The first house party I remember throwing in New York was before I even had a proper apartment. Sometime circa 2006, in the Barnard College dorms on 116th street, my suite roommates and I banded together to throw a Halloween rager with the open-to-interpretation theme of “historical bitches.” Cleopatra, Eve, and Schrodinger’s Cat were all in attendance. A girl dressed in a facsimile of Bjork’s swan dress puked in the common room. I remember it as a sign of success that one dude in a toga, drunkenly trying to navigate the packed hallway, asked me whose party it was. “It’s mine!” I yelled proudly, trying to round up Solo cups half-filled with an evil-smelling vodka-based punch concoction into a garbage bag.
The New York apartments I’ve lived in during the decade since have all had an assortment of the real estate indignities that the city is famous for. There was the shotgun-style layout that necessitated constantly violating a roommate’s privacy or zipping through the hallway in various states of undress to access the bathroom, a living room-kitchen combo that required moving the couch to access the oven, no closet, a “second bedroom” that was at best a closet—the usual comfort of living sacrifices that made friends back home in Alabama cluck in horror or gasp in sympathy. But in each living situation, however precarious or improbable, I made it a point to throw a house party at least once a year.
Results have been mixed. In a studio in the East Village far too small for the crush of people I had over to watch a football game, several guests had to sit on the stove, and jackets were flung in a pile outside the door of the apartment. At a pre-Thanksgiving party in Astoria, only two guests arrived to try our selection of meticulously curated Thanksgiving-themed beers. My roommate and I got sloshed on pumpkin ale and watched The Real World. At my 28th birthday party, the police arrived after two friends snuck onto the roof with bottle rockets.
Why bother? New York is not a place that lacks for public gathering spaces. There are two bars within a block of my apartment that could easily and much more comfortably hold a crowd. Every time I throw a party, in the morning haze of setting things right again and nursing a steadily thrumming hangover, I wonder why I didn’t just round up people at a mutually convenient cocktail place.
The truth is that, as I’ve gotten older, hosting parties has become part of the complicated contract I’ve made with myself about living in New York. Obviously part of it is laziness—having people over means that they will come to you, and the commute home from your night’s social activities is minimal. It also allows the boundaries between your social groups to collapse quickly, all your work friends and college friends and friends of friends mingling in one place.
But part of it is also an act of honesty and intimacy, to let people in to the space you have jury-rigged for yourself in the constantly shifting sands of the city you live in. It is an acknowledgement of the way people really live—not in pristine, ever-primed-for-Instagram rooms, not in sun-soaked, palatial flats with tastefully curated succulents, but imperfectly in imperfect spaces. House parties are a way to celebrate that you have carved out a tiny nook here, in this city where that is an everyday struggle. It might have a sink in the hallway instead of the bathroom, but it is yours. It is worth drinking to.
The last house party I threw was in January, a Mardi Gras-themed birthday surprise for a friend. Among the people not-quite-invited but welcome anyway was a wild-haired man with the name Party Steve, who arrived with a rolling suitcase stuffed with knock-off Homer Simpson ceramic statues, which he unpacked, ritualistically, on the floor. Half of the guests watched him wonderingly, the other crowded into the corner furthest away from him, like subway riders instinctively avoiding a man raving and yelling on the L train. I’m still not entirely sure what happened—chalk it up to performance art—but at some point, everyone came together again, passing around a Simpsons-themed marionette that Steve had produced and leafing through the sheaf of Japanese newspapers he had spread on a nearby coach. Sometime past 1am, when people began trickling out in force, Party Steve wrapped up his memorabilia and prepared to leave. Before he was ushered out to the next location by a friend of a friend, he stopped to shake my hand. “This,” he said. “This was a good house party.”
Illustration by Alisha Sofia