Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

Photographer Don Spiro plans some of the city’s most popular vintage New York events with his group, Wit’s End, which hosts monthly Jazz Age parties.

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Taking inspiration from the Roaring ’20s, Wit’s End—led by photographer Don Spiro, who founded the group with his late wife, Diane Naegel—seeks to emulate the atmosphere of a swinging vintage New York get-together. Wit’s End events typically feature live jazz, throwback cocktails, dance performances and more.


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  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

  • Photograph: Noffar Gat

     Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro

Photograph: Noffar Gat

 Vintage New York trendsetters and scene makers: Don Spiro


Don Spiro 44; Astoria, Queens; photographer and cofounder of Wit’s End
(clubwitsend.com)

How did the Wit’s End parties get started?

I’d spent 15 years in Hollywood, with its great vintage and retro scenes, attending events and parties my friends produced. When I moved to New York in 2005, I was looking for places where you could go see live hot jazz, and people would dress up and dance, but it didn’t really exist anymore. My wife and I just really wanted to have a regular place that we could go, so we started one.

What’s the atmosphere like at events?
It’s like an old-fashioned nightclub. We have a dress code: We always tell people if you don’t have vintage clothing, a nice suit and tie or dress is perfectly fine, rather than dressing in a costume. We have a sign on the door that says you are the atmosphere. Our patrons can look around the club and feel like they’re at a really nice, sophisticated party. If somebody’s wearing a baseball cap or a T-shirt, it throws you out of the mood.

What sparked your interest in the Jazz Age?

Growing up and watching all the old movies, it got me into the ’20s and ’30s: the music, the whole look of everything. I love all periods. If I had more time, I’d start a ’50s rockabilly club.

What about the 1920s appeals to you?
The parallels we have to the modern day: coming out of a war, going into a recession, a lot of creativity in the artist community, a lot of social issues that had been boiling up in the 1900s as far as women’s rights or workers’ rights. Pretty much everything that we’re still dealing with today really started hitting the headlines then. [But] I can look back on it, take the things I like from then, use them how I like today and either ignore or try to fix the things I didn’t like. If I could live in any time, I’d say right now.

What are your inspirations?
Just about everything I do is inspired in some way by my wife, Diane Naegel. We were into the same things, from art salons and cabarets and Jazz Age speakeasies to dive punk-rock clubs, sideshows and burlesque, and everything in between. She passed away from breast cancer at age 31, so a lot of what I’m doing is continuing what she started and trying to live up to her standards. I’m also inspired by 21st-century technology and its possibilities: It allows me to connect with people worldwide, promote business and events, and have instant access to the music, style, art and culture from the past.

Where do you like to shop?
Cobblestones (314 E 9th St between First and Second Aves) is great for men’s ties all kinds of vintage for women. I’ve found a lot of great finds upstate, in Pennsylvania, the Midwest and California. Worth & Worth (45 W 57th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-265-2887, hatshop.com) is a pretty good hat store. Prohibition Clothing (prohibitionclothing.com) is a new company that’s come up to cater to the scene; it’s a great place to buy modern clothing and accessories with Jazz Age styling.

What’s your favorite Wit’s End party to coordinate?

Halloween at Wit’s End is always fun. October is the last month of each [Wit’s End season], so it’s a big blowout. It’s great seeing the vintage costumes people bring. It’s an excuse for people who don’t even like vintage to dress up in a tuxedo.

What are some of your favorite retro spots in New York?
One cocktail bar that I really like now is the Astor Room (34-12 36th St at 35th Ave, Astoria, Queens; astorroom.com). It’s got a great ’20s vibe. It’s in the former commissary of Kaufman Astoria Studios, where the Marx Brothers and Rudolph Valentino had their lunches when they were shooting. It’s got that history to it, and everything looks the same [as it did in the ’20s]. My favorite drink is the Sazerac.

Next up: Wit’s End at Flute Midtown (205 W 54th St between Broadway and Seventh Ave). May 25 at 7pm; $12.


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