Martha’s nod of approval.
Photo: Adeline Lulo
Well, it’s the most wonderful time of the year again, which means everyone is getting all dolled up in seasonal shades of velvet to get their drink on before heading home for the holidays, where, for me at least, I’ll keep drinking but for entirely different reasons. This time last year, if you recall, Omicron was canceling most of the fun, and considering I didn’t make it to my own company party this year (oops) and couldn’t secure an invite to what I’m told was a really lavish bash at Kathy Hilton’s place out in Bel Air, I decided to take to Instagram and ask if anyone knew of any particularly good ones to get me into the holiday spirit. Sure, it was kind of a thirsty way to go about things, but I write a party column, as you know, and I needed content for your stockings.
Anyway, a few minutes later, I got a DM from a fabulous-looking 24-year-old chef with a fabulous name, Romilly Dauphin Newman, who told me she was co-hosting a “holiday fête” the following night at her friends’ place in Gramercy. Naturally, the first thing I did was Zillow the home and Google the hosts, Chris Hessney and Simon Miall, who I found out are a founder of a high-end events-production-and-design agency and a former pro-rugby player turned financier, respectively. They got married in 2018 in a 16th-century palazzo on Lake Como and invited Harper’s Bazaar as a guest; according to the resulting write-up, the rehearsal dinner was at a villa that once hosted Napoleon and Joséphine, and Simon arrived at the ceremony via boat. Needless to say, it all looked very White Lotus, and Chris and Simon seemed like what Jennifer Coolidge’s character might call “high-end gays,” though without, I assumed, any need to murder anyone for their money. The party was to take place at the brownstone they just moved into (it is, however, a rental), with all of Chris’s “closest friends and dearest clients” in attendance.
Plus: “Martha’s coming,” Romilly told me.
6:45 p.m. | I arrive early at Chris and Simon’s four-story townhouse, where, from the street, the first thing I notice is a towering, sparkling Christmas tree perfectly framed in a bay window upstairs. The couple moved in just two weeks ago, which isn’t hard to believe because, inside, the home has been demurely staged — lived in but not too lived in, just as they look in Architectural Digest. It’s a “late Georgian brownstone,” according to my online snooping, with terra-cotta tiles reclaimed from “French manor homes” in the kitchen, Turkish marble all over the parlor floor, and crown molding and Juliet balconies and chandeliers galore. Nearly every surface is dotted with lit candles and paper whites, and it smells pleasantly of pine. Simon, who looks exactly how you’d hope a former British rugby player would look (he has great arms), tells me Martha Stewart is already here. She won’t be staying for the actual party, but she did stop by to bless their home.
6:48 p.m. | I find Martha upstairs, sampling caviar and snapping photos of the décor on her iPhone, which is on a long leather lanyard. At 81, she looks incredible in an ivory pussy-bow blouse with massive pearls dangling from her ears. Somehow, she cut her finger, so it’s wrapped in a cloth napkin. “They need to monitor the caviar,” Chris, who has a surprisingly tasteful neck tattoo, tells one of the many chiseled bartenders on hand. He attempts to introduce me to Martha, who gives me a noncommittal “hi” without making much eye contact and quickly ascends the stairs to continue her tour of the house. I follow along from what seems to me like a polite distance, just close enough to hear her issue sparse compliments like “It’s a great home.” Then she’s just as quickly out the door. Chris seems satisfied, if also maybe a little bit relieved. He tells me she’s one of his mentors, and he’s a judge on her HGTV show, Table Wars. She’s a “badass bitch,” he promises me, not nearly as chilly as she might seem. (To prove it, he says she lets him smoke cigs and weed in front of her.) “She’s still Martha,” he adds. “She asked me to turn the heat down.”
Chris, to the left, shows off a hunk of ham.
