'Queen of the Night' Redefines NYC Dinner Theater
"Feed these to each other," a scantily clad server in hot pants, a sleeveless tuxedo shirt and sock garters told us as he placed tiny green morsels into our hands. Another performer caressed our backs as we stood there, face to face, and dropped the bite into each other's mouth. It was a Sichuan peppercorn, and as a buzzing started on our tongues, the performers gently pushed us together, encouraging a kiss.
Shouting "just friends, here!" didn't seem like an appropriate option at The Queen of the Night, a new immersive theatrical experience in the Paramount Hotel's revamped subterranean club Diamond Horseshoe, but whether you choose to lean in to your companion or not, the moment sums up the experience. You will be touched when you descend a marble staircase into the venue, and you will be fed.
A few of you may also be asked to give a sponge bath to a naked woman, but we don't want to ruin all the surprises, so we'll stick to the food. Chef Jason Kallert and performance artist Jennifer Rubell (who you may know as Eataly's former vegetable butcher) have teamed up for the culinary aspect of the show, which may be best explained as kind of a dinner party version of Sleep No More, an interactive, immersive performance of Macbeth that has been a hit since it took over a Chelsea warehouse in 2011. The evening starts with a cocktail (or many, many cocktails for a lot of the guests that filled the basement with us), and guests are left to explore the gorgeously restored space, which once housed a '40s-era club by the same name.
As the show progresses to the stage that dominates the center of the room, diners are led to communal tables and fed a family-style meal. Here's a secret that won't ruin the fun: the food is actually good, as long as you work for it. Whole suckling pigs, short ribs and lobsters are placed around the room, and guests are encouraged to barter with other groups to try the dishes that your table didn't receive. "You have the hottest commodity," our waiter said, pointing to the cage filled with whole (and, for the record, delicious) lobsters. He was right. Perhaps spurred by the freely flowing carafes of wine, the situation was less "bartering" and more "people coming up to the table and grabbing whole lobsters from the cage without saying a damn thing."
The consensus among the strangers at our table was that the meal delivered. "The quality of food is quite good considering the fact that this is a weird sex show," one of our tablemates observed as she tore into her crustacean. By the time you dig in though, the sex quotient has disappeared and the circus arts/modern dance quotient has gone up - the show is apparently based (loosely) on Mozart's The Magic Flute, but it felt more like a mix of a Bob Fosse-choreographed dream sequence and a Beyonce video. Works for us.
Right now, the show is running through the end of February, and tickets start at $125 and go up to $500, depending on the level of experience you want (the pricier options include VIP seating, early access and additional dishes). Based on our crowd's reaction, we suspect an extension is in the works, and no matter what you think of the show, you will definitely get your money's worth of food and drink - and it's not every restaurant that will hand-feed you dessert. Just be careful with that booze: you don't want to be like the guy we spied at coat check on our way out who described himself as "wasted beyond wasted." The Queen would not approve, buddy.
If You Want to Visit the Queen:
Tickets: Get them here. The show goes through Feburary 23 and runs every Tuesday through Sunday. You purchase tickets for a timed entry slot, with the first wave going in at 7:30 PM. We suggest getting there early, to maximize your time getting felt up... ahem... we mean "interacting with" the cast.
Dress: Wear your fancy pants. When you get your confirmation, you're encourged to wear "cocktail attire" for the weekdays and "gala attire" for the weekends.
Etiquette: Photography is ostensibly not allowed, but as soon as that bird cage full of crustaceans was plopped down on our table, cameras came out and the social media updates started. #selfiewithlobster
Post-Show: If you haven't had too much of that carafe wine and fancy a cocktail after you exit, visit Restaurant Row speakasy Bar Centrale for a stiff one.