Author Molly Young
"This is off the record," someone—it has to be "someone"—says for the third time, throwing a glance around the room. At 1 a.m. on a Wednesday Kenmare feels like Washington, D.C.: cagey, buttoned-up, a lot of Nantucket-style belts embroidered with whales. Also politicians. The Vin Diesel look-alike in the back left corner, not drinking, is Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker. Earlier today the mayor announced plans to shut down Newark's pools, curtail the city's toilet-paper purchases, and reduce the workweek of non-uniformed city employees to four days. "Call me Mr. Scrooge, if you want," he'd warned, "but there will be no Christmas decorations around the city." He's tucked into a booth with a handful of friends and a pretty dark-haired woman, vaguely familiar, whom I recognize a startling moment later as Jauretsi Saizarbitoria, a former editor at Jane magazine. Is she "with" Booker? Hard to tell. The teetotaling mayor looks solemn in a white button-down shirt and jacket. "The next Obama," someone says. Off the record.
Two things about Kenmare, both personified in Booker: it's prudent, and it's conspicuously lacking in irony. Votive candles reflect light off the grotto-like walls. The DJs play the Kinks, the Clash, Elvis Costello. A young filmmaker in a chambray shirt says: "My lawyer just called. He suffered a horrendous boogie-boarding accident." Here, at this gastroclub in Little Italy, is where everyone who used to love the now-shuttered Beatrice Inn now congregates. The latter was also partly run by Paul Sevigny, and drew its patrons from a fickle overlap in the arts-fashion Venn diagram. But in the end it's a lazy comparison. The point of Beatrice was the witty dissonance between what it looked like and how it felt, starting with the club's cozy name and continuing in the form of wall sconces, pink roses, low ceilings, and antiques. In reality it was sweaty, mildly scuzzy, and gleefully tolerant of bad behavior. It resembled a place where you might get in trouble for filling up on Toffee Crisps before dinner, not (ahem) ashing on Kirsten Dunst's shirt. The irony at Beatrice was deft—it is famously difficult to impute coolness by design—whereas Kenmare aspires to deft sincerity. Cory Booker would not have gone to Beatrice.
So Kenmare is a straightforward project, and Khan is straightforwardly nodding in conversation with Swedish fashion designer Johan Lindeberg and ordering drinks for those around him. He's politic in the old-fashioned sense: well-informed, solicitous, ensuring that everyone is comfortable. Paul Sevigny is the Gallant to Khan's Goofus, wearing a gray suit and conservative tie where Khan is in a black shirt with the sleeves torn off. Bushy-bearded artist Dustin Yellin drifts about. A pair of lesbians are necking in a booth, though when they separate it turns out one of the girls is a guy (a hippie). He smiles, his tie-dye shirt aflutter. "It's all good," he seems to say, and so it is.
Naturally, not everyone will admit it. "Fuck this," someone—another someone—says. "The emperor has no clothes! This room is full of out-of-towners, trust-fund kids and NYU students." Pause. "Don't quote me on that." He doesn't know I'm a reporter. He must mean: Don't tweet it, don't blog it, don't post it on Facebook. A skateboarder, late twenties, chimes in with "I used to feel like New York was really fashion-forward," but he curbs the thought when a man in a tri-cornered hat—really!—glides past. "I take it all back," he says. "Cap'n Crunch just entered the bar." Crunch tips his hat, accidentally hitting a girl in the boob. Another guy, unrelated, enters the room wearing a barrister's wig. "I think that's the guy who signed the Magna Carta," says a blonde girl in a jumpsuit. Alcohol dissolves reticence, or at least dilutes it. Now Kenmare feels like MAD magazine come to un-ironic life—but more exclusive.
And for once the exclusivity feels justified, if only because everyone is happy, and that happiness is worth protecting. I don't understand why the second coming of Beatrice is a place where moneyed schlubs in cargo shorts and Asics socks can have a beer with gay scenesters and skateboarders and the pop starlet Sky Ferreira. I don't understand the floppy-haired guy out of Fraggle Rock busting cheerleader moves on a table or the hippie I'd mistook for a lesbian swaying to "Fortunate Son," or the white bucks and whale belts and whether they might be sincere in D.C. and ironic in New York, and whether that matters. I'm just tickled to see it all in one place.
Molly's column isn't French—but it is on vacation through August. In the meantime, you can find more choice insights from our nightlife columnist at Magic Molly.