Photo: Adeline Lulo
7 p.m. | The guests, mostly girls and gays, begin to arrive, and all immediately crowd around a dining table displaying Romilly’s food. “When I close my eyes, I see this. I love abundance,” she says, gesturing toward the spread and telling me it was inspired by Marie Antoinette. She explains that there are two towers of croquembouche, a slimy log of foie gras, a literal mountain of butter for all of the baguettes, a hunk of Parmesan from the “oldest Parmesan dairy in Parma,” and an especially impressive acorn-fed, bone-in ham leg imported from the Iberian Peninsula. The guests seem hesitant to dig in, issuing compliments like “It’s an art work, isn’t it?” and “I’m scared to touch it” and “I don’t want to be the one to ruin the butter.” There’s also plenty of smokes — American Spirits and Marlboro Lights — on the mantelpiece, served Mary Kate Olsen style in little bowls (“It’s very considerate, but who smokes anymore?” comments a pouty gay). I get to talking to Romilly, in a long, plum-colored dress, who is a delightful sybarite and major Martha Stewart stan. When she was younger, she says, her mother would pick her up from Saint Ann’s with issues of Martha Stewart Living as a post-school treat. Speaking of: Martha texts her several photos of the other hams she chomped on at Art Basel this year. Romilly’s hoping her ham will get her on Martha’s Instagram. (It does make it to her Stories; Martha also made sure to note that the ice cubes for the cocktails are “crystal clear.”) “Champagne party!” squeals a bartender before topping off my glass.
Romilly’s big moment.
Photo: Adeline Lulo
7:25 p.m. | I decide to nibble on some cheese at Romilly’s recommendation (in case you’d like to know, it’s a gooey Vacherin Mont d’Or from straw-fed cows in Switzerland — “extra special because it’s seasonal,” according to Romilly), but it’s as smelly as it is delicious, and I start to suspect everyone I talk to thinks the smell is coming from me, not the cheese. So I abandon the plate but not before a French woman in red cat’s-eye glasses informs me that the porcelain is from the French brand Bernardaud, “the same plates they use at Le Bernardin and Le Grenouille.” The glassware, a stout gay man adds, is from CB2, and the trays carrying the pigs in a blanket? “That’s Christofle crystal!” For a moment I wonder if I am expected to tag these brands on my own Stories.
8:06 p.m. | I meet Chris and Simon’s next-door neighbor, a Swiss mom with tousled hair who’s taking photos of the Christmas tree. “I’m an organizer,” she tells me, which I at first take to mean she works in community organizing, but, in fact, “ I organize people’s closets,” she says. “It has to look very good. Up to the standard of New Yorkers … You go into someone’s life, and you forget your own life.” Oh. Her clientele? “Very, very wealthy and living in obscene places. Mostly New York, the Hamptons, and a little bit in Connecticut.” I look around and admittedly kinda do want to forget my own life … or at least my railroad apartment in Brooklyn.
8:30 p.m. | All four floors of the brownstone continue to fill up with slender gays with well-plucked eyebrows and slightly older women wearing furs and feathers mostly in red, white, and black. I start talking to a younger woman in a silver puffer jacket who seems to think she’s actually at Martha’s house. “OMG! She’s supplying joints! This must be her fuck pad,” she says, and I choose not to ruin her fantasy.
The butter mountain.
Photo: Adeline Lulo
8:35 p.m. | I need another drink. Back at the bar, I discover this house party is sponsored — by the tequila brand Calirosa, which has sent several tipsy employees to monitor the booze supply. “I’m manifesting living here. They say act like what you want is what you want,” one of them tells me. Another whispers, “Someone really famous just walked in. Something Ono. Yoko Ono maybe? Who is that?” Her co-worker guesses, “Isn’t that a Star Wars character?” There’s also a rumor that Chloë Sevigny is coming tonight, so all of us embark on a sightseeing trip around the party but find neither celeb. Who is here mingling? The fashion designer LaQuan Smith and City Councilmember Erik Bottcher. Oh, well. The tequila girls got to meet Martha after all. “We’re in her camera roll! She took a photo of us on her phone as if we were her grandchildren. She said, ‘The tequila girls! Let me take a picture.’” That one, however, doesn’t make it onto Martha’s Instagram.
