Figuring out what to wear to an event called “Amanda Lepore’s Big Top” was half the fun of going to the newly christened party at Carnival. The queen of the city’s gay nightlife scene has always been the bearer of curiosities, and it’s commonly known that her parties come hand-in-hand with brusque displays of exhibitionism: all skin and sparkle, and anything less would be an insult. Unable to bring ourselves to don sequins and lace, we instead piled on five pounds of glitter to disguise our straight-ness and headed out to the relatively new venue above Bowlmor bowling lanes on University Place in the Village. Nine flights of stairs later, we found ourselves almost overdressed.
Carnival itself is the most theatrical part of the evening. The loft-turned-bar has all the dramatic amusement-park charm one could possibly fit into downtown Manhattan. Dimly lit by strings of light bulbs, the walls are painted in bold red-and-yellow stripes mirrored by the dramatic, tent-like circus ceiling. A set of games line the main room; ping-pong balls and fish bowls, “knock down a clown,” water-gun racing, and a ring-toss stand named “Put a Ring on It.” (Tickets will set you back $3 or $4 per game.) The shirtless (and sometimes pants-less) game attendants attract more attention than the activities themselves: To be fair, the man behind the fish bowls was named “Go-Go Boy of the Year” and will show you the action figure they made of him to prove it.
The majority of the room had left their glitz at home, too. Where the voyeur in us secretly wished for the mustached woman and extravagance of Bon Bon at Juliet (Lepore and Kenny Kenny’s last venture), we instead got about 200 men in jeans and T-shirts, chatting in scattered clumps. “The music needs to be louder, and the lights need to be darker,” said a man leaning against the ring toss. “This is place is amazing and all, but we want to dance.” Dancing is an option, of course–just a short walk through the tunnel marked “Fun House” and you’ve arrived at a glowing green room equipped with a DJ and another naked bartender. Though you’d be hard pressed to find someone to dance with you.
To be fair, a few partygoers did make more of an effort. Leotards and zebra-striped stiletto boots made an appearance, as did a few pageant queens. While the room seemed restless, as if everyone was just waiting for something to happen, most patrons seemed content to wander around. (But really, an hour or so into the evening, the whole circus theme starts to cross over from fun to creepy.) Malik So Chic, the downtown scenester turned reality-TV star, roamed about in his signature glittery, round lenses. Kenny Kenny was all black and all hair: a look I’m quite fond of myself. We even spotted our own Mr. Musto scurrying in as we were on our way out. “Gay night is the best night here,” claimed one Carnival employee outside. “Usually it’s a bunch of guidos trying to play games and show off to their ugly girlfriends. At least the people here are hanging out and being normal.”