ve been there enough times and done enough good/bad/memorable things to feel nostalgic, but I haven’t been enough or done enough to make it familiar. That makes New York a hard place. Difficult, I mean, the way beautiful and worthwhile things are difficult. Still. I wanted to think about why it was so hard. I wanted to think about why so many people–so many kinds of people that sometimes it really does feel like the only place in the world, no matter how much you hate when other people, when New Yorkers, think that way–decide to live in hardness. I wanted to think about why I had never really wanted to live in New York, and yet suddenly found myself never wanting to leave, either. 

Certainly it was not because I found anything to love about the Hudson, where I stayed for three nights, having elected to do so because I had never been and yet remembered it, the idea of it, from my first young unbelievable trip on the bus.

And because my friend got us a deal.

My friend was now that editor staying there, and the room did feel like a ship. Nobody told me that the ship was the Titanic, though, and that the deck chairs were gothic parodies sitting empty in the dining hall, like thrones vacated by club kings. Massive, gilded hunks of furnishing were strewn throughout the cavernous lobby, down all the corridors, never more than half-filled by the other guests. The entire place was lit like a first date. (A first date that never ends. Imagine the hell.) When I walked by, people looked at me with the dim hope of recognition. Maybe I was looking at them the same way.

Two hours after I checked in, another friend came to meet me for lunch. When I told him where I was staying, he said he liked the Hudson, but he had not been there in years. He said there was a good restaurant. I believed him. Why would a $300/night hotel not have a good restaurant? When he got there, while I was still wondering exactly how unflattering a pair of Theory leather pants were, he texted me that it was “fucking closed.” 

The hotel had stopped serving food in the daytime. They had also stopped serving alcohol in the daytime. There was no room service; in their defence, there had never been room service.

I asked where I could smoke.

“Outside,” said the concierge.

I said what I really wanted to know was how to get into the garden–the beautiful garden, astonishing, visible from everywhere in the lobby–and whether smoking was permitted there.

“The garden,” said the concierge, “is closed for the winter.”

It was closed with all its furniture still in place, as though one of Gatsby’s parties had just ended, the car had just crashed. I went down the neon chartreuse escalator.

Sometimes there were doormen outside. Sometimes there weren’t. Inside, the regulars (you can tell the regulars, the way they don’t look around) had the aspect of aristocrats who had lost everything and were living off the land. In the morning, the cleaning women said hello in the startled way of longterm shut-ins. At night–it was the weekend–there were unenviable parties. When morning came again I didn’t want to get out of bed. It wasn’t because I liked the room any more than I had the day before, which was: not at all. It was because I found it hard to believe there was a world outside. The Hudson was so dark, so heavy, so rich and abandoned, and I was sure I was sinking.

One night I went down to read in the library. How silly or maybe pre-2000 of me. The only books in said “library” were placed high out of reach, and the reading lamps emitted approximately the same level of luminescence as a birthday candle. There was a woman in a facsimile Herve Leger dress playing pool with her date. The server asked if I cared what kind of red wine. No, I didn’t care.

I thought about how difficult the hoteliers had made it to feel at home here. I thought about how beautiful it must have seemed when it opened, how modern, how luxurious, how no one could have predicted what would happen to luxury, only eight years later, not even a decade, not even a generation.  How twelve years later seemed like a century. How so many of us had come to live in tiny cabins on a ship, putting all our money out where everybody could see it. How stupid it was that on a writer’s income I wore designer leather pants and would rather spend my whole life paying by the night than resolving to own anything.

A sign said, “No smoking. No dancing.”

What else is there.

Oh, there was one thing. One beautiful thing. The garden grew over the glass roof in the lobby; had been made or designed to grow over it, rather, probably to stop all the light getting in. There were cracks among the green leaves. When I looked up I felt that I was standing in ruins.


Sarah Nicole Prickett is the style editor at Toronto Standard. You can follow her on Twitter at @xoxSNP.

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