Party for The Drift, a Cool New Magazine

Old taxidermy and young writers at the Jane Hotel

The Drift magazine and iPhone sitting on a table
The Atlantic

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Kaitlyn: Being a hater takes years off of your life, so it’s better to try to be a fan. When I first heard about The Drift, the new magazine for young intellectuals, I had a knee-jerk negative reaction due to internship trauma—in 2014, I worked hundreds of unpaid hours for another magazine that was going to breathe life back into American political and literary discourse, but turned out to be a ridiculous operation run by jerks. I’m also defensive about the suggestion that all of the uncool magazines that have been around since, oh, say, 1857, are staffed by skittish prudes who wouldn’t dare to touch the outré ideas that a cool new magazine must dedicate itself to championing. (Both of these are clearly “me problems.”)

But I like magazines in general because I like reading. I also like parties: I like to be part of what’s going on, especially if I can do so in a way that won’t involve actually doing or saying anything myself. If I can stand in a room and sip a drink and be counted … that’s perfect. So I paid $15 plus fees for a ticket to The Drift’s Issue Six launch party at the Jane Hotel in Manhattan, and I asked Lizzie if she would go with me.

Lizzie: I, of course, said yes. “I’ll do anything” is what I always say. And it’s sort of true. If I’m being all the way honest, which I guess I should be here, I didn’t really know what The Drift was when I accepted the invite. But I knew that we were going to the “Issue Six Launch Party” and I’m not a dumbass, so I figured it was going to be a launch party for something with issues, i.e., a magazine.

It wasn’t until we were standing in line outside the Jane, when Kaitlyn mentioned that the heavy crowd might be a result of a recent New York Times profile, that I had a flicker of recognition. I hadn’t read the profile, but I remembered clocking the photo of the founders, which looks like it was taken on a really cold day. It made me wonder what it would be like to pose next to a tree with a scarf on in 20-degree weather while a New York Times photographer told me not to smile. Not everyone knows this about me, but I don’t really like nature the way some people do, or the way nature tends to look when it’s cold out. I hope I never have to pose next to a winter tree. This was the extent of my familiarity with The Drift, which is to say, I was not familiar. Once we made it inside the hotel, new bits of information dribbled out and I tried to hold on to what I could. The ticket collector at the door handed me a free copy of Issue Six (included in the ticket price), but he couldn’t figure out if Kaitlyn should also get a copy, because she bought her ticket in advance. Eventually he did give her a copy, but he did it begrudgingly.

Kaitlyn: That guy could be the next West Elm Caleb: He was in the wrong, he made me feel bad, and I bet other people had the same experience with him! But I won’t talk about it anymore. I don’t even know how to make a TikTok … Anyway, getting into this party was really an ordeal. The doors supposedly opened at 7 p.m., which may have been true, but nobody was allowed to walk through them until 7:30. (Lizzie was like, “The Drift? More like the seconds of our lives are drifting by …”) You also couldn’t enter without getting stamped by a large “Jane Hotel” stamp that included the building’s address—zip code and everything—in case, I guess, someone found you later in the Hudson River and needed to know where to return you. This was exciting, to be honest. A little macabre, like the interior of the Jane Hotel.

Once inside I was thrilled to take a photo of a taxidermied white peacock, which reminded me of Martha Stewart’s recently liberated peafowl. Then we wriggled our way up to the bar, near a taxidermied monkey in a little hat, and waited many minutes to order an old-fashioned for me and a Peroni for Liz. (I don’t normally drink old-fashioneds, but I wanted something I could sip slowly, which would give me something to do with my hands for the whole party.) “It’d be cool if there was no one here,” Lizzie said. She wasn’t being mean. She only meant it literally: It was a dim, romantic room to settle into for a drink with no one else around. A person could really indulge her inner life, do some fantasizing, write down some secrets. Not tonight, though!

Meanwhile, Julia was stuck outside in the line. “This is hellll on earth,” she texted, reporting that people were becoming disgruntled. There was nothing we could do for her.

Hand with Jane Hotel stamp on it.
The address of the Jane Hotel. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Lizzie: We agreed that it was totally understandable that Team Drift would want to have a launch party at the Jane. It’s got that haunted, old-money vibe, the lighting is flattering, and, as we already mentioned, there’s lots of interesting taxidermy to look at. Sometimes you even get to see tourists rolling their Away luggage through the lobby. Totally understandable. And yet, it started to become obvious pretty quickly that the crowd was going to keep getting bigger all night long, while the room, well, the room wasn’t getting any bigger at all. I’ve never been able to estimate crowd numbers or distance in meters, but it felt like there was enough seating for only 12 people and enough people to fill some mid-tier, emotionally draining music venue like Terminal 5. We found some empty space under the stairs, which gave us a pretty good view of the scene.

