Aerialists, contortionists, magicians, naked straight-jacket escape artists, wax play — a distinctly downtown parade of performance debauchery comes to Midtown at the newly opened Rose Room, a speakeasy, cabaret and club discreetly hidden behind the blackbox theaters of the Producers Club.
“We want it to be like a real-life Moulin Rouge in New York,” said proprietor Mister Dusty Rose of the nascent club located at 358 W44th Street — just a block from where Broadway musical Moulin Rouge is playing. “I like to think that our show is distinctly New York because of the type of artists we feature — it’s not Vegas. It’s very much this underground, queer-circus dance and art scene — our very big, wild, debaucherous experience,” he added.
Mister Dusty Rose — an appropriately mysterious nom de guerre for theater artist and Rose Room founder Anthony Logan Cole — “fell sideways into nightlife.” Working as a musical theater performer in pre-pandemic New York, Rose dipped his toes into a few immersive theater projects where “I met people who worked on both sides of theater and nightlife,” he said.
While performing in an Off-Broadway run of the cult-hit musical Camp Morning Wood (a “chaotic, campy, queer fantasia” about the fight to save a nudist camp) Rose was asked to work with his fellow cast members on some nightlife-theater hybrid projects. “I said, ‘I don’t know,’ because I didn’t think it was my scene,” said Rose. “I’m a big stocky dude. I never felt like there was an environment for me.
“But they showed me a whole other side of the nightlife world — creating experiential things for audience members, creating environments, creating feelings, which fell into absolutely everything I loved about theater and immersive theater.”
Rose began to assist on shows at well-established nightlife performance venues House of Yes, 3 Dollar Bill and The Box, where he ended up working both in the creative and back-of-house departments: “I learned so much there about kind of the operational side of what it takes to run a nightlife space versus running a theatrical show,” he added. After a long pandemic shutdown, Rose and his fellow nightlife artists convened last summer to reignite their artistic flames. “We said, ‘let’s do something once a week to shake off the cobwebs,’” said Rose. “And here we are over a year later and now open five nights a week, doing eight shows a week. It’s been a wild journey.”
Part of that journey involved assembling a more permanent team, and a more permanent space, after a series of successful pop-up shows at $3 Dollar Bill. “The theater district is where I’ve always felt at home,” said Rose of the decision to plant roots in Manhattan. “I felt like there wasn’t something like this already in Midtown, which I thought was very strange. The last time there was something like this it was at the Diamond Horseshoe when they had Queen of the Night.”
After a temporary residence at The Secret Room (located at 707 8th Avenue between W44th and W45th Street), Rose and team were able to secure an old rehearsal room at the back of the multiplex Producers Club “that we were able to custom build around our show,” said Rose. “We completely gutted it and built it out from scratch so that we could have the space we’ve always wanted.”
In addition to sculpting a moody, seductive and intimate cabaret room — complete with “weird vintage art”, an aerial rig for up-close views to the circus magic and a fully computerized lighting and sound system (“Someone in the industry described us as ‘the most hi-tech tiny room out there,’” said Rose) — special care was taken to design the room to feel welcoming to all audience members and performers.
“We decided to create a very intimate experience in a much smaller space than we were used to, for a much more cozy, intimate take on what we were doing in our early shows,” said Rose. “Our artists really try to connect with the audience.” It’s hoped the cabaret can become an after-work hangout spot for industry artists too. “We want the performers, we want the tech crews, the staff, the creatives —we want for this to be a space where they can gather and enjoy themselves and feel at home and safe,” he added.
Connecting with the wider nightlife community was important to Rose and the team. Club scene fixture Jason Chaos has been working with The Rose Room for the past nine months. “He had come to see the show and fell in love with the work that we were doing and the environments we were trying to create, and he asked to be part of the experiences that we were working on,” said Rose. “I’m truly, truly lucky to have someone who is not only as experienced and as smart as he is, but also hands down one of the kindest, most giving people in the community.”
Relationships are paramount to the success of a cabaret, with a focus on fostering an ongoing camaraderie of locals and visitors at each show. “I’m at every performance,” said Rose. “I try and talk to every single table. We seat people ourselves, we check on people throughout the night, we try and deliver a quality of intimate, personal service that most other nightlife spaces don’t. We want them to feel like family and we want them to feel safe so they will come back and spend time with us.”
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Many patrons, intrigued by the variety of the two shows, make a full evening of The Rose Room. “We’ll do a 9 o’clock show that’s more a of a cabaret and magic show — we’ll have a Broadway star perform a concert and we have a group called Flavors of Magic that flies in women queer trans or magicians of color who are celebrities in their communities but who’ve often not played New York,” said Rose. “And then our 11 o’clock late night show is our big circus show.” That’s when the aerialists, wax performers, and contortionists come out to play. “We’ve had quite a few people come to see the nine o’clock show who immediately ask us, ‘how can we stay?!”
The reception across Hell’s Kitchen “has been amazing” thus far, said Rose. “When we first moved to Midtown, I think that we still were trying to figure out what this permanent location was going to be, or what the experience was.
“I think that initially we didn’t give the community a strong sense of what we were, because we didn’t know,” he added, but after a year of expanding their lineup and connecting with audiences, “I think that we really understand this as a space for artists.” Rose hopes that The Rose Room will pave the way for a playfully debaucherous yet inclusive nightly bacchanal for years to come.
“I think that it doesn’t already exist in Midtown and, and even the spaces that are in that realm are very segregated,” said Rose. “We call ourselves a queer space. We are not a gay club. We are not a straight club. We are a space for anyone and everyone who has never felt like they had a nightlife home that they felt comfortable in. There are some amazing nightlife, burlesque variety spaces, but a lot of them are for straight white people. I wanted to create an experience, a space that no matter who you are, no matter who you’re into, there’s going to be something that excites you, something that titillates you, something that you’ve never seen before — in a space that makes you feel safe and seen and comfortable. That is the most important thing to us.”
The Rose Room can be found upstairs at The Producers Club at 358 W44th Street (between 8/9th Avenue) theroseroomnyc.com