There is an argument to be made that New York’s best shows are staged not in theaters, but in restaurants and bars. Like the 19th-century opera audiences who trained their binoculars on each other’s boxes, each night we seat ourselves en masse in darkened watering holes and restaurants to preen, size each other up and—almost as an afterthought—eat or drink something, too. So when a venue incorporates a layer of theatricality to the performance already being staged by its patrons, how do they react? That’s the question raised by the dreamy, overgrown rooftop bar just south of Hell’s Kitchen called Gallow Green, which sits atop a warehouse that operates as the “McKittrick Hotel” for the wildly popular interactive theater performance Sleep No More.
In the early evening, the height affords a regal view of gleaming West Side buildings and the cloud-streaked horizon. A floor of pebbles and slate, trellises woven with flowers and weathered wooden tables recall an upstate country home left adorably to seed. But as the sun descends over the Hudson and darkness encroaches, something stranger occurs. Christmas lights encircling small trees and the rafters overhead blink to life. A brass band waltzes dizzyingly through a funereal tune. An attractive waitstaff in virginal white uniforms materializes out of the shadows, while actors borrowed from the show downstairs weave in between tables, talking to guests in faux-British accents and lending the place the feel of a garden party lost in time. The overall effect, depending on your taste, is either charmingly loopy or gratingly campy.
DRINK THIS: While the menu proffers beer and wine, the selection of punches, developed by decorated drink historian David Wondrich, is what shines. The signature Sleep Bowmore Punch ($50), composed of the woody, namesake single-malt Scotch, Madeira wine and orange shrub sweetened with dememara sugar is poured tableside out of a pitcher, over frosty blocks of ice in a gorgeous copper bowl, then garnished with lemon slices and freshly grated nutmeg. The cocktails are slightly more uneven—Pimm’s Other Cup ($15), a take on the classic English tipple that subs in white rum for the traditional gin, as well as lemonade, lost its luster to overdilution. And the Third Degree ($15), an otherwise well-mixed martini, was marred with a heavy-handed dose of absinthe.
GOOD FOR: A third date. The place is helplessly romantic, capturing the looseness and frivolity of a well-oiled summer wedding, but in a way that never feels saccharine (the name of the bar, after all, is borrowed from the famous Scottish field where six 17th-century “witches” were hanged and burned). Meanwhile, you can either laugh with or at the chirpy, surreal interjections of the period actors, depending—again—on your tolerance for cheeky drama.
THE CLINCHER: Sleep No More’s knack for transportive set pieces reveals itself here in an abandoned antique railcar, home to the best seats in the house. While you might wonder how it got there, the real miracle is how perfectly natural it looks on a Chelsea rooftop.
By Christopher Ross