Kaitlyn: There were all sorts of well-dressed women, lots of different types of boys in glasses, and, of course, hundreds of tote bags on a spectrum from Telfar to The Baffler. From our spot under the stairs, I could see Lake, the sole other person I knew at the party, but I would have had to leap over at least two velvet couches and three coffee tables to say hello to him, so I never did. I hope he had a nice evening!

The readings were short and sweet. The first one was an excerpt from an essay about the state of the essay, which I’d already read online with my mouth open, thinking This really hits me where it hurts. (See: “The essayists leave behind a mess of maybes and perhapses and hot, urgent rhetorical questions that dare you to scream yes! or no! or sure, why not, who cares!”) The second was an excerpt from an essay about the CGI influencer Lil Miquela. It was funny and good, though Lil Miquela has been the subject of essays for more than four years already. Not to be a hater.

Lizzie: I did appreciate the swiftness of the reading portion of the evening, which lasted about 30 minutes, but the brevity was achieved only by giving each writer just a few minutes to read their work, which meant we (the audience) were getting excerpts. Aesthetically, I have no problem with excerpts. I love a good tease and I’ve never read all of Moby-Dick. But because I hadn’t read any of the Issue Six essays or fiction prior to hearing them read out loud to me in pieces, the experience was something like being blindfolded, thrown in the trunk of a car, and dropped off at an unrecognizable location: The place may look nice enough, but you can’t pretend you’re not lost. I’d like to stress that this really had nothing to do with the writing and more to do with the fact that my brain switches to the white-noise channel at almost every reading I go to unless I’m looking for a good cry, and I was distracted by a painting on the wall that looked like blood was seeping through it from the other side.

When the readings were over, the crowd really did seem very excited to dive into the rest of Issue Six on their own time.

Kaitlyn: “I’m here,” Julia texted. But she couldn’t be found.

We had a series of miscommunications with her—which ficus we were near, which end of the bar she was standing at—that went on for about 20 minutes. All along, the crowd was growing. People were trying to be polite, but there was no way to walk around that didn’t involve some shoving. We decided we would not move and Julia would have to look for us. While we waited, Lizzie tried to take a picture and the flash went off, forcing her to throw her body on top of the camera that was in her own hand. This woke us up a bit and we started looking around for ways to participate. We thought, Should we do some reporting? “Oh, Christian Lorentzen is behind you,” I told Lizzie. She said she didn’t know what he looked like. I said that he looked like the person standing behind her. Then I said, “I wondered if he would be here, since he tweeted earlier today, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.’” As soon as I said that, I was pretty embarrassed about it, and that was the end of the night’s journalism.

Lizzie: I didn’t recognize anyone, but like I said, I don’t know who anyone is and I need a new glasses prescription. For the next bit of time, it felt like a lot of my mental capacity was taken up by the act of inching around every few seconds to accommodate new groups of people trying to squeeze past, through, or around me.

Kaitlyn: At last, Julia popped out of the crowd. She’d just bought a gin and tonic for a stranger, she told us, and was regretting it because it cost $16. Lizzie said she should take comfort in coming off like a big shot. I told her that the money would find its way back to her—something to do with quantum physics. At this point I was eating the maraschino cherries and orange wedge out of the bottom of my drink and dreaming in a big way about dinner.

Before we left, we surveyed the room, feeling rude, trying to work out the percentage of the guests who were really going to go home and read their new copies of The Drift from cover to cover. This, like all things, made me feel sad about getting older. I still have the copy of n+1 I got at the first magazine party Lizzie and I ever attended together in a boutique hotel, and I did read every single page of it because I was young, curious, impressed; had a lot of free time; and was not yet grumpy or jealous. Was I once … an angel?

Lizzie: As much as Kait thinks things change, I’m sure they pretty much stay the same, because I would bet money I never read most of that issue of n+1. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a quality paper stock or a saucy essay, but I’m always chasing the high of the 2007 music issue of The Believer that came with a CD and might have included that essay about the reclusive musician turned telemarketer Bill Fox. I think about it all the time. Like Kaitlyn a few years ago, I was young, curious, and impressed back then.

We left the hotel and walked past a line of people outside still waiting to get in. That was the most confusing part of the night! I couldn’t tell you what they were hoping to find once they got inside, except the opportunity to do coke in a 90-degree bathroom. As we walked down Jane Street, each of us (me, Julia, Julia’s friend Rebecca) took turns trying to convince Kaitlyn that whatever sentiment she regretted saying out loud would be forgotten the next day, or even sooner.

Kaitlyn: “It’s not my job to be cool,” I told everyone while we wandered around the West Village, led by Julia’s false sense of where the martini bar Dante’s was located. This has become something of a mantra for me. When we finally found the bar, I ordered a bright-pink cosmopolitan with a chunk of strawberry in it. Not my job to be cool, I thought to myself. Not my job to be cool.