9:01 p.m. | I love snooping around the bathrooms of nice homes, so I set out to find one, but when I do, it’s been … well used. “It smells like literal shit, and I promise it wasn’t me,” says a woman in a chunky diamond necklace on her way out the door. You can be an event planner who’s worked for everyone from Goop to Oscar de la Renta, with a home scented by Diptyque and Cire Trudon, but you can’t plan your way out of a random guest’s unfortunate gastrointestinal event.
I mean … Those monkeys are almost the same as the ones in The White Lotus opening credits, right?
Photo: Adeline Lulo
9:32 p.m. | A mother of two in sequined pants asks me if I watched The White Lotus this season — Do you know these gays? She’s a plus-one at this party and came in from Long Island but says she’d rather people think she was a “murderer” than know she lives on Long Island (“My husband impregnated me, and now we live out there, and the jury is still out on whether or not that will work”). “Here’s what I’ll say as someone who hasn’t been to many good parties lately,” she says, “There’s a mountain of butter over there. And I won’t be able to sleep tonight over my real-estate jealousy” (I’ll admit the butter is really, really good). The stout gay from before comes over to us and, surveying the crowd, says, “Well, it’s not quite Eyes Wide Shut … yet.” Maybe he’s trying to manifest.
9:37 p.m. | Speaking of White Lotus, I head up to the rooftop for a smoke and eavesdrop on Simon discussing his New Year’s Eve plans in the Mediterranean. A gaggle of twinks asks me if I’m familiar with a skyscraper to the northwest, but when I finally decide it’s 1 Vanderbilt, they tell me I’m wrong and laugh rather maniacally in my face. “I love your confidence,” one snarks. A quick Google search confirms I’m right. Take that?
Peep one of the many hunky bartenders.
Photo: Adeline Lulo
10:02 p.m. | Here’s something I’ve noticed: Established gays tend to staff their events with hot guys. It gives everyone something to look at. Those bartenders, in my experience, tend to be straight, though. The women at this party have picked up on this, and some of them are getting their flirt on. “He’s so intelligent but kind. Look at his smile,” says the Long Islander’s friend. Downstairs, another woman, in open-toed shoes (brr!), tells me about a different bartender: “I feel like at all the parties lately, the bartenders are 10/10. It makes you come back for more.” (She’s clearly gone back for plenty.) When I order a drink myself from yet another dreamy bar boy, he asks me if I know that many people here. I tell him I don’t. “Well, now you know me,” he says with a wink. These boys are really good at their jobs.
10:42 p.m. | “Kiss” by Prince really gets everyone dancing.
“My friend told me to invite the guy I’ve been on a couple dates with. It’s totally that kind of party.”
Photo: Adeline Lulo
11:29 p.m. | “Get some breeze girl. You worked your ass off,” another gay tells me when I take a breather on a balcony with his friends, perhaps thinking I’m employed by the hosts? Of course, I certainly don’t look like any of those bartenders. “That caviar station … come on! The fuck?! I think I ate $2,000 worth of caviar,” says a woman with a vague mid-Atlantic accent. They’re all supposedly close friends of the hosts. “Wait till we come back next year. It’ll be in a fucking ten-story house!” says the woman. “This party is just … familiar faces that make you feel warm in a home so pretty. There’s not much to complain about.” I suppose I agree.
11:51 p.m. | By now, no drunk at this party, me included, is nervous about chowing down on all that posh food Romilly curated. “I’m at the point where I’m shamelessly going for the bread and butter. Before I was like, I’m cute. Now I’m going for it,” says an angular-faced woman in emerald silk. I pick at some panettone and, worried that if I stay any longer and keep drinking the Champagne I’ll accidentally break something in this “home so pretty,” decide to return to my life surrounded by mostly not so high-end gays, a little relieved, since marshaling all of this opulence seemed a little stressful. Not the least for the couple. Still, I thought about what Chris told me: “Christmas is kind of over the top anyway. I feel the need to practice what I preach.”