A few weeks before my night in Dyker Heights, I found myself walking into Katz’s Deli at around 9pm. The guy behind, who just wanted to get a pastrami sandwich for dinner, was stopped at the door. On any other night, he would have been fine, but his craving just so happened to collide with Underground Overground Comedy’s latest seemingly-random show. (They’ve held them in barber shops and laundromats, too.) The smoked-meat mecca has grown used to this sort of thing: it hosted a party with Diplo as the headlining DJ last August. A few months before that, in March, Vogue hosted its pre-Met Gala party there, too. The place where Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally had become “the newest hot girl hangout” according to Bon Apétit.
Katz’s isn’t even the only deli approved by the cool kids. During Fashion Week last September, Batsheva Hay showed off her spring collection at Ben’s, a deli that, unlike Katz’s, is in fact, kosher. Hay tells me that was part of the reason she picked Ben’s as the venue, but there was broader symbolism to it as well. “I love Ben’s as a venue because it’s in the heart of the garment district, where I manufacture my collections, and I thought it would be nice to give a little boost to a local business that has fed garment and fashion workers for decades,” she explained. It’s also really good for getting attention. Why launch your collection in a typical event space when you can do it somewhere that’s going to surprise people?
What should we make of all of this? In March of 2021, a year into the pandemic, New York magazine coined the term “Zizmorcore”—after the iconic New York weirdo doctor—as a way to describe a very hyper-local, city-centric style. Zizmorcore was brands like Rowing Blazers collaborating with pizza spots like John’s of Bleecker Street, but it was also the rush to cop a tie-dye Russ & Daughters shirt like the one Jake Gyllenhaal wore on Instagram, hats from old-school spots downtown Odeon or Raoul’s, and the general thirst for any piece of merch, new or vintage, from some beloved, overlooked or forgotten New York City business. A little over a year later, I wrote about how people all over were looking to party at places that were the toast of the town 20, 30 or maybe 50 years ago. Local landmarks as party spots seem to sit right between those two ideas: a way for party-hungry people to get their rocks off, and in a way that broadcast a right-now kind of cool.
“We want to create memorable experiences,” says Matt Starr, who hosts a poetry night in alarmingly niche New York spaces. “Putting on readings that are unexpected like reading erotica in the Penn Station Sbarro or an old-school East Village porn shop. These are spaces that we find really beautiful and important to us—they’re the kind of spaces that make New York New York. They’re also being underutilized. According to the manager of the Penn Station Sbarro, we’re the first non-family event to throw something there.”