It's just past 11 p.m. on a perfect June night in New York City. Nightlife queen Susanne Bartsch is holed up in her suite at the Hotel Chelsea, slinking into a sequined emerald catsuit and six-inch black patent platforms heels, preparing for her outrageous midnight encounter Bartschland Follies at the McKittrick Hotel.
Hosted every Friday at the McKittrick's Heath venue, a cozy top floor performance space, Bartschland Follies is in many ways a traditional New York cabaret -- low cafe tables, candlelight, bespoke mixologists, singing, dancing, naughty bits, and generally the kinds of performers and experiences singular to New York City. A melange of performances from a cast of both nightlife stalwarts and up-and-coming showstoppers has Susanne's smartly dressed patrons lining the cobbled sidewalk down below some three hours early. Once admitted, a wood-paneled elevator operated by a gorgeous young attendant takes one up and inside the Heath's softly lit lounge and bar, where lilac colored mixed drinks and perfectly chilled champagne are offered aplenty along with a beautiful array of personalities and thrillseekers like model and activist Yasmine Petty and artistic muse Kyle Farmery.
Susanne Bartsch (Courtesy of Kyle Farmery)
Created in conjunction with producer (and Follies performance artist) DeeDee Luxe, Susanne chooses a new MC every week to assist her; drag king comedian Murray Hill often has the honor, as does the operatic drag queen Shequida Hall. One of the many delights at Follies is witnessing live the twisted, jovial banter between Susanne and her many guests and co-hosts.
"May I smell your bush?" Susanne asks Shequida in her famous Swiss-inflected dulcet tone, as the two well-heeled broads join each other on stage to begin the show.
"Bitch, my bush is a penis, bitch!" Shequida fires back, nonplussed.
"Well I'm down either way, my darling," Susanne replies nonchalantly to roaring applause.
Backstage, the talent are putting the final touches on their makeup, fluffing their feather boas, pasting on pasties. "Talented, diverse, and sexy with a twist is what I look for," Susanne says as she cheerfully peruses the lewks for the night. The Follies roster rotates each week and includes acts like clown-ensemble Fou York, contortionist and part-time mermaid Topher Bousquet, burlesque wunderkind Perle Noir., drag legend Sherry Vine, jazz singer Julia Rose, ballerina Lea McGowen, Russian acrobatist and exotic dancer Leonid the Magnificent, drag superstar Aquaria, break dancer and Mr. Rogers impersonator Invertebrate, and Peter Peter, who yoyos with his penis.
Perle Noir Performs (Courtesy of Kyle Farmery)
Because of its ever-changing cast of characters, it is almost impossible to know what you're in for at each Follies; on one occasion, Albert Cadabra, a magician of sympathique dimensions, delighted and entranced his audience by setting torches ablaze using only the static electricity built up from his ass cheeks and nipples. On another, Sean Blue the juggler juggled dozens of glowing balls while simultaneously putting on a full strip-tease, complete with a lesbian audience member's full-hearted participation.
"Susanne's a legend and a friend and we are over the moon with excitement with the reception that Bartschland Follies has received so far!" says McKittrick Hotel special envoy Cesar Hawas.
Kyle Farmery, a Susanne stan, offers support and encouragement to any creative human who needs it at Follies.
"I think Susanne does an incredible job of finding new and fresh talent, and putting on shows that no one has ever seen before," Kyle commented. "Follies is a twisted cabaret circus full of incredibly talented performers who are trailblazing their own paths, and Susanne gives them the space and the opportunity to do that."
Joey Arias, who brings their signature smoky cabaret crooning and sexy heckling to Follies each week, waxes poetic about the show.
Joey Arias and Amanda Lepore (Courtesy of Kyle Farmery)
"Susanne has an eye for the bizarre, the beautiful, the different. What makes Follies at the gorgeous McKittrick Hotel different is that when you come here on this night, it's an exposure. You're exposing yourself to these elements that are like falling rocks from outer space. You're getting slammed over and over by all this beauty and glamour and fun and wit and bodies all types. You'll see cock sucking a microphone or vaginas on fire... it's hysterical what goes on here! But what's important is: exposure to the exposed."
Gender-bending burlesque duo and real life couple Kitten & Lou, who've been making waves in the international burlesque scene for the past number of years and joined the cast of Follies recently, credit Susanne as the driving force behind the continued success of New York City nightlife.
Kitten & Lou (Courtesy of Kyle Farmery)
"Susanne was one of the first show producers we worked within New York and we've always been dazzled and gagged by the incredible universe of gorgeous art weirdos she's built around her. There's definitely something special about Follies. It's all the queer, over-the-top glamour and spectacle you'd expect from a Susanne event, but presented in an intimate, sexy venue with a cool underground vibe. You never know what you're going to see!"
Amanda Lepore, who performs regularly at Follies and has known Susanne for years, points out the superior taste level of this cabaret.
"Susanne has always hired eclectic performers with different styles, and the taste level at Follies is so over the top, extravagant, and decadent," she explains as she parts her painted scarlet lips to show her immaculate smile. "So come see us at the McKittrick Hotel, I promise you won't believe it."