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Diamond In the Rough

Diamond In the Rough

Diamond Horseshoe

A look behind the curtain of the long-shuttered club that’s fast becoming a queen of New York nightlife

Photography by Francois Dischinger. Douglas Little, photographed at the Diamond Horseshoe
Anyone who's attended New York's immersiveQueen of the Night knows that its chocolate-cake dessert isn't served on a plate, but on a spoon -- a spoon handled by one of many comely male and female "butlers" who gyrate around the eponymous mistress of this luxe dinner theater, and feed guests their final bites of the evening.

Unfolding in the wake of a spectacle in which gravity and inhibitions are defied (dance and sex are almost indistinguishable here), the scene is one that would delight Marie Antoinette, and it's in line with the vision of installation mastermind Douglas Little, who served as the set and environmental designer of Queen's glam venue, the Diamond Horseshoe.

"I liken the space to the most decadent cake you could ever imagine," says Little, a poised ginger dressed in crisp white-tie attire. "If you were to eat it all at once, you'd probably be sick. But if you take it in little pieces, it's so extraordinary. Nothing like this has ever been made before."


Perhaps not, but the Diamond Horseshoe has had a past life. Located a rhinestone's throw from Times Square, beneath the Paramount Hotel, the subterranean haven was the toast of the 1940s, attracting the likes of Orson Welles and even inspiring the 1945 film Diamond Horseshoe, with Betty Grable. It lay dormant for 60-plus years before, in 2013, developer Aby Rosen and Sleep No More producer Randy Weiner facilitated its revival, recruiting Little, performance director Christine Jones, and creative director Giovanna Battaglia (among others) to cook up a sensual mix of, as Little puts it, "luxury, decadence, debauchery, and decay."
Diamond Horseshoe
Courtesy of The Diamond Horseshoe

Today, descending into the Diamond Horseshoe is like visiting the wreck of the Titanic before emerging into a man-made jungle of neon, velvet, and room after room of unadulterated, tactile detailing. The unfinished staircase is adorned with nothing but broken champagne flutes and a fallen chandelier, yet the space's glittering depths have been kissed with a plethora of textures, many of them spawned from Little's fearless imagination.

"There's a sensuality and a sexuality to the textures and motifs that I work with," says Little, whose decade-long resume includes everything from candle making to overseeing the aesthetic of an eight-story shopping complex in Seoul. "There's also a childlike curiosity to the work, and I want people to feel that sense of discovery. I know I'm not appealing to the masses, but there's someone who really loves what I do, and I want to do it for that person."

Little, who says his own sexual identity is as open to interpretation as his creations, made certain that the Diamond Horseshoe's decor was reflective of its centerpiece show's carnal fluidity. For instance, the Queen's quarters are coated floor to ceiling with wax, a medium fluid by nature, and the wall beside the rear, chemistry lab-like bar is garnished with the wings of 16,000 butterflies, which were imported from Thailand, and chosen because the insects are hermaphroditic.

The result is an enveloping, high-end pleasure den that's blind to gender and orientation, and that, after hours, evolves to host queer-dominated parties like Pretty Ugly, where girls who like boys who like boys who like girls can sip martinis while admiring hand-leafed mirrors on curved walls.

"The feeling this place gives you is like being on a narcotic," says Little, who even incorporated signature Diamond Horseshoe scents, some of which conjure the smoky ambience of bygone supper clubs. "And that's what we were hoping for -- this kind of dizzying, erotic, evocative space."

Douglas Little

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