The Box is one of the most interesting and decadent spectacles in downtown nightlife. Owned by Simon Hammerstein, descendant of the theater scion, the jewel-box theater hosts a variety of unique and sexually-charged acts nightly. Open since 2006, it's still a pretty hot ticket—"If you're good enough to make it in, you'll make it in," Box partner Cordell Lochin told the Observer. They're able to charge over a grand for a table on certain nights. But trouble is brewing, and we're not talking about two-bit drug raids or carping scenesters. It looks like the club's sexiness has gone to one owner's head:
The fetish-burlesque cabaret duo the Porcelain Twinz have been performing their hot-twin act for years. They were mentioned in Neil Strauss's pickup-artist book The Game: "You know what's funny," they told the author when he tried to hit on them, "We get all our physicality out on stage... we're probably more distant than most sisters." Last year, they were tapped to perform at the Box. They recently quit the show, posting a long screed on their website called, "This is Why We Left the Box in NYC." They accused the handsome Hammerstein of everything from neglecting his dog to pressuring them into a threesome; they also mentioned that last month, the entire tech staff quit. Their complaints resulting from the sexed-up work environment ranged from employee ass-slapping to sex they didn't want to participate in to other types of sexual coercion and job threatening. Hammerstein also allegedly charged them $2000 a month to live in an 8X20 room in his apartment. A former Box employee we spoke to said that the Porcelain Twinz's story is "not at all" an isolated incident—and said she quit because of "a specific incident with Simon Hammerstein." What, exactly, is going on inside this Box? From the Twinz:
- "Simon Hammerstein regularly slaps the girls so hard on the buttocks, that it leaves handprint welts for at least two days before leaving a bruise. This has happened to one of us as well as several of the classically trained dancers known as the "Hammerstein Beauties." Simon sexually harasses the employees constantly..."
- "He abuses the tech staff on a daily and nightly basis, constantly putting them down, calling them idiots, and ripping headsets off of tech staff's heads when he is in a fit of rage over something."
- "Simon sexually harasses all of the Hammerstein Beauties requiring all of the girls to sleep with him if they want to have a job, or if they want to be chosen for a special spot in the show, while constantly pushing cocaine on them."
The former Box employee we spoke with said, "I've seen this stuff happen. And I've experienced similar things. There was also a lot of job threatening... the treatment of staff is pretty abysmal. The slapping of asses, etc—I would see that all the time. It was playful, but then it was... not cool." "I had a lot of fun at the Box, and I love it. The staff there is some of the most interesting and exciting people I've met. There are just no consequences to owner's actions, mostly Simon's. People are at his whim."
- Other allegations: filthy dressing rooms (pictured below), in which the Twinz say Hammerstein abandoned his dog for days. (An employee stole the dog at one point, hoping to protect it.)
Of course, there's something to be said about having different expectations for your work environment when it's a cabaret nightclub that bills itself as one of the sexiest and no-holds-barred acts in town. But still: is the Box being run like a nineteenth-century Dickensian whorehouse? Calls and e-mails to Hammerstein for comment went unreturned. As Hammerstein himself told the New York Times last year, "The show's only as good as the people you're watching it with." One of the Twinz's acts (not shot at the Box):